Longchamp eyewear sketch

PARIS — They’ve built a mini empire on the wings of their best-selling Le Pliage bag, and next up Longchamp is readying to launch what its chief executive officer Jean Cassegrain termed as the “missing element” from its collections: eyewear.

The family-owned French leather-goods house on Friday revealed it has signed a licensing agreement with eyewear licensee Marchon Eyewear Inc. Designed by Longchamp’s artistic director Sophie Delafontaine, the new range of women’s optical frames and sunglasses will be launched in a new Longchamp flagship due to open on New York’s Fifth Avenue in late September, before being rolled out in the brand’s flagships and optician stores internationally.

Marchon, which counts Marni, Calvin Klein Collection, Chloé, Etro and Salvatore Ferragamo in its portfolio of eyewear licenses, will handle the development, production and distribution of the Longchamp Eyewear collections.

In an interview at the brand’s headquarters here, Cassegrain said eyewear is a natural complement to the house’s existing offer, which spans bags, ready-to-wear, footwear, luggage and accessories. “It’s an accessory that counts in the woman’s silhouette. This is not just a ‘take the money and run’ [affair]. We are a house that is very pragmatic, we’re not numbers driven, and the primary objective is to complete the offer with [eyewear designs] that truly reflect the Longchamp spirit,” he said, adding that the frames, which are in still in development, will feature house codes like the horse logo and hardware signatures from the bags, using a variety of materials including plastic, acetate and metal.

Coming off a challenging year, with a drop in tourism impacting sales on home turf in 2016 following the series of terrorist attacks that have rocked the country, branching out into eyewear will also help open up visibility via a different distribution network, Cassegrain said. “Our accessories are sold in around 1,500 points of sale, 300 of which are our own, and the rest a mix of department stores, duty-free and multibrand stores. The eyewear will be distributed to several thousand opticians.”

With bags the brand’s core category, Cassegrain declined to disclose company sales figures, but said that things have been picking up since late last year, having hit “a low point” last summer. “We don’t see the drop in tourism being of long-term concern, visitors are starting to return to France,” he said. “We are also very confident about the brand’s potential in terms of capturing the Parisian spirit, and the international appeal of that. While a number of great French brands have adopted an international outlook, when we develop our collections, we always have the French woman in mind; this idea of the impertinent elegance of la Parisienne,” he added. “Market studies have shown that the [locals] see us as the ultimate French bag brand, we’re the first brand that comes to mind, and foreigners like to come to our stores to experience that.”

Sales in Asia remain stable, according to Cassegrain, led by China and Japan, with Hong Kong “remaining difficult.” Dynamic markets include Southeast Asia, notably, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Four major store openings are planned for the year following the reopening of Longchamp’s Paris flagship — its largest store in the world — in October. Two are located in “important emerging markets,” and two in “mature markets in which we already have a strong presence, and want to enhance visibility,” said Cassegrain.

Earlier this month, the brand opened a store in a prime Moscow location, in the GUM department store on Red Square, which will be inaugurated in March. Longchamp has also partially opened a flagship located at the Jing An Kerry Centre on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road West, with an official opening planned for April. The store boasts a “spectacular” facade that is currently hidden from view by a hoarding covered in an artwork by German artist Franz Ackermann, as part of the brand’s Artwork Series initiative, which kicked off with a work by Ryan McGinness covering the Paris flagship while under construction. The brand’s soon-to-open Fifth Avenue store will be covered in a design by French artist Remède while works are being carried out. The brand already operates two flagships in New York: located in SoHo and in Rockefeller Center, with the new Fifth Avenue store set to replace the latter.

Construction is also underway on a seven-story “tower” in Tokyo that will serve as the brand’s first Japanese flagship, housing the entirety of its collections and categories.

Longchamp counts 1,500 points of sale across 80 countries spanning exclusive brand and franchise stores, department store concessions, multibrand leather-goods stores, airport stores and online sales. The brand directly manages more than 300 points of sale through 21 distribution subsidiaries.

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