It’s hard to pin down why, but if there’s ever a fashion house that conjures up a very concrete, very specific image, it’s Louis Vuitton. The image is that of a brown canvas bag with an elegant pattern of flowers and intertwining LV initials embossed or printed on lush, supple leather. All of which is to say, you’ll never draw a blank, even if the name—the ever-lavish-sounding Louis Vuitton—rolls off the tongue with the slightest bit of accent. That’s because the venerable label has been reigning supreme in the business of luxury trunks and leather goods for close-to 165 years now. And to give us a bit more insight into just how the humble Louis Vuitton, who sprung from poverty and a lackluster career, secured a legacy that lasted well past his death in 1892, a mini museum, dubbed the LV Time Capsule, rolled into Los Angeles this month.
Set smack-dab in the middle of a bustling mall at the Westfield Century City, it aims to celebrate history through a “handpicked selection of imaginative and ingenious creations.” (The LV Time Capsule also has been traveling around the world, with stints in destinations like Berlin, Hong Kong and Bangkok. It is slated to run May 18-June 10 in Los Angeles, and it is open to the public and free of charge.)
We arrive there on a Saturday afternoon, and immediately get in line. A gentleman decked out in a suit, his hair gelled back with the kind of precision expected anyone representing the iconic house, greets us. He notices the giant camera hanging from my fiance’s neck like a necklace and tells us to “please” take as many photos as we’d like. Yes, sir. I nodded.
The first thing we see as we walk in, is a work station peppered with an assortment of materials: threads, unfinished handles, pre-cut pieces of leather. In other words, if we were in an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen, I would call this the “deconstructed LV bag.” An LV artisan sits behind the desk, her index fingers wrapped with lime-green tape, stitching rhythmically, as if moving to the drum of a beat only she can hear.
I look at the final product off to the side, trace the refined leather of its body and burgundy-trimmed handles. (They say the best way to spot a fake is to zoom in on the trim. A counterfeit will be trimmed in a nauseatingly bright red). I’m immediately hit with several memories strung together—a 12-year old me perusing Louis Vuitton handbags in glitzy airport shops whenever my mother and I had a few hours to kill while waiting for our plane to board. I remember once reaching out to flip over the price tag and earning the sour, disapproving look the sales clerk threw in my direction. I glanced back with my shamelessly inexperienced face and an expression that read: No, thanks. None for me!
Nice move, kid, I think to myself before turning around and walking to the left into the first section—out of six—of the exhibit. Spanning 160 of innovation, the Time Capsule is walking tour of juxtapositions that highlight “the ways in which Louis Vuitton has always excelled in anticipating the needs and desires generated by technological progress, responding to them with imaginative and ingenious new creations.” It’s as if everything is staged to incite a dialogue between the old and new and draw parallels.
Take, for example, the monogrammed Aéro Trunk, engineered in 1921 weigh as light as possible in an effort to accommodate air travel, which was becoming a sustainable reality at the time. Sitting on a glass shelf above it, is the Stellaire trunk plucked from the Fall-Winter 2014 collection, a glass case which flashes and gleams and lets the light from the screen behind it filter through. I focus in on the details, the black leather trimming and silver studded lining at the joints, and realize that if it weren’t for the sheet of glass separating us, I would be hard-pressed to think of a reason not to lean in and touch the piece.
We pause to look at the black, ruffle-shouldered lace gown worn by brand ambassador Emma Stone at the 2018 Golden Globes and the 2000 pink-and-brown monogram vanity case designed in collaboration with Sharon Stone. There were also an assortment of perfume bottles on display, including the 2016 “Rose des Vents” and “Matière Noire.” We loop around the museum to peruse LV’s collaborations—the fourth part of the exhibit called “Icons of the House”—with fashion giants the likes of Marc Jacobs and Jeff Koons.
Next, we spill into an immersive room filled with LED screens and a “Magic malle” at its center, changing patterns and colors. People around me whip out their phones. (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t follow suit). The experience leads us “through the history of the House—from the first-ever trunk produced through the invention and constant evolution of the coated canvas, to the opening of Fondation Louis Vuitton.”
Finally, we’re funneled into a narrow passageway with the walls displaying a timeline of the iconic house’s accomplishments, from birth of Vuitton in 1821 and the establishment of his first store in Paris in 1854 to the present. It’s where we see him for the first time, or a portrait of him, at least—this man, his hair swirling into a curved peak like whipped cream, beady eyes staring disapprovingly from underneath furrowed eyebrows and a curtain of mustache draping over a set of pursed lips. AKA the haughty face of a man you’d want to call “sir” regardless of his knighthood status or lack of, well, British-ness.
In a way, it’s a fitting way to end the tour, this final glance at his inner workings and a visual overview of things to come. (Oh, yes, and we were also handed some postcards that are now magnet-ed to my fridge).