Asnières: The Workshop
The Asnières workshop near Paris is unquestionably the nerve centre of Louis Vuitton. For more than a century, from 1859 until 1977, it was the company’s sole production facility, before growing demand meant that additional workshops had to be brought on stream. Asnières remains very much the living symbol of Louis Vuitton’s unique savoir-faire. It is here that all hard-frame luggage continues to be made, as well as special orders, exotic leather bags and limited-edition bags for the fashion shows.
The Asnières workshop was itself a response to burgeoning demand when, just four years after he founded his business, the spectacular success of his innovative flat trunk forced Louis Vuitton to look beyond his original workshop in central Paris. With considerable foresight, he decided to move produc- tion out of the city to Asnières. The quiet rural town was yet to be made famous by the Impressionists, but was strategically situated both on the banks of the Seine – the poplar wood for the trunks arrived by barge from the nearby Oise valley – and on the railway line to Paris Saint-Lazare.
Reflecting Louis Vuitton’s personal interest in all aspects of technological progress, the architecture of the workshop was inspired by the ground-breaking use of glass and metal then being pioneered by Victor Baltard and Gustave Eiffel. It maximized the supply of natural light to provide the best possible conditions for precision craftsmanship.
Though their working environment has since evolved beyond recognition, most of the tools and techniques used by the craftsmen at Asnières have changed little in the course of 150 years. Another aspect of continu- ity is the time-honoured practice by which the workshop’s master craftsmen train their apprentices in the skills they need, ensuring that Asnières’ proud tradition of savoir-faire is passed on from one genera- tion to the next.
Asnières: The Family Home
It was in 1878 that Louis Vuitton and his family settled permanently in Asnières, moving into a house they had built in the grounds of the workshop. Two years later, Louis Vuitton’s son Georges married and assumed greater responsibilities within the company. Following the death of his father in 1892, he moved into the family home which – sharing a keen interest in developments in transport, technology, art and architecture – he deco- rated, inspiring from the emerging Art Nouveau style.
The house was lovingly maintained by subsequent generations of Vuittons, and the reception rooms are still much as the last residents left them. In the living room, the eye is drawn by the brilliant blue ceramic fireplace, while around the walls, in delicate shades of cream, pink and green, Art Nouveau stuccowork creates an atmosphere that is at once joyful and serene. Light floods in through a bow window deco- rated with graceful stained glass floral motifs signed by artist Paul-Louis Janin and dated 1900. The garden thus seems to spill over into the house, preserv- ing a little haven of tranquillity alongside the busy activity of the workshop next door.
Asnières: The Travel Museum
The Travel Museum brings the history of Louis Vuitton vibrantly to life through some of its most celebrated and outstanding creations.
A private tour of the museum begins with sections devoted to travel by sea, air, rail and road, reflecting the fact that many of Louis Vuitton’s landmark designs – including the iconic Wardrobe trunk, Steamer bag and Keepall, all exhibited here – kept pace with the transportation revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
To encompass the scope of Louis Vuitton’s savoir faire, another section is devoted to exploration, world exhi- bitions and exceptional special orders. The legend- ary trunk-bed and the bags created by leading fash- ion designers for the centenary of the Monogram canvas are among the pieces displayed here.
A separate part of the museum houses the private collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the grandson of the founder, which encompasses around 200 travel articles dating as far back as the late 14th century.
Images via Louis Vuitton