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An exhibition, then as today

The international exhibition of modern decorative and industrial arts was to take place in 1913 but was postponed due to the outbreak of the First World War. It opened in Les Invalides Paris in 1925, twelve years later. Unlike the previous editions – Turin, Brussels, Monza – which saw the domination of Art Nouveau, the ’25 exhibition was a manifesto of futuristic experimentation. It was the first exhibition post-war, only inspirational works were included, with no copies or pastiches from the past. Still considered an enemy of France, Germany was missing but the Soviet Union was present (the first international recognition of the Bolshevik government). The already outdated forms of Art Nouveau, with its floral swirls, were followed by linearity and solid volumes. There were fewer furnishing elements than in the past – a more compact design, in fieri  a basis of its functionality. The 1925 style was born (Art Déco is an expression remained unpopular until the 1960s).

The Tourism Pavilion was designed by Mallet-Stevens. Joseph Gocar’s Czech pavilion appeared as a manifesto of Prague’s rondo-cubism. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret presented the Esprit Nouveau Pavilion, a reflection on urban density and the quality of living which began in 1922: the protagonist was a white geometric box – a single block of multiple villas, each with its own terrace. There were two adjacent dioramas of one hundred square meters across the surface – the Plan for a modern city of three million inhabitants. Plans for cruciform skyscrapers, houses with staggered layouts, and structural plans for an architecture that could answer future questions were hung on the walls. The Grand Palais housed the decoration section – tailoring, perfumery, jewelry – and furniture: the arts and industries of wood, leather, ceramics, glass and textiles. The vice president of the admissions committee was Gaston-Louis Vuitton. His green and silver stand became the subject of a report by René Chavance for the French journal Mobilier & Décoration: a sober play of straight lines and sharp angles – he wrote – ,no unnecessary overload, only the indispensable’ Beyond the clothes hangers, cosmetic bags and anything else in exotic leathers, the Milan accessorised gala trunk was on display: covered in black Moroccan and lined in red Moroccan. The accessories in ivory, carved crystal and vermeil – more than fifty pieces on three removable shelves: among others, anything necessary to do nails, shaving accessories, writing materials, toiletry and clothing accessories (a shoe horn and gloves-opener). There was also a suspended rail device to prevent the brush bristles from being crushed. The opened trunk made people think of the Milan Duomo spires – which is the reason for its name.  

Today Louis Vuitton brings this unique specimen back to the city as part of the Time Capsule traveling exhibition, from September 19th to October 13th. The exhibition takes place inside a large suitcase positioned precisely on the square between the Royal Palace and Milan Duomo. A path outlines the physiognomy of the modern traveler, from 1854 – when Louis Vuitton Malletier Paris was founded at 4 Rue Neuve des Capucines in Paris – to our times. Next to the specimens of the art of travelling,  women’s and men’s fashion, designed by Nicolas Ghesquière and Virgil Abloh; the Objets Nomades collection; and technical innovations related to the diffusion of new means of transport. A Tribute to Milan: a visitor will be able to observe the craftsmen at work and retrace the collaborations that Louis Vuitton has done with  artists: from Yayoi Kusama to Cindy Sherman, Takashi Murakami and others.

A history of trunks

Descendants of the ancient capsa and caissons were made of boards assembled with heavy nailing – which held clothes and furnishings during feudal displacements in the Middle Ages – the trunks in the eighteenth century had an ungainly structure and a typical rounded lid of the stagecoach era. The development of technology such vehicle propulsion, the expansion and upgrading of ocean routes, and a thickening of railway networks, lead to new product specifications for travel items. At Vuitton, aesthetic essentials rather than decorative intensity lead to design reversals: the flat shape of the lid was easier to stack. Louis Vuitton realised the first example of a trunk with a poplar wooden frame – chosen for its easy-to-make soft dough, its lightness and durability. It is reinforced with beech slats, and no longer covered with pigskin, but with an impregnated and oil-painted canvas with a medium-light shade of gray called ‘Gris Trianon’. It was followed by Followed by the Rigata (1872), the Damier (1888) and the Monogram (1896). After having packed trunks designed for the narrow spaces of the railway trains, Vuitton anticipated the advent of motor cars and in 1897 unveiled his first car trunk model, a trunk adapted to different types of car bodies and designed to be housed in the inside or outside of the passenger compartment. It was followed by the roof trunk and the driver’s bag, a top box and a driver’s bag – an ultra-light chassis, Aéro and Aviette, for travel on aircraft, limiting excess weight. Each piece of luggage was protected by a lock patented by the anti-break-in locking mechanism which corresponded to a non-reproducible numbered key that could open all the luggage of the same owner.

