Luxury label Longchamp makes an art of leather goods
It doesn’t have to be a fashion statement to be a MustHave. Le Pliage – the unassuming lightweight egalitarian nylon bag trimmed with leather, that folds into the size of a paperback – is bought every three minutes by someone around the world. Business travellers, college students, and fashionistas on global wanderlusts have carried off more than 26 million of the bags since its creation in 1993 – it seems to be one of the objets
necessaire for women on the go. Named after the French verb “to fold” and inspired by origami, the best-selling bag has achieved cult status, and been reinterpreted in limited-edition fabrics by artist Tracey Emin, and designers Jeremy Scott, Charles Anastase, and Mary Katrantzou. In 2012 it appeared in the coolest all-leather version ... and the numbers continue to chart up.
The retail story that the third generation heir to the family-owned French luxury goods company Jean Cassegrain, the CEO of Longchamp, would rather talk about today, however, is the spanking new Longchamp store at London’s Regent Street. Particularly the art; he immediately deflects businessrelated questions and introduces the largescale “Homograph” mobile of lime green reflective panels that hang like a futuristic chandelier from the floating mezzanine of this 19th-Century listed building, which by artful design is directly above the space dedicated to Le Pliage, in its full spectrum of 12 colours and leather versions. “It’s motorised, moving all the time,” says Cassegrain of the installation created by London design studio Troika. “You know, our company is a lot about movement; it’s always in motion, so we chose something to reflect that in this store which we named ‘La Maison in Motion’.”
Homograph moves even when the shop is closed overnight. “It’s designed after those antique clocks of the 18th Century, when astronomers were beginning to understand how the planets revolve around the sun. Each layer rotates at a different speed so it always looks different, almost taking a different shape from being flat, to being a triangle, being a spiral … It’s quite interesting and fun to watch,” says the soft-spoken CEO.
Downstairs, installation art video by contemporary French collective Trafik draws customers on London’s blue-chip shopping street to the 500-square-metre flagship that launched last September. “It’s nice to have elements of art in the store,” says Cassegrain, charmingly suited and bow-tied with E.B. Meyrowitz handmade eyeglasses. “We don’t have a stand-up corporate design repeated over and over in every city. Having artworks in the store certainly brings it alive.” The stores are works of art themselves – the “La Maison Unique” flagship in SoHo, New York, was designed by Thomas Heatherwick in 2006 (who also designed that incredible Zip Bag in 2004, where a single spiral zip ingeniously extends a leather tote with colourful stripes), while American architect Eric Carlson was commissioned to design Longchamp’s new global store concept in 2010, inaugurated with the opening of its Madison Avenue boutique that same year.
This conjunction of art and architecture elevates Longchamp’s position as a chic masstige bag purveyor, and also conveys the family’s artisan spirit. The company was founded in the 1930s as a tobacconist by Jean Cassegrain, the grandfather of the current CEO, on Boulevard Poissonnière in Paris. The patronage of the postwar privileged encouraged the company’s expansion into luxury stem-pipes, handcrafted in calf, kidskin, and exotic crocodile, and its master craftsmen turned their skills into innovative shaping, cutting, and stitching of leather. In 1948 the brand Longchamp was born, named after the famous racecourse neighbouring its workshops, drawing parallels to the time - honoured craft of saddlemaking. Turenne Chevallereau was commissioned to design the logo of the galloping racehorse, and the company sprinted ahead into becoming a maker of small leather goods in 1955, to luggage and handbags in the ’70s, and then evolved into a new era when the third generation of Cassegrains joined the company in the early 1990s with Le Pliage, ready-to-wear, and shoes. Today the company owns all its 252 exclusive stores worldwide, with a consolidated turnover of 454 million euro in 2012. Cassegrain, having been called to lead a renowned yet still conservative luxury goods company now wants to communicate its creativity and innovativeness. To that call, his sister and artistic director of Longchamp, Sophie Delafontaine, also steps up.
