Delvaux presents the luxury of heritage

The evolution of Belgium's first luxury brand from outsider to insider secret

by 13 February 2013

The evolution of Belgium’s first luxury brand from outsider to insider secret
The Belgian king of luxury leathers, Delvaux, welcomed LUXOS into The Arsenal, the atelier of the world-renowned leathersmiths, for an exclusive look at the past, present and future of the brand. The headquarters, an airy loft-like space in Brussels, is home to the artisans and designers working on the collections that have caused a stir in the top-end accessories sector for nearly two centuries.

“Our product is the star,” said Marco Probst, CEO of Delvaux. “I think it’s a good moment for us. Customers are no longer looking for the obvious. We’re not a house that does in-your-face bags and I like it that way.”

The first Delvaux collection under the new executive team turned the heads of fashion’s elite last fall/winter, and this spring/summer collection is no different. Delvaux’s reinterpretation of iconic styles with modern influences, such as exotic hand-painted python on the classic Madame bag, is the type of thing the fashion world devours. Another favourite for spring/summer is the reinvented Tempête bag. Originally created in 1967, the Tempête is one of the most coveted styles the house has ever made.

Have bag, will travel
In 1829, long before Hermès, Vuitton, or Moynat, even before Belgian independence, it was innovator Charles Delvaux who began creating the ‘it-bag’ for fashionable travellers. Delvaux’s dedication to its fine craftsmen and quality products led it to become Belgium’s Royal Warrant Supplier for leather goods in 1883, a title it still holds. The aristocratic association between Belgium and Delvaux is one of its most identifying marks, and one that led Franz Schwennicke to purchase the brand in 1930.

Schwennicke was a visionary before the term even existed, and is credited with having created the idea of seasons for luxury accessories, insisting that Delvaux produce two collections per year. Drawing upon the original cornerstone of the brand, the travel trunk, in 1946, Delvaux introduced the first lightweight suitcase framed in aluminium. The Avia Airess, recognizable from its signature Saint Christopher medal on the top, a sign of protection for travellers, was also the first creation of its kind to receive a patent in 1953. The Avia Airess became the iconic travel bag of the elite well through the 1970s.

Fascinatingly, many Delvaux bags produced in the 1960s are still the styles that define the heritage brand today. The iconic Brillant bag, for example, was originally introduced in 1960, and is now reinvented each season, without changing its subtle sophistication and signature D-buckle. The Madame bag, created in 1967, is another benchmark style for the house that retains its class and style with perfection.

A new era for Delvaux
The house of Delvaux has gone through several transformations over the last 184 years. The most challenging was to first show the world that Brussels could be a centre for luxury and fashion. Solange Schwennicke, who was the first woman to head the brand in 1970, did just that. Under her leadership, Delvaux became a European trendsetter and a global luxury brand, with expansion as far away as Japan. She passed on the business to her son, François Schwennicke, in 1995, and he has remained an active member of the executive board ever since.

Thanks to Solange Schwennicke, Delvaux established a global reputation for style and quality; however, this distinction risked becoming irrelevant during the boom of mass-produced luxury signature bags over the last decade. Understanding the importance of adapting to the modern era of luxury, Delvaux sought the support of Fung Brands Limited. In 2011, the family-owned and run business based in China purchased 80 percent of the Belgian heritage brand. With this acquisition, Delvaux welcomed a new executive trio who combine a successful track record at some of the finest luxury houses in the world, including Céline, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton.

Chief Executive Officer, Marco Probst, helms Delvaux’s new course in today’s luxury leather market. Probst is recognized throughout the luxury world for his work at Chloé and Hugo Boss, and has plans to re-establish Delvaux as the pinnacle of international affluence.

It is clear that the original trunk makers behind the brand are long gone, but their legacy of quality design and innovation remains. With new management and new collections, Delvaux remains an intrinsic element of Belgian heritage, continuing to create timeless heirloom bags, meant to be handed down from generation to generation, as they have been for the past 184 years.