Famed French department store, Printemps, will be opening its doors in Doha very soon, bringing with it more than 150 new-to-Qatar brands. One of those new arrivals will be the French luxury leather house LÉTRANGE, which is exclusive to Printemps Doha. FACT took the opportunity to chat to CEO Sébastien Létrange who was at Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition (DJWE) alongside Printemps.
Your family business, LÉTRANGE, is one of the oldest and most respected leather goods creators in France, having been established in 1838. After it ceased operations in 2007, you orchestrated a rebirth in 2014. What inspired you to bring the brand back to life?
The company stopped in 2007 because my great uncle was 75 by then and nobody in the family wanted to keep up with the business. Nobody. He has a daughter who was not interested at all. I never planned to take over the company. It happened randomly that I was working on a book for the 40th anniversary of a brand. I really loved the fact that they were making a book about their very short history because 40 years is nothing compared to our history. And I said, well, I want to do the same. I started digging in the archives of the family company and discovered things I knew from my grandmother and my great grandmother and many other people. There were so many things we didn’t know. Digging through the archives, we discovered patterns, models, and amazing things that I still find in antique shops nowadays, everywhere, even in Chicago.
Then, I shared these archives with people in the industry and they invited me to revive the brand. The fact that I had the will to revive it was just an accident – nothing was planned.
How did you feel returning to the market? Were you apprehensive?
No, I think if I was scared, I wouldn’t have done it. But it’s very funny because we have partners and some of our partners always wished to do what we did. Yet they came to us saying that what we were trying to do was not possible and they ‘know’ because they’re in the business. And that I don’t know, because I’m not from the business [he had previously been in marketing and advertising]. I’m very happy I did it. Maybe if I knew what they knew, I wouldn’t have.
Please tell us about the exquisite materials used in your products and how they are sourced.
Our leather comes from France or Italy. All the jewellery is designed by us; every single piece of jewellery, like the hook, is properly designed and developed by us. There are lots of other elements that go into the making of a bag. Our bags are 100% leather and there’s no synthetic or paper in them. That’s why they’re expensive. That’s why they require precise and excellent craftsmanship, because it’s layers of leather even on the inside that you don’t see. Leather will always age well but it needs much more work and time, making it much more expensive. A bit heavier too. We’re one of the only two brands in the market that do 100% leather.
Everything is 100% made in France. We have our own workshop and everything is in-house. Our artistic designer does some research for inspirations after which he does some initial drawings. Then, he goes to the workshop and we start with a paper mockup just to see if it can work. Following that, we do what we call the proper mock-up with salpa, which is quite close to leather. Lastly, we make the first prototype in leather. You can make more than one prototype, and then, the product is good. Once you have your prototype, it becomes your reference. Then, you need to make it repeatable; do it again, in a completely different way so that you can repeat and make samples because making one is completely different from making 10 or 20 or 1004. It’s always putting the work back on the table.
Can you describe the feeling in your workshop when you know your team has come up with something truly extraordinary that you know will be a winner in the market? And how do you know what will work and what won’t?
I think if I knew that, then I would be done. No, I don’t know. I have no clue. I have a feeling about whether I like it or don’t and we all have different feelings. We do the best that we can, put it onto the market and hope it works.
You are here, representing both LÉTRANGE and Printemps at DJWE, where you are displaying, for the first time, a oneoff piece, the Empreinte handbag, also known as the ‘Million Dollar handbag’. Please tell us about the bag, its design and construction and what it means to you personally to be able to show something so extraordinary on behalf of your reborn brand.
Well, this bag is our iconic product and a bit different than any other because it has a real jewel. It took us three years to make because it was a lot of engineering; of course, there’s the craftsmanship of the house, which on leather is very specific and unique to be able to make the body of the bag, but then, we add another complication to the subject, which is that jewel. It has only four points where it touches the bag. If you look carefully, it’s where we put screws. All the other parts don’t touch the bag. It’s really an organic sculpture. Every single aspect of the bag is a complication. It’s like, I think, high complication watches. The weight is an issue; it needs to be not too heavy, not too light. And then the layers need to be perfect. Further, the handle has a curve. On a flat piece of jewel, that you find on most bags, it’s easy, you polish it and then you put whatever finishing on it. But ours is a problem of every centimetre. So, even to polish to make it completely perfect is a nightmare.
