by laurie brookins | May 7, 2013 | Style & Beauty
Patrick-Louis Vuitton, great-great-grandson of Louis Vuitton, oversees the legendary house’s special-orders program.
An artisan precisely places the handles on a Vuitton trunk.
The custom and personalization section of Vuitton’s Crystals boutique
Louis Vuitton’s gleaming exterior at Crystals
A detail of a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk
Louis Vuitton at Crystals at CityCenter is the brand’s largest US boutique and its fifth largest in the world.
Deftly running her hands over a wide swath of coated canvas, an artisan carefully considers how she will place one of the world’s most recognized prints onto a seemingly simple box crafted from poplar. Her task is far from routine, as this is no ordinary box, and while the canvas may be abundant, its placement needs to be perfect.
Welcome to the workshop of Louis Vuitton, located in bustling Asnières, a suburb northwest of Paris that was still considered the countryside when Vuitton built his home and workshop here 154 years ago. Today it’s one of a dozen Louis Vuitton workshops throughout France, although this location is undeniably the most high-profile: It is where the company’s historic special-order trunks are handcrafted. There may be no more storied pattern in fashion history than Louis Vuitton’s monogrammed canvas, just one reason its positioning must be painstakingly considered with each new project. Examine any Vuitton piece sporting the iconic print and you’ll notice how the petals of its golden flowers line up perfectly along the seams, while its signature LVs are placed with flawless symmetry so they always appear whole, as per the workshop’s time-honored saying: “You never cut through Louis Vuitton.”
As Louis Vuitton’s great-great-grandson, Patrick-Louis Vuitton lives this philosophy every day. Like his father, Claude-Louis; his grandfather Gaston-Louis; and other family members before him, Patrick-Louis has carried the banner of Vuitton pride even as he has established his own unique corner of the label’s luxe universe. As both an ambassador of the house and the head of special orders for Louis Vuitton Maison, he travels the world to work with clients in designing special-order trunks. In his 37-year tenure, he has fielded a vast range of requests, such as a case to hold a pair of Champagne glasses (the owner didn’t care for the glasses used in her preferred airline’s first-class cabin), and a trunk fitted with solar panels so its owner would have a fully charged laptop and Wi-Fi—no matter where he was on the planet. Always at hand is Patrick-Louis’s own custom Vuitton case with the watercolors and papers he uses to sketch each design. Like every member of the Vuitton family, he can build a trunk from start to finish, and he crafted this custom case himself.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the company’s presence in Las Vegas. Today you’ll find five Louis Vuitton boutiques within a 1.5-mile stretch of the Strip: at Via Bellagio, Wynn, the Forum Shops at Caesars, Fashion Show, and, most recently, one of the brand’s most significant statements, a 14,000-squarefoot, three-story boutique at Crystals at CityCenter. It opened in 2009, and its combination of size (the largest Vuitton store in the US and fifth-largest in the world) and selection earned it the designation Louis Vuitton Maison, one of only six in the US. “A Louis Vuitton Maison is conceived as a travel destination influenced by the aesthetics of the city it is located in, making each unique,” explains Valérie Chapoulaud, North America president and CEO of Louis Vuitton. “This experience of luxury extends beyond the collections offered and is carefully integrated throughout the store [in] its architectural elements and exhibition spaces for art.” Designed by renowned architect Peter Marino, the CityCenter boutique features a 31-foot chandelier containing 1,600 titanium-plated LV flowers and the rainbow-hued Lucky Colors installation by Belgian artist Lionel Estève.
Special-order trunks are particularly key to this store, with a section of the mezzanine level dedicated to custom clients and product personalization. Until very recently, the centerpiece of the mezzanine was the Malle Casino, an exquisite example of the custom work produced in the Asnières workshop. Designed to stand upright, the Malle Casino opens to reveal a working roulette wheel in the top section, while drawers below house playing cards, poker chips, dice, even a professional green gaming felt. Patrick-Louis notes that, like any special order, the Malle Casino required that the Asnières craftsmen raise their game, so to speak. “With each new idea, each new special order,” he says, “you must reconsider your savoir faire, because each project is a new challenge.”
Wait a minute: Until very recently? you ask. While the Malle Casino was originally conceived as a showpiece—a Las Vegas–specific example of the stratospheric heights of craft that could be achieved in Asnières—one customer apparently could not live without it. Louis Vuitton execs demur when asked the price, but artisans are already building a replacement, which will be welcomed onto the CityCenter mezzanine sometime this fall.
Sharing space on that mezzanine is another category that’s grown in importance for Vuitton in recent years: jewelry. The glass cases were designed not only to house the brand’s growing selection of watches and fine jewelry, but also so Las Vegas would become a requisite stop when the highjewelry pieces made their global rounds. (Like the custom trunks, the high-jewelry collection often contains one-of-a-kind items meant to showcase the house’s artistry.) As on that monogrammed canvas, here again you see the codes of the house, with the signature flowers or LV logo interpreted in diamonds or adorning the face of a status watch. Among the high-jewelry pieces, a standout is a yellow- and white-diamond choker, its graphic design seemingly abstract, until you realize that the artisans have duplicated a Paris street map, with yellow diamonds where the monuments would be.
Vuitton once partnered with outside workshops to craft its jewelry, but newly created jewelry workshops above Paris’s Place Vendôme boutique, which opened last year, have rendered that unnecessary. “You cannot ask a designer to design and then send the design out and have it made elsewhere, because it’s not the same mood, it’s not the same spirit,” says Hamdi Chatti, Louis Vuitton’s director of fine jewelry and watches. “The designer and the workshop have to work together because everything is about this beautiful stone. It requires patience and passion because it’s a long process. But at the same time, there are beautiful surprises.”
Back in Asnières, a descendant of Louis Vuitton not only understands this attitude more than most, he’s also confident that it will continue with future generations: Patrick-Louis has two grandsons, both of whom have shown a keen interest in the watercolor case he built from scratch. He smiles as he thinks of them and speaks of the Vuitton métier, employing a favorite phrase used yesterday, today, and in all likelihood tomorrow: “Here, everything is possible.”
photography courtesy of louis vuitton (portrait, exterior); LA ZIZ HA MANI (trunk); Christopher DeVargas (stacked trunks); David Franzen (interior); ANTOINE ROZES (artisan)