There could perhaps be no more symbolic a locale for the French luxury house Louis Vuitton to stage its first major US exhibition than at the former American Stock Exchange. Located in New York’s Financial District, not far from Wall Street, the vacated building—daily trading ceased there when its tenants relocated after merging with the New York Stock Exchange in 2008—stands as a monument to the global and historical impact the American economy has had upon the world.
Titled Volez, Voguez, Voyagez, the exhibition’s curator, Olivier Saillard (who is also the Director of Paris’s Palais Galliera), made a decidedly canny choice in situating a retrospective of Louis Vuitton’s success, both at home and abroad, within a landmark of early American industrialism. Indeed, the driving force behind the historic wealth of America and those who profited from it (the Vanderbilt’s, Astor’s, and Rothschild’s among)—and, by extension the luxury brands they favored—was its status as a powerhouse of industrial innovation, led by the likes of railroad baron Andrew Carnegie and the larger-than-life tycoons of the automotive industry, Henry Ford among them. For, truth be told, the underlying history of Louis Vuitton can be understood as a response to the ever changing modes of transportation. The exhibition title itself points as much to this, an abbreviation of Volez, Voguez, Voyagez avec les valises Louis Vuitton” or “Fly, Sail, Travel with Louis Vuitton suitcases,” a catchy ad-slogan used by the brand in the mid-60’s.
Spread across two floors of the Exchange, the exhibition is divided into ten-themed spaces, following a loose chronology (some rooms provide a microcosm of Vuitton history in their own right), beginning with the house’s earliest days, lead by the its eponymous founder—a maker of bespoke trunks and other luggage—through to its more contemporary collaborations with artists Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Takahashi Murakami, among them.
And, while there are plenty of references to Louis Vuitton’s close ties with celebrity as well as a strong focus upon the star designers who have helmed its line of ready-to-wear—Jacobs, Jones, and Ghesquière each have their moments—what truly comes across wandering through a rabbit’s warren of whimsical sets designed by Robert Carson—one room calls to mind the salon car of the Orient Express—filled with embossed leathers, to-die-for archival pieces, and an embarras de la richesse of sketches and and ephemera, is the brand’s ability to adapt its designs to meet the demands of the intrepid—and well-heeled—traveler. From the intricate trunks that accompanied the Gilded Class on their Atlantic crossing to the advent of the Keepall, ideal for today’s weekend explorer, Louis Vuitton has always been able to remain decidedly classique while thoroughly moderne.
Volez, Vogez, Voyagez is free and on display now through January 7, 2017. Plan your visit here.
Images courtesy of BFA / Louis Vuitton.