When we put that on the market, immediately it worked. We had the intuition that it could deliver, to answer your previous question. The bag’s handle is a strong signature. Just by looking at the bag, you can tell that it’s unique and not an everyday one. It has a piece of high-end jewellery in it. We’re opening with Printemps Doha in Q3 and wanted to raise awareness about the bag, which is why we decided to showcase it at the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition. We finished the bag just two days before the event. We had to work for two months straight, almost 24/7. The way we make the handle on the classic bag is completely different; this one’s 100% solid gold – 300 grams of 18-carat white gold. Working with gold is not the same and, so, it was like starting from level zero. Putting differently sized diamonds together on shapes is very, very difficult and, to top it, you hardly see a piece of highend jewellery with a curve like this. We have to pave it, which is pure insanity.
Is the Empreinte available for sale or will you retain it as an example of the fine artistic and manufacturing capability of LÉTRANGE?
Of course, it will sell. We are not a museum. This is a oneof-a-kind bag but, customisation is possible. You can choose the leather, you can choose the gold, you can choose the diamonds. We will work closely with our clients and listen to their needs and, say, if they want to have a handle full of emeralds, and it’s possible, we will do it. We will try to make it in a few months like three to four months. We don’t have the same scale as others so, when you place an order, you’re not one in a million, you’re just one unique client. So, you can have your product sooner than in other houses.
In the basic collection, you have three options. You can have this one, okay. You can have the crocodile version with the basic handle. You can choose your leather, you know, your crocodile, you can choose the colour. You can say, I want this pink crocodile and I want the handle in plated gold, in platinum or in solid gold, but not in diamonds, or you can have the leather one. The leather one will be available in the catalogue in September. Crocodile will always, more or less, have to be ordered. However, we will put the first three pieces of crocodile, mini sized, in black, brown and blue on sale on the website.
How did your partnership with another historic brand, Printemps, come about?
After COVID, prices have been massively impacted in terms of tourism. We started to look abroad sooner than expected. We don’t need quantity or traffic. We need the sharpness of the clientele. Everybody was telling us to go to Dubai, but we don’t do things the way others do. In the end, we considered Doha and then, Printemps came to us because they knew us in Paris. When I received that call from Printemps Doha, it was more than just business. It was an emotional thing that you say, ‘maybe this is a sign because you were considering this and they called you’. I said yes, of course, Why Not? Why Not? has always been the spirit. (In fact, the brand’s most versatile bag is called The Pourquois-Pas? Or Why Not?)
Will you be creating specific lines for Printemps Doha? And, if so, what do you find inspiring about the country and region?
Yes, for Printemps Doha we pushed the level of uniqueness that we want to offer even further. We bring a unique type of personalisation, I think, in a way the market has never offered. Usually, you can have your initials but we go much further. There is a bag without stitching and it works like this. There are tabs that go into slots, like in pizza boxes. It stands because we use tricks to make it strong. It comes in large, medium and small. The small one is made out of six different elements: the flap, the front, the back, sides, the bottom, the handle… In the shop, every element will be offered in five different colours and you can choose the combination you want, like you want the pink flap with a yellow front and green back; in the shop, you have every part in every colour. Of course, you can’t take the bag with you, we send your exact combination to be made in Paris. But you can see it and have it in your hands and even take a picture of your bag. This is unique. There are 14,000 different possible combinations so, it’s most unlikely that you will have the same bag as your friend.
So, this is the kind of thing we pushed for Qatar for the first time because we believe that the clientele is willing and is open to that. You can even buy no-stitch bags with exclusive cuts, finished off the shelf.
Further, you have bags that are flat. You choose the flat skin you want, which is just like if you were in the workshop or tannery, even, with us so, you can touch the skin. Choose the coloured type of skin you want. You can have your initials and choose where you put them. You can also choose the colour of the of the fittings, we have lots of customised fittings such as with diamonds, with rubies, with sapphires, with whatever you want. So again, it’s quite unlikely that your bag will be the same as your friend. What we want to do is to bring personalisation to Qatar. ✤