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Émile Rabec Successor of House Vuitton

by Deividas Daugėla of Aušra - Antique Luggage (@ausrabags on Instagram)"




The story of Émile Rabec is one shrouded in mystery and confusion. Many L.Vuitton

enthusiasts have never heard of É.Rabec, some recognise his name from interior labels in

antique trunks and very few know of his connection to Louis Vuitton. The lack of knowledge

isn’t surprising as very little primary sources are publicly available. For the same reason, please examine the following text critically and please refer to the sources listed at the end.

Based on investigative work by Delphine Saurat [6], the father of É.Rabec lived in 4, rue

Neuve-des-Capucines (address of the first L.Vuitton shop in Paris) and was most likely the

reason how É.Rabec became the first ouvrier emballeur (apprentice packer) under L.Vuitton

[7] and later his most trusted employee.


Sometime between relocation from the workshop in rue du Rocher to the Asnieres factory,

L.Vuitton opened a new branch (succursale, abv. “succ.”) at 65, Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Émile Rabec was eventually tasked to manage this branch in 1860. This moment was crowned

as the foundation of É.Rabec’s career.






According to Delphine Saurat [6], Louis Vuitton and Émile Rabec shared a close and

heartfelt relationship. A 23-year-old É.Rabec got married in 1865 with L.Vuitton as a witness.

É.Rabec name his daughters Émilie (in honour of Émilie Vuitton, wife of L.Vuitton) and

Louise and his oldest son – Louis.Due to setbacks caused by the Franco-Prussian War (July 19, 1870 – May 10, 1871), Louis Vuitton sold the 65, Avenue des Champs-Élysées branch to Émile Rabec and used the money to both rebuild the Asnieres workshops and relocate to 1, rue Scribe. With ownership of the branch, from now on the trunks made by É.Rabec featured interior labels that read “Maison Vuitton / É.Rabec Successeur” (Successor of House Vuitton – É.Rabec).







Émile Rabec would continue to manage his shop at 65, Avenue des Champs-Élysées for

several years (1870-1879), later relocating to 53, Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1880 – 1885), just shy of 100 meters from his previous address. Lastly, he settled down at 57, Avenue

Marceau (1886-1895).





Based on surviving luggage, É.Rabec most likely dealt with clientele that required simpler

and less expensive trunks. These include simple uncovered wooden trunks, black-painted

metal-bound trunks in Trianon and Rayée canvases (both red- and beige-striped variants).

Less commonly you can find leather-bound Rayée canvas trunks. All trunks with Rayée

canvas also featured L.Vuitton branding on hardware and leather. There is no evidence that

É.Rabec produced all-leather, all-metal (zinc, brass, copper), special-order trunks or hand

luggage.


Investigative work by Stéphanie Bonvicini [7] suggests that “[Louis Vuitton] had to fight

with his head of workshop, Émile Rabec, who, after managing a Vuitton branch, tried to

make a fortune using his name”. Although the exact time of this feud isn’t specified, it’s

important to note that the newest found É.Rabec trunk using L.Vuitton materials features

monotone Rayée canvas with a central self-locking (anti-return) lock (c. 1888) stamped with

the Oxford Street address.




There is also no evidence that É.Rabec produced any luggage using the trademarked items,

such as the Damier canvases (c. 1888) or the single-key lock (c. 1889), or any hardware

stamped with the Strand address (c. 1889). Was this due to a falling out, lack of trust or other

reasons remains unknown.


Émile Rabec passed away on July 9, 1895. The 57, Avenue Marceau branch was auctioned

off and acquired by Georges Vuitton in September 7, 1895 [5]. Georges used the shop as a

branch (succursale) of L.Vuitton and added the 57, Avenue Marceau (only) to French

advertisements. The branch was later sold together with the London shop on 464 Strand,

funding relocation to 149 New Bond Street.Primary sources:


1. Firmin-Didot frères: Annuaire-almanach du commerce, de l'industrie, de la magistrature et de l'administration;

2. Émile Rabec branded luggage and interior labels;

3. Louis Vuitton and Émile Rabec advertisements from 1885 to 1905

4. Early L.Vuitton interior labels (until 1871).

5. Archives commerciales de la France, September 18, 1895

Secondary and tertiary sources:

6. Delphine Saurat, chapter “Louis Vuitton: A Biography” in the book Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs, 2012.

7. Stéphanie Bonvicini, Louis Vuitton: Une saga française, 2004.

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