In October 28 1924 André Citroën left Colomb-Béchar in Algeria. It was called the Black Cruise: twenty thousand kilometers in 235 days until his arrival on June 26 1925 in Tananarive, Madagascar. He drew a  new route through central Africa. Filmmaker Léon Poirier was hired to show the world, and a year later he came out with a film called The Black Cruise, which characterised the people encountered along the way with the designs of painter-illustrator Alexandre Iacovlev. A team of doctors, researchers and engineers brought back zoological, botanical and entomological samples. Each car had a name – Scarabée d’or carried papers, weapons and documents; the Éléphant à la tour, took archives, cash and Louis Vuitton trunks: resistant, impervious to sand, humidity and the desert winds, as well as to swamp and the virgin forests. Vuitton also provided the baggage for the 1931 expedition: the Steamer Bag was based on postman’s bags used in the Americas which could be stored in one of the wardrobe or cabin-trunk compartments and contain all the clothes already worn to the end of the journey – in terms of size, lightness and comfort it can be considered the forerunner to today’s sports bag. The 1931 trip was an automobile journey across Asia from the Mediterranean to the Chinese Sea – the Yellow Cruise. 43 men and 14 self-employed people divided into two groups: the China group, led by Victor Point, arrived in Beijing on the Trans-Siberian road, overcoming Gobi desert sandstorms and ongoing civil wars. The second group called Pamir departed from Beirut and passed Afghanistan at war, and the peaks of Col du Bourzil and Col du Kilith, to finally arrive  in Beijing.

From yesterday to today

The frames and and covering materials of Louis Vuitton trucks were reproduced and imitated by competing craftsmen. After redefining the appearance of the trunks and modifying some details, to discourage counterfeiting and reaffirm the authenticity of Vuitton items, the brown and beige Damier checkered canvas with the appearance of a weaving mat and the words ‘L. Vuitton registered trademark ‘ appeared in 1888. After the founder’s death in 1892, his son George Vuitton created the Monogram motif in 1896, which was used for the first time only a year later. First woven with a jacquard loom and then, from 1904, a pochoir – a technique similar to screen printing and stencil, the canvas with four-leaf clovers and flowers was inspired by orientalisms typical of the English Victorian era. Today, every order from the Asnières atelier bears the founder’s creative imprint, guarded on a historical basis by Patrick-Louis Vuitton, fifth generation and great-grandson of the layetier. All the trunks commissioned – about 400 orders processed each year – are built according to tradition. The laboratory of Asnières-sur-Seine, near the Seine, remained the ideal place for the supply of wood. Empress Eugenia di Montijo, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, bought a tailor-made boxed trunk in 1865. After commissioning watertight trunks in zinc and brass, for an expedition to Congo the Italian explorer Pietro Savorgnan di Brazzà ordered a trunk-bed that was made of Monogram canvas and patented in 1885. For dolls of princesses Elisabeth and Margaret of England, the company created forty centimeter Corte model garment bags in natural cowhide. The lyric singer Lily Pons wanted a secretary for thirty-six pairs of shoes. Karl Lagerfeld wanted a handbag in Taiga leather to carry his twenty iPods.

Time capsule exhibition Milan
Piazzetta Reale, Milano
From 20.09.2019 to 20.10.2019
Every day from 10.00 to 20.00
Free admission