by Stephen Kohl
When one thinks of luxury handbags, such iconic names as Hermès or Louis Vuitton come to mind. However, one manufacturer is both older and preferred by sensibly minded collectors for its high quality materials and fashionable—yet understated—appearance. In short, Delvaux bags are smart and finely crafted, sans the conspicuous consumption other brands often imbue.
Trunk manufacturer Charles Delvaux established the handbag line in 1829, recognizing a need for beautiful, yet practical bags that allowed women to keep needed possessions handy while on the go. By the 1930s, Delvaux designer Franz Schwennicke introduced seasonal styles to complement the couture lines of leading fashion houses. His wife, Solange, created a bag exclusively for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, home of Delvaux. Today seasoned leather artisans in France and Belgium craft the venerable designer’s goods. The company’s handbag lines—from Heritage to Savoir Faire to Tentation— are works of art, truly a joy to behold.
Christina Zeller is Delvaux’s current artistic director. Her ability to surprise has propelled the bag maker into an edgier orbit, while maintaining the traditional sensibilities core clients have long appreciated. Also the brand’s merchandising and product director, Zeller entered the fashion industry first as a model, before leaving the runway to work under such icons as Franco Moschino, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix. It was her decade-long tenure at Givenchy, however, where Zeller came into her own, creating such iconic bags as the Antigona and Nightingale. Her appointment at Delvaux breathed new life into the brand, with Zeller injecting the same panache that hallmarked her tenure at Givenchy.
“People confuse luxury with what is expensive,” Zeller says. “We’re about tradition, craftsmanship, and remaining discreet. We take our time to develop perfect products, which is why we never overproduce and have remained a hidden gem for so many years. We are not at all a fashion brand. We have never been 'in,' so we will never be 'out.’”
Spring/Summer 2017 finds Delvaux adding the “joyful colors” of citron, indigo, lilac and coral to their time-honored palette of nude, noir, végétal and ivory. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Tempête clutch, a shocking five shade blue-to-navy Rorschach-like butterfly pattern has been applied to one of their most well known designs. In addition, the La Maison bag—with its traditional alligator skin—has been modified this season to showcase minute sculpted cutouts revealing nude, citron and lilac calfskin. This unique design, born of painstaking experimentation, is an ascetic that leads instead of follows.
And it is precisely this juxtaposition—the merger of traditional sensibility and unexpected whim—which defines today’s Delvaux, proving once again why one of Europe’s most respected handbag houses has never needed to rely on pretension.