What’s the oldest leatherwear brand in the world? Hermès? We don’t want to disappoint our French neighbours but it’s the Belgian house of Delvaux. In 1829 Charles Delvaux added a shop window to his Brussels studio. His handcrafted trunks quickly gained universal admiration. In 1883, Delvaux became a warrant holder to the Court of Belgium. And in 1898, the House was the first to patent a model (the Edison trunk). Spurred on by this success, the range was further extended to include luggage, boxes, suitcases, and more. Never forgetting ladies’ handbags, which the House has offered since the beginning of the 20th century.
If you think of the House of Delvaux, there’s one word that always comes back: craftsmanship. I Love Belgium paid a visit to the ateliers at l’Arsenal in Brussels and we can assure you: you will never complain again about the price of a Delvaux bag if you look at the men hours needed to produce one bag. They’ve been very stubborn about moving production to low-cost countries just because of the high quality standards and the knowledge of their craftsmen. But this year they bit the bullet and opened an atelier in Vietnam. Nevertheless the quality control there is even higher (at one time they’ve tried to outsource the production, but this ended up being a disaster). The Vietnamese craftsmen have been educated by the Brussels’ people (most of them have been working for over 20 years for Delvaux) and François Schwennicke – owner of Delvaux – actually lives with his family in Vietnam and leads the atelier.
The atelier isn’t there to start a mass production line of their iconic designs such as the ‘Brillant’ or the ‘Tempête’, no. Those will still be produced in Belgium. The new ‘Toujours’ collection will be the main line produced there. ‘Toujours’ is a collection of hand bags for everyday use. Bags for the active woman, taking the children to school, running to meetings and ending her day with a yoga class and making healthy dinner for the family. The appeal of the new bags by Veronique Branquinho lies in the purity of their line and their ultra-functional design. The inside pockets plus the numerous storage spaces are perfect for the contemporary woman, who needs to be mobile and flexible, and has to have everything she needs right by her side. A bag that is both convenient and elegant. The price tag is less high because this is an ‘intensive use’ bag. Every bag of the ‘Toujours’ line is named after a day in the week. For the campaign images (made by talented Alex Salinas), they wanted to portray the active woman that would use the ‘Toujours’ line. And who would be perfect for that? Yes! The active women working at Delvaux in Brussels. Every single one of them was photographed with their favourite bag from the ‘Toujours’ collection. The first series of the collection have still been produced in Belgium until the Vietnam atelier is fully up and running. I Love Belgium got a private tour witnessing the production of the ‘Vendredi’ bag (actually I Love Belgium’s favourite bag of the ‘Toujours’ collection).
After a private tour in the leather treasure vault, where the I Love Belgium team was drooling over the different types of exotic leathers (we’re so sorry PETA and GAIA), we went to the first stage in the production process of a bag: the verification and cutting. That’s where the leather is checked on flaws and cut in the right pattern. The seemingly flawless skin for us is checked by an eagle eye craftsman who circles the flaws with a piece of chalk. After that the leather is cut into the right pattern with a hightech lasercut machine (where the patterns already have been integrated).
'Galuchat' or 'shagreen'
The leather treasure vault
The leather check
One of the 'Vendredi' bag's pattern pieces
The second stage is ‘la parure’ or the finery of the leather where it is smoothened and thinned becoming featherlite pieces.
Smoothing and thinning the leather
The third – and probably most exciting stage – is ‘la piqûre’ or the actual stitching. The stitching of the ‘Toujours’ line is very large reminding us of leather desk sets. The last stage also includes the finishing of the bag: adding the lining, covering buttons with leather, adding varnish to the borders,… trust us. This is a perfectionist’s job.
Let the stitching begin
The 'chef d'atelier' Jean-Louis checks de finishing
Stitching some more
The last beats
After a bag is finished it's off to the quality control. Bags with flaws (but this rarely happens) go immediately back to the atelier. When the bag is approved a certificate with the craftsman's stamp is added as well as a round leather mirror (also handmade in the Delvaux ateliers). Once the bag is filled up with silk monogrammed paper and packed in a dust bag, it's ready to be shipped off to the stores. Next to their own flagship stores, Delvaux is currently sold at Le Printemps in Paris and will be sold at Dover Street Market in London and Barneys New York as from August. I Love Belgium would like to thank the House of Delvaux (especially Pascale, Aline and Anne) for this wonderful opportunity to visit the Delvaux ateliers. This piece of Belgian heritage is well on its way to conquer the world of luxury.
Certificate and stamp of the craftsman who manufactured the bag
Finished 'Vendredi' bags