Even as the pandemic continues to limit our travels, Francesca Mattéoli whisks us away on a journey in time, across water, through the air, and along roads. Her book, published by Atelier EXB in collaboration with Louis Vuitton, brings together fifty illustrated stories featuring every possible means of transportation: hot air balloon, junk boat, automobile, space rocket, ocean liner, and zeppelin. As Francesca Mattéoli notes: “The creation and exploitation of any means of transportation is always in equal part fairytale and technology. It reflects the diversity of human thinking, crystallizes human motivation, desires, and the need to leave a trace in history.”
The “fairytales” she tells reenchant our everyday conveyances and bring back to life some legendary vehicles fallen into disuse. We follow the photographer Nadar in his balloon, discover Japan at the turn of the twentieth century in a rickshaw, sail around Cape Horn aboard a clipper… “This is not an encyclopedic work, and requires no special skill. It does not deliver a mass of knowledge; it is not scientific, geographical, ethnological, meteorological, or whatever. It is just an excuse to take off, to escape into a world of dreams that had become reality, were recorded in history and in the collective imagination, transforming an era, our lives, and even our destinies,” explains the seasoned travel writer.
A perfume of yesteryear wafts between the velvety pages. Period photographs, some in color, some colored, others in black and white or sepia, illustrate each chapter alongside engravings and old advertising posters. The colors are enhanced by the cream-colored satin paper. The book has a feel of old-fashioned luxury to it. Its orange edges are stenciled with the outlines of various contraptions that have marked our history. Orange accents crisscross the midnight blue cover, which evokes volumes expertly handled by bookbinders. One would expect nothing less from a book co-edited by Louis Vuitton. As “[t]he writer and poet Blaise Cendrars noted in his Feuilles de Route, ‘To depart… is to go to Vuitton’,” recalls travel historian Jean-Luc Toula-Breysse in the Foreword to the book. Since 1854, Louis Vuitton has followed the development of new means of transportation by designing trunks and luggage that have in turn accompanied explorers, artists, aristocrats, and adventurers in their journeys. We discover images from these globetrotters’ archives showing them hauling their belongings nestled in the famous monogrammed leather. Both the luggage designer and Francesca Mattéoli see travel above all as an ars vivendi, an art of living which this book makes us yearn for again.
By Laure Etienne
Laure Etienne is a Paris-based journalist and former member of the editorial team at Polka and ARTE.
Francesca Mattéoli, Voyages extraordinaire, Atelier EXB & Editions Louis Vuitton, €49, 448pp. In French.