By  on October 1, 2007

NEW YORK — Longchamp is returning to its masculine roots. The Paris-based leather manufacturer, which got its start in 1948 making men’s leather pipe coverings, this winter will launch its first complete men’s collection in more than 20 years. The French firm is also set to unveil a special unisex line of bags—created in collaboration with a well-known French artist—before the end of the year, which will help promote Longchamp’s men’s products.

“Men are now buying bags as fashion accessories. They look in the mirror when they are buying a bag,” explained Jean Cassegrain, the managing director of Longchamp Group. “There’s definitely a renewed interest in men’s bags.”

The 10-piece spring 2008 men’s collection, scheduled to hit stores in December, is causal “but not too casual” according to Cassegrain, and was designed to meet the needs of a contemporary, urban lifestyle. Highlights include a black, vegetable-tanned leather bag with aged, nickel accessories from the label’s Dayz line, as well as the nylon canvas Maxi bag, which Longchamp is positioning as the next must-have accessory. Retail price points for the men’s collection range from $40 for a laptop case to $1,298 for a travel bag.

The move towards men’s marks a larger overall effort by the company to reposition the Longchamp brand—sometimes viewed as conservative—as a relevant fashion label. Longchamp, which has distribution in more than 100 countries and nearly $300 million in annual sales, signed Kate Moss to star in its spring/summer 2006 ad campaign for women’s handbags, a venture that caused the showcased styles to sell out within weeks. In May of that same year, the French company staked its claim on the retail map, opening a flagship store in downtown Manhattan at 123 Spring Street.

“Fashion has become a key driver in this market and we’ve kept up-to-date, but I don’t think we did as good a job of communicating that to the public,” said Cassegrain. “Kate Moss has helped to change the face of the brand and increase visibility, and the Soho store has also helped bring attention to the brand.”

With men’s bags becoming an increasingly important category, Cassegrain said the company will focus on “working up” the men’s category in terms of product and expanded assortment before the brand goes after Kate Moss-esque advertising. “We want to move out of traditional leather goods and into more fashionable silhouettes,” explained Cassegrain. He sees the most potential in men’s totes because of their lightweight sensibility and modern aesthetic.

The men’s collection, which makes up 15 percent of Longchamp’s overall business, will be carried in the company’s 100 freestanding stores as well as some of its 2,000 retail outposts.

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