Delvaux – a brand that predates its homeland



Belgium and Delvaux are indivisible: The brand was founded by Charles Delvaux in 1829 – one year before Belgium became a constitutional monarchy. “Objets du Voyage,” travel articles, was the company’s simple take on business back then. At the beginning of the 20th century, Franz Schwennicke bought the company, and it remains in family hands today. Schwennicke’s wife, Solange, took over in the 1970s after Franz died unexpectedly during an operation, thereby becoming one of the first businesswomen in Belgian history. Today, the company is run by her son, François, and CEO Christian Salez. With Veronique Branquinho in the function of Artistic Director since 2009, another strong-minded woman stands at the helm.

Veronique Branquinho has a distinctive look about her: a tall, slender woman with dark mysterious eyes. This may, in part, be due to her Flemish-Portuguese roots. Although she has never actually lived in Portugal, Branquinho admits she feels a certain inner tie to her fatherland whenever she goes to the country: “I still feel a little bit connected, as if I know it from somewhere”. Despite this inner affinity, her values are strictly Belgian:

The Belgians are a modest people: they appreciate quality and luxury, but they don’t have the urge to flaunt it.

This modesty becomes very apparent when Branquinho speaks of her creative work. Time and time again she apologizes and says she is “not good with words,” explaining that already as a child she preferred to express herself through her pictures or by dancing. She adds, however, that her passion for telling stories is not limited by this as she uses fashion as a medium to relate them.

I do not need to use words. The colors and shapes give each other meaning, make connections and trigger associations.

From the moment Branquinho stumbled upon the collections by the famous “The Six of Antwerp” in the Belgian avant-garde fashion magazine “BAM” at the age of fourteen or fifteen, she knew that fashion was to become her language. It was not easy to reconcile her parents to the idea that their academically gifted daughter wanted to dedicate her life to fashion instead of following a more traditional path, as did her brother. But Branquinho literally felt as if fashion was communicating with her. “This was a story I could relate to immediately. I could see my place in it and knew, I want to be a part of this too.”

Travelling is a major source of inspiration for Branquinho. After stopping her own label, she now has more time to travel. “I think it’s good for one’s spirit to go out and explore the world.” She has recently been to the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, Australia and Chile, and is especially enthusiastic about Transylvania where she has just returned from. “A land that’s a bit like being in a fairy tale – eerie yet wonderful in a way that makes sense when you’re there.”

Travel in style

Chronologically viewed Delvaux’s product range relates a part of Belgian history in its own way.

Delvaux is a part of Belgium. The brand has always existed – generations have grown up with it.

When Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830, public transport was slowly emerging in Europe, and, with every new method of transportation that came into existence, a new market appeared. Initially producing massive waterproof trunks for travelling by coach or on the ships that sailed from the harbor of Antwerp to the colonies and other destinations, Delvaux went on to satisfy the demand for more manageable trunks after the railway lines expanded, and designed flat cases that could be loaded and stowed easily on a train. At the same time, Delvaux also continued to produce capacious trunks needed to hold the voluminous garments of the times. In fact, the historical collection of the house boasts cases made exclusively for the transportation of wigs.

In those days, trains featured separate passenger and luggage compartments and so, for the first time, small bags were designed to allow women to have their most important belongings with them during a journey: the idea for the handbag, “le sac a main,” was born. By the time Franz Schwennicke took over the company in 1933, it was car and plane travel that dictated the bulk of the product range, and this remained the case until well into the post-war era. By continuously adapting to the ever-changing demands that progress brings with it, Delvaux has been able to position itself as a modern yet traditional brand.

Emancipation in the shape of a bag

Beyond the technological developments that were mirrored in their product line, societal changes were reflected too: for example, the short handles of the handbags that became shoulder straps in the 1970s to allow women more freedom of movement. History repeated itself almost thirty years later with the collection “Deux de Delvaux,” a different design, yet with the same intention to allow an independent (i.e. commuting, working, single) woman the unencumbered use of both her hands.

Some may find it surprising that Veronique Branquinho, who at 24 started her own clothing label immediately after graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and then went on to run it herself for twelve years, decided to start working for another label than her own. Yet, when her aesthetics are compared with those of Delvaux, it quickly becomes clear why they are a “perfect match,” as the charismatic designer puts it herself. “If I had been designing bags for my own label, they would have looked exactly like these. And besides that,” she adds, “to me it’s always about the same thing whether I develop clothes or bags: evoking the essence of a strong woman.”

Tradition, craftsmanship, high demands on quality and the quest for “timelessness” are what unite the designer and the brand. That, and their focus on women.

When I design something for women it’s a process that starts somewhere inside me. A feeling deep in my belly. Until the creation is born it’s a long and hard struggle – and I devote myself 100% to it.

For Delvaux’s campaigns, Branquinho also seeks out images of women who reflect an optimal combination of self-assurance and femininity.

I like the image of isolated women: alone at night, in the solitude of nature and at the same time accentuate their femininity and individuality.

Quest for timelessness

Dealing with a brand that boasts such a long history is often a balancing act. How to combine the traditional and the contemporary, be modern yet distinct from the trends? How to design a timeless product? Since the beginning of the millennium, Delvaux has drawn upon the talent of several prestigious designers such as Laetitia Crahay, Kimiko Yoshida and Didier Vervaeren at «Studio Delvaux» which is the brand's concept: a creative think tank where now Branquinho invites other people to create something every now and then. Fashion designer, Bruno Pieters, has also given his aesthetic input. Amongst other things he designed the last line of men’s accessories for Delvaux. Branquinho says she herself "hasn’t gotten around to this yet.”

We are planning to create bags for men, but ‘first things first’, I guess.

She punctuates the sentence with an engaging laugh, and we join in her laughter despite not quite catching the reason why. Did we miss something here? In vain we look for the answer in her beautiful eyes. A pleasant diversion.

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