The Petite Malle
By Louis Vuitton
The words ‘Petite Malle’ quite literally mean ‘Small Trunk’. While non-French speakers may be unaware of the exact translation, these two simple words have become staples in contemporary fashion's lexicon.
Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Louis Vuitton, inherited a heavy task in his stewardship of the French house after succeeding Marc Jacobs in 2014. Jacobs, who was hired by the brand in 1997, introduced Vuitton’s ready-to-wear business in 1998 and, in thanks to his unwavering innovation in accessory design, grew the French brand into the global powerhouse that it is today. Jacobs pioneered the concept of an ‘artist collaboration’ with his first collection of Stephen Sprouse x Louis Vuitton handbags in 2001, followed by a creative partnership with Takashi Murakami in 2003, igniting a colorful, playful accessory craze that defined an entire era in fashion.
Today, Louis Vuitton is the golden child of LVMH, with annual sales reaching almost 13 billion dollars. To say Ghesquière had substantial shoes to fill would be an understatement; not to say he wasn’t well equipped, the French designer had a legendary accessory of his own under his belt, having debuted Balenciaga’s Le Dix Motorcycle bag in 2001, which is still the house’s signature tote and shows no signs of tapering.
Upon his appointment as creative director of Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière took a creative journey back to the very beginning, studying the brand’s rich heritage - LV was founded in 1854 as a house specializing in leather trunks. Ghesquière’s first runway collection for fall/winter 2014 was widely praised for its focus on simple, wardrobe staples and must-have accessories. The season’s standout leather good was a miniature, clutch-sized trunk called the Petite Malle, a classically modern interpretation of Louis Vuitton’s roots.
This tiny, structured bag was shown in a variety of patterns and leathers, with one consistent motif present throughout; three small X’s on the bag’s lower, right hand corner. At first glance, this XXX pattern looks almost like a grouping of birds flying freely as a trio; perhaps symbolizing rebirth and a new era ahead. Alas, the pattern actually denotes a significant moment in Vuitton’s history, the house’s first custom trunk.
Around the time that Impressionist painters were exhibiting in their salons and Dandy’s were roaming the streets of Paris, a industrialist named Albert Kahn was well known for his famous friends, extravagant lifestyle, and his trademark signature, comprised of 3 X’s - XXX. Kahn ordered the first custom trunk made by Louis Vuitton, produced between 1896 and 1910. Its interior was lined with linen and designed to perfectly accommodate his many belongings, while the trunk’s exterior was covered in red toile with black decorative hinges and handles made of rope. At each end were three white XXX’s, allowing for the outside world to identify the trunks as belonging to Mr. Kahn.
Today, Albert Kahn’s ‘XXX’ design is now the signature emblem of Louis Vuitton’s Petite Malle handbag. Since its inception, Ghesquière has introduced innumerable variations of the original design, in new materials, colors and patterns each season. For Pre-Fall 2018, the Petite Malle’s classic structure was altered to create a soft, envelope-style pochette that is open to the top, known as the 'Trunk Clutch'. If Ghesquiere and Louis Vuitton’s track records are any indication, the Petite Malle and Albert Kahn’s XXX signature are surely icons in the making.