The Classicist: The Luxurious House of Longchamp
These days the celebrated French leathergoods company Longchamp is best known for its super-stylish handbags as seen in ad campaigns starring Kate Moss (above). Most people are unaware however that the company, which dates back to 1948, started off selling luxurious leather-covered pipes to Paris' bon ton. The rich heritage of the firm is celebrated in Longchamp, a gorgeous new illustrated history from Abrams by Marie-Claire Aucouturier with photographs by Philippe Carcia, published in celebration of the company's 60th anniversary.
Beginning with the deluxe pipes, which became a favorite of Elvis Presley (pictured smoking one in the book), the company built a brand as a bridge between the very social equestrian world and the world of luxury travel. Named after Paris' famed Longchamp racecourse where Napoleon III presided over the Royal Enclosure, the company adopted a horse and rider as its logo. The pipes were soon followed by cigarette cases and other leather accessories for smokers, then expansion into small leather goods in the 1950s, followed by the opening of the first Longchamp boutiques in the 1970s and '80s.
The first in a line of luxurious luggage soon followed. Longchamp thrived where many firms failed by catching on early to the importance of the Asian market. In the early 1970s, Philippe Cassegrain, Longchamp's founder, designed a line of bags called "LM," destined for the Japanese market, recently re-released for the anniversary. Its success gave Longchamp a solid reputation as a creator of women's handbags and enabled the company to expand further. In 1993 Cassegrain introduced the Le Pliage collection of foldable travel bags made of colorful vinyl with luxurious leather trim, an instant smash; two billion of them have been sold since.
Gallery: Longchamp Luxury
Longchamp has added to its devoted following in recent years thanks to partnerships with artists like Thomas Heatherwick and Tracey Emin, and collaborations with avant-garde designers like Jeremy Scott. Scott made a sensational debut for Longchamp in 2006 with a collection of cases stamped "This Is Not Your Bag." At the same time the company has not abandoned its traditions, continuing to produce the Pliage in many varieties as well as special limited editions such as the orange crocodile skin Maxi-Rival bag (see the gallery).
These days Longchamp has attracted celebrity enthusiasts including Uma Thurman, Eva Mendes and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who attended the grand opening of the company's amazing New York flagship, La Maison Unique, in 2006. Not bad for an old pipe-maker.