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A family story since 1948
1948 marks the year Jean Cassegrain imparted his unique vision of French elegance and rewrote the rules of modern luxury under the Longchamp brand. A leather pipe maker channeling his craftsmanship into travel accessories, handbags and lifestyle fashion, the Longchamp brand now extends across the globe.
For Philippe Cassegrain, the House of Longchamp is more than a company, it's a family adventure. Born in 1937, Philippe was 11 years old when his father founded Longchamp in 1948. As the brand celebrates its 70th anniversary, he shares his memories of the first founding decade, from the early days to the founding characteristics that constitute the essence of Longchamp. "At the time, we didn’t go to school on Thursdays, so we made cigarette cases or passport cases for example; I had a small gilding machine to mark Longchamp in gold leaf."
February 1st, 1948: Jean Cassegrain creates Longchamp and lays the foundation for a French leather goods adventure. Located in the heart of Paris, the House is ideally placed: "It was situated at boulevard Poissonnière, in the second arrondissement. At the foot of the building was the civette. It was the place to be back then! It was a busy shopping area. It was a quite a breakthrough, from the Place de la République to the Madeleine. The Champs-Élysées barely existed..."" recalls Philippe Cassegrain."
From the beginning, the House set the tone by creating a luxury pipe sheathed in leather. Jean Cassegrain establishes Longchamp’s reputation by selling goods to both the international clientele wandering along the Grands Boulevards and to the Parisians frequenting the theatres of the capital. Longchamp's success holds in four words : creation, quality, work, service.
Jean Cassegrain selects crocodile and lizard leathers and surrounds himself with the best craftspeople. He presents this new collection for the first time on May 1st, 1948 at the Paris Fair, a major meeting place for innovations where luxury houses eagerly return after the war. Philippe remembers: “My father welcomed customers from all over the world to his booth, curious to discover the latest novelties and up-and-coming fashion styles. It is necessary to understand the context : this was the year when the public discovered the first television sets, and they worked - a revolution! ”
During his daily rides between his home and the center of Paris, Jean Cassegrain enjoys the view of one of the last “mills” in the capital. Nestled at the end of the Longchamp racecourse, he begins to play with the sound of his surname, reminiscent of milling – “cass-grain:” literally “seed-breaker” – and associates it with the world of saddlery for which he designs his collections. Drawing from his inspiration, Jean Cassegrain commissions Turenne Chevallereau to design the symbol that the House will never stray from. The movement of a galloping horse, a symbol of elegance, gives rise to what would become the emblem of the House.
Jean Cassegrain sees an opportunity and seizes it: it is time his eldest son discovers places and learns of new cultures. At age 16, young Philippe boards a Union-Castle liner to Africa. The following year, in 1954, when he turns 17 years old, Philippe travels to Hong Kong for the first time. After his African and Asian travels, a trip to North America follows. Over three consecutive years, Philippe travels there regularly and lays the House’s foundations.
As early as the 1950s, the Orly Sud airport terminal exemplifies a remarkable revolution : the terminal attracts not only travelers, but also tourists who come to see the planes take off from its open terraces and hoping to meet Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Romy Schneider, or Ray Charles who chose Orly to give his Parisian interviews. Philippe recalls : "Very early on my father set up a Longchamp booth in Orly showcasing suitcases. I opened that first store. It was an adventure. By seven in the morning, I was already selling much luggage, and in the afternoon, I was at the office.”
To describe Longchamp, is to write a family story. That of the Cassegrain family, who inherited the passion for leather and creativity from the House's founder : Jean Cassegrain. Today, the House is in the hands of the third generation of Cassegrain: his eldest son, Jean is the CEO, his daughter, Sophie Delafontaine, the creative director, and his younger son, Olivier, leads the brand’s development of American boutiques.