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Voyage en Capitale: Louis Vuitton and Paris at the Carnavalet Museum

The surprise of a bright exhibition with a modern scenography in the old-fashioned charm of the Carnavalet Museum: the “Voyage en capitale” exhibition announces a Paris viewed by the famous trunk-maker through 11 “scenes”.
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© Jacques-Henri Lartigue

First theme: the beginnings in Paris. Paintings, photographs: Vuitton shows its own old Paris, with an antique sign and a first trunk. A wall is decorated with portraits of the three great family members of the company: Louis, the founder (1821-1892), Georges, the innovator (1857-1936) and Gaston-Louis, the man of arts (1883-1970).
The second theme goes back over the monogram origins, presenting various objects with motives explaining the founding influences of the famous ornament.
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© Patrick Galabert

The next room deals with transport – with the miniature of a stagecoach and all the types of traveling trunks such as Tea Cases, the car trunk – and with World Fairs, which led to so many creations! Louis Vuitton attended them from 1867 and won many prizes there. During the great 1900 Fair, Georges Vuitton is in charge of the organization of the traveling objects and leather goods section. Therefore, he is outside the competition. Nevertheless, he displays – as we learn it – his own exhibition in a blue carousel reminding you of the Big Wheel. Posters, maps and trunks are there to testify the influence of the World Fairs. But you can also see a magnificent mockup of the 1878 Palais du Trocadéro.
Then, we discover the design and Africanism of the beginning of the 20th century. If the Arts Décoratifs are more visible on the Louis Vuitton collection pieces (such as perfume flasks), the ethnical inspirations are directly perceptible on the trunks: crocodile leather, objects made of ivory… This style was to reach its peak for the colonial exhibition in 1931, whose map lets us perceive the festive aspect of it as well as the “human zoos”.

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© Archives Louis Vuitton

Similarly, the displays echo the former room as well by going back on the transport theme, but through motor exploits this time. This is the era of great explorers and inventions of any kind on earth or in the air that take us far away from Paris. This is how we discover trunks for each type of journey. The Aéro trunk, in 1910, prided itself on weighing only 26 kg!
Then, the exhibition gets lost in themes specific to the trunk-maker. A small room, like an antechamber, offers a poetical video work made to represent Louis Vuitton at the Shanghai World Fair in 2010. 6th scene: dandies; the trunks are dedicated to celebrities of the time. 7th scene: elegant women of the 20’s and their trunks to lay their many shoes for example.

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© Patrick Galabert

8th scene: celebrities. 9th scene: tradition, innovation, re-interpretation: a culture of curiosity. Here, white cubes display old trunks mixed with more recent luggage, to flashy material and colors far away from natural leather.

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© Patrick Galabert

10th scene: Damien Hirst’s special order, i.e two blue and black trunks with butterflies and vanities to contain various surgical instruments.
The 11th scene, entitled “Have a nice trip!” is an order from Louis Vuitton to Frédérique Chauveau, a decoration and video display on the water theme. This is also where you can find books on sale such as “100 legendary trunks” in its deluxe version: 140 € for 800 wonderful pages and small inserts, like cards scattered through the pages that flatter the potential collector’s soul of the reader.

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You can also get over it with the little exhibition guide, which, surprisingly, shows no pictures of what you have just seen.
Because, overall, the marketing of the exhibition is highly elaborate. Presentation videos are available on youtube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWMJaNQY0Gg, the video of the exhibition rooms and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMu35g60YJw&feature=channel, the interview of Patrick Louis Vuitton. The exhibition also has its own Internet site: www.louisvuitton-voyageencapitale.com. Children are not forgotten either, because a small book is dedicated to them, with nice drawings and questions.
We are a little doubtful though when ending this journey. Indeed, the Paris of the early century is there, so are the trunks. But isn’t this theme a mere excuse for another exhibition? What can be said about the Parisian journey from the motor exploits, celebrities and innovation themes? And how to bring together the final journey – as a daydreaming on water – and our “ville lumière”?
Indeed, Louis Vuitton has always shown adaptability to its clients. The most prestigious will always see their special orders particularly and carefully produced, with the required innovation. Thus, Louis Vuitton is contributing to creation and art and is becoming a witness – even an actor – of the former eras, of our time too. But is our Paris of today the one of artistic creation, as the exhibition would like to conclude? In the end, this journey is rather an overview of the spectacular archives of the House.

Voyage en Capitale
Louis Vuitton & Paris
Untill February 27th 2011
Le Musée Carnavalet
23 rue de Sévigné
75003 Paris

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