It’s difficult to list the highlights in Delvaux’s rich history; there are, quite simply, far too many. Established almost 200 years ago, the Belgian label has been at the forefront of fine leather goods production ever since. To its CEO Christian Salez, the secret of the brand’s ongoing success lies in its illustrious history and its steady evolution from a family-run, Brussels-based enterprise into a global concern with customers across Europe and, increasingly, in Asia.
Founder Charles Delvaux launched the brand in 1829 by adding a shop window to his Brussels studio so that he could sell his handcrafted travel trunks directly to an increasingly mobile public. The luxurious luggage was soon winning plaudits from the great and the good, including the Belgian royal court, and Delvaux continued to grow and thrive into the next century. In the early 1930s, it was acquired by Franz Schwennicke and his wife Solange and remains in their family, with the couple’s eldest son François taking the reins in 1994, joined by Christian Salez at the end of 2007.
Today, there are Delvaux stores around the globe from Korea to Corsica and the label is a byword for quality and design. The reason, according to Salez, is that the house has ‘never tried to be fashionable. On top of being obsessed by our hand craftsmanship and choosing the best materials, we have been building on our legacy with respect for the past and ambition for the future.’
Craftsmanship and expertise are the buzzwords at Delvaux’s flagship Arsenal workshop, a spacious art nouveau building into which it moved in 1994. Here, it’s clear to see the importance of the cut and quality of the leather in creating such desirable bags. The calf hides come from the finest quality Italian and French animals, which are expertly cut so that only the best parts are used. Not only have these practices produced proven results, but they look set to continue; Salez describes these traditional techniques as ‘key, and our reason for being’, while he is also fully committed to ‘continuing to buy and to invest in the best leather manufacturers’ to ensure standards stay consistently high.
Despite this respect for the brand’s heritage, the house has never shied away from embracing contemporary design idea, keeping abreast of innovations within the industry. Franz Schwennicke was the first to introduce the concept of seasonality into leather goods in 1933, an idea which continues to influence the industry today, as Salez explains: ‘It drove the industry to evolve from functionality to fashion.’
Delvaux’s product range is also constantly evolving. Taking inspiration from its travel foundations, the range has expanded to include luggage, suitcases and, since the early 20th century, handbags. Each collection is available in a range of materials; calf leather remains the most popular, but there are other options, from goat hides to more exotic alligator, ostrich, lizard and even salmon skins. This vast range has helped Delvaux to produce almost 3,000 original pieces throughout its history.
With such variety, it is surprising to note that the house still has several cross-brand signatures that Salez is keen to emphasise. ‘Our distinctive shapes and locks, our distinctive crown with 1829 and the Delvaux D are all style signatures, alongside the superb quality of leather and our unparalleled heritage,’ he points out. These added flourishes, alongside the brand’s other well-established values, help its products to stand out in a relatively crowded market.
With such impressive credentials, it would be easy for the brand to rest on its laurels. But Delvaux is not ready to take time out. ‘We’re aiming to become a global niche brand, representing the values of real and authentic luxury,’ Salez says of plans for expansion this year. This ambition is sure to resonate with the Asian market, a customer base which is growing in importance for Delvaux and one that Salez admits is particularly significant.
A nod to this emerging Far Eastern focus can be seen in the company’s new partnership with Fung Brands Limited. This collaboration will ensure Delvaux’s continued existence in the market, and is one that Salez insists is mutually beneficial and based on similar principles. ‘With its industrial expertise and financial means, Fung Brands allows the brand to respect its legacy and to share it with more people globally. It is family-owned, it shares the same ethics and it strives for real luxury.’