by Gemma White
  • 4 minute read
  • April 15, 2024
The House that Heritage Built: Létrange has arrived in the UAE bringing in a new era of luxury

French Maison Létrange’s arrival in the UAE ushers in a new era of understated luxury that perfectly embodies the brand’s “heritage with a twist” ethos

If money talks and wealth whispers, you can practically hear a pin drop in the chic new Létrange space at Galeries Lafayette in Dubai Mall.

For the storied French leather goods brand, nothing less than an art-gallery-meets-boutique space with a museum-like air feels apt; the pieces languishing atop soft pink displays await rightful admiration from niche in-the-know clientele who understand and move within the rarified world in which this level of luxury operates.

“We are an understated brand, we don’t shout loud,” says CEO Sébastien Létrange. “We are definitely quiet luxury.”

As the seventh-generation Létrange to head a family business that dates back almost 130 years, Sébastien is aware of the weight of history the brand carries with it, yet he remains unconstrained by the narratives of the past. Heavy may be the head that wears the crown, but strong is the shoulder that carries the Létrange bag.

For some heritage brands, ancestral expectations are disproportionately influential on the present. But for Sébastien, who not only resurrected Létrange in 2017 after it closed its doors in 2007, but also signed up none other than Louis Vuitton’s Head Designer Mathias Jaquemet as his Creative Director, his vision is unwavering. After all, what is a lost decade when the long game is centuries?

Létrange was founded in 1883 by Auguste Lespiaut, a saddler at the Palais du Louvre who plied his trade where the King’s stables once stood, and where now resides the iconic Louvre Pyramid. Innovation and invention lay at its heart, with patents held for an array of equestrian-adjacent products and devices, all of which made the move into bags and leather goods seamlessly organic.

“From then, the history of the company has been about innovation, creativity, new things, invention,” enthuses Sébastien. “What we try to bring today is that spirit of innovation, creativity, craziness sometimes. Our vision is heritage with a twist.”

Fittingly, Létrange’s first space in the UAE is inspired by the intricacies of their Égo bag – “A unique shape, very rock-’n- roll,” he says. “Catherine Deneuve’s bag” – in the way it unfolds. Yielding forth its origami secrets and unfurling concepts in equal measure, it plays with proportion and pays homage to the House’s beginnings.

“You can see it’s a timeline that goes through our history,” Sébastien says of his brand’s unique home in the UAE. “Everything you see here is new and contemporary. There is no repetition of vintage.”

The brand’s arrival in Dubai is the culmination of a cultural love affair that goes back two decades. “Twenty years ago, I was travelling and driving through the Middle East. There is something I really love about this region,” he explains with a knowing smile. 

As for making the UAE Létrange’s second home in the region after Doha, Sébastien cites the city’s deep-rooted appreciation for and understanding of “the niche, the exclusive.”

“It is completely unique,” he says. “We planned to come to the Middle East more so than to Asia or the US. After Europe, it is here.” As a forward-thinking heritage brand, it makes sense that some of Létrange’s most iconic pieces should draw inspiration from the royal and equestrian worlds of its beginnings.

The Vis-à-vis bag, a paean to the symmetry of the “Queen” carriage in which royalty would travel, has a Létrange pattern dating back to 1926 to thank for its timelessness. “It shows the three elements of Létrange’s history,” explains Sébastien. “The design is completely new; the pattern is from 1926; and you have the signature of the brand.”

The Empreinte, French for ‘fingerprint’, the uniqueness of which served as inspiration, is “our most iconic product,” says Sébastien. “Because of its complexity, the design of the bag had to be simple, an elegant shape. The making of it is extremely demanding, which is why it is made 100 percent in Paris. There are only a few craftsmen and women who can make this extremely complicated bag.”

Henriette Létrange

Sébastien attributes the ease of his relationship with the past to his great-grandmother, Henriette Létrange, who took over the Maison after her husband’s death, running it from 1942 to 1975. It was Henriette’s love of travel and adventure which he credits with creating the DNA of the brand. 

“I lived with her for 20 years, and she taught me about the history of the brand,” he says. “At the time, it was not in my plans to take over the company. But it happened, and we’re here today because of Henriette.”

Described as “demanding and inflexible with herself, authoritarian and visionary”, Henriette’s fascination with the famous French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot and his legendary forays to the Poles inspired the creation of the Pourquoi-Pas? bag, named for the vessel on which he sailed. Translated, it means: ‘Why not?’ Words to live by.

“I never planned to be in this industry,” Sébastien muses. “The only reason I did it is to continue the family spirit. We have no burden. That spirit and roots allow us to do it exactly as we want.”

Which is? “We wanted to make the most beautiful bag in the world,” he says. “We have very strong links with the arts in our history to create a bag that would be a work of art.” He concludes with typical Gallic understatement: “It’s not for everyone.”

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