Louis Vuitton bags – they are everywhere. You may love these bags with their signature logo pattern or hate them. But it is a fact that they are some of the most popular bags at the moment. I keep seeing videos where influencers talk about the quality of the “leather” of these monogram canvas bags. I have to disappoint them – as the name suggests, the monogram canvas is not made from leather, it is a special type of coated canvas. And there is a historic reason for it – let’s look at this in more detail.
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The Development of the Louis Vuitton Company in the History Context
Today Louis Vuitton is widely known for their bags. But the history of the brand goes back to luggage. The young Louis moved from Eastern France to Paris in 1837. Well, he did not just move – he walked over 400 km to Paris and started as an apprentice at Monsieur Maréchal who was a well-known box-maker and packer. At the time, people travelled in horse-drawn carriages but also steam boats and train travel became more and more popular. Their belongings had not only be packed in a certain way but they also had to be protected very well from the rough handling. Vuitton was later hired by Emrpess Eugénie de Montijo (the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte III) and this allowed him access to the Parisian elite which led to the opening of his own workshop in 1854. The sign outside the shop said “Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specializing in packing fashions”.
This is where Vuitton came up a special trunk which was flat, stackable and waterproof – a stark contrast to the common dome-shaped luggage of the time. With this type of luggage, Vuitton built up and expanded his workshop and shaped the travel and luggage industries. He worked as a master of trunk production until he passed away in 1892.
Quite a few signature characteristics of the brand’s products today were developed to overcome challenges of the time. In the 19th century, travellers could not really watch their luggage closely and, hence, burglaries were common. Louis Vuitton’s sons Georges created a single lock with two spring buckles, also called “tumbler lock”. He was so sure of the quality of this lock that he even dared the famous illusionist and escape artist Houdini to free himself from inside a large Vuitton trunk. Even though Houdini never accepted the challenge, the lock has remained and it can still be found on many of the bags today.
Another challenge at the end of the 19th century was counterfeit Louis Vuitton products. The Maison had become well-known and counterfeiting products was already common during the time. Georges’ approach was to create the Louis Vuitton Monogram composed of the LV logo, the circle, flower and quatrefoil pattern. With this, he created the iconic pattern of the house. First, the company used it for trunks but soon it was also used for smaller bags.
If The Bags Are not Made from Leather, What Material Is Being Used?
Experimenting with different materials has always been part of the Louis Vuitton brand DNA. What many people do not realise – their most iconic material is actually not leather. As mentioned before, many influencers talk about the “leather” of the Louis Vuitton bags. But as the name Monogram Canvas suggests, this signature material is canvas, not leather, and this goes back to the beginnings as a luggage manufacturer. Many people are surprised when they learn about this fact, as most would associate leather products with a luxury brand. But let me tell you where this is coming from.
The first material used by the company was a solid grey hemp oil fabric which they called Trianon. At the time, this was Vuitton’s competitive advantage: many of his competitors used leather. His hemp oil fabric was lighter and also waterproof as it was varnished. Louis Vuitton was not the only one using alternatives to leather, other companies like his “rival” Goyard, for example, worked on similar materials. In 1872, Louis Vuitton changed the design of the trunks to a red and white striped canvas. But as mentioned before, counterfeiting was a big issue and this design could easily be copied. Therefore, he created the Rayée canvas in 1876, which was still striped but already using the now-iconic brown colour palette.
The Damier Pattern
In 1888, Vuitton created another canvas – the Damier. “Damier” means “checkerboard” in French and the name refers to this checkerboard pattern. This may be another unexpected fact: the Damier was created even before the monogram canvas. In some of the squares “marque L. Vuitton déposée” was hand painted – this is Louis Vuittons first registered trademark and it was used to make it more difficult to counterfeit the product. This pattern was released in red and white for some time – a product version which today it is very hard to find. Later on, the Damier was produced in the Louis Vuitton brown and beige.
More than 100 years later, the brand reintroduced the pattern as the Damier Ebène in 1998 – again in brown and beige checkerboard but with the difference that it is printed on black canvas. Since then, there were multiple colour-combinations of the Damier pattern such as the Damier Azur (in 2006) or the Damier Graphite, Carbone or Cobalt. The latter was a collaboration with BMW for the introduction of their i8 series in 2014.
