Louis Vuitton (LV) was established in 1854 and earned a reputation for making indestructible suitcases that could withstand the most extreme wear and travel conditions. Today, the brand’s handbags are among the most sought-after bags in the world.
But did you know that if you’re carrying a monogram or damier print bag, it’s not made of leather? Many are shocked to discover that these famous prints are actually made of coated cotton canvas, which is basically cotton canvas that’s been treated with PVC (polyvinylchloride), a common plastic derivative.
It’s easy to wonder why a monogram or damier bag is so expensive, considering the materials. But in LV’s early years, their coated cotton canvas is what differentiated LV from competitors. This is because their coated cotton canvas is tougher and more water-resistant than most leathers, so an LV piece of luggage (or handbag) was (and still is) much more durable than your average leather bag and will last longer. Another benefit is that coated canvas is lighter than leather, so you can fill your Neverfull and still not break your back.
The high cost of LV bags is also due to the extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into their goods. LV claims that each item goes through more than 100 stages of production before it’s ready for sale.
The bottom line is that the high price tag is the price we pay for LV’s ‘secret sauce’: a combination of durability and artisanal attention that makes their coated canvas unique. It’s still used today for the same benefits of durability and detail that made it famous over 150 year ago.
Their most popular print on coated cotton canvas is their iconic brown monogram, which features yellowish tan floral shapes integrated with the initials ‘LV.’ The design was created in 1896 by George Vuitton (Louis’ son) to stop counterfeiters from copying their luggage designs. He was inspired by Japanese floral designs that were trendy at that time.
In 2003, LV daringly switched it up by releasing Monogram Multicolore, the monogram print with a white background and brightly colored flowers and logo. This print was a result of LV’s collaboration with artist Takashi Murakami, and it was released under the reign of Marc Jacobs. It’s no longer produced, which makes it somewhat more coveted by collectors.
LV’s second most recognizable coated cotton canvas print is ‘Damier,’ which means ‘checkerboard’ because that’s what it is. It was launched in 1888 – BEFORE the monogram print – and was eventually discontinued. Damier was re-released in 1998 – a century after its original introduction! The most widely recognized versions are the Damier Ebene (light and dark brown checkerboard) and Damier Azur (white and grayish blue checkerboard). A tiny ‘Louis Vuitton’ is sprinkled, seemingly randomly, throughout the squares.
LV did move on to produce leather goods as well. For example, LV produces goods in Epi leather, which is a strong, rigid leather that’s been treated with plant dye. Epi is nearly identical to a grained leather LV used back in the 1920s. Since LV originally started producing luggage with their coated cotton canvas, Epi is actually the first leather that LV ever used. Epi leather was re-released in 1985, and products made from it are known for being structured, durable, scratch resistant and water resistant.
LV also produces ‘Vernis,’ which means ‘varnish.’ This leather is embossed patent leather calf skin that is super shiny and ultra-luxurious. This leather looks very rich and glamourous, but it is not as durable or scratch resistant as LV’s other materials. It’s got all the style, but not quite as much substance.
Louis Vuitton also pioneered other breakthroughs beyond their manufacturing materials. Learn more by reading their self-described history: