Jean Cassegrain: Betting on the long term…

As Longchamp – a symbol of French leather goods – celebrates its 70th anniversary, the General Manager of the brand shares highlights from the company’s history, and his view regarding the future of the industry

J Cassegrain

You’re celebrating 70 years of Longchamp. Tell us about that adventure.

Our house is quite emblematic of this particular world. First, we specialized in leather goods, at a time when everything was about skilled hand labour and technique. Let’s remember, in the 1950s, there were no brands, and only expert craftsmen supplied shops. The industry became structured around certain houses in the 1980s. Ours has existed since 1948, but we were pioneers in the field, as we were in advertising, which we have invested in since 1979 and which strengthened our position in the French and international markets. And then, everything changed in the 2000s. The bag, as accessory and object, just became essential.

That was lucky!

Yes, but there’s the flip side of the coin as well – meaning the entry of a whole group of new players, including fashion brands. From that point on, there hasn’t been much of a boundary between fashion and leather goods. We went with the times, as we considered it impossible to sell accessories without moving closer to fashion, its ability to create desire, and its tempo. We have been developing ready to wear collections for 10 years but our garments have a strong leather presence. It’s a way of championing our own DNA.

Right now, accessories have a total dominance. Do you think that will lessen at some point?

I really cannot imagine going back, though perhaps we might see a slower rise. In fact, the real issue – for fashion companies – is sustainable development. I see a lot of success followed by failure, which I think is related to two factors. First, a lack of quality, which is sooner or later spotted by consumers. Then, there is too much focus on these famous “It bags” making it difficult to update or reinvent yourself. Our strategy is different. We rely on stability, creation and quality.

What do you expect from your suppliers?

We are loyal to Première Vision Paris, where each year we meet with our same partners with whom we have forged close relationships, sometimes for 40 years! We expect from them very high quality, both in natural leathers and in more elaborated, and thus more homogeneous, materials.

What would you hope for your company in the future?

That Longchamp remains an independent and family brand. To further these goals, we are strengthening in markets such as Asia and the US that offer enormous potential. On the product side, we continue to maintain a balance between new designs and the evolution of our iconic pieces, such as our “Le Pliage” collection, which enjoys a growing popularity. Our philosophy is to bet on the long term, while creating surprises via limited series, collaborations, etc. Lastly, online sales and communications are a primary concern.

And the future of the sector?

There is a definite concentration with the growing weight of international brands. This trend, which will undoubtedly increase, implies a new organization in the sector, because the volumes requested will become bigger and bigger.