DELVAUX REVEALS THE FACE OF THINGS TO COME

Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS — Delvaux, the upscale Belgian leather goods house, has unveiled a new flagship concept that could set the retail tone for the brand worldwide.
The store, located in Bruges, as a marketing and sales tool represents a long-term international growth strategy, since today only 10 percent of Delvaux’s $20 million in annual sales is generated outside its home market.
That percentage comes from the U.S. and Japan, explained Delvaux managing director Francois Schwennicke. The importance of those markets is why Delvaux chose Bruges — the Belgian city most visited by American and Japanese tourists — as the location for the new unit.
“We had the opportunity to take the only commercial building in Bruges’s biggest square. The other buildings are either restaurants or historic buildings. We took the whole thing,” Schwennicke said. “It’s on a key corner, because one direction leads to the canals and the other street leads to Bruges’s second-largest square. Everyone comes there.”
The Jan Breidelstraat address represents a $2 million investment, Schwennicke said. The 2,700-square-foot space covers two levels and houses the full range of Delvaux handbags, briefcases, accessories and smaller leather goods, which retail from $100 to $2,000. The basement level is reserved for offices and logistics.
The concept and interior were developed by the Brussels design firm Slegten & Toegemann and Antwerp’s Gert Voorjans, the designer behind Dries Van Noten’s stores.
“The ambience was a big debate for our house,” said Schwennicke. “We wanted the store to have some tradition without being old-fashioned, but also to have a very modern approach. It’s not really minimalist. There’s tradition seen in the sophistication of the work, but there are no bright gold details.”
The house’s signature Delvaux line is displayed in glass and walnut-dyed oak counters trimmed with antiqued brass and accessorized with mirrors. The secondary line, Deux de Delvaux, gets a more modern treatment with white lacquered display cases. The small men’s corner has the feel of a private men’s club.
Schwennicke said the investment in the store was important, especially given the growth the brand has had in the U.S. and Japan in the last two years. In the U.S., he said, Delvaux is carried in 18 Saks Fifth Avenue units and in six corners in major Japanese department stores such as Seibu or Takishimaya.
The company, which produces its goods by hand — it takes between six and 13 hours to make a handbag — can only gradually increase production. The company produces about 30,000 bags a year, said Schwennicke, and he feels that capacity can be increased about 10 percent to 20 percent a year without affecting Delvaux’s quality.
“To have a New York flagship, for example, we would need this increase in production,” he explained, noting that Delvaux cannot embark on a wholesale or retail expansion spree right now.
There are 19 freestanding Delvaux stores, 17 of them in Belgium. The remaining units are in Luxembourg and Los Angeles. Half of these stores are wholly owned, Schwennicke said; the others are franchised.
Schwennicke said he was eager to “improve Delvaux corners at Saks in terms of size and product visibility.”
Long-term retail plans include opening a wholly owned flagship on the East Coast of the U.S. and one in Tokyo in two to three years. Schwennicke said there were plans to expand its men’s range to a full-fledged collection and to create a full luggage line, a move that would draw on the company’s history back to 1829, when it was started as a purveyor of steamer trunks.