What brought me to Brussels wasn’t the famous tasty waffles or the crunchy fries and not even the typical fresh foamy beer, I traveled all the way to the Belgian (and European) capital to visit another kind of local legend, the oldest luxury leather goods brand in the world, Delvaux. This honored fashion house is a real national pride here and has been part of the local culture ever since it was founded in 1829.
I am here to explore what makes this legendary brand different to it’s competitors and find out all about the brand’s approach to creativity, design and lifestyle or as they like to call it “Belgittute” (Belgian attitude).
In the last two years Delvaux are aiming for a global burst and finally they made their way outside the natural habitat of Belgium. As part of this revival scheme they got new Hong Kong based owners, hired Christina Zeller as product and merchandising director (previously Givenchy’s director of the accessories), added points of sale in China, Korea and USA, their Paris, London and Tokyo flagship stores are planned to open later this year with new modernized concepts designed by Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil, (Luxembourg based artists). Looks like this 180 year old luxury house represents the contrast between the traditional craft and the contemporary vision and that alone is worth exploring.
“On one hand we are the oldest leather good company in the world, on the other we feel like a start up, going global and adapting to social media is very new and challenging for us but our principal is not to rush and grow gradually” says Pascal Delcor Global PR manager.
The Delvaux’s headquarters I am visiting is also known as the “Arsenal” and unlike other luxury houses this one is functioning as the brand’s factory, after sales service (repair laboratory), show room and head office. The bags are designed from the first sketch to the finished product all under one roof to ensure a tight control of the final result. On the second floor of this bright loft located the brand’s archive which contains a series of historical documents tracing the evolution of the company, on the walls there is a timeline that shows different models of handbags including special limited edition pieces and collaborations. In this archive I also found the core of Delvaux’s inspiration, Le Livre d’Or meaning “The Golden Book” a sketch book contains all the drawings of all the bags designed by Delvaux from 1908 to date. The 3000 drawings in the book still used for inspiration by the current design team which means that every Delvaux bag that is made today is a modern interpolation to an existing design from the past.
At Delvaux the mantra is to focus on the work and creativity rather then on trend and passing fashion, in practice unlike their rivals this means: absolutely no big logos and no recognisable holograms, the only indication of a Delvaux bag should be its quality and sometimes a small hint in a shape of a D as a delicate clasp or emboss almost like an “insider wink” I am told that the bags are meant to be passed on from generation to generation without loosing their value or prestige, it seems like every tasteful Belgian woman I met has some kind of emotional attachment or a story to tell about her own Delvaux bag, owning a Delvaux bag is a symbol of pride and patriotism no wonder Queen Mathilde inherited a few and still happily wears them today (Delvaux has the official stamp of royal approval)
One Delvaux bag can take up to 2 days or 25 hours to make, some bags can be assembled from over 64 pieces of leather by hand by a team of 10 people, each bag comes with a card bearing the signature of the master craftsman who constructed it, to make each bag even more exclusive no more then 30- 50 bags are produced from each design (seasonal bags, not classic carry over bags!) some craftsmen of them work in the company for over 30 years.There is a low key family atmosphere in this factory and employees are talking about Delvaux with such pride as if it was owned by their father.
“There are no “stars” here in Delvaux, we are not about putting a face to represent our brand, the only stars here are our bags, and they are the main focus of everyone who works here” Pascal Delcor Global PR manager.
Delvaux manages to stay relevant without any “glossy” PR stunts or big billboard ads and million dollar campaigns like other luxury businesses in their field, perhaps this humble and product focused approach is what kept Delvaux going all these years, after all this company survived 2 world wars and came out strong after recent economical crisis. Delvaux is the perfect example of how luxury is relevant and appreciated today more then ever, without loosing their core values they manage to keep the title of one of the most prestigious brands in the world.