Delvaux: the noble craftsman

Delvaux: the noble craftsman

A couple of years back, Delvaux was a rather unknown brand anywhere else than Belgium. Still today not many people know that Delvaux is one of the oldest leather goods companies, older than Hermès.

Delvaux dates back to 1829 when Charles Delvaux started making and selling leather trunks. This was a right moment as shortly after Belgium opened the first railway line in the Continental Europe and people started traveling more. Delvaux quickly realised the opportunity and added suitcases, boxes and later also handbags to their collection.

Preparing exotic leathers for cutting
Preparing exotic leathers for cutting 

In 1883 Delvaux received the title of “royal warrant holder of the court of Belgium” from King Leopold II and has been ever since one of the preferred brands of the Royal family and the Belgian noblesse (aristocracy). The former Queen Paola, the wife of King Albert II was pictured wearing their bags at many occasions. One of them was the famous “Le Brillant”, a bag created especially for the 1958 World’s Exhibition in Brussels.

Through almost 190 years of its existence, Delvaux remained fidele to its key values: quality, times character, craftsmanship…

Until this day all Delvaux bags are made by hand. Its Brussels atelier employs around 50 artisans with extensive knowledge and experience of leather treatment, cutting and assembling. It creates bags out of the most expensive hides, such as ostrich, crocodile, lizard and other exotic animals. You can also see fish such as sting ray, which texture has little round bumps and is used to create some elements rather than entire bags.

 

On average, it takes approximately 12 hours to make one bag, including 8 hours to assembly the pieces. Therefore one craftsman can only make one bag per day. The Brussels atelier deals also with the after-sales, for which Delvaux is well known. You can bring your 50 years old bag and they will renovate it so it can be worn by the next generation.

Ceci n'est pas un Delvaux bag
Ceci n’est pas un Delvaux bag

But despite its traditional values and high society reach Delvaux has also some certain sense of humour (à la Belge). To celebrate 50 years of the Brillant bag, the company re-created it in 9 new versions inspired by the work of another famous Belgian, a surrealist René Margitte and called ‘Humours of the Brilliant’. One of the most famous is a black model created by Didier Vervaeren, that reads ‘Ceci n’est pas un Delvaux’, meaning ‘this isn’t a Delvaux’. It’s clearly a wink towards Magritte’s picture showing a pipe with a comment: ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (this isn’t a pipe). Rihanna was spotted wearing this bag completed by an outfit composed of a sport bra, camouflage shorts and sneakers (no further comment on that).

Another creative and rather unconventional collaboration between Delvaux and Maison Dandoy (famous for handmade biscuits) took place to celebrate their common 185th anniversary. A Brilliant Biscuit was created of this encounter, also known as the chicest biscuit of Brussels.

 

 

But despite the Royal patrons and certain celebrity endorsements, Delvaux has always remained under the radar of the international fashionistas as well as the mass consumer.

Wall at Delvaux headquarters in Brussels
Wall at Delvaux headquarters in Brussels

This might however change. In 2011 the control over the company went from Belgian family Schwennicke to Hong-Kong family Fung. Fung brothers and their holding Fung Brands, detain now 80% of the company. Apart from Delvaux their other investments include Cerutti, Robert Clergerie and Sonia Rykiel. Since then the company got more international exposure. This is reflected in their sales: while in 2011 only 3% of the products were sold outside Belgium, in 2014 it was 70%.

Despite this, Delvaux remains a discrete and mysterious brand avoiding overexposure. As the CEO Mark Probst once said: “we are not a house that does in-your-face bags and I like it that way”. Delvaux realises that its key feature is the heritage and savoir-faire and does not intend to change this. The company recently benefited from EUR 4 million loan from the Brussels government to boost local production and retail.

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