I stared at this bag for a few seconds before it hit me that I was looking at tromp l’oeil tire tracks, which has Jeremy Scott written all over it. His prints are thoroughly modern and often unconventional, but I’ve never seen one that I found too weird or too displeasing to love. He does a great job of bringing pop art to the fashion world, and his designs are often surprisingly useable.
As for the Longchamp Bags portion of this design, I think we all know why the brand’s bags are popular. This one is waterproof for bad weather and its no-fuss lines perfectly display Scott’s large-scale pattern. The coupling of the two brands is counter-intuitive, but looking at the final product, it makes so much sense. Buy through Colette for $48.
Known for creating the iconic Le Pilage tote, Longchamp’s new bags for Spring/Summer are functional and chic. There’s a variety of styles to pick from, ranging from stylish rucksacks to chic bucket bags. Each styles comes in different colours and materials, like the bucket bag in tan and white and the designs manage to balance a fine line between style and practicality; appealing to both the young and old. The longchamp bag are designed to to carry all your daily essentials and great for the weekend.
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Forget counting cars to pass the time. My teenage daughter and I have invented a new game, which we’ve dubbed Tot Up The Totes.
We’re tallying up how many women we see carrying the same handbag. Not just any old bags: the smart, understated nylon ones with the leather handles and trim that seem to be everywhere at the moment.
For the uninitiated, it is Le Pliage, from French luxury brand Longchamp. In a recent round-up of ‘It Bags’ by a fashion magazine, it was up there with the Fendi Baguette (£107) and the Hermes Birkin (from £560) – even though it costs no more than £80, and sometimes as little as £48.
If you didn’t know the name, you would certainly recognise the simple design. It’s being sported by everyone right now.
On a day trip to London alone, we’d spied 20 travelling from Charing Cross to Sloane Square. Red, beige, black, navy – one woman even had three: the roomy travel bag on one shoulder, the medium-sized shopper on the other and the dinky handbag on her arm.
And there they were again in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. They’re even taking over at my daughter’s school where the large, long-handled shopper is popular with fashion-conscious sixth-formers.
Unbelievably, more than 31 million of the longchamp bags have now been sold globally – not bad for a family-run business which started out in 1948 selling small leather goods for men.
So just how did the Longchamp foldable tote take over the world?
Celebrity aficionados clearly love them for their sheer practicality. For the A-lister on the move, no other design manages to cater for all life’s eventualities and yet still look effortlessly elegant.
The beauty of Le Pliage (which means ‘folding’ in French) is that it folds down into a neat rectangle secured by the leather flap, making it perfect for stashing in a smarter handbag for times when you need to carry a few extra bits and bobs. The Duchess of Cornwall and Mary Berry never seem to travel without one and actress Katie Holmes uses hers for gym kit.
It’s a godsend for mothers, too – the fabric wipes clean and is water resistant. Amy Adams isn’t the only Hollywood mother to be seen out and about with a child in one arm and a long-handled Longchamp in the other. Although only the stylishly single can plump for a white one like those carried by Pippa Middleton and Alexa Chung.
For the globe-trotting fashionista, meanwhile, the rainbow of colours on offer is a simple way of colour coding belongings. Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes has confessed in Vogue that she has several foldable Longchamps.
‘The smaller ones in bright colours were not so much to go with my clothes (although I am partial to purple, wine-red and turquoise). It is rather because I must know in a microsecond which bag I am grabbing each morning: the one with my laptop? With my show shoes? Or with the iPad?’
Meanwhile, for those of us who own only one, the bags have proved a welcome riposte to the eye-wateringly expensive Bag published by Laurence King bags of the Noughties, which cost almost as much as a family holiday.
‘Instantly recognisable, this is a designer handbag with a very modest price tag,’ says Sue Huey, trend forecaster at Stylus Fashion and co-author of Bag. ‘It is such a popular bag because of its refined simplicity.
‘Whilst its primary material is nylon, its use of leather trim gives it a luxe look and feel. It’s durable and incredibly versatile. And its endless colour range and size options means it’s a style often purchased more than once. It’s a transitional piece that’s functional enough for shopping, yet smart enough for dinner.’
The first Le Pliage was sold in 1993. It was developed by head of the family firm, Philippe Cassegrain, who wanted to create a practical yet stylish fold-up bag inspired by Japanese paper-folding art, origami.
He hoped to create luxe accessories for female customers. And so he did, although at first, the bag was the close-guarded style secret of Parisiennes.
It was a chic French friend who introduced me to the bag eight years ago. She had a couple in the car for her weekly shop. When I asked her what they were, she showed me and I was green with envy. They certainly knocked the spots off the plastic bags in my boot.
Then the Sloanes caught on and Le Pliage moved up a notch from emergency shopper to everyday handbag. Kate Middleton was one of the early converts. Her love of the bag (these days she appears to have most sizes, from small shopper to overnight travel bag) dates back to her student days at St Andrews.
She even had a small brown Longchamp swinging from her wrist when she graduated in June 2005.
Whereas once she no doubt just threw in a purse, lipstick and diary, these days her favourite carry-all is proving more useful for carting George and Charlotte’s toys about.
However, Le Pliage really started to go mainstream during the economic downturn, due to its affordability and discreet branding. Sales will no doubt now be boosted by the new 5p charge for plastic bags, too.
Having emerged as a modern woman’s must-have, it’s perhaps no surprise Longchamp is keen to turn the practical little bag into a lifestyle concept.
