7 Minutes with Philippe Cassegrain, President of Longchamp
1. Tell us more about the brand's beginnings.
70 years may sound like a long time ago, yet it feels like yesterday. In 1948, my father, Jean Cassegrain, founded Longchamp. I was 11 at the time, and when I didn't have school on Thursdays, I remember that I would help him by gilding leather cases. A few years later, I started doing some of the deliveries around Paris, before having the chance to travel across the world to meet our customers.
2. Did your father know that Longchamp will get to where it is today?
Indeed, he did, he had a vision from the start! He even commissioned Turenne Chevallereau to design the brand's symbol—the Longchamp horse, with its fiery movement. He also created the 'Smoke the Longchamp Pipe' advert used during those years, which we had displayed on our Citroën 2CV delivery car. All of Paris could see the symbol of our fiery stallion stretching out like a liana. It was so new!
3. How did you join the company?
Our showroom was located in the heart of Paris, where it received a great amount of exposure. It was situated at Boulevard Poissonnière, in the second arrondissement, and at the foot of the building was the civette. It was the place to be back then! It was a busy shopping area. My father welcomed customers from all over the world, curious to discover the latest novelties and up-and-coming fashion styles. At age 16, my father sent me on a trip around the world with travels across Africa before exploring Asia and the United States. Upon my return, I officially joined Longchamp and assisted my father in running the business, from creation, manufacturing, and marketing to sales development.
4. Longchamp is still a family-run business 'til this day. Tell us more about it.
Since the very early years all the members of the family contributed: my mother helped my father by hosting customers at the Paris Fair, she ran the boutique and looked after everything with him. And we (the children) would help make cigarette cases or passport cases. I had a small gilding machine that I would use to mark Longchamp in gold leaf.
When I turned 15, I got a Vespa so I could deliver on the Boulevard Haussmann, home to many luxury hotels: The Commodore, the Ambassador, the Cabarets, the Crillon... I delivered the orders of smokers' goods and orders to be displayed in storefronts. Tourists loved our collections! Jean-François and Dominique, my two brothers, joined in too: they did supplementary deliveries that I could not take charge of. We were four children and all of us grow up working for the family company. We were trained from an early age to run Longchamp. I was the eldest of my siblings, and since my brothers and sister had other professional plans, it was for me obvious to continue to run the business. I didn't even consider any other career, Longchamp chose me and I chose Longchamp!
5. How did the design of the iconic Le Pliage come about?
During a trip to the US, I took with me a prototype for a collapsible travel bag. The result of my experimentation was the "Xtra bag," which was made of a single piece of fabric. The fabric I selected was nylon, a strong yet light material that nobody had previously used for bags; it was light and resistant. In 1993, we reworked the idea to create Le Pliage. More playful and modern, Le Pliage shook up convention with its unique design and color palette introduced from the very first collection.
Upon its arrival in stores, it was an instant success! Its trapezoidal structure, zip closure, two ears, two handles and flap teamed up with original new colors each season, and as always trimmed with "Russian Leather," was a recipe for success. I think a brand needs to constantly reinvent itself and its products, that is why we change colors each season. All while keeping the same values!
6. How different is the company now compared to the one that your father founded in 1948?
We have grown tremendously since 1948. Today, my father's vision of a global enterprise with high-quality offerings and wide product ranges continues to guide and inspire us on this adventure. This has been accomplished with the continuous engagement and tenacity of all our teams, across the world. It has been a remarkable journey and I am proud that Longchamp is nowadays a luxury French family brand with the same core values. I'm happy to have raised my children within the firm and to have given them the desire to continue on this journey.