“The vision was to feel Louis as the young man and make his incredible life story come alive,” remarks Francesca Amfitheatrof, artistic director for watches and jewelry at Louis Vuitton since 2018. She is referring to Louis Vuitton, born 200 years ago in the Jura region in France. He left home at 13, making his way to Paris by foot – almost 500km – over the course of two years, taking odd jobs along the way. Once in the capital, he was hired as an apprentice to a box maker. He would go on to found one of the greatest luxury maisons of the era – and Amfitheatrof ’s Louis Vuitton Bravery collection of 90 emblematic pieces pays tribute to his exceptional destiny.
Bravery, crafted with gems and precious metals, denotes Vuitton’s inborn sense of determination, courage, and adventure. “Born under the constellation of the bravest,” remarks Amfitheatrof, is La Constellation d’Hercule. It references Vuitton’s birth on August 4, the only time of year when the constellation is visible. L’Elan Vital speaks to the unique life force that makes us all stand out and be different, says the multicultural artistic director, born of a Russian father and Italian mother, who also has a singular past, having lived in Tokyo, Rome, London, Moscow, and New York. She is also a graduate of the Chelsea College of Art & Design, Central Saint Martins, and the Royal College of Art.
The L’Aventure chapter offers pieces set with Colombian emeralds, which took two years’ research to pair, representing the Jura forests. “Imagine being young Louis, 13 years old and embarking on a two-year journey to Paris,” wonders Amfitheatrof. The jeweler is considering the times she herself needed to be brave. “Jumping out of a plane parachuting, aged 17; landing a plane in Malibu aged 22; diving with sharks in Madagascar; childbirth; and a brave moment running away from a snake in my house in Connecticut!” she laughs.
The Arrow chapter of the Bravery saga is akin to “a magnet pulling you to your destiny,” remarks its designer. Her own journey that led her to Louis Vuitton began in 1993 when her debut silverware collection was shown at Jay Jopling’s White Cube contemporary art gallery in London. She was launched into the world of fashion when both Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani purchased the complete collection of vases. She’s creatively guided several jewelry brands since 1995, including Balenciaga, Chanel, Fendi, and Tiffany & Co., where she served as the house’s
first ever female design director. Amfitheatrof continues to explain each chapter of Bravery, and shares that Le Mythe represents “The legacies created by Louis that make Vuitton.” More than 1,300 hours of work went into creating the checkerboard pattern, studs, and motifs inspired by trunk locks, rope, and the Monogram flower. A 19.70ct Sri Lankan sapphire in royal blue sits at the center of a three-row necklace. La Star du Nord, “because he is always above our heads guiding us,” notes the designer, is brought to life with a diamond choker. La Passion – “Without passion there is no heartbeat” – offers her signature lattice necklace, intended to feel like a second skin and set with diamonds and 75 round rubies. Finally, Le Tumbler, “engineering made beautiful,” marks the first time that the unpickable tumbler lock has inspired a high jewelry piece.
“Without courage there cannot be truth, and without truth there can be no other virtue,” Scottish novelist Walter Scott once wrote. Certainly, Vuitton carried heaps of courage with him on his journeys. He would center that bravery to make of himself the stuff of legends and his maison the most renowned trunkmaker in the world. With time, Louis Vuitton would become a beacon of several métiers par excellence – leather goods, fashion, high jewelry, and perfume. Truth is also integral to Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of watches and jewelry. Amfitheatrof remarks that her favorite jewelry talisman is a large medallion of the Bocca della Verità that once belonged to her aunt. The ancient Roman Mouth of Truth is rumored to bite off the hand of any liar that puts their hand inside it. For bravery, she relies on a Louis Vuitton cut diamond, which, she remarks, “may be the most extraordinary feat of stone cutting.” To walk the path none has traveled remains one of life’s most satisfying and rewarding glories.
Originally published in the December 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia