ESQ&A: Why The CEO Of Longchamp, Jean Cassegrain, Is A Leather Aficionado

A tell-all interview that reveals the future of the brand and the style of Singaporean men.

BY Eugene Lim | Nov 14, 2017 | Fashion

All images from Longchamp

Esquire: What are Longchamp's future plans for the men's range?

Jean Cassegrain: Longchamp is a brand that started in 1948 and sold mainly men’s products such as smoke pipes. But in the '80s, ladies' bags and accessories were introduced. The range grew exponentially and overtook men's products in term of market share. However, we do continue producing the latter as it is an important part of our DNA.

Recently, we've refocused our attention back to men as the market for men is evolving and they are ready for less conventional products. 

Leather goods for men are usually black or brown in colour, looked upon only as functional items, and rarely have a fashion element to them. This idea is changing as we often see our male customers spending a substantial time checking themselves out in the store's mirror and examining the bags' details. We've invested a substantial amount in product development which allows us to be more innovative and dynamic with the men's range.

Esquire: Longchamp has a ready-to-wear collection for women. Would you introduce a menswear collection?

Jean Cassegrain: I think we won't start a full-fledged menswear collection anytime soon, but it is possible to translate some well-received gender-fluid pieces for men.

An example would be leatherwear as we construct them with a unique approach. They are lightweight, soft, and comfortable to wear, so why not use the same technique for men? We're keen to explore leatherwear for men in the future.

Esquire: I've learnt that Longchamp is a leather-focused brand. What separates its leather products from others and how does it stand out?

Jean Cassegrain: We are known as leather lovers here at Longchamp (laughs) and sources only quality leather for our products. The leather is a complicated material to work with because of its natural properties. Its raw form has to be of superior quality when it undergoes a tanning process to improve its appearance. If the leather is overtreated, it will lose its original properties and have an unnatural look. We have a penchant for natural-looking leather with slight imperfections. Like human skin. That's the beauty of leather as they tend to age better with a patina effect over time.

Esquire: Do you have a favourite bag or item that you use often?

Jean Cassegrain: I do have a wallet which I use on the regular but I like to switch things up often because it allows me to test the products. It does feel good to receive something new.

Most men are conservative with their choice of wallets and small leather goods. To replace a battered wallet, they'll revisit that very same store and walk out with an identical wallet. This sensibility differs with women as the latter are open to alternative options.

Men prefer to have a constant and unchanging design with their wallet compartments and card slots. I can’t escape from this phenomenon too. I do have a classic Longchamp wallet that I use till it's worn out. Sadly, it has been discontinued from our collection. So I approached the talented craftsmen at the workshop to see if they can work their magic on it. Now, I've three in total, all thanks to them.

Esquire: To a Parisian or the French, elegance is more important than cutting edge. So I would like to ask, what does French elegance mean to you?

Jean Cassegrain: The essence of French elegance is to be flawless. You've failed if your friends are able to detect your efforts to be elegant. Parisian elegance is understated and involves assembling random clothing out of your closet that'll make you look flawless.

Esquire: I've read that you've made frequent trips to the Longchamp factory while growing up. Do you have a favourite memory of the factory?

Jean Cassegrain: The factory that you mentioned is located just outside Paris - in Segré, the Maine-et-Loire region at the western side of France. Back in the day, we stayed at the building which had a small workshop on the sixth floor. At the workshop, precious leathers such as crocodile skin were transformed into usable materials for products to be sold.

An experience that left an impression on me was the tanning process of the crocodile skin. It will crumple up after the treatment and the craftsmen will nail the slightly wet skins on big planks to keep them in shape.

Esquire: Is there anything about Longchamp that's rarely known that you wish to share?

Jean Cassegrain: The company started by selling smoke pipes. In the 1950s, these pipes were sold at Robinsons in Singapore and we have a continuous presence in Singapore for about 60 years. The pipes were discontinued in the late 70s as we're unsure if we want to associate tobacco with the brand that's known for quality leather goods.

The innovation of the pipes is that it's covered in leather. You won't experience any discomfort when you hold it. With leather, we brought the pipes to a higher degree of style and elegance. This is well-known among pipe smokers as collectors get it off eBay. We also have a collection at the Longchamp museum.

Esquire: Longchamp has collaborated with several designers like Jeremy Scott but it's only for bags. Would you extend the collaboration to other items like ready-to-wear?

Jean Cassegrain: We prefer not to blur the identity of the clothing line as its presence is new. If we start introducing collaborations, it may confuse the public's perception of the brand. So for now, collaborations are solely dedicated to bags, leather goods, and accessories.

Esquire: Why do you pick Singapore for Longchamp's expansion efforts?

Jean Cassegrain: Singapore is known as a key hub of Southeast Asia and the region is a growing market for us. Here in Singapore, the customer demographic includes visitors of the entire Southeast Asia region and China tourists, so the country is considered as the core city in the region. This makes it important.

Also, Singaporeans are aware of the brand and like to shop. This creates a unique mix which makes Singapore a suitable place for us to expand.

Esquire: What do you notice about the style of Singaporean men?

Jean Cassegrain: This is not my first visit to Singapore and I can identify some who'll definitely belong in the flawless category. Singaporean style can be different due to the hot tropical climate and men are rarely spotted with a jacket here. In Paris, it's worn by most men.