4 French Cult Bag Labels To Shop Right Now
While major French maisons such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior and Hermès continue to enjoy healthy bag sales, there’s been a growing demand for indie labels that are less well-known, combine quality materials with high-level craftsmanship, and have an interesting story to tell—that not everyone knows by heart already. And that maybe not every office lady or fashion victim is toting.
That’s probably why Fauré Le Page, an almost-forgotten 302-year-old French heritage brand, is set to open its first SEA boutique in Singapore this June (also its ninth worldwide), unabashedly making its presence felt amongst the heavyweight handbag brands in Ngee Ann City.
1/4 Fauré Le Page
Established in 1717 by Louis Pigny, a gun-and-swordsmith from Normandy, Fauré Le Page made swords, sabres, pistols and rifles for three of France’s kings, before going on to arm France’s revolutionary forces in 1789 and in 1830. In 1925, it began producing leather hunting accessories such as cartridge cases, kitbags and satchels.
Many of its creations feature in leading museum collections around the world and are mentioned in classic literary masterpieces by the likes of Balzac, Dumas, Chateaubriand and Pushkin.
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In 2009, Frenchman Augustin de Buffevent, who had worked at Dior for 10 years, got to know about the brand, was introduced to its owners, and became intrigued by its storied past.
So much so that his family purchased, and then relaunched Fauré Le Page with an eye towards creating fashionable, hunting-themed luxury handbags and other small leather goods that cheekily reflect its motto, “armed for seduction”, while reflecting the brand’s rich heritage.
“Fauré Le Page supplied royal weapons; symbols of prestige and power. It also armed two French Revolutions, upholding the spirit of freedom and independence. The language of Fauré Le Page has always been about love and seduction. Our motto, ‘armed for seduction’, is about being empowered to take action. It’s about the power of the unexpected, the element of surprise,” said Fauré Le Page’s artistic director Augustin de Buffevent, before adding, in typically French style, “Because boredom and monotony are the enemy of love.”
The indie spirit is also well and alive at Fauré Le Page. De Buffevent’s father is president of the company, while his brother is in charge of organisational matters. He explained: “We expand and open new stores only when we feel ready, and would say no if a big luxury conglomerate wanted to buy us over. We prefer to remain family-run because we believe our independence is what keeps us creative."
“As a small team, we’re in constant dialogue. Things never proceed in a rational or linear fashion. It can take a year or more for one of our designs to move from initial 2D sketch to store shelf. To us, craftsmanship is very important. Depending on the processes required to make a product, we may have one specific craftsman working on a single item, or different craftsmen working on different aspects.
“For the Boum Box, each design tells a different story, and we only make 10 of each. If it sells out, it sells out,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “But more than craftsmanship, I define success as when a design surprises and delights a customer, making her smile.”
The brand’s signature waterproof canvas is printed with a fish-scale motif inspired by the same pattern featured on its firearms. Bestsellers include The Daily Battle, a roomy everyday shopping tote, the Calibre 21, a satchel-style handbag which features a pistol-shaped front pocket, the Boum Box, a boxy evening clutch, the Envelope Triomphe, an envelope clutch festooned with military-style “medals”, and its pistol-shaped coin purses and wristlets.
Come June, shoppers will be able to arm themselves at the Singapore boutique, that’s done up to resemble a sun-lit tropical garden.
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The woman who buys Fauré Le Page is definitely not a fashion victim. She’s independent, she works. With the right weapons, she has the power to start a revolution.
— Augustin de Buffevent
Here are three more French indie bag labels to know.
2/4 Polène Paris
The brainchild of three siblings who do not reveal their surname on their website nor in media interviews—one sister (Elsa) and two brothers (Mathieu and Antoine)—Polène Paris sees the trio expanding on a generations-old legacy in the apparel business.
Their great grandparents founded the brand Saint James, which is most associated with creating the classic Breton striped jersey. With a design philosophy that reflects “exceptional pieces with unique lines and an interplay of fine material, all done in a Parisian spirit”, Polène's made-in-Spain bags are handcrafted from fine leather sourced from well-known French, Italian and Spanish tanneries, and are elegantly understated, beautifully sculptural, and effortlessly chic.
Their “we are family” ethos, and commitment to keeping items democratically priced, see the siblings choosing to remain independent, having only one flagship store (in Paris), and using their website as the main sales channel. Each month, Polène revisits an existing bag model to release a new tri-material, tri-colour design.
3/4 RSVP Paris
RSVP founders Thomas Cerkevic and Jonathan Andres have, since 2015, created premium quality leather goods completely handmade in France: Think Grade A leather sourced from tanneries that work with, or are owned by, major luxury brands, and artisan workshops in Franche-Comte and Touraine.
Pair that with a pricing policy of two times markup (as opposed to the industry standard of 12 times markup); absolute transparency (all costs and margins are displayed on the website); plus classic, clean-lined, no-nonsense designs with every item numbered and limited to 100 pieces, and you’ve got an irresistible winning formula.
4/4 Léo et Violette
Initially launched in 2013 via Kickstarter as “Le Petit Cartable”, Parisan couple Léo Dominguez & Violette Polchi renamed their leather goods brand Léo et Violette in 2017. With a will to offer “elegant, timeless and functional” products and maintain a direct and transparent relationship with the clients, products are available only at their sole store in Paris, or on their online store.
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All products are carefully designed to fit modern life, meaning their dimensions take into consideration that you’d have a laptop, iPad and other daily accessories to schlep around. Products feature Italian and French full-grain calf leather; bags are made in Italy, while small leather goods are produced in Spain.