Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

$30B fortune from luggage: Bernard Arnault explains success of Louis Vuitton

April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Louis Vuitton has become synonymous with luxury travel through their now iconic monogrammed trunks. Forbes estimates the brand is worth just a little shy of $30 billion. Louis Vuitton has become synonymous with luxury travel through their now iconic monogrammed trunks. Forbes estimates the brand is worth just a little shy of $30 billion.
HIDE CAPTION
Monogrammed manufacturer
Elite heritage
Keeping pace with modernity
The spirit of adventure
Start of a journey
Supreme material
Style in every detail
Advertising with quality
Final finesse
A priceless warehouse
Mastery of craft
Master trunk-maker
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Louis Vuitton started as a trunk maker for the French elite, including Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III
  • The company has always had a spirit of adventure at its core
  • Today, it is one of the most valuable luxury brands in the world

(CNN) -- On a breezy spring day in 1835, a 13-year-old boy from the Jura region of eastern France set out for the glittering metropolis of Paris to seek his fortune.

He traveled the 292 mile road on foot, sleeping wherever he could find shelter and taking odd jobs to survive. It took him two years to reach the city, where he promptly became an apprentice to a box maker, and ultimately opened his own chest-making workshop.

His name was Louis Vuitton.

LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault tells CNN's Isa Soares what's the secret of Louis Vuitton's longevity.

A century and a half later, the eponymous company he founded is among the most recognizable luxury brands in the world and, according to Forbes, is worth nearly $30 billion.

It's part of the LVMH consortium whose CEO (and France's richest man), Bernard Arnault, spoke exclusively to CNN about the firm's heritage, and the spirit of adventure which, he says, defined it from the start: "The history of Louis Vuitton is linked to travel. We created luggage for explorers, and during the 20th century our products gradually evolved to reflect the lifestyle of the customer."

Louis Vuitton was one of the first luxury retailers to open boutiques in China and Mongolia and now the label is seeking new frontiers -- looking towards unexplored markets in Indonesia and South America.

Luxury group LVMH CEO and France\'s richest man Bernard Arnault
Luxury group LVMH CEO and France's richest man Bernard Arnault

"When I went to China in 1991 for the opening of the first Louis Vuitton shop, you hardly saw any cars on the streets of Beijing, only bicycles. In spite of that we opened a luxury boutique, and now we have more than 20 across the country" says Arnault.

The company is ever keen to trumpet its craftsmanship ethos. Indeed, many items are still hand-made in its French factories - with some workers being trained between 18 months and two years. Mr Arnault credits this attention to detail with Louis Vuitton's longevity on the luxury market.

Paris vs New York: Who wins in clash of the culture capitals?

The brand's well-known LV monogram was introduced in 1896 in an effort to combat counterfeits, but Arnault says that it doesn't take a logo to recognize the company's signature handicraft: "What made Louis Vuitton famous was the quality. We don't do marketing, we just create products which are exceptional in their design and craftsmanship."

Flamboyant flair

In 1997 the company hired Marc Jacobs as the creative director, initiating a long-standing and successful partnership that come to an end in 2013. Jacobs designed Louis Vuitton's first ready-to-wear clothing line which premiered at Paris Fashion Week to both critical and commercial success, and the brand has since become known for its theatrical and flamboyant fashion shows.

Delivery trucks with the famous LV logo parked in front of the Louis Vuitton factory in Asnières.
Courtesy ARCHIVES LOUIS VUITTON MALLETIER

"It's very important that when you have a designer like Marc Jacobs, who is a genius, you give him complete freedom. So what you see as theatrical scenery is in fact his creativity poured into the fashion show" says Arnault.

Staging a runway presentation remains crucial when it comes to capturing the imagination of customers and the media, even if some of the more outlandish designs don't make it from the catwalk to the stores: "Fashion week is a moment in which designers can show their ideas to the world. On the catwalk you see pieces which are innovative and trigger the desire of the customer. From these ideas you can then create products which follow that direction, but in a more accessible way."

Spirit of entrepreneurship

Louis Vuitton's parent company LVMH also owns French luxury giants Christian Dior, Givenchy and Dom Perignon, and Arnault travels the world at the helm of the consortium much like an ambassador of Gallic style.

Is Paris still cool? Hell yeah! (But not for the reasons you think)

However, he also looks beyond the world of traditional, large companies, and is eager to apply the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley to fashion establishments in Paris and London.

"Today everybody, including myself, is interested in internet start-ups. But you also have start-ups in the designer world, and it's fascinating to see how we can transform a small company into something very successful on a global scale" he says.

And when it comes to his goals for the future? "We want Louis Vuitton to still be the number one brand in ten years. In our business, the most important word is desire, so we want to continue creating desire."

Watch: Why is Paris Fashion Week so important?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Style
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
Contemporary Chinese art can be a thorny jungle for the uninitiated. Here are the movements and artists you need to know.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1334 GMT (2134 HKT)
Today, mourning a loved one means donning the most formal black outfit in one's closet. But 150 years ago, it meant buying a whole new wardrobe.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Some artists are obsessed with making things tiny. Others are into vastness. Here are incredible works from both ends of the size spectrum.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Close one eye, and it could almost -- almost -- pass for a regular underground train. Close the other, and it looks like a space shuttle from Star Trek.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Soup that is rumored to be radioactive; 10 people sharing a single silk hat. It could only be Frieze London, one of the world's leading art fairs.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0939 GMT (1739 HKT)
In spite of all the sexier pictures around us, the titillating pin-ups of the early 20th century are still in demand.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
Iris has autism and cannot speak, but her stunning paintings sell for thousands of dollars.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1055 GMT (1855 HKT)
Here's a look at the world's finest feats of facial hair, from sculpted sideburns to manicured mustaches.
October 6, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
The finest buildings in the world have been named at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
For some, these beautiful train stations are part of the everyday commute. For others, they're must-see travel destinations.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
As the Turner Prize turns 30 years old, we look at the formula for controversy and what the work we hate says about our society.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
From the most controversial to the most iconic, these are the book covers that have defined our times
ADVERTISEMENT