The Newest Big-Screen Ingenue: Luxury Luggage

How Louis Vuitton Suitcases Played Role for Wes Anderson's 'Darjeeling Limited' -- and UNICEF

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CHICAGO -- Wes Anderson's new movie is another signpost that product placement can play a meaty role on the big screen. More surprising, however, is how a film integration can generate charitable contributions.
The Louis Vuitton luggage, designed and made expressly for 'Darjeeling Limited,' played a key role in the movie and also for UNICEF.
The Louis Vuitton luggage, designed and made expressly for 'Darjeeling Limited,' played a key role in the movie and also for UNICEF.

The 11 suitcases in "Darjeeling Limited" appear in nearly every frame, and they're steeped in significance by the end of the movie. Like a newly discovered ingénue, it doesn't hurt that the swanky-looking luggage pieces are beautiful. The cases were made by Mr. Anderson's friend, Marc Jacobs, the artistic director at LVMH's Louis Vuitton, one of the most popular makers of luxury handbags. They were designed by Mr. Anderson's brother, Eric, and made from aged calfskin and imprinted with palm trees, rhinos, cheetahs and antelopes.

Prominent placement
The Vuitton cases are carried throughout the movie by brothers Francis, Peter and Jack (played by Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody and Peter Schwartzman). The men have inherited the cases from their recently deceased father, over whom they spend much of the movie bickering.

Over the course of their "spiritual journey" through India on trains, mopeds, buses and foot, the suitcases take on additional import as the family's secrets continue to unravel. By the end of the movie, each piece seems so heavy with significance that it's hardly surprising when (spoiler alert) the brothers cast them aside while running to catch their train home.

It's been quite a year for Mr. Jacobs, who was widely derided for starting his Marc Jacobs show during New York fashion week more than two hours late. Rumors swirled that he was seen drinking at a bar across the street while fans waited. Mr. Jacobs later denied those allegations, threatening never to show in New York again. But in his role as a designer for Louis Vuitton, his Paris fashion show was a smashing success, with the newest take on the company's signature handbags front and center. The show was the toast of that fashion week. And it didn't hurt that "Darjeeling Limited" was released in select cities a week prior, on Sept. 29, before expanding the following week.

Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton declined to comment for this story. Mr. Anderson could not immediately be reached for comment, as he is already shooting his next film.

However, Scott Montgomery, president of HLF Brandtailers, said this product-placement deal looks like a clear play for the Gen-Y buyer.

Reaching a younger audience
"This is a class way to young-up your audience," he said. "These are art-house movies that play in the theater across the street from college campuses."

Having three hip, young, male stars doesn't hurt either, Mr. Montgomery said. While Louis Vuitton isn't a quirky brand that would have been a natural fit, like the old J. Peterman Co. of Seinfeld fame, it makes sense all the same, he said.

After all, Gen-Y women are the luxury industry's fastest-growing segment -- and handbags the gateway drug of choice. The average price of luxury bags has doubled in the last year. For the last holiday season, luxury bags were scarce, but available at $700 to $800. These days, one is lucky to snag a canvas bag in the designer department for $1,300 and -- recession or no -- luxury brands have yet to find the level at which bags stop flying off the shelves.

The end of the film didn't mean the end of the suitcases, either. Louis Vuitton capitalized on the interest in the unusual pieces by auctioning four of the 11 cases at its New York flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York, bringing in $52,300. The proceeds were given to UNICEF, which designed a program to benefit the women and children Mr. Anderson met while making the movie in India.

Director's charitable bid
"When the movie was completed, [Mr. Anderson] had a conversation with Louis Vuitton and said, 'Why don't we find a way to give back to the area,'" said Deanna Helmig, director of corporate partnerships at UNICEF. "He was moved by the situations facing people who didn't have access to healthcare."

One of the organizations that will receive funds from the auction provides transportation for pregnant women who live in villages and can't afford to travel to a health facility.

The visibility has also been a boon for UNICEF.

"Anything that has increases visibility has increased donations," said Marissa Buckanoff of UNICEF. She added that high-profile donations "always increase donors' interest in the organization, through 800-number calls and web hits."
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