Lux­ury la­bel Longchamp makes an art of leather goods

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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

Ar­ti­sanal work­man­ship

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