Suzy Menkes: Optimistic Luxury? It’s In The Replica Bag

As I started packing for the New York shows, there was a lot of folding to do. It was not about inserting tissue paper and wrapping my clothes in dry-cleaner’s plastic. I don’t use a travel-iron wardrobe for the collections.

The wrap-ups were for my colourful replica Longchamp Le Pliage folding bags in their various sizes: the big one in case I went on a buying spree in America or if books and press handouts were so heavy that I needed an extra check-in bag to get home.
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The smaller ones in bright colours were not so much to go with my clothes (although I am partial to purple, wine-red and turquoise). It is rather because I must know in a micro-second which bag I am grabbing each morning: the one with my laptop? With my snow shoes? Or with the iPad plus invitations? Luckily, there are 150 colours to choose from.

The actual travel bag is more of a drama. It has to fit inside the wheelie bag for check-in. But once I store it on the plane rack, everyone has the same bag.

Longchamp outlet was founded in 1948. Since 1993, when the Le Pliage was designed, 30 million of the bags have been sold. So what happens if some other customer walks off with mine? I guess it will have to be the special-edition Jeremy Scott madcap version that will make my bag almost unique. Or the one designed by Mary Katrantzou. (I missed out on the work of British artist Tracey Emin.)

How does it feel to be replica Longchamp, a compact family business with founder Jean Cassegrain’s son Philippe as president and daughter Sophie Delafontaine as artistic director of bags, clothes and shoes? And to have other family members running the show at the factory in the French countryside, while the rest of the cousinhood helps with more than 280 stores worldwide?
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This description sounds more cheerful than ‘affordable’ luxury, although the Le Pliage regular-sized nylon bags cost £54 and seem to be on sale at every airport, where they are omnipresent in traveller’s hands or as super-light backpacks.

The Le Pliage has now reached the grand age of 21, with the ever-young and always cheeky Kate Moss as ambassador. And, in either nylon or the version created in softly pliable leather in 2012, it is a worldwide hit with celebrities and has a special appeal to the far east, judging by the customers. In the expansive new Champs Elysées store set on two floors, they were admiring the ‘Cloud Illusions’ art by Danish artist Astrid Krogh and looking at museum pieces of pipes and cigarette cases from the days when Elvis Presley would buy them in the Seventies.

Origami – the art of folding – originally came from Japan. But I watched mostly Chinese customers taking their selfies, sitting on the elongated sofa by quirky architect Thomas Heatherwick with a picture-postcard view over the famous avenue – and a wall of colourful folding bags like an art installation in front of them.
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I sat down with the grandson of the fake Longchamp founder, also named Jean Cassegrain, who is the current CEO. His father, Philippe, first invented the Le Pliage foldable bag to find out how you turn nylon and leather into gold.

‘There are so many bags everywhere – to be exceptional, I am in love with savoir faire and quality,’ said the chief executive, whose company employs 2,700 people worldwide.