“The art of travel” is Louis Vuitton’s unofficial tagline, but on Friday, the house will embark on its most epic expedition yet: a journey through time. The New York leg of its traveling exhibition, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez—Louis Vuitton,” has landed in Lower Manhattan, a visual chronicle of the brand since its founding in 1854. The expansive show takes up two floors in the former New York Stock Exchange and is packed to the brim with the usual suspects—trunks, monograms, artist collaborations—and plenty of unusual ones, too, each one selected by master curator and historian Olivier Saillard.

Saillard was approached by Bernard Arnault more than two years ago to create an exhibit about Louis Vuitton’s 163-year history. “It was quite a big challenge to do a big exhibition for Vuitton because there are so many exhibitions we could do devoted to Vuitton,” Saillard admits. Ultimately, he found himself enthralled by the story of the maison’s founder, who left his home in the Jura region of France at the tender age of 14 and traveled to Paris by foot to apprentice as a trunk maker and packer. “I was very fascinated about this story of this young boy who decided to leave his family and travel for two years to work in Paris, so I tried to do, in each room of the exhibition, in each chapter, a self portrait of a man,” he says. The goal: “Sometimes to forget Louis Vuitton, the big brand, in order to remember the man that started this huge story.”

Monsieur Vuitton’s legacy and that of his son, Georges Vuitton, and grandson, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, haunt the exhibit in fantastic ways. Upon entering you are greeted with an Impressionistic painting of the founder—quite handsome, you’ll notice—and throughout the show, signed documents, letters, and personal ephemera are paired alongside the maison’s most iconic pieces. “There is, in those documents, a way to reintroduce the life,” says Saillard. “Sometimes when you discover a letter, a document, something very ordinary, it brings more life than something very important.”

As for the very important things, they’re all here. The exhibition is sorted into categories like automobiles, train travel, and celebrities, and within each is a piece to fawn over. Early on, in a room dedicated to boats, are the animal-embossed trunks from Wes Anderson’s 2007 The Darjeeling Limited. Those lie just beside a new Louis Vuitton trunk bag by Nicolas Ghesquière and a copper trunk from 1903. (In truth, the continuity between Vuitton’s earliest creations and the modern pieces of the Marc JacobsKim Jones, and Ghesquière eras is striking.) Later on—past Gaston-Louis’s personalized book collection and the customized toolbox in the automotive room, but just before Alicia Vikander’s hand-beaded Oscars dress—you’ll find a Supreme x LV skateboard, packed just as carefully as a 1913 picnic set, in a red Vuitton trunk.

olivier saillard
(Olivier Saillard Photographed by Travis Emery Hackett)

All this is accented by the whimsical set design by Robert Carsen. In one section, he has turned the empty halls of the Stock Exchange into a trompe l’oeil train car, and in another, he’s lined the walls with monogram aubergine suede. This theatrical approach is key. Saillard is known in and out of the fashion world for his poignant performance art, which brings historical fashion to life. While he says he was “interested to do something classic and academic to explain this important story of Louis Vuitton, of this man,” he’s quick to note that he was just as intent on finding ways to infuse the static nature of empty trunks and motionless mannequins with a sense of joy. “Because the title of the exhibit is ‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez,’ we tried to create this idea of always moving or dreaming,” Saillard says. “You can imagine how you would move when you are seeing the clothes, but also the way to dream.” He pauses. “Since the beginning of the story of Louis Vuitton himself, it is about travel, about bringing something with you in your trunk, in your bag, and this idea of travel is following the story of motion through trains, boats, planes, but also traveling in dreams, in art. That is for me, the soul of the brand.”

Smart fans will be sure to travel down to the exhibit before it closes on January 7, 2018. And if this has not yet convinced you, Saillard will. His plea: “We are always talking about fashion, we are always hearing that there is a Fashion Week somewhere all around the world, and at the same time there is an impossibility for everyday people to see an haute couture dress, to see a very creative piece.” At 86 Trinity Place, you will find the best by Jacobs, Ghesquière, and Mr. Vuitton himself. Bon voyage!

Volez, Voguez, Voyagez—Louis Vuitton” will be open at 86 Trinity Place, New York from October 27 through January 7, 2018.

Words by STEFF YOTKA for VOGUE

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