Louis Vuitton

With its unmistakable LV logo, Louis Vuitton is one of the most recognizable luxury brands in the world (as all those pesky knockoffs lining the stalls of New York City's Chinatown only serve to underscore). What began as a shop selling handcrafted luggage in Paris in 1854 has transformed, largely over the past two decades, into a global fashion juggernaut. Following the house's merger with Moët Hennessy in 1987, Louis Vuitton today is the crown jewel of luxury titan LVMH, which includes such labels as Fendi, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy.

Central to Louis Vuitton's enduring success over the past century are the trademark canvas designs splayed across its leather goods, including the legendary trunks—the actor George Hamilton customized his with special compartments for his laptop, martini shaker, and Anderson & Sheppard suits—as well as new travel additions like dog carriers and golf bags. Still in production are the brown and beige color combination, which debuted in 1888, and the iconic LV monogram, developed in 1896 by Georges Vuitton, Louis' son.

But its status today as a bastion of high fashion is attributed in large part to creative director Marc Jacobs. Hired in 1998, the American designer reinvigorated the brand, developing the first-ever women's and men's ready to-wear collections for the house and adding categories like fine jewelry and watches. He also irreverently updated the house's canvases, collaborating with artists like Stephen Sprouse, Richard Prince, and Takashi Murakami, whose colorful cherry print and multicolored LV canvases made the limited-edition bags instant collector's items.

In 2004 Louis Vuitton celebrated its 150th anniversary with parties around the globe, and in 2007 made headlines for its Annie Leibovitz-photographed ad campaign, which featured such unlikely luminaries as Mikhail Gorbachev and tennis power couple Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. But then, celebrity endorsement is nothing new for the label. According to legend, the great Italian film and opera director Luchino Visconti used to delight in giving sets of luggage, with the unmissable LV initials, to friends.

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