The roots of this well-made handbag – a classic, versatile shape, smart, roomy compartments and virtual indestructibility – can be traced to Louis Vuitton’s history as a maker of fine trunks. The house was founded in 1854, and, from the beginning, the Louis Vuitton style and design was frequently imitated. The iconic monogrammed canvas bearing the LV initials and the now famous Japanese-inspired quatrefoils and flowers was introduced and patented in 1896 to help protect against counterfeiting, a hazard even in the brand’s early days.
An 1898 advertisement shows travel trunks and speciality hatboxes designed expressly to carry men’s and women’s clothing. By the 1930s, when the Speedy was first made, the company had moved into creating smaller bags for everyday use, including the Noé, which, though it was originally designed to carry Champagne, became a Parisian fashion sensation.
The constant evolution of the Speedy has kept it perennially fresh. Audrey Hepburn made the already much-loved Speedy ever more chic when she asked Henri-Louis Vuitton to make a smaller, more convenient version, the Speedy 25, as a custom piece in 1965. The family of bags continued to grow over the years, varying in size, texture, colour and pattern. Louis Vuitton is now renowned for its collaborations with international artists and the French design house’s first such partnership was with street-smart New York artist Stephen Sprouse, who gave the Speedy an unforgettable electric-green graffiti treatment in 2001.
In 2003, the Speedy got an inspired artist revamp with Takashi Murakami’s whimsical take on the classic Monogram pattern; his bold use of colour, stamping the logo in 33 different hues on a black or white background, was such a wild success that the line became a part of the permanent collection. For the autumn/winter 2006/07 runway show, creative director Marc Jacobs sent out a fabulous disco-ball of a bag to dazzle the crowd: the Monogram Mirror, made in a reflective silver vinyl embossed with the signature pattern.
Eight decades since its inception, the Speedy continues to be updated for today. Since 2011, it has featured a detachable crossbody shoulder strap for modern, hands-free versatility. The following year saw the release of a line of splashed-colour bags designed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, as well as the introduction of the Speedy Monogram Empreinte, made in delicate, engraved calfskin and celebrated in a new travel-inspired film campaign featuring the model Arizona Muse. She’s the latest in a legion of stylish women, from Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve to Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker and model and rocker Agyness Deyn, to shoulder the bag – glamorously, of course – into the future.