Tradition, to Louis Vuitton, means more than a monogram. The house’s newly expanded gaming collection puts this in sharp relief, with its pitch-perfect timing (have we ever spent more time together at home?) and deep roots in its history: Louis Vuitton’s grandson, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, was a collector of artisanal trinkets and board games. Now that legacy is felt in all manner of diversions ideal for both frequent travelers and newly committed homebodies alike. There are chess sets and decks of cards, trunks for poker and croquet, beach games and backgammon boards, billiard tables and dominoes. One of the newest additions, a foosball table, or “Babyfoot,” is rendered in traditional waxed monogram canvas as well as a rainbow of vibrant Epi leathers and built with the same craftsmanship that goes into each of the maison’s legendary trunks.
The town of Asnières-sur-Seine is where the fabric meets the frames, and where I Zoomed in for a visit this fall. Approximately 30 minutes northwest of Paris, Asnières was latterly the home of Monsieur Louis Vuitton et famille, who established his atelier there in 1859: It is still considered the cradle of the brand’s artisanal soul. It is in this same fabled workshop where I watched a small group of highly trained artisans—shielded and staggered to government specifications— retrieve skins stored at a constant 73 degrees Fahrenheit and 65 percent humidity and stretch them across the three different types of wood that comprise the backbones of the brand’s creations. Nearby, sheaths of cotton canvas are sewn into lightweight interior hinges, and cases are lined with exquisitely soft microfiber. Precision is everything: A drawer that leaves this workshop will never wobble; a lock will not jam; the monogram will never be cut off by a corner or trim.
Technology plays a part, with digital renderings of client commissions (a trunk-sized casino replete with a roulette wheel; an afternoon tea set including a glass cake dome) pinned up and awaiting approval, and a machine with the wingspan of an osprey whose tiny blades render ultra-precise leather cutting without the heat damage of lasers. But amid the activity of the workshop, it was clear that there is no replacing the human hand. It takes years to become an artisan at this level. In the case of the metal studs that join the strips of vulcanized fiber to trunk edges, no mechanical interference is required, one artisan said; they know exactly where each goes by sight. It’s this human element that keeps clients coming back for more. (That and, with the made-to-order pieces, the thrill of exclusivity: The house only makes around 400 custom designs a year.) It is not uncommon, I was told as my Zoom came to a close, for a client commissioning a custom piece to come visit during its development, like a parent pacing outside the room where their baby is to be born, or a child anticipating what lies underneath the Christmas tree.