The Big D

Not long after the attacks in Brussels, I found myself there to complete a jigsaw puzzle that began when I used to moon at the MOMU museum in Antwerp. Actually, the mooning still happens. I’m just less likely to go on random Eurostar jaunts to Belgium. Back in 2009, the MOMU played host to an in-depth exhibition about the history of what is the oldest leather goods house in the world, Delvaux, and it was there that I became fascinated with this discreet and almost “insider”-esque brand.

I went to go see Delvaux’s headquarters and atelier housed in a former 19th century arsenal. In Belgian fashion terms, they stand apart in being based in Brussels, whilst their contemporaries are in the more fashion fuelled Antwerp. Then again, Delvaux isn’t necessarily a fashion brand. Christina Zeller, the artistic director of Delvaux, who has been responsible for galvanising recent momentum for the brand, may come from a fashion background having previously designed bags for Givenchy, is eager to distinguish Delvaux as “luxury” as opposed to “fashion”. “We have never been ‘in’, so we will never be ‘out’,” she said in an interview.

Being neither ‘in’ or ‘out’ means you can go about the business at a pace that is fitting for bags that are crafted with precision and care. Compared to other bag workshops/ateliers/factories (I’ve seen the gamut), Delvaux operates at a much smaller scale, producing a few hundred bags a week only. It’s why longtime employees such as Ludo, the expert in skins, can take his time feeling out the faults and flaws of a hide. Or why they can spend hours on a piece of ostrich skin, shaving it away at the back to prevent holes from forming where the recognisable bumps are.

It’s here that Delvaux’s most well-known and famous bag styles are made – from the big buckled Brillant (created in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair) to the structured Le Tempête, often rendered in rare exotics, making it one of the more expensive models in Delvaux’s range. I know, I’m always banging on about hands, craft and peeps making stuff. It borders on being a bit of a fetish but honestly, the more familiar you are with those processes of say, lacquering the edges of a bag, lining up pattern pieces on a skin so that the cutting is done in the right place or even the final process of hand-finishing and checking the bag so that’s ready to be packed and shipped – somehow, the price tag makes a lot more sense, when you count up the number of steps and man hours that have gone into the final bag on the shop shelf. Interestingly at Delvaux, the bags don’t go through a linear or ‘lean’ line of production, as each craftsman is responsible for the construction of a bag, pretty much from start to finish.

Delvaux is of course not as discreet and buried as it once was, which is down to Zeller’s input, as she continues to breath fresh life into the core range as well as augmenting it with new styles when necessary. When Dover Street Market Haymarket opened for its first weekend of trading, it was surprising to learn that Delvaux was one of its top performing brands. The Brillant and Le Tempête have become recognisable shapes without the trappings of ubiquity.  You want Delvaux to retain its mystery though.  It’s a blessing that Made in Belgium doesn’t come with the baggage (excuse the pun) that say France or Italy does.  It’s quiet idiosyncrasy is its strength and you can see it in spades in the way Delvaux operates in Brussels.  Finally, I got to complete the journey which began as a curious naive question nearly a decade ago – what exactly is luxury today?

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0E5A7255Le Brillant from Delvaux’s S/S 16 collection

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0E5A7273Le Pin featuring a capital D logo

0E5A7256Le Madame

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0E5A7312Delvaux’s expertise with leathers, particularly exotic skins is one of the most in-depth I’ve personally experienced

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0E5A7327The famous Ludo feeling his way around a hide

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0E5A7350Pattern placing to get efficiency out of a single hide

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0E5A7388Meticulously sections of croc together to form a strap for a bag

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0E5A7452An armful of Brillant flaps

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0E5A7460A trolley of old Delvaux bags that have been sent in by customers for repair

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IMG_8198Trying on a Madame for size in the last of the bluebells in Wanstead Park – worn with Ryan Lo dress, J Brand jeans Celine slip-ons.  

Prom in Paris

As per usual during fashion month, things have gone a bit hush hush here because I’m moonlighting elsewhere with words, words and more words.  I’m worded out.  I can’t use nouns like “convey” and “evoke” for a good while after this month.  Therefore… time for a spot of fun.  American fun to be specific.  At the beginning of Paris fashion week, to celebrate the opening of their brand new flagship Paris storeCoach in bolshy American style took us to prom.  For some it was reliving a cringeworthy rite of passage.  For Brits like myself, it was a giddy experience of running through this fictional prom setup and marvelling over things like corsages, a jock’s trophy cabinet and giant bowls of punch. Stuart Vevers did inject some of his own Brit-isms though – like sherbet filled flying saucers and of course the abundance of mis-matched floral prints from the SS15 collection, which I gussied up with a navy tutu skirt. We also got to play at being prom queen and simultaneously at Coach’s flower-festooned throne. Oh, and Debbie Harry and Mark Ronson were the prom entertainment. In short, not any sort of a prom that you or I would have attended, even if we did have this tradition in the UK.

