Founded in Brussels by Charles Delvaux as early as 1829, Delvaux is internationally recognised as the oldest fine leather luxury goods company in the world. It is so old that not only did it exist before Louis Vuitton, Moynat and Hermès, it even predates Belgium itself, which was a part of the Netherlands until it declared independence in 1830. For this month’s Legacy of Style, we take a look at the rich history of the Belgium heritage house, including the many milestones and achievements that have helped cement Delvaux’s place at the top of the industry for almost two centuries.
Early patented handbags
Like most heritage trunk-makers in Europe, the company was founded around the same time as the debut of the first passenger railway line. The railway construction, which started off in Britain, quickly expanded towards continental Europe. The first one to launch in Belgium was in 1835, connecting Brussels and Mechelen, and within 40 years, Belgium had already possessed the largest rail system in the world.
The soaring amount of travellers naturally meant a shooting demand for travel trunks, but the women wanted something more: a bag in which they could carry their personal items closely with them during their travels. A true visionary, Charles Delvaux foresaw the implications of the revolution and quickly adapted to such new-found needs. In 1908, the company became the first to file for some of the earliest patented handbags.
The Golden Book
Delvaux went on to introduce more than 3,000 handbag designs throughout its history. To keep track of all its iconic creations, the house introduced “Le Livre d’Or” (The Golden Book) in 1908, in which each and every one of the designs was carefully documented. To this day, every new design continues to be thoroughly described, sketched, and catalogued in this magnificent registry of time.
The royal warrant holder of the court of Belgium
Thanks to its absolute commitment to the highest standards of quality, Delvaux attracted many prestigious connoisseurs from its early days, the most notable of all being the royal family of Belgium. The brand was first awarded the “royal warrant holder of the court of Belgium” by King Leopold II in 1883, officially granting its status as the official supplier of leather goods to the court. This prestigious title is chosen and granted every five years by the monarch of Belgium; it’s been granted many times over the years to Delvaux, including the most recent conferment.
Introducing the concept of seasonal collections
Edmond Delvaux was the last member of the Delvaux family line to run the family business; in 1933, the company was sold to Franz Schwennicke. Though an agricultural engineer with no experience in leather goods whatsoever, he was quick to prove his sharp-witted intuition towards running a business. Under his direction, Delvaux was quickly transformed into a highly exclusive label, which aligned perfectly with the increasing demand for ultra luxurious handbags. It was also Schwennicke — along with his wife, Solange — who led Delvaux to become the first luxury leather goods manufacturer to produce two seasonal collections per year — a concept inspired by the custom practised in the world of haute couture.
Comprising 64 pieces of leather and metal finishings that have been meticulously hand-stitched together, “Le Brillant” is certainly the most emblematic handbag at Delvaux. Designed by Paule Goethals for the 1958 Brussels World Fair, the sculptural bag is highly recognisable for its architectural lines, sophisticated style, and of course, the signature D-buckle that marked the very first time a brand had created a product displaying its logo.
Today, “Le Brillant” is still a heavy focus in every collection, rolling out every season in new variations without changing its trademark elements. To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the house has recently launched a special edition dubbed “Le Diva“, with inspirations drawn from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Available in colours of red or black, “Le Diva” is adorned with a specially made golden buckle and hinges, which works to emphasise its sophisticated frame, while exuding a confidence and seductive allure.
Solange Schwennicke took over as the CEO of Delvaux after her husband passed away in 1970, officially becoming the first woman in charge of the company. It was under her leadership that the brand began to expand on a global scale, reaching far beyond the Belgian borders. Her eldest son, François, joined her as the Executive Chairman later in the 80s before fully taking over in 1995, and remained to become an influential figure within the executive board thereafter.
Taking a further leap towards its ambition for international growth, Delvaux sold a major stake of the house to First Heritage Brands, an investment arm of the Fung Group in 2011, which led to the opening of numerous stores across the world from Japan to Korea and Hong Kong.
Although the original players that nurtured Delvaux towards its grand status are no longer at play, it is clear that its values for uncompromising craftsmanship and savoir faire remain at the very core of the house. That, along with the brand’s undeniable role within Belgian heritage, will continue to carry on Delvaux’s legacy well into the future.