We’ve entered unprecedented times when it comes to travelling, as travellers around the world heed non-essential travel measures amidst the global shutdown.
As countries learn to adapt and slowly reopen borders to travellers like myself who yearn for overseas trips, I, for one, will be bookmarking Asnières, a village to the northwest of Paris, as part of my future travel checklist. And who better to narrate the history of this quaint village other than the devilishly handsome, sixth-generation descendant of Louis Vuitton, Mr Benoit-Louis Vuitton, 44, himself?
You must wonder, what has Asnières got to do with Benoit?
For a start, five years after Louis Vuitton founded the Maison in 1859, Louis chose to open his atelier in Asnières, which was a clever and conscious move on his part. You see, Asnières was on the banks of the Seine, allowing for easy delivery of raw materials, including the poplar wood required for the already famous Vuitton trunks. In addition, a more modern means of transport was also at hand: one of France’s first railway lines passed through Asnières, leading to the Gare Saint-Lazare, close to the Parisian trunkmaker’s first store.
When the Asnières ateliers were constructed in 1859, Louis used the top floor as a home for his new family. The Vuitton children played in the garden, rowed on the nearby Seine river, and learned the family trade in the workshops before entering into the business.
Benoit lived and played in the halls of this current atelier in Asnières, together with his brother. Standing in the atelier while on a Zoom call, Benoit, who's currently serving as the Corporate Director, Art Culture and Patrimony for Louis Vuitton shares with Yahoo Life SEA that, “When my father (Patrick-Louis) was the director of this place, we had a yearly Christmas reception, tree, and barbeques in summer. When I was a kid, we used to have these kinds of events, where we gathered the whole team. I used to play in the garden, and here you could admire the stained glasses (points to a panel in the hall) that were a representative of the creativity of the place when it was built.”
My eyes followed the items Benoit showed us on video, including portraits of Louis on a tabletop. “Here we have the older generation represented; we have Louis as a young person, our founder. I like this one because that’s a picture of Georges (Louis’ son) who’s returned from an exhibition in Brazil on a boat."
Patron of the arts, Georges-Louis Vuitton’s late 19th-century renovation of the house was conceived with local masters of the French Art Nouveau style as it remains today.
The hallways and living rooms date back to 1900, and you could see - albeit on just a screen, thousands of miles away – the intricate ceiling mouldings, paintings and even a Louis Vuitton trunk being used as a coffee table in front of a fireplace. “In terms of creativity, (the second atelier) is way stronger. The whole decoration of the room really represents this energy we have in the family, and it will remain generation after generation,” Benoit shares.
According to Benoit, Georges was an avid collector, and he collected “trunks of every shape, from the biggest to the smallest”, you could imagine. The trunk that doubled up as a fireplace was actually a wedding trunk used when you get married. “The brides originally were invited to meet with a trunk full of trousseau (clothes, linen things that a bride brings with her for her wedding day),” Benoit adds, much to my wonder.
The family home left me yearning for a visit in the flesh, for witnessing it on video does not do it justice at all. As magical as it sounds, the atelier was indeed home to the life of great minds who changed fashion history with their forward-thinking and daring approach.
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