A look inside a veritable Cabinet of Wonders – The Gaston-Louis Vuitton Collection
Credit: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Piled one atop the other, and with a little artful editing, Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s initials can be made to resemble a potted plant, “for an amateur Rose Grower”.

It’s one of the many monograms of the grandson of the founder of the House of Vuitton that are emblazoned throughout the pages of Cabinet of Wonders, each iteration of a new design conferring on the three letters all the power of his life’s consuming passions. It’s those objects of fixation that are painstakingly documented in a new monograph from Louis Vuitton, out next month.

An artist by passion and profession alike, Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s fascination with antiquity – its practices, techniques and objects, in all their imperfections – lead him toward a lifelong desire to preserve their curiosities as an altogether different kind of luxury. The sole inheritor of a third generation family business, Gaston-Louis Vuitton was an aesthete nonpareil of his time and the monograph is teaming with insights into his peculiar brand of esotericism. In its depth and detail, it’s a fitting homage to the virtue of curiosity and character.

Take, for example, the intimation that Vuitton was as committed to the power of dress as he was to the pursuit of art, wearing as many as four outfits each day in a colour corresponding to the time of day and the activity it predicated: a red ratiné jacket and trousers for mornings spent in the study to “create a mood to match and set off historic objects”; an almond green suit to camouflage with his time spent in the garden, another of his passions; or brown head-to-toe outfits for those hours during afternoons spent in Paris, the colour chosen as a sign of faithfulness to his family’s trunks.

Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s notebooks contain meticulous designs for advertisements and window displays for the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Élysées
Credit: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Cabinet is drawn and quartered in four parts like a cabinet of curiosity, albeit one in book form. Each corresponds to a prevailing aspect of Vuitton’s character: he was a ceaseless traveller (Exotica); a prolific and pioneering inventor (Scientifica); a lover of design and craft (Artificialia); and a studious bibliophile (Mirabilia). His collection can also largely be divided into four major categories: vintage trunks, books, nécessaires and tsubas, or Japanese sword guards, which have now been dispersed amongst his successors and informed many of his design choices at the house until his death in 1970.

Interspersed throughout are many more personal objects that hold a great deal of fascination. There are excerpts from Vuitton’s meticulous notebooks, many featuring designs for window displays made when he was a sales assistant at the shop on Rue Scribe at just age 16. Another section contains precise mechanical drawings for patents to protect the House’s intellectual property against forgeries (a problem for his grandfather, even in the late 19th century) of everything from Vuitton’s signature Damier check and monogrammed canvases to its locks, trunks, toys, stationery and even tobacco pipes. One section in the particular demonstrates the depth of his fanatic and meticulous hoarding sensibilities: a glimpse into a file of newspaper clippings adhered to crimson paper, each story with pertaining to a murder in which the victim was found in a trunk (‘Les malles sanglantes‘, or ‘bloodstained trunks’).

With more than one thousand objects and many unpublished documents exhibited publicly for the first time, Cabinet of Wonders provides a fascinating insight into a side of the house that’s rarely seen – one wherein the act of collecting is likened to a sport, an art form and a way of life, and where many of the values integral to the House today are seen not only to take root but to bloom.

Cabinet of Wonders – Gaston Louis Vuitton will be available in Louis Vuitton stores from July 1, and in bookstores worldwide from September 21, 2017

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton