Fashion / Style

A Rare Look Inside Louis Vuitton’s Hidden Away Texas Ranch in the Countryside — Rochambeau Ranch Is All About the Work

This is No Factory, It's a Land For Artisans and Handbag Makers

BY // 10.20.22

Once a year, the fabled French fashion house Louis Vuitton opens the doors to many of its maisons (manufacturing facilities) and its other stately venues worldwide. They call it Les Journées Particulières, and this October marked the first time Louis Vuitton has welcomed visitors inside its Rochambeau Ranch. The ultra-modern atelier, which opened back in 2019, is located on a 256-acre former cattle ranch in Alvarado, Texas — about 40 miles from Fort Worth.

PaperCity was among those invited to be one of the first to get a peek inside Louis Vuitton’s Rochambeau Ranch.

Anticipation grew as I traipsed down several country roads ― past goat farms and cattle ranches, past bait shops, signs offering clean fill dirt, and freshly rolled bales of hay. At one point, I actually had to come to a complete stop while chickens (a rooster and a hen) crossed the road in front of me.

As you turn in, there’s no hint of anything Louis Vuitton in view, only the original farmhouse which still remains at the crest of a hill. But you’ll know you’ve arrived when you see how serious the guards at the entry gate are. Official lists are checked and IDs verified.

You drive on. Around the bend the main buildings emerge, surrounded by cactus and native grasses. To be sure, this a world away from the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Upon arrival at the car park, you see three flags proudly flying in front ― American, French, and Texas — differing configurations of red, white, and blue. All waving side by side.

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Outside the Louis Vuitton ranch in Alvarado, Texas. (Photo by Jason Schmid)
Outside the Louis Vuitton ranch in Alvarado, Texas. (Photo by Jason Schmid)

That same between-country camaraderie is behind the Rochambeau Ranch name itself. The ranch is named after one Marshal Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau. He was the French nobleman who championed America’s War For Independence. Not just financing it, but actually fighting alongside George Washington. Louis Vuitton chose to channel that long-standing friendship and cooperation between France and the United States as it opened the brand’s first Texas manufacturing outpost. Two other plants are in California.

Once inside the ranch, you are greeted by Louis Vuitton employees. All dressed in black. Many with French accents. They even make the pronunciation of the small Texas town of Alvarado sound sexy.

Would you like a glass of champagne? Well, 10 am seems a bit early, but this is a French factory. Trays with treats like salmon-filled macarons and baby Wagyu burgers held together with French flag-topped toothpicks are offered. The stage has been set — with a sense of luxury reinforced.

But just like when entering the gates at Willy Wonka’s factory, there are certain dos and don’ts to take into account. Do take photos — up to a certain point. Don’t leave the group, and don’t lag behind. Stay within the striped lines on the floor. All the rules are laid down with the safety of visitors in mind, and to be sure that no Everlasting Gobstoppers go missing.

Of course, no photography is allowed on the production floor itself. After all, there are Louis Vuitton trade secrets to protect, and emerging designs are still in the conceptual stages.

The Louis Vuitton Ranch’s Work

Once we pass through the bag check, complete with metal detectors and wands, the tour moves toward the work floor. Factory employees in khaki smocks travel to and from their designated workspaces in neat lines. A brief history of Louis Vuitton is offered as we pass down a few corridors. Artworks line the walls, including one designed completely of LV’s famous luggage tags and another of colorful sewing spools. Actual employees lead the discussion at their respective stations.

The modern workspace is fitted with state-of-the-art machinery and plenty of windows allowing natural light to stream in. They say it adds to the artisans’ creativity. It is unlike any factory I’ve ever seen.

The entry into the manufacturing floor at Louis Vuitton ranch is whimsically unique. (Photo by Jason Schmid)
The entry into the manufacturing floor at Louis Vuitton ranch is whimsically unique. (Photo by Jason Schmid)

The first stop on our tour is the sewing school, which trains employees in leather craftsmanship. This is the “ecole des savoir-faire” or the how-to of crafting for Louis Vuitton. Technicians are trained for several weeks in the knowledge of leather materials, specific machine use, and even painting techniques — as the edges of fittings and straps are meticulously smoothed and painted.

On the assembly floor, each area is dedicated to a specific product like the Odeon hobo shoulder bag. Up to 350 procedures are necessary for the construction of each piece. From gluing, embossing, cutting, and splitting the leathers to adding their proper straps, chains, hardware, and jewelry pieces. I get to touch the leathers and embellishments that go into each design, including bag linings, embossed leather exteriors, and the famous buckles and tags.

In the technical area, which specializes in research and development, the workers are busy creating mockups of new products like bucket-shaped carry-alls and evening clutches. The Louis Vuitton R&D team is working on a new design for a delicious half-moon-shaped hobo bag. And like Veruca Salt throwing an epic temper tantrum, demanding her very own golden goose, I want one NOW.

The Growth of Rochambeau Ranch

Louis Vuitton the man began by innovating in the luggage realm, bringing flat tops to his trunk designs at a time when most still had rounded tops. In 1854, Vuitton opened his first maison in Paris to produce those remarkably crafted, watertight trunks. His advanced locking mechanisms were so highly regarded that even Harry Houdini declined the offer to attempt an escape from them. The legend of the brand continued to grow.

Vuitton’s luxurious leather goods were first introduced to American audiences when its products were featured in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair. The demand for Louis Vuitton luxuries continues to grow in North America. For example, Fort Worth’s Louis Vuitton showroom in The Shops at Clearfork ranks as one of the company’s highest-grossing stores. Lines form nearly every weekend there.

Although there are 93 Louis Vuitton workshops worldwide in 19 countries and three different regions, Rochambeau Ranch was put into operation to help fulfill the increasing demand within the United States and Canada.

Louis Vuitton artisans are trained in all aspects with a focus on their particular component. (Photo by Jason Schmid)
Louis Vuitton artisans are trained in all aspects with a focus on their particular component. (Photo by Jason Schmid)

While Texas has a long history of leather production, that is not why Louis Vuitton chose to plant a workshop in the Lone Star State. In fact, all of the leather and hides they are crafting in Alvarado are imported from Northern Europe. That is done to maintain the consistency of Louis Vuitton’s products.

Many things have a detrimental impact on cowhides and the harsh Texas climate is one of them. Not to mention the state’s plethora of biting bugs and barbed wire, both a detriment. Plus, Louis Vuitton has developed trusted relationships with its suppliers in Europe over many decades.

Currently, the around 300 artisans at Rochambeau Ranch focus entirely on the production of women’s handbags. There is a new building currently under construction. The expansion is projected to be completed by mid-2023. When this next phase is complete, Louis Vuitton will mushroom to having 1,000 artisans in Alvarado.

The training of these new artisans has already begun ― because, while the new building will be a modern manufacturing marvel, for Louis Vuitton it’s the craftsmanship and training of its artisans that requires the most requisite lead time.

This is anything but just another Texas ranch.

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