Labels from the Central Hotel in Nantes, France (circa 1930s) and the Joia Hotel in Sao Paulo (circa 1964). © Louis Vuitton Archives
Remember when travel involved more than clutching bar-coded scraps and wheeling an ugly black case through “concourses”? Neither do we, but just imagine scenes from Titanic (pre-iceberg) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (without the murder)–all crisp kerchiefs, exotic matchbooks, and hotel labels slapped onto sturdy packing cases. Return to the golden age in the gilt-edged pages of World Tour, out this month from Abrams.
Chilean-born, Paris-based travel writer Francisca Matteoli (pictured) draws upon the vintage hotel labels collected by trunkmaker and traveler Gaston-Louis Vuitton (whose grand-père founded the leathergoods juggernaut) as fodder for a 21-city global adventure illustrated by oodles of illustrations, photos, vintage postcards, and more than 900 labels that live on as graphic souvenirs of getaways from Athens to Zermatt. “I realized that a small piece of paper like a simple label can tell a million stories,” says Matteoli. “Stories of woman and men, travelers, adventurers, gangsters, elegant people…and also of history, architecture, art, countries.” She made time between voyages to answer our seven questions about culling down the collection of labels, some personal favorites, and her own choice of luggage.
How did you come to write World Tour?
I was having lunch with Julien Guerrier, editorial director at Louis Vuitton, and I told him about my Chilean great grandfather and my family who always lived in hotels, and about our life in Chile and France…He then told me that Louis Vuitton had a magnificent collection of hotel labels and that we could connect our stories. He knew I liked writing stories, and we thought that it would be a very original way to talk about travel. That is how it all began.
How did you go about narrowing down/selecting the labels to feature in the book?
We wanted mythical hotels that are representative of the golden age of travel, that have a real visual quality–many of the labels are works of art. This allowed me to write not only about labels, but also about life, historical events, and people, because travel is connected with everything in life. We wanted a book that was both a pleasure to look at, and a pleasure to read.
What are some of your favorite labels from the collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton?
The ones that bring back personal memories. The one of the Hotel Meurice in Paris–so refined, so art déco, because my grandparents liked walking down the rue de Rivoli when they came to Paris, as do the tourists today. The one of the Hotel du Louvre, where I lived with my family when we arrived from Chile. The Savoy Hotel in London–the label is very creative, very modern for its time–because my mother, who is Scottish, used to go to the Savoy when she was young. The Hotel Gloria in Rio de Janeiro, because I lived in Rio, love Rio, and this label is not only historical but also extremely stylish. The Waldorf Astoria in New York, where I have beautiful memories, so chic and a fine example of the architecture of the 50s.
If you could go to any of the destinations highlighted in World Tour, which would you choose and why?
Latin America, because I am Latin American and I always want to see and explore new places and know more about my roots. Shanghai because I did a book signing there recently and it was a fantastic experience. I’d love to return.
What is your best advice to the modern adventure-seeking traveler?
Forget all you think you know and go! It is important to see a place for yourself to make up your own mind. Go to places where there is a challenge, be curious, keep an open mind. And smile…
Considering the Louis Vuitton slogan, “Show me your luggage, and I’ll tell you who you are,” what is your go-to travel bag/luggage?
A chic vintage travel bag or a small shabby suitcase that has been all over the world with me.
Finally, what are you working on now, in terms of writing projects or trips?
I am promoting World Tour, and working on a novel and various other things. I feel like Mary Poppins. I never know what will come out of my bag.