IMG_2412Being prom king and queen for one night in Coach jacket, dress and bag, with my own navy tulle skirt underneath and Dior boots

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Next day with a cracking headache and a calming respite needed, I popped by the new flagship Coach store on 372-74 rue Saint Honoré. Down in the basement, lies something altogether more quiet than the prom antics of the night before. A Craftsmanship Bar, where bags can be cleaned and maintained (they will rub the zippers on your Coach bag with beeswax should they get a bit rusty) and new ones can be monogrammed. A few letters imprinted on leather might seem like a simple task but Christophe, Coach’s resident craftsman takes time to set the lettering, align the bag in the press and finally emboss the initials. There’s an informality to being able to watch the process, suited to Coach’s accessible sort of luxury. Hence the name ‘bar’. Now add a bowlful of those flying saucers and that cheeky punch…

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Distorted Souvenirs

Without fail every season, I make the pilgrimage to the Sacai store in Tokyo to survey the full range of Chitose Abe’s pieces because even as her ascent stockists-wise has sky rocketed, you still get a better scope in the flagship store.  These are workhorse clothes because they tend to encompass an array of silhouettes, genres, prints and hidden clever details, thus making them supremely versatile to wear.  With every movement you get a little “Oooh…” because you’ve discovered a useful popper or zipper, a feel-good grosgrain tab or a secret slip dress.

I don’t get to Tokyo until March/April but I got to wear one of the more elaborate looks from Sacai’s SS16 collection for last week’s dinner at Dover Street Market (significantly, the last event at their Dover Street location before the big move to Haymarket on 19th March) to celebrate their collaboration with the jeweller Sophie Bille Brahle.  The keyword for Abe was to “disrupt” in a change-up from her usual garment hybridisations.  And so she sought to disrupt and distort the most recognisable of vintage-isms – the typical souvenir silk scarf that you might find in £2 bins in Beyond Retro and then later, paisley bandana prints straight from Canal Street.  Of course, these banalities under Abe’s cutting prowess were entirely transformed – rendered in complex lace, spliced in silk banded stripes, pleated and volumes created with open-backs, asymmetrical lengths and slits.  Once again, Sacai’s clothes seen front-on don’t even tell you a quarter of the story.  They need to be turned inside out, seen from the side and viewed with the excess of fabric trailing at the back.

Somehow Abe’s Sacai-isms went crazed this season – more off kilter, more textures, more asymmetries.  I would hazard a guess for the wearer, there’s even more of those delicious deets to discover.  With the dress I borrowed for the dinner,  I loved the detachable navy pleated slip dress inside, the tailored shoulders slashed with slits and the double tiered shape that meant the lace cascades just so.  With its clever play on kitschy holiday gifts, my forthcoming Sacai spree should yield a few enticing (and expensive) souvenirs to bring home.

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0E5A6755Sacai SS16 dress worn with Dior Cruise 2016 boots

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It was a good thing that the jewellery collaboration between Abe and Brahe was feted last week because in amongst the pleasure dome cacophony of prints, textiles and spliced this and that, it was difficult to see what was hanging off the ears.  The ten piece capsule collection of mono earrings entitled ‘sacaisophiebillebrahe‘ centres around the pearl – either in a curved croissaint formation or singularly on a dropped chain.  With my non pierced ears, I of course can’t partake in these pearly delights but these could definitely tempt me to test out the current status of my skin-metal allergy.

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Upping the Coat Game

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coachcombWearing Babyghost jacket, Coach dress, Western shirt, patchwork ankle boots and Saddle bag – Photographs from Getty, Style du Monde and Join Comb

>> I don’t meant to cause people migraines with my pattern mashing, but I just can’t help myself, especially when I was presented with some of Coach’s spring summer patchwork ditzy florals.  And oh, it’s cold and wet – let’s load up on the florals with a vaguely Victorian tapestry pattern on a Babyghost hooded jacket that I’ve been wearing to death to try and counteract the grey dingy weather.

The pattern on pattern on pattern is one fun string to Stuart Vevers’ bow at Coach so far.  But he can cut out the faff too when required.  Case in point, I probably looked a little overexcited in my floral overload as I looked up at Coach’s latest autumn winter 2016 menswear show, where colours were sombre and silhouettes were serious.  As in seriously hefty.  The inspiration points were apparently Bruce Springsteen and early New York hip hop.  They’re chunky masculine touchstones that managed to come together to create rugged utilitarian clothes that are almost deliberately big not necessarily in the sense of physical size but it its simplistic in yer’ face expression.  Big sheepskin.  Big leathers.  Big teddy bear fur.  Big checked suit.  Big puffa coats for arctic winters.  Big rucksacks.  Big bucket hats.  These are clothes for wearing when your body sort of shrinks and shudders in the cold and your neck and head almost disappears into the warm crevices of a piece of outerwear, which as a category is fast becoming part of Vevers’ strong suit at Coach.   For its newly minted menswear ready to wear category, it will make for simple to digest thoroughfare on the rails, for everyman (and possibly women too) to get their teeth too when the temperatures plummet.

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