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Coinciding with the arrival of Louis Vuitton’s 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibition, Crystal Lee looks into the personal trunks of illustrious collector Amber Lee and discovers a lover of art, travel and timeless beauty.

The elevator dings and I step out into a marbled private lift lobby. Greeting me is Yayoi Kusama’s floral sculpture with Veuve Clicquot, and on my right is Amber Lee in her most natural state: T-shirt, shorts and a nervous little Yorkie pup in her arms. Her hair, worn down, is dark, straight and glossy. She has no make-up on, but it only shows how good her skin is.

Amber is one of Louis Vuitton’s most esteemed collectors, and I’m here in her swanky, art-filled penthouse to see some of her most treasured pieces ahead of the maison’s landmark 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibition. A tribute to its founder’s innovative legacy as Louis Vuitton marks his 200th birthday, the showcase features the works of 200 creatives, who were invited to reimagine the maison’s emblematic trunk.

Top, pants, rings and Speaker Trunk GM, all Louis Vuitton

Even in a room full of beautiful things – a colourful Takashi Murakami sculpture here, cases of Karuizawa’s The Splendid Age Collection featuring ukiyo-e paintings of geishas there, a stunning custom-made crystal chandelier from Taiwan overhead – there’s no missing the large monogrammed trunk next to Amber as she welcomed me into her home. It’s the FIFA World Cup Official Match Ball Collection Trunk, she tells me; a 139cm-tall limited-edition case that houses 13 re-editions of past match balls since 1970 and one in Louis Vuitton’s signature VVN leather.

“My husband and I went to Europe to watch the Germany versus Portugal play-off of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, so the 2006 ball is extra special to us,” says the Taiwanese.

This ultra-exclusive trunk almost didn’t happen. “I was in Paris for Louis Vuitton’s cruise show when my husband called to say that he’d seen the FIFA trunk in a European magazine and he wanted it. So I called my personal shopper at Louis Vuitton, who, very regrettably, told me the launch pieces were all taken.”

Her husband wasn’t having it. “He told me to talk to the boss and get it ordered,” she recounts with a chuckle. And so she did, at a VIP dinner with Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton. A year later, Amber became the only client in Singapore to own the Malle FIFA Monogram.

Skirt, ankle boots, Cotteville 45, Alzer 45, Bisten 55, Bisten 65, all Louis Vuitton; T-shirt and Malle FIFA Monogram, Amber’s own

Around the World

Amber doesn’t like to travel; she loves to travel. Pre-pandemic, she’d go away four to five times a year (more, if not for her 11-year-old daughter, who goes to school here) – usually Europe in June and Japan in December to ski. “My family and I love skiing,” she says. “We’ll go to Tomamu or Niseko in Hokkaido, which is known for its powdery snow. It’s more comfortable to ride on soft snow than on hard-packed pistes, which can be easy to slip on.”

Of all the places Amber has been, however, Paris is her favourite. “It’s such a romantic city,” she croons. “I first visited in my early 20s, and I’m still so taken by it. Everywhere is beautiful.” Not surprisingly, France’s fashion capital is also where she shops the most.

As you’d expect from a jet-setter, Amber has impressive packing skills. Accompanying her on her trips are Louis Vuitton’s Horizon family of rolling luggage, which she says keeps her clothing from wrinkling. “I’m wary of hotels’ laundry services, so I make sure my clothes stay smooth and wrinkle-free when I travel,” she says. “I use four pieces of luggage and I categorise everything I’m bringing. Clothing, shoes and toiletries are separated into different baggage. That’s why I have so many Louis Vuitton suitcases. I also prefer to lay my clothes flat, folding minimally to avoid creases. Gowns, for example, are folded along the seams and go in last.”

Gown and rings, all Louis Vuitton; high jewellery necklace, Amber’s own

She also swears by the Louis Vuitton Keepalls: “I fold these and have one slotted in the middle of each piece of luggage. The additional carriers can house your worn, dirty clothes, making room in your suitcase for all the new things you bought. And don’t underestimate this bag: it can hold an entire suitcase’s contents. Once it’s stuffed, you can lock it and check it in. When you arrive at your next destination, you’ll have your new clothes, wrinkle-free and ready to wear.”

Incidentally, that’s akin to how Monsieur Vuitton packed and designed trunks for his elite and royal clientele in the 1850s. Back then, travelling vessels were made to order and specialised for certain contents, so it was typical of travellers at the time to have an assortment of trunks on their journeys. There were cases the size of small wardrobes for the voluminous, delicate outfits of the Victorian age, secretary units with a built-in desk, containers designed to carry surgical instruments, and so on.

The late Patrick-Louis Vuitton, the founder’s great-great-grandson who was head of the Special Orders department at the house’s atelier in Asnières, once mentioned in a story about special trunk orders: “We have made countless trunks for eccentric customers. I recall a Chinese customer who asked us for a trunk that would allow him to watch TV and serve coffee at 5pm absolutely anywhere!”

Cape, bermudas, rings, sandals, Bisten 65, Boite Caviar, Cotteville 45, Alzer 45, Bisten 55, all Louis Vuitton; tank top, Amber’s own

Case Study

If the Malle FIFA Monogram represents her husband’s love for football, the Afternoon Tea Box trunk encapsulates Amber’s fondness for Louis Vuitton. Residing in her yacht, the case is a hark back to the picnic trunks found in the maison’s archives. Inside are four exquisite sets of tea ware, including a removable wooden tray with cowhide leather handles and a glass dome for cakes.

“To me, Louis Vuitton represents a lifestyle,” Amber elaborates. “It’s more than fashion. It can be part of your life; you can wear it, collect it, use it. Take the Afternoon Tea Box trunk – it’s beautiful, functional and enhances the high tea experience. That’s what I appreciate about the brand: It makes things that elevate your everyday life with beauty and joy.”

She bought the Flower Trunk for the same reason: “I love having flowers in my home and the Malle Fleurs is an unusual vase. But even without flowers, it’s a piece of art and heritage,” she says of the little rectangular vessel mirrored after the ones Monsieur Vuitton made for his very best clients in the 1910s.

Every collector has their personal notion of value. For Amber, it’s timelessness that can only be achieved by centuries of savoir faire. “I collect things that I find enduringly beautiful – items that can be handed down to my children. I’d give the trunks to my kids when they have their own homes in the future. Of course, there’s investment value in collectibles; in fact quite a number of pieces I have are now more expensive than when I first bought them. But I have no intention to let them go, because if I do, I may never get them back.”

With trunks as rare as hers (Amber is also the only person in Singapore that has the Afternoon Tea Box), she’s right.

(Main and featured image: Dress, rings and Petite Malle East West, all Louis Vuitton; high watchmaking timepiece, Amber’s own)

Fashion Direction: Johnny Khoo | Art Direction: Audrey Chan | Photography: Joel Low | Fashion Styling: Jacquie Ang | Hair & Make-up: Rick Yang/Artistry Studios, using Keune & Kanebo | Photography Assistance: Eddie Teo

This story first appeared in the April 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore

The post Louis Vuitton trunk collector Amber Lee on the art of living well appeared first on Prestige Online – Singapore.