Longchamp celebrates its milestone anniversary with a show of strength that will take it into the future. Jacquie Ang heads to Paris to discover that the heritage brand is really just 70 years young.
Just two days after staging her first runway show for Spring/summer 2019 at New York Fashion Week (nyfw) in September, Sophie Delafontaine is back across the Atlantic Ocean, meeting a troop of international press on a morning of interviews in Longchamp’s showroom on 1 Rue de Chevalier Saint George in Paris. Better known for leather accessories and the ubiquitous Le Pliage foldable nylon tote, the maison made its foray into ready-to-wear 12 years ago. “We started out small at the beginning,” recalls the creative director. “I had only like, five pieces in the first collection.” To put out a full-fledged runway show at nyfw, she had to conceptualise a more detailed collection, totalling 40 looks. “It revealed the diversity of the Longchamp woman, and conveyed what the maison is today, and what the brand will be tomorrow.” The brand needs to be part of fashion world to sell bags today, says Jean Cassegrain (ceo to the company and Delafontaine’s older brother). He hopes that the show will drive more sales to the core accessories business. “Fashion helps to craft the Longchamp woman’s identity and create desire.” Evoking a bold Californian spirit amid Parisian je ne sais quoi, the collection channeled ’70s glamour drawn from Anita Pallenberg and Verushka, both inimitable icons each with an individual sense of style of her own. Just like the guests who attended the nyfw show at World Trade Centre, namely Isabelle Huppert, Kate Moss, and current campaign girl Kendall Jenner. “What these muses have in common is that great sense of chic, with a twist of eccentricity. I want to give women keys to build their different styles.” This explains the diversity in the casting, which includes models Mica Argañaraz (from Argentina), Sun Feifei (from China), Nora Attal (from Morocco) and Sohyun Jung (from South Korea) to reflect the universal Longchamp woman. Longchamp’s familiar effortless pieces are now spiced up with just the right amount of Midwest charisma. Makes you dream of desert road trips and late night drives. Characterised by Longchamp’s leather expertise, swingy long leather fringes define silhouettes composed of mixed layering. “Leather is important for us,” she emphasises, highlighting Kaia Gerber’s finale look of rust-hued fringed jacket and matching shorts, as well as Theresa Hayes’ olive green safari dress, as strong looks of the collection. “It expresses a woman who is dynamic without compromising femininity. I also like the chiffon dresses in leopard print paired with leather, which endows strength to the fluid sheer dresses.” Ikat, a key motif, is printed on those leather fringes or embroidered on delicate tulle. Black and white punctuates a colour palette influenced by bright summer days, a nod to New York City. While new-gen Cavalcade bags turn up in vivid colours and animal prints, the Amazone gets sensational with colourful stones and broad guitar-like straps, fringes and contrasting materials. “It is our key bag of the moment, and it’s the bag I like to play with. “For shoes, we had a beautiful collection of boots for
Autumn/winter 2018, but for the next season, I think we all want to go flat so I worked on graphic gladiator sandals and fur slip-ons. We tend to wear mini skirts or shorts in summer, so it’s nice to dress the legs up,” she enthuses. With beauty maestros Guido Palau and Pat Mcgrath in charge of hair and make-up respectively, Delafontaine found that she had little to worry about. In fact, her family was surprised that she took it so easy for her first major presentation with international press in attendance. “I had a strong team. I had confidence in everyone. I just wanted to enjoy the experience,” she muses. “The most memorable moment for me was right at the start of the show, when we said ‘go’, and the first girl Julia Nobis stepped out.” The audacious idea of holding such a momentous event in New York, rather than on home turf, demonstrates Longchamp’s daring, free spirit. “I was happy to show in the dynamic city of New York. I felt liberated because I’m out of home,” she declares. “Longchamp has always acted on intuition – something that we can allow ourselves to do because we are independent – and we chose New York because we are inspired by the energy and freedom of the city.” It also aptly caps off what was an American-themed year, with the opening of a Fifth Avenue flagship store, a surprise collaboration with edgy Hood by Air designer Shayne Oliver, and the appointment of Jenner to front its ad campaigns.
