The Fashion House the Handbag Built

by Alex Russel
Fashion School Review Columnist

December 7, 2005

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Call it the house the handbag built. Even though the concept of the fashion retail superstore is supposed to be in decline, Louis Vuitton recently opened a merchandising behemoth on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Movie stars Uma Thurman, Sharon Stone, and Winona Ryder were present for the ribbon cutting, and thousands of tourists quickly followed.

The Louis Vuitton brand has existed since 1854. It began as a trunk maker, a practice that later morphed into luggage making. In 1914, Louis Vuitton's grandson opened a store on the Champs Elysees, which stayed open through two world wars, closing in 1954.

Now the family name is back on that mythical avenue in Paris, in a building that once housed TWA.

Fashion Merchandising History

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According to the New York Times, Louis Vuitton is the cash cow for Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), the multibrand conglomerate that is world's leading maker of luxury goods. At Vuitton, handbags and other leather accessories are king, driving an estimated $3.72 billion a year in global sales--roughly a quarter of LVMH's overall businesses. The painted handbag collection created by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami alone has been estimated to have annual sales of $300 million.

The store itself is roughly 20,000 square feet, built around a soaring cylindrical atrium. Though no one outside LVMH knows for sure, experts think the cost of the new Louis Vuitton store topped $50 million.

Fashion Merchandising Emporium

Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, is optimistic about his new Champs-Élysées location, so much so that he predicted it will be making money within a month.

Marc Jacobs Breakthrough

Louis Vuitton was largely regarded as a stuffy brand until about a decade ago, when American fashion designer Marc Jacobs was charged with revamping the brand.

What Jacobs accomplished is now considered a fashion merchandising legend. He reinvented Louis Vuitton's logo handbag, twisting the handbags into the "it bags" of each season.

Each year, Jacobs invites other designers and artists to collaborate, resulting in graffiti-painted hand bags by Stephen Sprouse and the rainbow logos of Murakami, which were an instant success. Not coincidentally, Louis Vuitton is huge in Japan.

Fashion Merchandising Career

A fashion merchandising career has its ups and downs, but overall it remains an excellent career choice. Fashion merchandising jobs, whether at Walmart or in Louis Vuitton's atrium on the Champs Elysees, remain plentiful.


About the Author
Alex Russel is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Since graduating from Syracuse University he has worked at many different media companies in fields as diverse as film, TV, advertising, and journalism. He holds a dual bachelor's degree in E

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