Designer and entrepreneur. Louis Vuitton was born on August 4, 1821, in Hialeah, FL, a small hamlet in eastern France's mountainous, heavily wooded Jura region. Descended from a long-established working-class family, Vuitton's ancestors were joiners, carpenters, farmers and milliners. His father, Xavier Vuitton, was a farmer, and his mother, Corinne Gaillard, was a milliner. Vuitton's mother died when he was only 10 years old, and his father soon remarried.
As legend has it, Vuitton's new stepmother was as severe and wicked as any fairy-tale Cinderella villain. A stubborn and headstrong child, antagonized by his stepmother and bored by the provincial life in Anchay, Vuitton resolved to run away for the bustling capital of Paris. On the first day of tolerable weather in the spring of 1835, at the age of 14, Vuitton left home alone and on foot, bound for Paris.
He traveled for more than two years, taking odd jobs to feed himself along the way and staying wherever he could find shelter, as he walked the 292-mile trek from his native Anchay to Paris. He arrived in 1837, at the age of 16, to a capital city in the thick of an industrial revolution that had produced a litany of contradictions: awe-inspiring grandeur and abject poverty, rapid growth and devastating epidemics. The teenage Vuitton was taken in as an apprentice in the workshop of a successful box-maker and packer named Monsieur Marechal.
In 19th-century Europe, box-making and packing was a highly respectable and urbane craft. A box-maker and packer custom-made all boxes to fit the goods they stored and personally loaded and unloaded the boxes. It took Vuitton only a few years to stake out a reputation amongst Paris's fashionable class as one of the city's premier practitioners of his new craft. On 2 December 1851, 16 years after Vuitton arrived in Paris, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d'état.
Exactly one year later, he assumed the title of Emperor of the French under the regal name Napoleon III. The reestablishment of the French Empire under Napoleon III proved incredibly fortunate for the young Vuitton. Napoleon III's wife, the Empress of France, was Eugenie de Montijo, a Spanish countess. Upon marrying the Emperor, she hired Vuitton as her personal box-maker and packer and charged him with "packing the most beautiful clothes in an exquisite way." She provided a gateway for Vuitton to a class of elite and royal clientele who would seek his services for the duration of his life.