SET THE PACE
One of two headline events for the maison in September, the nyfw show was followed by a grand 70th anniversary fete at the Palais Garnier in Paris. While the former looked forward to the next 70 years, the latter celebrates 70 years of luxury and savoir-faire. As one of the rare family-owned houses in the luxury fashion business, Longchamp pulled out all the stops to celebrate the milestone. “Since 1948, our grandparents and parents have passed on to us the passion for creation, and the desire to always be unique and unexpected,” states Cassegrain. “Here, our eagerness drives us to take risks and to be unique in the way we diffuse our French lifestyle, at once confident, impertinent, and light-hearted. As a family business, our true luxury lies our independence and authenticity,” Standing on a magnificent green carpet, a line of tuxedo-clad pageboys wearing phantasmagorical masks of horse heads (a nod to the heritage brand’s equestrian roots) welcomed guests into the sumptuous halls of the Palais Garnier. Step inside and you’re reminded of a theme close to Longchamp’s heart as a troupe of 30 dancers entertain you with a myriad of dance forms ranging from tap dance to tango, from breakdance to Bûto. “For 70 years, the maison was in constant motion. This is the hallmark of our family: moving forward, innovating, and always seeking to improve,” Delafontaine says. “It is a permanent challenge for a family business in the hyper-competitive world of fashion that never stops. Movement is a state of mind: the Opéra Garnier and the world of dance perfectly illustrates this philosophy.” The celebrity-powered party was, by and large, a friends and family affair that also reunited collaborators including craftspeople from France and around the world, intensifying the family spirit. (Even Singapore got to partake in the celebrations when the maison brought a bit of Paris to Paragon via the Café de Longchamp pop-up, where guests enjoyed coffee and croissants on the house.) But Longchamp isn’t done wowing the world yet. This overachiever has one more pride of the maison to present.
In 2007, the French government awarded Longchamp with the prestigious classification of a Living Heritage Company, a label honouring French companies with an expertise in craft and industrial workmanship. Apart from two company-owned production sites in Tunisia and Mauritius, and nine studios through partnerships, the maison has six French workshops in the Pays de Loire region.
The main production site covering 60,000sqm was established at Segré in 1959. “What’s nice for me is that as soon as I arrive, I see faces that I know from I was little. We have people working there for more than 40 years. I know some of their parents who work there as well! I feel at home in Segré,” recalls Delafontaine fondly. Segré is an eye-opener to the heart of Longchamp’s universe, but the new state-of-the-art atelier and craftsmanship school at Pouzauges charts Longchamp’s course into the future. Sustainability plays a major role here. Inaugurated in September, the production site is considerately integrated into its environment. Local plant species and hedgerows populate a 50,000sqm park, reducing the impact of the surrounding buildings and roads on the landscape. Vegetated valleys in the car park filter, through the use of macrophytes, the hydrocarbons from staff’s vehicles. This eliminates the need to construct conventional underground networks, says industrial director, David Burgel. “We have also set up sockets for electric cars and a bicycle parking lot.” To control the site’s energy impact and costs, closely monitored using dedicated software, Longchamp employs a combination of rainwater harvesting, dual-flow ventilation and maximised use of natural lighting. In the workshops, lighting in the form of Sheds situated at the top provide a more diffused natural light. For a better work environment, leather craftsmen can enjoy views of the surrounding landscape from inside the workshop through large bay windows. “Whether indoors or outdoors, the entire site is lit by leds, generating low power consumption. The roof is equipped with a rainwater recovery system, which is used to supply toilets and water our green spaces,” he adds. These innovations promoting sustainability are part of the plan to expand and modernise its production facilities that will support its international development. By creating an optimal working environment at a convenient location, as well as establishing a teaching studio to train new employees, Longchamp hopes to attract new talent to maintain its competencies in France, ensuring its know-how is constantly upgraded. This equips the heritage brand in ramping up its local production capacities and global deliveries in response to an increasingly demanding market. What better way to celebrate an anniversary than to have the next milestones lined up in sight? Happy birthday, Longchamp!
Right: Jean Cassegrain, Kendall Jenner, Sophie Delafontaine at the anniversary party Below: Kate Moss at Longchamp’s runway show
Pictured: Pageboys wearing horse head masks Below: Dimitri Chamblas choreographed the phenomenal ballet featuring 30 dancers
The entire Cassegrain clan gathers around an enormous birthday cake that required four people to carry up the staircase
Pictured: Longchamp’s new state-of-the-art production site at Pouzauges Below: The main production site at Segré