It’s not often one is given access to things of great historical value to a fashion house. So when I was invited to view the bag archives of one of the most prestigious French luxury maisons in Paris, I had to restrain myself from jumping with glee.
During Paris Fashion Week, I visited the Lancel headquarters on the 14th arrondissement—an imposing all-glass building that also houses the Fondation Cartier.
As I was greeted by Xavier Le Borgne, head of branded retail for Asia-Pacific, and Guy Tarricone, the “gatekeeper” of the Lancel archives, I saw the historical bags lined up, waiting to be talked about.
From there, I was transported back to 1876, the time of Angèle Lancel. When women’s roles were confined to being wives, mothers or anything related to running a household, Angèle boldly carved out a different role by putting up a leather goods company with her husband, Alphonse. She successfully defied traditional women’s roles and redefined what it meant to be a woman during that time.
Angèle began by creating articles for smokers before eventually venturing into goods tailored for women. She knew what a woman needed—because she herself was a woman who needed such articles.
Working with delicate fabrics and rather unconventional materials that challenged her creativity, she made sure all articles kept to the feminine aesthetic without sacrificing functionality. She included mirrors and incorporated compartments.
Lancel cleverly intended these bags with secret compartments to hold a woman’s little “knick knacks.” There was even a bag that combined the beginnings of Lancel (articles for smokers which included a portable ashtray) with modern design into a proper ladies’ handbag. It was a very clever creation at that time—which continues to fascinate to this day.
There were also mixed textures (calfskin with python) that incorporated detailed filigree and enameling on the edges—an entirely new concept then.
Exotics regularly formed part of Lancel’s repertoire of bags. And because of Angèle, the handbag has since become an essential piece in a woman’s wardrobe today.
While Angèle and Alphonse founded Maison Lancel, it was their son Albert who propelled the label to new heights. Today, the Maison’s design team still looks to the archives as inspiration and continues to fine-tune its collections to suit a modern woman’s wants and needs in a handbag.
So the next time you walk into a Lancel boutique, always remember the heritage behind each bag—that every piece produced by the Maison is an ode to the vision of its female founder, a powerful and independent woman who was way ahead of her time. And let that also be a deciding factor for your bag purchase—knowing the heritage of the brand is part of the investment.
Ingrid Chua- Go is the blogger of www.thebaghagdiaries.com. Follow her on twitter.com/thebaghag.