How Delvaux, the world’s oldest luxury leather goods maison, emerged as a Gen Z fave

What does the world’s oldest luxury leather goods house and a 1900s surrealist painter have in common? Beyond that they both hail from Belgium, they’re joining forces for one of the summer’s most fantastical cross-genre collections.

Coinciding with the 125th anniversary of Belgian master René Magritte’s birth, luxury brand Delvaux is launching a limited edition Surrealist-inspired capsule collection exclusive to Asia. Inspired by the twin loves of Magritte’s life Delvaux — his wife Georgette and his art — the limited-edition series ties in with Chinese Valentine’s Day, or Qixi, which this year falls on August 26.

To mark the launch, from July 28 to August 6 Delvaux has created an immersive and interactive art exhibition in the atrium of Beijing’s high-end SKP mall, where the brand’s Beijing boutique is also located. Jing Daily caught up with Delvaux Global CEO Jean-Marc Loubier at the launch event to talk about brand legacy, the arts and his China strategy.

Rich heritage 

Founded by Charles Delvaux in Brussels in 1829, Delvaux is the oldest luxury leather goods maison in the world. Its almost 200 years of uninterrupted history has seen generations of leather artisans designing and crafting in its workshops. 

Distinguished by its innovative spirit and savoir-faire, and granted the title of “Official purveyor to the Royal Court of Belgium” in 1883, Delvaux supplied leather goods to Belgium’s royalty. The maison invented the modern handbag when it filed the first-ever patent for handbags in 1908, and was first to introduce seasonal accessories collections in the 1930s.

Loubier, who has held executive management positions at Louis Vuitton, Celine and Escada, was intrigued by the silhouette of a vintage Delvaux handbag when traveling in Japan and bought the brand with Asian stakeholders in 2010. 

“Delvaux has an incomparable legacy of timeless design, exquisite leathers and the finest craftsmanship. We reignited the brand with a bold strategy to share Delvaux’s legacy and bring it to the apex of the international luxury leather goods market,” he says.

Delvaux Global CEO Jean-Marc Loubier. Photo: Delvaux

Richemont Group acquired Delvaux in 2021. The move strengthens Richemont’s leather accessories segment while enabling Delvaux to leverage Richemont’s global presence and digital capabilities to develop omnichannel opportunities and customer engagement. Since 2010, Delvaux has expanded from three stores in Belgium to 60 stores globally. International sales have increased from 3 percent to 90 percent of total sales.

Creating collectors’ items

Surprisingly, given its historic royal lineage, Delvaux’s bags and accessories exude an unorthodox charm, encapsulated by the Magritte edition, which underscores the brand’s artistic affiliation with the arts.

Over the past decade, Delvaux has cultivated a creative relationship with the Magritte Foundation. This recently unveiled capsule collection is the newest manifestation of this imaginative and witty series.

The pieces in this collection, akin to wearable art, showcase four motifs, each a tribute to a Magritte masterpiece. Delvaux’s hallmark silhouettes, crafted from luxurious leather and presented in fresh hues, are enlivened with iconic quotes and symbols. 

The collection ranges from the intertwining swans and the inscription “Amour” on the L’Amour series, to the clever interpretations of Magritte’s bowler hat and understated cloud motifs on L’Homme. Each piece is conceived as a collectible. Standouts include La Pomme, a 3D molded pouch fashioned as an apple, inspired by Magritte’s recurring green apple motif. Novel silhouettes are introduced, such as the body-hugging Pin City, while classic styles from the Brillant and Pin series are also revisited.

Delvaux’s collaboration collection ranges from the intertwining swans and the inscription “Amour” on the L’Amour series, to the clever interpretations of Magritte’s bowler hat. Photo: Delvaux

“Magritte’s art is very interesting because he plays with what you see and what you don’t see. It’s obvious, but at the same time very deep, so it brings different layers of expression that we can play with. I like this complexity, because complexity gives you the freedom to go your own way,” says Loubier.

Delvaux’s focus on deeply considered, long-term collaborations has proven popular with luxury consumers and demonstrates that the heritage brand is unafraid of being bold or controversial. A partnership with French designer Jean Colonna deconstructed the Brillant bag — a Delvaux signature since 1958 — to create L’XXL, a softer, roomier version designed to break typical gender forms.

Delvaux partnered with French designer Jean Colonna to deconstruct the Brillant bag, a Delvaux signature since 1958, and create L’XXL. Photo: Delvaux

Last year, Delvaux even joined forces with Gucci Vault, the experimental Web3 concept store by Alessandro Michele, to create eight individually customized and hand-painted Brillant Mini handbags that were available exclusively via Gucci Vault and sold out in 20 minutes, sparking online buzz and brand awareness.

Authentic storytelling, quiet luxury and sustainability

China’s luxury market is set to reach $119 billion by 2025, projected to constitute over a quarter of the global sector, according to PwC. Statista’s January 2023 survey on luxury goods consumption revealed that an overwhelming 82 percent of affluent Chinese consumers purchase luxury handbags at least once per season. Their preferences lean towards classic, high-quality bags that retain value over time — all of which bodes well for Delvaux in China.

“Our customers are young and what they have in common is curiosity, openness, a sense of quality and a proud sense of individuality,” says Loubier of the burgeoning interest in Delvaux amongst China’s younger generations.

Loubier took Louis Vuitton to China in 1992, and introduced Delvaux to the mainland 10 years ago. His China strategy for the luxury brand is not to go big, but rather “create a desire and curiosity, building with sensibility and sensitivity.”

While digital channels and ecommerce are vital in today’s marketplace, Loubier still prioritizes creating striking physical retail experiences. 

“All of our stores are different and are designed to be a bridge between Delvaux’s heritage and values and the city they are in. In this way, we can create the luxury of genuine connection with our clients, and they can feel part of the Delvaux story,” says Loubier. “It’s our way to break the standardization of massification.” 

Addressing the subject of sustainability, a key concern for many young Chinese consumers, Loubier asserts that a Delvaux bag is a lifelong investment, backed by a lifetime warranty and valued as a collector’s item. In fact, Delvaux bags frequently rank among “investment handbags” that retain or appreciate in value.

Delvaux’s handbags are considered as art collectibles by luxury consumers. Photo: Delvaux

With more than 3,000 designs created since 1829, all sketched and cataloged in Delvaux’s Golden Book (Livre d’Or), Delvaux owns one of the world’s largest handbag archives. With exciting new designs continuously added and new generations of luxury consumers eager to express their commitment to classic quality with an artistic flourish, the future looks bright for Delvaux’s third century, in China and beyond.