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Longchamp designs India-inspired bags

As the French luxury label Longchamp opens its second store in India, artistic director Sophie Delafontaine presents two India-inspired bags

Sophie Delafontaine. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.
Sophie Delafontaine. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Their classic Penelope Arty is inspired by the Op Art movement and the Mademoiselle hobo bag looks to the women of Paris in the 1970s. The latest editions in the Longchamp catalogue are inspired by India. India Vibrant" and “Peacock the Majestic" have been designed by Longchamp’s artistic director Sophie Delafontaine to coincide with the opening of the French luxury brand’s second store in India, in Mumbai—the first one opened last year in New Delhi.

Delafontaine is the granddaughter of Jean Cassegrain, who founded Longchamp in Paris in 1948. When it started, the main business was covering smoking pipes in leather. It then diversified into small leather luggage, and by the 1970s had established itself as a luxury leather bag maker. But it was in 1993, when Longchamp launched Le Pliage—a nylon tote with leather trimmings that can be folded into a much smaller size—that it became a staple worldwide, making Le Pliage possibly the most air-travelled bag in the world.

While Delafontaine also takes care of the ready-to-wear and shoes lines, she is the primary creative vision behind the Longchamp bags. The brand is known for its colourful palette, “because we have enough black bags", its expertise in leather work, and commitment to craftsmanship. In Mumbai for the store opening, Delafontaine spoke about being attentive to local cultural contexts but designing for “a strong, spirited independent woman who could be from any part of the world". She also gave a peek into the back-end design process at Longchamp that makes it the artistic, fun, luxurious label that it is. Edited excerpts:

What are some of the most important design values at Longchamp?

The colour palette is what we begin with. We curate images of colours and moods, whether it’s pastels or bright colours or grey tones. But what’s at the heart of our process is the material, the leather. My grandfather started by covering (smoking) pipes with leather. We are a leather-goods manufacturer and specialize in processes around leather. So the softness and touch, how it feels to the hand, that’s very important to us. The other is proportion and detail. At Longchamp, we pay attention to every detail: the linking, inner lining, stitching the edges.

Yet your best-selling bag is not leather.

No, it’s nylon with leather. My father (Philippe Cassegrain), who created Le Pliage, used to travel a lot even at a young age, all across Asia and Europe. And as a traveller he was always thinking of functionality. In the 1960s, he found a stock of nylon that the army used for making tents. He realized how solid, resistant, light and waterproof it was. But not fragile. So it was perfect for luggage. He was the first to use nylon for luggage. Today it’s the most well-known bag in the world and it is the spirit of Longchamp: elegant, timeless and functional. Simplicity is very important to us. If you look at Le Pliage, it’s so simple, but there are 120 steps that go into making it.

A sketch of the India-inspired Longchamp bags.

What was your thought process for the India-inspired bags?

I cannot say I know Indian culture, but these bags are my Parisian point of view on India. The idea was to mix the Longchamp know-how and craftsmanship with my vision of India, which is spices, flowers, saris, silk, jewel tones like pink, orange, purple, a touch of gold; that’s really the vibe of India for me.

When I do a colour palette, I like to do cool tones and warm tones. So we did two variations: an emerald, peacock-blue and purple combination and another in striking pink and vermilion. As I was saying earlier, colour is important at Longchamp, and that’s why it’s such a great fit for India, because people here love their colour. In terms of the basic essence, however, it’s a classic Longchamp in its structure, shape, leather work and stitching.

The finished products.

Do you design for a particular market or with a personality in mind?

We do live in a world where there are local cultural differences, but I always design for a dynamic, confident woman who chooses for herself and is not constrained by trends. That’s my vision of the Longchamp woman. If you see the buying patterns as well, the same bags that are best-sellers worldwide do very well here in India, like Le Pliage, the Penelope, Effrontée and Longchamp 3D. The important thing is to have a point of view and to stay true to it.

What are the plans in the pipeline?

We are in a very dynamic phase of Longchamp. Last year, we focused on Paris. In one year, we had two important openings, one at Champs-Élysées, and last September we renewed our flagship store at Saint-Honoré. This year, our focus is international. In March this year, we opened in Moscow. The Mumbai store is up and running. In October, we will open at the Omotesandō in Tokyo, where we’re taking up an entire building. Next May, we are opening a store on Fifth Avenue in New York, and at the end of this year, we’re going to launch our first eyewear collection.

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