Coco, Louis, and Thierry: Founders of Iconic Luxury Brands

Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès hold a prominent position in the global fashion industry, captivating ultra-rich consumers with their world-class craftsmanship, stand-out designs, and unrivaled quality. These designer fashion houses have become synonymous with luxury and elegance, winning the hearts (and attracting the credit cards) of celebrities, politicians, royals, and other discerning clientele. But are we forgetting something, or rather, someone?

Behind the glitz, glam, and haute couture are visionaries who laid the groundwork: the founders. Although long gone, their brilliance and legacy endure through their eponymous brands.


Meet the Founders of Popular Designer Brands

Here, we narrate the early beginnings and legacies of three renowned founders of luxury brands, bringing to light the creative geniuses who not only transformed their dreams into reality, but also shared their creations for the world to enjoy. These founders dared to challenge norms and redefined luxury, forever transforming the fashion scene.


1. Mademoiselle Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883, was a pioneering figure in fashion. In 1910, she founded her eponymous brand, “Chanel,” home of now-classic innovations like the Chanel tweed suit, quilted purse, the “little black dress,” and costume jewelry.

With humble beginnings as a milliner, the eminent fashion icon possessed the talents necessary to establish a vast empire. Today, her $15.3 billion-worth brand sells some of the most coveted bags, clothing, jewelry, accessories, and beauty products worldwide.


Coco Chanel’s Early Life and Design Inspirations

Coco Chanel’s hardships shaped her unique perspective on fashion. Raised in a poverty-stricken household, she grew up in an orphanage after her mother, Jeanne Devolle, died in 1895, and her father, Albert Chanel, abandoned the family. Seven years later, Gabrielle worked as a seamstress and briefly as a cabaret singer to support herself financially.

Some say Gabrielle has had a keen eye for fashion since she was a young lass. She learned how to sow from the nuns who raised her in the orphanage. As for her famous nickname “Coco,” its origins date back to her time as a singer in cabarets, where she became popular among locals for singing the song “Qui qu’a vu Coco?“.

Influenced by her struggles and encounters, Chanel broke the status quo of traditional feminine attire, incorporating elements of comfort, simplicity, and understated elegance into her designs. Her fashion philosophy challenged the constraints of her time, where the norm for women was to wear elaborate flowing dresses with cinched waists and leg-o-mutton sleeves. She pushed the concept of “less is more” with her boxy lines and shortened skirts, promoting functionality without compromising style.


Coco Chanel’s Legacy and Her Brand’s Evolution

Unlike many other namesake brands, Coco Chanel is one of the few whose existence and vision continue to mold the brand, even decades after her passing in 1971. While the creative directors who succeeded her injected their individual artistry, they remained faithful to the founder’s essence, upholding Coco Chanel’s legacy.

In 1983, the appointment of Karl Lagerfeld as creative director marked a new era for the brand. The celebrated fashion designer revived the house’s image with his fresh perspective and ideas, integrating Coco Chanel’s timeless design elements with bold, modern influences. Under his leadership, Chanel was catapulted back to the forefront of the haute couture world.

Today, Chanel remains the epitome of classic elegance and sophistication. The brand continues to win the hearts of fashion enthusiasts with its chic designs and top-tier craftsmanship, all of which trace back to the pioneering spirit of the mademoiselle who started it all.


2. Monsieur Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton, born in 1821 in Anchay, France, is the entrepreneur behind one of the world’s most popular luxury fashion brands. In 1854, he founded the eponymous Louis Vuitton label, initially specializing in high-quality trunks and luggage. Vuitton’s unmatched workmanship and innovation laid the foundation for his brand’s success and enduring legacy.


Overview of Louis Vuitton’s Background

Louis Vuitton’s road to success began as an apprentice in a box-making and packing workshop, where he mastered his talents for creating practical and reliable travel cases. His skills and perseverance caught the attention of Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, who appointed him as her personal box-maker and packer. This association positioned Vuitton as a reputable artisan among the French elite. His clientele soon expanded to include movers and shakers ranging from royals and nobles of Old Europe, to heirs and heiresses of the New World like Princess Lobanov de Rostov, Grand Duke Cyril of Russia, and Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu-Kashmir.


Louis Vuitton’s Contributions to the Luggage Market

The brilliant Louis Vuitton single-handedly transformed the luggage industry with his extraordinary designs and craftsmanship. He introduced several groundbreaking features to his trunks, including flat tops and bottoms, secure locks, compartmentalized interiors, stackable designs, and lightweight yet durable materials. Vuitton’s trunks possessed a harmonious blend of functionality, aesthetic charm, and luxury, rendering them an irresistible necessity.


Louis Vuitton’s Legacy Through the Decades

Following Louis Vuitton’s passing in 1892, his son Georges Vuitton took the helm and further expanded the brand’s presence. Living up to his father’s legacy, Georges introduced new goods, opened additional boutiques, and invented the world-famous LV monogram. The Vuittons’ focus on family heritage and unquenchable thirst for business growth ensured the brand’s longevity and reputation.

In recent years, Louis Vuitton has continued to thrive under the artistic direction of visionaries like Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière. Their contributions have propelled the brand to new heights of success. They explored collaborations with artists and designers, diversifying into ready-to-wear, SLGs (small leather goods), accessories, and more while staying true to founder Louis Vuitton’s legacy of exquisite artisanship.


3. Monsieur Thierry Hermès

Thierry Hermès, a proficient craftsman, established his namesake brand “Hermès” in 1837. Born in Krefeld, Germany, he relocated to Paris, France, and positioned himself as a purveyor of fine equestrian goods. Hermès’ intricate detailing and comfort-focused ergonomic designs quickly gained prominence among the highest social classes. In fact, his high-quality horse harnesses and saddlery garnered an impressive clientele of European nobles, with some sources saying, “It was rumored that coronations were sometimes postponed for years until Hermès could create original carriage designs.”


Expanding the Brand’s Horizons

Upon Thierry Hermès’ passing in 1878, his son, Charles-Émile Hermès, took over the business. During his reign, the brand’s reputation for excellence spread further throughout Europe. 

Between the two world wars, significant lifestyle changes took place. Émile Hermès, the son of Charles-Émile, paved the way in revolutionizing the family-owned business. During a visit to Canada, he became captivated by the “close-all” opening and closing mechanism on the hood of a military car, an invention pioneered by Americans. In 1922, Émile Hermès gained a patent for this system, now famously known as the zip or zipper. The company has since incorporated this fastening mechanic into numerous handbags and leather goods.

Émile Hermès had a lifelong passion for collecting art, books, and curiosities. His successors continued to expand his collection, ensuring that it remained an endless source of inspiration for the creative endeavors of the house.


The Hermès Family’s Tradition of Excellence

The hands-on engagement and unwavering dedication of the Hermès family played a vital role in safeguarding the brand’s legacy. Across multiple generations, the family set out to uphold their founder’s principles: a devotion to craftsmanship, unparalleled quality, and meticulous attention to detail. This pursuit of excellence has allowed Hermès to maintain its reputation as a symbol of timeless luxury and sophistication. What’s more, with the Himalaya Birkin and Kelly being the most sought-after designer handbags among the rich and famous, it comes as no surprise that the brand is worth over $218 billion.


Remembering the Founders of Leading Luxury Brands

The visions, ideas, and values of Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Thierry Hermès – coupled with their successors’ talents and admiration for the original pioneers – have immortalized these fashion legends and their eponymous labels. From humble beginnings to expansion into international luxury brands, they have remained steadfast in providing the highest-quality goods with premium resale values. No wonder their popularity endures.