Inspired by a grained leather that Louis Vuitton used in trunks the 1920’s, Epi leather was introduced in 1985 as their first leather line. It’s my favorite of the Louis Vuitton materials, and this post will explain why. What I love Epi leather is that it’s discreetly Louis Vuitton. It doesn’t scream loudly with logos or a well-known print, and each piece is embossed with a simple, small LV logo at the bottom corner. Most people wouldn’t recognize it unless you’re a handbag or luxury lover; I like the idea that I’m a part of a special “club” of people that carry more than just an LV Monogram bag.
Epi Leather History
The idea of Epi leather was first born in 1920 when Georges Vuitton and his son Gaston-Louis had the idea to print a design on more resistant fabric. Sophisticated, robust, and scratch-resistant, Epi leather is a grained leather printed in two batches that allows for a difference in color between the deeper layer and the surface layer. Its texture is made to look like moving fields of wheat under the sun.
Epi leather was used for the first time in 1926 for the King of Vadodara, India, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III. With a love for special orders and a taste for the custom-made, Louis Vuitton made a piece for the Maharaja that has since become legend: the Maharaja de Borada tea case, the first object to be made with Epi leather. The tea case contained all necessary accouterments for making tea while traveling, designed to be compact and easy to use. The case contains cups, pots and all the other things for a proper cup of tea while on hunting expeditions.
The Original Louis Vuitton Epi Leather Trunk: Tea Case, 1926
images courtesy of Louis Vuitton archives
How Is Epi Leather Made? The process of making Epi leather is very specific: first, the natural leather is tanned with plant extracts and then deep-dyed. Then, it’s pressed with the Epi leather pattern, followed by another dye on the surface of the grain, which creates its two-tone, textured effect. Despite its rigidity, Epi bags have a nice, natural stretch which, combined with their structured quality, make for an interesting feel and silhouette.
In 1985, Epi leather became its own line; the very first leather line in handbags, using the same technique that was originally used in the 1920s trunk, but modernized to be even stronger.
Louis Vuitton Epi Leather Handbags
The 1990s and 2000s saw a variety of designs and colors of Epi leather, many with an art deco look and feel.
When Nicolas Ghesquière took over the brand’s creative direction in 2014, it was to offer another vision of Epi leather. His first collection used the material, with his Petite Malle Trunk grabbing the most attention. The Louis Vuitton Petite Malle trunk, was imagined in a brand new version somewhere between a clutch and a treasure chest.
How Epi Leather Wears
Scuffing: Though Epi leather is largely scratch resistant, it can still show normal wear and tear if you come in contact with something sharp.
Rubbing: The part that sticks up might flatten or fade over time, which gives it a smoother look.
Fading: Vintage Epi leather has a tendency to lose some of its color over time.
Dust: Ridges and crevices can attract dust.
How To Care For Epi Leather
Epi leather styles are resilient to water damage and great for everyday use. The matte, smooth appearance is a common characteristic of Epi leather. There are a few options for maintaining Epi leather. I usually wipe down my bag and accessories with a damp cloth every month or so (with just water). Due to its ridges and texture, dust can get stuck in the little crevices. You can also use an alcohol-free baby wipe.
From my experience cleaning and restoring literally hundreds of LV bags, I would say the safest product for cleaning leather should be glycerin based. I use Apple Brand Leather Conditioner. With a damp cloth, apply the cleaner very gently, and don’t spend much time in any one spot. Don’t rub too hard, then wipe clean with a water-dampened cloth.
My Louis Vuitton Epi Leather Collection
- Alma BB | Made in 2015. I am obsessed with this bag… it’s my #1 favorite bag of all time. It carries so much stuff for being such a little bag. I’ve carried it all over the world with me; from Thailand to Bali to Mexico. It’s discreet in Epi leather so it doesn’t look like I’m carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, but is still chic and stylish. I love that I can carry it as a crossbody or in my hands, and it zips closed. I recommend the Alma BB to everyone who likes LV. I bought mine on Fashionphile.com.
- Simple Card Holder | Made in 2015. I carry six cards in this Simple Card Holder, but it might be able to carry more. I bought mine from YoogisCloset.com.
- Key Pouch (for sale on Poshmark!) | Made in 2011. The LV Key Pouch has a zip open with a clip for your keys. I find it to be kind of an awkward size to have on my keys, so I use it for cards/cash/coins. I bought mine on YoogisCloset.com.
- Vintage Demi-Lune Wallet | Made in 2000. This wallet zips open and has four card slots, one flat pocket, and a zip coin pocket in the center. I bought mine from my fashionable friend EForElisa.com.
Epi Leather Bags & Accessories Favorites
Louis Vuitton Epi Leather Alma BB
The Louis Vuitton Alma BB is my favorite bag of all time. It carries so much more than it looks like it would, and provides several carrying options: in hand, on the arm, on shoulder, or across the chest. In Epi leather, it’s durable and discreet. I recommend this bag to everyone, in any material… but it’s my favorite in Epi.
Louis Vuitton Epi Leather Brea MM Bag
This is one of my favorite Louis Vuitton designs and I’ve had it on my wishlist for years. Not only does it have a top handle and an optional strap for shoulder or crossbody wear, but it also has a zip closure on the top. This bag would fit a 13″ laptop, which makes it a really good work bag and an alternative to a Neverfull, if that’s not your cup of tea.
Louis Vuitton Black Epi Leather Twist MM Bag
I’ve had this bag on my wishlist FOREVER. This beautiful bag is a newer design from the House of Louis Vuitton, featuring a bold LV twist lock. I love the modern look of this design but its classic appeal as a wallet on a chain. I’ve tried on this bag a bunch of times and it’s fairly lightweight considering its chunky metal chain, due to the lightweight nature of Epi leather.
Louis Vuitton Black Epi Leather Felicie Pochette Bag
This cute little crossbody bag is perfect for when you want to travel light or a night out. It’s perfectly sized for your phone, keys, and cards, and I love it as a crossbody. The Felicie comes with two inserts for organizing your things inside of it, which can also be used in other bags/wallets too.
Louis Vuitton Epi Leather Cosmetic Pouch
This cosmetic pouch is one of my wishlist pieces for good reason: it’s a catch all for all the miscellaneous things you carry around. Lipsticks, makeup, cash, change, bobby pins, hair ties, vape pen, pills, literally anything. Its compact size makes it great for switching between bags.
Louis Vuitton Black Epi Leather Zippy Coin Purse
Compact in size but big in utility, this zippy coin purse is perfect for your coins, cards, or other small things. The zipper is really strong on this one and doesn’t get stuck. Sometimes you just want something lighter than a wallet but bigger than a simple card holder. If you need a small accessory for your bag that isn’t a full-sized wallet, this is the one.
Louis Vuitton Black Epi Leather Simple Card Holder
This was the first Louis Vuitton small leather good that I ever purchased. It’s exactly as the name says: simple. With three card slots, it fits simply in any handbag I carry from wallet on chain to bigger bags. Sometimes I even just carry this by itself and my phone.
If you’re looking for more, I put together an Epi collection on ShopStyle for you to shop! Shop my Epi leather collection on ShopStyle