How a $4,000 Louis Vuitton vanity case is professionally restored

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  • Handbag Clinic is a luxury service in London that restores, authenticates, and resells designer handbags and shoes.
  • Its senior artisan, Daniel Thompson, restores a vintage Louis Vuitton vanity case that was used to store things like cosmetics while traveling in the early '60s.
  • Cofounder Charlotte Staerck walks us through the process of restoration, which will make the case functional again and raise its value to 3,000 pounds.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: I am Charlotte Staerck, and I'm cofounder of Handbag Clinic. Today, I'm gonna walk you through how our artisan, Daniel, has restored this Louis Vuitton vintage train case, estimated at roughly 3,000 pounds.

The exterior of the item isn't actually in too bad condition. These are made from a very hard-wearing canvas. The inside, however, has really came away. It has deteriorated quite significantly, with some of the actual functionality of the interior actually coming away from the body of that trunk. In its current state, this has lost significant value because it is actually kind of not functional.

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We would estimate it roughly is around kind of 1,000 to 1,500. However, when this is all restored, it will be of a value of up to 3,000 pounds. [gentle music] We start with this item to remove the metal corners, which are going to be replated at a later stage of the restoration process.

We then go on to our cleaning. So, this cleaning is for your general hygienic purposes and to remove any dirt that has become ingrained into the canvas and begin to prepare that leather for the next stage of the restoration process on the exterior, as well in that handle. On this occasion, we aren't going to replace that handle, although it is quite significantly damaged, because it adds so much to the character of the item. It really kind of shows its age. And that exterior, you want to keep it looking vintage.

So, along all of your corners you have a really well-worn vachetta. Which, it could be replaced if you wanted it to look brand new. But, again, it keeps with the charm. If you look very, very closely, it has an "LV" very slightly embossed into that. And it is just part of the piece. So what we do is just simply resecure that down with adhesive contact glue.

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We then just smooth that over to make sure it's a really, really tight, perfect seal on there, to ensure that that's gonna not come away in the future.

From there, we then use a solution, which actually removes any excess oils in the leather. So, this is a degreasing solution that will draw out any oils, any overabsorption. So we will completely degrease down every area of vachetta on the exterior. It is very important that that does not come into contact with the canvas elements of the bag, as it might actually remove some of that lovely Louis Vuitton classic, you know, the monogram and the details within that.

Once it has been degreased, we then actually look to nourish areas that are a little bit dried out. What we do is apply a nourishing balm, which will then absorb any areas that it needs. It won't overabsorb anywhere; anywhere that doesn't need it, it'll just sit lovely on there and be buffed off. However, in the areas where it has dried out, it has became slightly lighter in color, it will bring it back to that lovely honey vachetta color that we're looking to achieve here.

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The interior has came away in a number of places. The front pocket has actually moved away from the structure. The base would move around inside; it wasn't secure. And the lid also had completely crumbled away. So we need to remove all of that out.

The areas that we can reuse we do actually remove from the original pattern card and pigskin interior to reuse in the next. So those will be the areas of the vachetta, which will be all removed. The reason that we do this is because, again, it keeps to the character; it keeps that originality and that real authenticity of the item. And it also keeps the areas that state Louis Vuitton. So, we'll keep all of those, just pop them to one side, and begin working on our actual interior pieces. To do this, we start with a pattern card. So, this is the same material that would've been used when this was originally created. It's something used by all of the manufacturers to do this.

We measure out perfectly all of those measurements inside and also have to take an account of any excess millimeters that will come from the leather, because it is going to be bound from leather. So real precision is needed during this part, which Daniel is amazing at. Once we've got the kind of base card cut out, we then can use our leather. The leather that we use is a pigskin, which is exactly the same leather used when this was originally created. And this leather is still used today on the interior of a lot of Louis Vuitton items. So, we take the pigskin and we measure that out against the card.

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We then use a divide, which is a tool that will measure any seams perfectly. It will measure the seam perfectly, and it will determine the perfect measurement all around that seam, so it's equal. Once that's all measured out using the tool, it scores the leather so that we can see afterwards where those lines are and where those lines need to be. When that's cut out, we then pop it into a skiving machine. And it just takes off some of the thickness to the leather so that when we place that card down and fold it over, it'll fit perfectly flat into the inside of the item. We then take a glue brush and we begin with that, again, contact adhesive all down the sides of where the seams are. We do like to start with a glue because it just makes sure everything is going to be really perfect and flat and makes sure that it is going to be secured in place before it goes into the sewing machine. We then take a bone folder. Now, a bone folder is actually made from cow bone. And what it does is it's the best tool that you can use to smooth over any leather surfaces. You will see us using it throughout this whole restoration process. And it is just the best thing to glide over the leather and to get a seamless finish. So we secure the seam with our bone folder and trim off any excess.

From there, we then begin with our sewing. So, we use that really iconic bright yellow Louis Vuitton thread throughout. We make sure that we get the color match absolutely perfect on that, so it matches the original as much as possible. And we begin sewing with a sewing machine. Because it's kind of flat, we can easily put that through the machine.

When we have the base of the card, so the flat square elements and rectangular pieces that will go on the inside, we can then begin to look at the more details inside. So those areas that are gonna store your jewelry or your cosmetics in. So, you had a pocket at the front, which unfortunately is not usable. So we will create a new one, but we will create it exactly as the original. So we take our pigskin and we measure it out against that original pocket. When it's lined up against the original pocket, we also have to take into consideration that that has pleats into it, and it also has the elastic on the top to make that usable, functional pocket. We'll then cut out our pigskin to be the perfect size for that and begin hand-gluing some pleats. So this will just be a simple folding over of the leather and gluing that in place to create those pleats. We will then take some elastic and use that along the top of the item to create that securing effect. And that will then be secured onto our original card that we created at the beginning.

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We will clean all of that and then resecure it to the item. There is a button press at the top of the item, which would've once probably secured a mirror in place. We put new press studs in there and really just put it back to what it originally was, just with new pieces throughout. So we did use and source brand-new press studs that were as close to the original as possible. We will use a machine, and we will, however, take it very slowly. And we will step-by-step resew the item into those exact holes that originally were in the vachetta to make sure we're creating no additional stitch holes into the leather at all, keeping it very strong and aesthetically as accurate. So, we have all of our pieces together, and the next step from there is to simply put this trunk back together.

We take each card and our contact adhesive, and we ensure that there's a really nice coating on there to make sure it's not gonna come away. This item has potentially seen 60 years of wear, and we want to make sure it can have another 60 years at least on top. So we secure that down and we use our bone folder to fold that all back into place. So it's really, a lot of pressure actually goes into this to make sure that it's all sealed down perfectly. Once our interior is complete, we can then look at those fine details on the exterior of the bag that need a little bit more restoration work. So, those are those four corners. Now, you will see that they're quite significantly worn, and it will be because they were the corner pieces, which are designed to take the brunt of any knocks. So they do see quite a lot of wear. And this metal used is a really strong, hard-wearing metal, but the gold coating on the top of that will wear. It's very normal to see, even in bags today. When we are replating, we first attach our device to the metal, which will conduct the electricity through it and allow the solution to bind to the item.

We kind of dip our conducting pen into the solution and gently massage that throughout. So we'll carry that out on all four corners. And from there, we need to place those back onto the corners. This item, the pins that were originally in there securing were in fact unusable once they come out. A lot of Louis Vuitton items are designed that way. So we had our metalwork specialist find the perfect pins possible for this. And she found the perfect pins to go into there. So we simply hammer those back into place, and the item is finished. It is all ready to go to its new owner.

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