For Keith Richards, it’s one of his 150 favorite guitars. For Greta Garbo, it was a pair of blue espadrilles, flannel pajamas and a few jars of her favorite jam. And for Karl Lagerfeld, it was a cushion bearing an embroidered locomotive that he had owned since childhood.
What we take along when traveling offers a revealing — and sometimes perplexing — glimpse into who we are. In “Travellers’ Tales: Bags Unpacked” (Louis Vuitton/Thames & Hudson, $95), journalist Bertil Scali and illustrator Pierre Le-Tan tell the stories of notable people and what they stowed in their Louis Vuitton luggage.
The novelist and former Paris Match reporter brings to the book a journalist’s eye for detail. He’s an ardent believer in the tagline of a 1921 advertisement attributed to Gaston-Louis Vuitton, grandson of founder Louis Vuitton: “Show me your luggage, I’ll tell you who you are.”
To discern the intersection of Louis Vuitton luggage and the celebrities, actors, politicians, fashion designers and adventurers who toted it, Scali delved into the company’s archives, where he found records dating back to the 19th century. The more he learned, the more expansive the project grew, from 10 to 20 to 30 and, ultimately, to its final roster of 50 famous travelers.
“When you (pack) your suitcase, you always have a choice,” he says. “That is what is fascinating to me.”
What’s important enough to accompany a traveler on a journey? Luggage, Scali says, represents “a way to show your heart and your hopes and your life that you take with you.”
Among the travelers profiled is an artist with several pieces on display at the Palms, Damien Hirst, who created Louis Vuitton trunks that at first seem to depart from the artist’s “macabre passion” for death and eternity.
But open the trunk, and in its drawers are carefully placed “medical instruments, pliers and saws of all sizes. Presented as tools of the trade of modern surgeons, they hark back to the instruments of doctors in days gone by, resembling medieval instruments of torture.”
Also profiled is artist Yayoi Kusama, whose infinity room exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has become one of the gallery’s most visited exhibitions.
Scali theorizes about what might be in the mysterious artist’s bag — medication? reading matter? a manuscript of her own book? — and suggests that what she carries maybe “isn’t in her bag, but on it. What if the container were the content?”
The book’s roster of biographies also includes: Actress Sarah Bernhardt, who traveled with 42 trunks while traversing the U.S. in her own train; Ernest Hemingway, who recovered his manuscript for “A Moveable Feast” from a trunk that had been neglected for 26 years; and conductor Leopold Stokowski, who traveled with four wardrobe trunks, two sheet music cases, a customized cabin trunk with four sets of drawers and a fold-out typewriter desk, and a pigskin toiletry set.
For Scali, a trunk exists to do more than hold possessions during a journey. Rather, he said, maybe it represents “the promise of a new life.”