FACT CHECK: Did Louis Vuitton Sponsor ‘Human Zoos’ In The Late 1800s And Early 1900s?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

A post shared on Facebook claims that fashion company Louis Vuitton “sponsored human zoos” in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Verdict: False

There is no record of Louis Vuitton, the man or the company, sponsoring “human zoos,” according to experts familiar with these exhibits.

Fact Check:

The exhibition of entire groups of indigenous people taken from around the world, today known as “human zoos,” became popular in the Western world at the turn of the 20th century, according to CBC News. The exhibitions often showcased groups of indigenous peoples who were made to “perform” continuously for audiences at world fairs and traveling shows in Europe and North America, the outlet reported.

The Facebook post shares two black-and-white photos: one on top showing a photo of a small Louis Vuitton store, and the bottom photo showing a young black child walking in a fenced-in area while people watch. “I was Today years old when I found this out… in the late 1800’s and early 1900 Louis Vuitton sponsored human zoos,” the image’s caption reads. “Blacks were looked at as exotic circus like creatures. These zoo’s were in New York, St. Louis, Australia and many more other places.”

There is, however, no evidence that Louis Vuitton, the company or the man, sponsored the “human zoos” of the 19th and 20th centuries. An internet search turned up no sourcing to corroborate the post’s claims. Scholars familiar with the history of these exhibits were unaware of any connection to the company.

“We have no knowledge or evidence of this possible link,” said Guido Gryseels, the director-general of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, in an email to Check Your Fact. (RELATED: Viral Post Spreads Misinformation About ‘Irish Slaves’)

Pascal Blanchard, a French historian and editor of “Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires,” also told Check Your Fact, “No, Vuitton has never been linked to human zoos or exhibitions.” Blanchard did, however, note that the Vuitton Foundation, an art museum and cultural center sponsored by Louis Vuitton, is located on grounds that were once used to exhibit human zoos, a connection that he claims the company “does not promote research on.”

A spokesperson for Louis Vuitton provided Check Your Fact with a statement regarding the claim, saying, “This allegation is completely false.”

“In fact, Louis Vuitton used booths at exhibitions to showcase product in the 1920s and 30s,” continued the statement. “The first photograph is of Louis Vuitton’s booth at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris in 1931 in which the brand showcased trunks and beauty cases, among other objects. We have made this clear in the past and we are doing so again now in the strongest possible terms. The second photograph has absolutely no affiliation with our brand whatsoever.”

The second photo showing the child was taken at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, according to the fact-checking website Snopes.

The erroneous claim may have stemmed from a 2011 post on the French blog “Brand Memory.” The post recounts how Louis Vuitton showcased African themed products at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris in 1931, an event that also hosted “human zoos.” The article, however, does not claim that the company sponsored or participated in the human zoo exhibits, simply that they were also present at the event.

Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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