The Louis Vuitton logo is one of the earliest symbols of modern luxury. In 1888 when it first appeared it was the first time that a manufactured object had a brand name visible on its exterior.
Distinctive and instantly recognisable
Maison Vuitton used a few different patterns prior to the Monogram – starting with the Trianon grey canvas in 1854, revolutionising the history of luggage by making it airtight, lightweight. They were also stackable for the first time for long voyages as previously all trunk designs were kept rounded on top so that water can run off it. Trying to stay ahead of imitators it was followed by two different striped designed and the Damier pattern, the alternating brown and beige squares, which was the founder – LV’s – last creation.
But the updating of patterns didn’t deter plagiarists and the company had to react either defensively or creatively. Louis’s son, Georges Vuitton realised that instead of geometric patterns he needed to use a pattern entirely unique to Louis Vuitton. In 1888 he came up with the pattern what we now call the Monogram – using the colours of beige and brown of the previous Damier checkerboard pattern for continuity, which throughout the times would become a genuine symbol of authenticity for the brand.
The Monogram pattern’s familiarity has grown so great that we hardly notice it anymore. But only when we realise that it hasn’t changed since its inception and examine it in detail do we realise how much meaning there is in it.
The monogram pattern is made up of four ornaments – three stylised floral motifs combining the geometric with the botanical and the interlaced monogram of the company’s founder.
The first floral motif is a diamond shape with concave sides with a four-petal flower in the centre.
The second floral motif is the reverse of the four-pointed star.
The last motif is a circle with a four-petal flower with four rounded corners and a dot in the centre.
And finally the monogram – the L and the V are interlaced in such a way as to remain perfectly legible.
These separate shapes that are echoes of each other already have a formal interplay between them, but the rigorous order by which they are ordered is what creates a clever graphic perfection.
The structuring motif is the four pointed star or diamond shape. It forms a regular grid by appearing on every other vertical and horizontal and diagonal line of the canvas pattern and the other ornaments alternated inside that grid.
The monogram was a tribute to Georges’ father and all motifs that he designed are four-pointed and four-petal shapes that resemble four-leaf clovers – perhaps a superstitious gesture to bring him luck to the business he overtook from his father. The number four is also considered a symbolic number of stability and the representation of all earthly things (four elements, four season etc. )
Symbolism and the hidden depths of the monogram
An artist’s signature The monogram pattern also echoes the symbolic nature of signatures that artists use to mark their work. An artist’s signature makes the artwork unique and authentic and the LV monogram elevates Louis Vuitton products to the status of objet d’art or at least suggested at the time that luxury goods had an artistic dimension.
A strong example of an artist’s signature becoming a recognisable marque is that of the 16th century northern Renaissance artist – Albert Dürer. He marked his drawings and paitings with his initials – his famous ‘A’, which resembled a “torii” (a Japanese gateway), protectively rising above the ‘D’.
An aristocratic sign Elements of the Monogram pattern derive from heraldry. It could also be seen as a coat of arms, a sign of distinction, excellence and rarity.
An invitation to travel The motifs of the Monogram pattern can be found in works by various civilisations from 5th century Egyptian ‘coptic’ tapestries to religious medieval and Gothic architecture, such as the Doges Palace in Venice (directly above). Medieval art is another sources of inspiration that should be considered.
The historical puzzle of the Monogram Placing it in the aesthetic and cultural context of late 19th century France, which was the period of the modern movement of decorative arts – Art Nouveau – and we can also detect Far Eastern influences, which were referred to as “japonisme” at the time. Japan has a tradition of family crests called “mon”, which play a similar social role to European coat of arms of identifying individuals and lines of descent. There is a perplexing coincidence between the Japanese word “mon” and the first syllable of Monogram.
The monogram canvas represents a group of signs with universal power: that has references to cultures, societies, historical eras and geographical locations. It catches people’s attention, but interpreted differently by all who see it. The secret of its success lies in this universality.