In 1889, all of Paris was abuzz with the approaching Universal Exposition that would be held that year from May 5 to October 31. This would be a special one; for the centennial of the French Revolution, Parisians and visitors were promised unparalleled novelties. An art nouveau iron construction would soon tower over Paris. It was in this context that Georges Vuitton, Louis’ son, imagined a more complex print than striped canvas: a checkerboard ‘damier’ canvas where the signature “L. Vuitton, marque déposée”, would be inscribed. As old as the Eiffel Tower, the damier canvas was born in this period of great creativity.
France and its technical and aesthetic prowesses were the envy of the day. Take for instance Louis Vuitton’s pieces – while it may seem obvious to us today that counterfeiting is a fact of life for the brand, this tumultuous relationship actually begin in the late 19th century. When the label’s heir imagined the damier canvas, it was to nip imposters in the bud. This canvas was imagined to distinguish the label, protect it, but also to allow the onlooker to distinguish Louis Vuitton trunks upon first glance. Later on, the brand would develop an unpickable lock that only one key and one alone would be able to open.
Solid, supple, and completely waterproof, the damier canvas was at first woven – it was only with the appearance of coated canvases that damier became a print of its own. It maintains a deceptive appearance of woven braids allowing for its famous inscription to appear intermittently. One of Louis Vuitton’s exclusive codes alongside the monogram, the damier motif illustrates the brand’s strength, and the visionary character of the founder as well as his successors. And yet, the brand would cease production of the Damier canvas in 1896; it wasn’t until 1996, 100 years later, that the trunker reunited with its original spirit with the arrival of Marc Jacobs. Ever since, the canvas was reintroduced in collections called ‘Damier Ébène’ – the success was immediate and sensational. A number of damier canvases have been imagined since: Damier Azur, Damier Graphite for the canvas’ 120th anniversary, Damier Infini made of embossed leather, and Damier Aventure…
In 2001, after September 11, Mrac Jacobs decided to repaint the legendary damier canvas. Takashi Murakami would take on the task; it was a pure triumph. In 2013, the brand released a collection as an homage to its iconic canvas – with the collaboration of Daniel Buren for the scenography, Marc Jacobs launched a myriad of pieces with spectacular geometry, all traced back to the damier canvas, on the runway. The creative director imagined damier as “a motif in motion, a rhythm, a mathematical equation, a kind of perpetual movement and change.” Since then, Nicolas Ghesquière has found himself at the helm of Louis Vuitton’s creations. For Spring/Summer 2017, he once more reinvented the legendary damier assembly in an avant-garde dress. This is just one more way to prove the inexhaustible source of inspiration that is the damier canvas, an iconic motif of the creations coming from 101 Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Louis Vuitton’s Damier motif: Key dates
1888 : After the Trianon and the Rayée canvas Louis Vuitton gives birth to his last creation before the death: the Damier motif in beige and brown. It’s not only an aesthetic choice, but also a move again the counterfeiting: inside the little beige squares he prints the phrase “L. Vuitton registered trademark”. Together with the beige and brown motif Vuitton also experiments a rarer red checkered motif (dark red dots over a dark brown background) and a grey-black one.
1996 : Almost one century later the iconic Damier with the registered trademark is newly introduced on handbags and trunks as the Damier Ebène.
2014 The Petite Malle is launched: a Damier version couldn’t lack.
2014 : LV launches the Damier Cobalt, a line dedicated to men.
2014 : The Louis Vuitton foundation’s building adopts the Damier Motif.
2014 : A new revolutionary move: the Damier motif appears in a variety of colours with the Damier Couleurs.
2017 : Damier is again protagonist in the ready-to-wear collection Spring/Summer.
2017 : The Damier Tahitienne motif is born.