Longchamp’s accessories are a global sensation—who hasn’t owned a durable, leather-trimmed nylon Le Pliage tote at some point? This season, the French company is celebrating its 70th anniversary with its first runway show at NYFW. Artistic director Sophie Delafontaine is leading the charge.
You spent some time this summer in the south of France. What were you up to?
I was taking care of my garden, cooking for the whole family, doing a lot of work, resting, swimming, and enjoying family time.
Do you have any childhood memories of the family business?
When I was a kid, the company was really the center of the family. But as a kid, you don’t really feel that it is a company. You feel that it’s a family, and you all work together. My parents’ apartment, my grandparents’ apartment, and the office were in the same building. Jean [Cassegrain, Sophie’s brother and current Longchamp CEO] and I were totally familiar with
all the people working at the company; we’d walk through the office. My grandmother used to have a store on Champs-Élysées, and as a little girl, I was happy when I could join her in the store on Wednesdays and stay the afternoon with her, seeing the beautiful bags she’d sell.
When did you first realize that the family business was a major fashion brand?
When I was at high school. I’d go to school with all the bags that my dad was doing; he’d bring home prototypes, which I’d take to school, so I had new bags very often. I understood that it was appealing to my friends at school; it looked really cool.
Did your friends pester you for gratis bags?
No! They’re polite. My friends are very cool.
What were you like as a child?
I really wanted to design, and I always saw my parents, my father, and my grandmother working with artistic people. It was interesting for me. I was really a fan of ready-to-wear for kids. I wanted to have eight kids when I was young. Thankfully for me I didn’t get eight kids—only three!
Why did you want to design for kids?
I thought it was really cute. I love the proportions. Everything is so small! It’s very precise work, because when you are working on something for a newborn or a one-month-old, every detail is important.
Did you expect you’d work with your family?
No. As a teenager, I didn’t want to work with my family at all. I wanted to escape. I just wanted to have my own way, my own life. But after working for four years at Bonpoint, I felt more confident of what I could give to Longchamp. I joined the company to introduce my own point of view, to bring a bit more feminine spirit into the collections. Working in a family business, it’s always good to start somewhere else to learn before you join.
Was it easy to sell your father on your design ideas?
Yes. I think the success of Longchamp today is really due to my father. He succeeded by having my brother and me working with him. He understood that if we joined him, it would bring our point of view. He was clever to always listen to us, to try to understand. Of course, he had a lot of advice and comments, but always in a positive, supportive way.
Why did the company decide to start ready-to-wear?
In 2006, we opened a store in Soho in New York and it felt really huge, the biggest one we had [at that time]. We felt it’d be cool to add a few pieces of ready-to-wear to give the store a bit more life, and to break up the long shelves with only bags, bags, bags. The idea was really to introduce the ready-to-wear more like an accessory to our bags. It was a coat, a jacket [to start]. After a time, I had to introduce pants, a dress, knitwear. It was also important to figure out exactly what Longchamp ready-to-wear is. It took a few years to really understand what I wanted with ready-to-wear.
How do you honor the brand’s seven-decade legacy—and also evolve its aesthetic?
I try to keep Longchamp’s quality, and also the spirit of the Longchamp woman, who is active and dynamic. I think you can do quality products for dynamic, active women, but in a cool, fashionable way.
Tell us about the Le Pliage bag. Do you remember your first?
Le Pliage was born in 1993. My first one was definitely for traveling. Before Le Pliage, it was a travel bag…luggage. When we first launched Le Pliage, I think what was very strong was it was not only one bag; at the beginning, it was already a full concept. It’s a way of life. It’s a strong identity with a simple product.
Who do you creatively brainstorm with?
I exchange a lot with my brother, Jean, because we do things together a lot. Otherwise, my daughter—I like to text her sometimes when I have an idea. She’s direct and honest. She won’t tell me it’s beautiful if it’s not. This is important, because it’s nice to have people who are able to tell you, “It’s really awful.” It’s nice to have people who, when they tell you something is amazing, it means it’s really amazing.
What are your passions outside of fashion?
Art has always been important; it’s something I really love. I love to go to fairs, exhibitions, galleries, museums, whatever. I love to travel, because I think traveling today is so easy and so rich. You don’t need to go 10,000 kilometers from your home. Travel means meeting people, discovering new landscapes, food, music, culture, architecture…all those are inspiring for me.
You’ve previously collaborated with Jeremy Scott and Shayne Oliver. Why did you want work with them?
Jeremy is the coolest man I know in fashion! We’ve been working together for 12 years. I love Jeremy, because he’s creative and sensitive, with a lot of humanity. He always surprises me. I think in fashion to be able to always reinvent, surprise…it’s really what I’m trying to do and Jeremy is the best one for this. He is very, very creative, and unexpected, and it’s always fun and cool, but it’s never vulgar. And Shayne, the idea was as a French brand coming to New York on Fifth Avenue, to mix and match Parisian culture with Shayne’s very New York culture; he mixes a cool aesthetic with streetwear, but in a graphic, simple way.
Why did you want to show this season at NYFW?
This year, we opened our store on Fifth Avenue, which is very important for us. The U.S. is our second-[largest] market, and it’s something we really want to develop; doing the show in New York is also a way to push this American market. And also, because we did ready-to wear for the opening of the Soho store [years ago]. Also, I feel that in New York there’s a strong energy, and I want to bring Parisian style to New York.
What can we expect to see from your Fall collection?
Honestly, expect the unexpected. It’s our 70th anniversary, but I’m not looking at the past. I’m really looking at the future.