And so there is now a Longchamp Woman ready-to-wear clothing range, a shoe collection and, last year, to mark the 21st anniversary of the nylon original, a luxury leather version – and so it was that the bag that was a refreshing change from pricey designer bags gave birth to the super-expensive Le Pliage Heritage, which starts at £68. Mad Men actress January Jones has been spotted with one.
How things can so quickly come full circle – but still, I defy you not to lust after it.
It’s also worth noting there’s a more affordable leather range called Le Pliage Cuir, with prices starting at £45 for a practical cross-body bag – and all the bags in this range still fold up even though they’re entirely made of leather. The nylon original, meanwhile, can now be personalised, meaning you can choose your own colours, as well as handle lengths (some like long, I like short), three types of zips and so on.
Of course, as with any fashion fad, the counterfeit trade in Le Pliage totes is a threat to the brand and a real temptation to consumers. One friend guiltily admits that she picked up two for £4 each in a Turkish market on holiday. ‘They’re not as good quality but it’s hard to tell the difference from a distance,’ she says. Such is the extent of the problem with fakes, Le Pliage devotees have come up with a detailed checklist to help consumers quickly spot a fake.
Look closely and the leather used by Longchamp Outlet has a diamond pattern, whereas the fakes tend to have a fish-scale design.
On the reverse side of the leather flap, look out for an indent of the brand logo (a jockey on a horse) as counterfeit copies don’t usually have this. Also, the handle should be flat and the stitching in a beige thread not white.
So what is next for the Le Pliage? Trend forecasters say it’s now time for men to adopt. It’s already happening in Milan, where uber-stylish chaps are carrying them in fetching shades of lemon and coral.
I’ll have to put one on my husband’s Christmas present list – and if he doesn’t want to use it, I know someone who will …
LOS ANGELES — Longchamp Outlet, the traditional French luxury accessories and clothing brand famous for its nylon Le Pliage bags, touched down in Los Angeles recently to celebrate its decade-long relationship with the eccentric fashion designer Jeremy Scott.
Over the years, Longchamp has let Scott use Le Pliage as a canvas for a number of limited-edition designs inspired by his self-named ready-to-wear collections. The highly collectible bags have featured eye-popping graphics including brightly colored piles of pills, 1980s Madballs characters, Zodiac symbols and retro postcard images. A $370 “Greetings from Hollywood” design was released to coincide with the L.A. celebration and anniversary.
Founded by the late Jean Cassegrain in 1948, Longchamp is still a family business 60-plus years later, run by the second and third generations. I sat down with creative director Sophie Delafontaine and Chief Executive Jean Cassegrain (the founder’s grandchildren) while they were in town, to learn about the brand’s heritage, including the back story behind their father Philippe Cassegrain’s origami-like Pliage design, which debuted in 1993. Here are the takeaways.
Longchamp started with pipes, not bags — and even Elvis was a fan.
“A lot of young men were smoking pipes at the time, and a lot of Americans were coming through Paris after World War II. At some point, Elvis Presley must have been through Paris and purchased the pipe,” Cassegrain said. “The name of the store was not Longchamp at first. It was a tobacconist, selling cigarettes, cigars, lighters and stuff like that. My grandfather was successful supplying the GIs in Paris, but when they went home he was left with an excess. So to give his pipes an identity, he decided to cover them in leather and stamp them with the Longchamp Outlet name, after the racetrack in Bois de Boulogne, since another company was already using the name Cassegrain.” In the 1950s, the company expanded into leather goods, then luggage and eventually handbags and ready-to-wear.
More than 30 million Le Pliage bags have been sold worldwide, and it takes more than 100 steps to make each one.
A tote that folds flat, Le Pliage (French for “the folding”) comes in a range of sizes and fabrics including leather, nylon and canvas, all accented with a signature leather oval that snaps over the leather handles. On the brand’s website, you can customize your Pliage by choosing colors and monograms.
“Our father was the first person to have the idea to make luggage from nylon. And the first nylon he used was the nylon used by the French army for the floor of their tents. It was khaki-colored,” Cassegrain explains. “It’s not that unique to put crocodile or gold everywhere to make luxury,” he says. “Luxury is something (that is) well-suited to your need.”
Longchamp makes clothing to accessorize its Longchamp bags, not the other way around.
“I started with six or seven pieces — coats, jackets, very simple,” says Delafontaine. “Season after season, the collection has grown, and now we also have shoes. I always start by designing the handbag collection first, which is different from most brands. I like to use leather and play with it. I make jackets that look like cashmere sweaters but are in lambskin so soft and light, you can fold them in your luggage, for example.”
Longchamp may seem traditional, but the Jeremy Scott collaboration has been seamless, so much so that not one of his designs has ever been rejected.
“We call ourselves an optimistic luxury brand, and we like his optimistic point of view,” says Delafontaine. “He’s fun, pop and colorful, and he has a huge sense of humor — even about himself. His designs may be eccentric but it never becomes trash.”
Hermes is not the only luxury goods brand hand-making bags in France; Longchamp does it too.
Longchamp has six factories in France, mostly in the Loire Valley region. Half of what the company makes is done there, and half is done outside. “It’s difficult to automatize the making of handbags, so a lot of it is manual,” Cassegrain says. “Hermes is quite unique, insofar as the same person makes an entire bag. Even brands like Vuitton and Chanel don’t work like that. But the know-how of our workshops is impressive.”
“For the 20th anniversary of Le Pliage, we created the Pliage Heritage, a version of the bag in full leather,” Delafontaine says. “The opposite of foldable nylon, it is very structured. And I was pleased to work with our team on it to show all the qualities we have at our fingertips.”