All eyes may now be on Marc Jacobs’ successor, Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director for the House of Louis Vuitton, but a conversation with fifth generation descendent, Patrick Louis Vuitton, reminds us that the ties that bind the iconic House still run blood deep.
Sitting in the Art Deco-designed salon of his quaint family home in Asnières (outskirts of Paris), Patrick Louis Vuitton looks smart in a navy blue suit and tinted Ray-Ban circular shades. He sports a buzz cut and a trimmed stubble beard and as he reminisces about the “good old days” he pulls back on his pipe. The great-great grandson of the founder of one of France’s most storied Maisons begins his story by explaining that he chose to follow in Monsieur Louis Vuitton’s footsteps out of love and duty to his grandmother, Josephine.
“Originally, I wanted to be a veterinarian and work in the countryside,” Patrick explains (I later ask him if he regrets not fulfilling this dream and he responds, matter-of-factly, “Today, I hunt. And whenever my dogs get injured, I stitch them up myself”). “My grandparents insisted that I continue in the family business. I always told my grandfather, ‘No.’”
The years passed and Patrick’s grandfather, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, passed away in March 1970; his widowed wife, Josephine, who took the reins of the House, soon beseeched Patrick to help her. “A woman’s charm is something that you cannot resist and she was simply a woman I could not say no to,” he smiles.
Patrick finished his military service and then entered the House of Louis Vuitton as an apprentice. “I started in carpentry and, over time, I gradually learned how to make luggage from the beginning to end—everything from a lady’s bag to a big malle (trunk).” Since 1990, Patrick’s role has entailed traveling the world over to meet with press and manage unique projects—notably, he oversees the roughly 300 special orders that the House receives each year.
In making his way through the company’s ranks, Patrick was following family tradition. His great-great grandfather, Monsieur Louis Vuitton (1821-1892), began his journey to greatness at the age of 14 when he left his home in the green mountains of the Jura region of France (near Switzerland) to make his way to Paris—by foot. It took him two years to arrive in the capital, but during this time, he learned various trades, going from one apprenticeship to another, earning money under a goldsmith or a leather craftsman.
Upon arrival in Paris, Louis Vuitton earned a place working as a box-maker and packer under Monsieur Marechal. His modern and astute ways of creating more durable and practical packaging for clients soon earned him a name for himself and he wound up becoming the personal box-maker and packer for the Empress Eugenie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III and the last Empress Consort. The doors to the elite were thrown open and when Monsieur Marechal passed away in 1854, Louis Vuitton decided to create his own company, 160 years ago.