And what is very important to know here: the Damier is not made from leather, it goes back to the brands beginnings of the varnished canvas trunks. Today Louis Vuitton uses cotton canvas coated with PVC; similar to the Monogram Canvas, neither is made from leather. This leads to the next famous material and pattern:
The Monogram Canvas
As mentioned before, Georges Vuitton wanted to prevent their products from being copied. After the Damier, he took a step further and came up with the signature Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas in 1896. It is made of the LV logo, circles, quartrefoils and flowers and they have to be arranged in a specific order. Some experts argue that this pattern references Japanese arts. They may have a point, because, at the time, artists and designers in Europe were heavily influenced by Japan which participated in the Paris Expo in 1867. The French Art-Déco and the Austrian Jugendstil incorporated Japanese motifs and geometry into their designs and Georges Vuitton may have been inspired by that.
The Monogram is printed on a range of different materials, most known is the cotton canvas coated with PVC. Similar to the Damier, it is often mistaken as leather because it has this structured, pebbled surface. The advantage over leather is that it is more resistant to water and damage. It is a decision luxury bag shoppers need to make when purchasing luxury bags: Do you prefer a leather bag or do you want to go for this material, knowing that it is PVC-coated canvas? I leave this up to you.
Like the Damier, the Monogram Canvas has been reinterpreted many times. For example, in a limited edition with a colour gradient in 2007. Probably the most famous interpration of the Monogram Canvas was in the early 2000s when Japanese artist Takashi Murakami collaborated on a few designs with the company – like the Multi-Colour Monogram Canvas.
In addition to their signature canvas bags, Louis Vuitton also offers a range of leather goods. In 1985, Louis Vuitton introduced a more structured type of material: the Epi leather which is dyed and embossed with a wave pattern with a certain graphic effect enhanced by a topcoat. It is a quieter style within the Louis Vuitton family, as the logo is only embossed in one corner of the product. Originally the Epi leather was available in six colours, but the brand added further colours and dropped some. Also the Epi leather is regularly reinterpreted, for example in 2001, Louis Vuitton released the “Epi Plage”, a PVC-version, or it was also used for the collaboration with Supreme in 2017.
The name of this cow leather refers to the largest forest in Russia and was introduced in 1993. The leather is is sanded and buffed which allows to get rid of imperfections, then the “Taïga”-grain is being imprinted. This material is only used for men’s leather goods (mostly for briefcases and travel accessories).
Not all products with the Monogram pattern are necessarily made of canvas. Introduced by Marc Jacobs in 1998, the Vernis is a calfskin leather embossed with the Monogram pattern. “Vernis” means “varnish in English and it refers to the shiny coating. Initially it was offered in pastel colours but soon Louis Vuitton added many different colours. Some people complain that while the bags are beautiful, the glossy material is not long-lasting and difficult to take care of. However, for this article, I have examined two bags from the early and mid-2000s which still look very good. I assume that with the right maintenance, the Vernis bags can stay nice for quite some time as well.
These are probably the most-known Louis Vuitton materials, further examples are the Suhali (a rare goat skin leather), the denim interpretation of the Monogram Canvas, the Mahina, the Mini Lin, a smaller version of the monogram canvas on a cotton, linen and polyamide blend which was later reissued under “Idylle” and the Empreinte which is also quite a popular one with the embossed Monogram.
 Christie’s 2024, Louis Vuitton 2024a, The Vintage Bar 2024.
 Louis Vuitton 2024b, The Vintage Bar 2024.
 Louis Vuitton 2024c, The Vintage Bar 2024.
 The Vintage Bar 2024.
Christie’s, Louis Vuitton Handbags Collecting Guide, last accessed on 9 Feburary 2024.
Louis Vuitton, A Legendary History, last accessed on 9 Feburary 2024.
Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton Damier, last accessed on 9 February 2024.
Louis Vuitton, Our History in Stories, last accessed on 9 February 2024.
The Vintage Bar, The Louis Vuitton Bible, last accessed on 9 Feburary 2024.
Picture Sources (Incl. Title Image)
This article is based on the personal, views, experiences and research of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the organisations and people mentioned above.