Dressed in a purple silk shift from the current ready-to-wear collection, a brand extension she launched in 2006, and carrying a More is More sling bag of contrasting blackand-white animal prints, Delafontaine cuts a glamorously confident image as she leans back on the chaise longue in the Regent
Street flagship. “Colourful, fresh, feminine, and sporty – I call it Escala, which means “steps” in Spanish,” is how she introduces the Spring/Summer 2014 collection. “It’s like a long travel around the world, the first stop in Australia, where we have a strong, colourful feather print. The next stop is in Positano, on the Italian Mediterranean, where the spirit is bright and feminine, and in lots of colours like turquoise, coral, and light pink. The last stop is in Botswana where it’s more khaki, off-white, black, and grey, and very graphic. Prints will be very strong next summer.” Alexa Chung was signed on as the season’s campaign face, shot in St. Tropez carrying bright leather mini Le Pliage Cuir bags from lemon yellow to tomato red as the accessory du jour. Get on that speed dial.
But Longchamp’s fashion cred is not in
its colours or prints, but the fact that it has signed up the icon of fashion icons, Kate Moss, as the face of the brand since 2005 – “Longer than some celebrity marriages,” laughs Cassegrain – as well as having her design capsule bag collections. “More than fashion, Kate brings a touch of
rock ’n’ roll,” says Delafontaine, who launched The Kate Moss for Longchamp collection in 2010, featuring the downtown cool Gloucester bag, seen in the hands of her fellow celebrity fans/friends such as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kate Winslet, and Jennifer Lopez.
There’s also the fringed Glastonbury bag, the Ladbroke hobo, and the chic SoHo clutch. “The collection is doing very well,” Delafontaine reports happily on the collaborative process. “Each season Kate shows us that we can go a little bit further in playing and having fun. We have meetings and she would describe what she’d like to express, what she would like the collection to look like, the type of materials. I would do some research and development for her; she’ll play with the prints, colours, materials, and leathers I bring her, whether it’s for a bag or clutch. Each season Kate likes to play with a new animal print or a new leather or new colours or a new fabric. She has fun.”
Those good times rolled into the iconic Legende bag. Moss has designed a limitededition version for the Regent Store opening – in the original black patent leather but with the Union Jack on its front pocket. “The Legende launched in 2006 as our first “fashion” handbag carried by Madonna, Claudia Schiffer, and of course, Kate Moss,” she recalls. “When we were shooting our first ad campaign for the Legende with Kate, I showed her the prototype and she loved it, and because it was in black patent leather, she said ‘Put in a red lining for more fire and spirit!’ And we did. In a way, that was the first bag we collaborated on. So here opening the new store on Regent Street, we wanted to reintroduce the Legende bag as something with a particular story, with Kate, with London, with this rock ’n’ roll touch, with the Union Jack on the pocket as a symbol of London and Longchamp.”
“It’s not just about having a huge store in Europe, which is important for us as we’re a European brand, and London having our largest store, where Regent Street is like Champs Élysées or Orchard Road,” explains Delafontaine on the importance of this London flagship. “It’s also about the high-tech in our concept, the large focus on
Longchamp Spring/ Summer ’14 The 'Homograph' by the store’s installation of Le Pliage bags
Longchamp Spring/ Summer ’14
Longchamp’s new store on London’s Regent Street
The Cassegrain family, clockwise from top left: Michèle Cassegrain (director of boutiques), Philippe Cassegrain (president of Longchamp), Olivier Cassegrain (director of USA boutiques), Sophie Delafontaine (artistic director), and Jean Cassegrain (chief executive officer)
Le Pliage Année du cheval bag, Longchamp
Limited- edition Legende bag, Longchamp
Thomas Heatherwick’s sculptural staircase at Longchamp’s New York flagship store Alexa Chung, the campaign face of Spring/ Summer ’14
Kate Moss at the launch party for Longchamp’s London flagship store
Gloucester bag designed by Kate Moss for Longchamp’s Spring/ Summer ’13 collection