Louis Vuitton is breaking new ground. For the first time ever, the legacy French fashion house is presenting a major exhibition in North America — in downtown New York City, at the site of the former American Stock Exchange, to be specific — dedicated to the item that started it all: steamer trunks, and the countless iterations that came after it. Titled Volez, Voguez, Voyagez — Louis Vuitton (which translates to “sail, fly, travel,” a phrase borrowed from a 1965 advertisement) the exhibit, designed by Robert Carsen and curated by Olivier Saillard, catalogues the history of the brand from 1854 to the present, dividing its influence into 10 “chapters” that illustrate just how vast the uses of its trunks have been through history.
One major theme throughout all of the chapters is dreaming. Saillard was able to humanize the exhibition because, as its title suggests, it doesn't just suggest the notion of travel in its most formal terms. “The idea came from [LVMH CEO] Bernard Arnault himself, who expressed to me his wish to organize a major retrospective at the Grand Palais dedicated to the house of Louis Vuitton,” Saillard tells Refinery29. “He suggested that I might like to curate it, and gave me carte blanche. I was very attracted to the idea, especially as I had reached a point in my career of some 110 exhibitions about fashion: I was a little tired of dresses and the idea of being able to work around the trunk, an almost architectural object, pleased me greatly.”
From there, Saillard immersed himself deeply in the Louis Vuitton archive, taking in not just trunks and objects, but catalogues, postcards, stamps, and book labels. During his research, he was pleasantly surprised by his findings and suggested to Arnault that the exhibit focus on the history of the brand, rather than simply showcasing a bunch of pretty dresses. “I wanted to design the exhibition in a very formal way for those wishing to pass a diploma in trunks, but I also approached it with a sense of fantasy, as if Tintin was the curator, to appeal to a younger audience,” he explains. Visitors will explore rooms dedicated to traveling by plane, boat, and train, plus a writing room, that reminds us at one time, Louis Vuitton customized pieces for writers like Françoise Sagan and Ernest Hemingway.
Fashion is still very much a part of the exhibition, though. Inside, visitors will find trunks created for celebrities like Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Yvonne Printemps, and opera singer Mary Garden, “with clothes and accessories having belonged to them, all presented in a very feminine, upholstered ambiance.” There is also the concept of the fashion studio, with six silhouettes by Nicolas Ghesquière.
“I like exhibitions that inspire you to create, and I wanted people to understand that creating trunks is a craft born of a fine personal initiative," Saillard adds. "I hope that when they visit this one, people will have the impression of a journey, a dream.”