Delvaux, the 190-year-old Belgian leather-goods house, is about to launch a collaboration with French designer Jean Colonna. It’s one bag, but it’s one bag that comes pretty close to perfection: a gorgeous, oversize soft version of the house’s iconic Brillant, which Colonna has dubbed the Brillant L’xxl. It’s made from Delvaux’s Dream leather, an exquisitely worked skin that still feels raw and natural, a process that takes two days to achieve. Available in either black or camel, it will be sold globally at Delvaux stores, including its New York boutique on 5th Avenue.
In a world where we seem to have a new collaboration every three seconds—it’s like the industry is flipping through Tinder, furiously looking for match, after match, after match—this one stands out, not least because it would appear (at first glance) to be the coming together of two names with diametrically opposed approaches and attitudes. There’s Delvaux, a bastion of haute bourgeois classicism and unfailing good taste; Colonna, meanwhile, is a biker iconoclast whose collections, with their raw, sleazy rock vibe, stood out in the Paris of the ‘90s for being so against the hauteur of the city at that time but that look entirely prescient now. (If you’re not aware of him, and you should be, you can find some of his past and recent collections on Vogue Runway.)
Of course, what makes this work is the common ground: a respect for how to make things well, and a belief in the idea that things should be used, worn, and treasured. Jean-Marc Loubier, CEO of Delvaux and a longtime admirer of Colonna, says of the collaboration: “We need to always question what we do. Jean, a person whom I have held in great esteem for many years, was interested in immersing himself in what we do and how we do it. [The Brillant L’xxl] is both extreme and easy, and I think that when you close the gap [between the two], you have a good chance of being on the way to success.” As for Colonna, you can read below his thoughts on what it meant to work with Delvaux, why luxury and longevity are intertwined, and ‘90s nostalgia. He’s unflinchingly direct, but it always comes from absolute honesty—to himself as much as anyone else.
Jean, how did you come to collaborate with Delvaux? Were you already aware of the house?
I’ve known about Delvaux for years, and during fashion week a couple of years back I went to its presentation in the Palais Royal, which was all of its miniatures—tiny, tiny bags. When I got outside it was cold and raining, and as I went home on my motorbike, I had this vision of a big, big, big bag. A week later I called Jean-Marc [Loubier] and told him I wanted to do a bag, big and soft. He said, “That’s absolutely not Delvaux’s DNA,” so I said, “Okay, thank you, goodbye.” Two months later, he called me and said, “Do you still want to do it?”
What do you think changed his mind?
I’ve known Jean-Marc for a long time. I worked with him for a big group in Korea; in seven years I went to Seoul 105 times. He was always interested in my brand. He was, and is, curious about the new generation of designers. And more than that, he is very interested in, and respectful of, my work. He knows that when I am working for someone, my motivation is always to be myself but also respectful of the other brand. I was very much attracted to Delvaux’s quality. When you see the bag, and see the price of the bag, you might think, Is this really Jean Colonna? But when you reach that level of craftsmanship [that Delvaux is capable of], then yes, it’s worth it. For me, luxury is selfish; it should just be for you. It’s not for others. That’s the definition of luxury.
It’s interesting you mention luxury, because your own label always refuted it; you’d work with fabrics that weren’t quote-unquote luxurious—fake fur, tee shirting, leatherette—even if what you made out of them was very well crafted. How does that attitude sit with this project?
For me, when I create my clothes . . . it’s like, when you start an affair with someone, you don’t fold your dress or your pants when you know what you’re going to be doing next; they just get thrown on the floor. It’s the same with this bag. You don’t want it to be superfluous or redundant to how you live your life. Throw it on the floor. Don’t put it in a pouch and then a box. Let it live. Same with my garments.
How was it to work with Delvaux?
I showed my idea, and when we started doing the sample, they’d say, “We can’t do this kind of construction.” But what I have learned from doing my own label is that less is better sometimes; to have no finishing [on a garment], you’re making a point—cut to the chase, voila! When I did that sample, I was asked for a shoulder strap. And my first words to them had been: No. Shoulder. Straps. You buy a handbag, and it has a strap you can attach to it . . . I hate [that]; that was why I refused. I said, “You need one, okay, you need one—but [my bag] will be without.”
Yet in the end, what you’ve done, shoulder strap aside, is very you and very Delvaux….
I used their leather as I would the leatherette or nylon in my own collections, while also respecting Delvaux’s craft. The luxury is there—the quality of the skin, the quality of the stitching. What I like about this bag is that you can give it to your daughter or your son; you’re buying it for you and for future generations. It’s incredible what a brand like Delvaux can do. They spend one month making this perfect. It’s a bag without compromise and totally in sync with the history of the house.
Delvaux stands for a certain classicism and chicness, and historically it was quite a bourgeois house. Before we chatted today, I read a very good piece about you and designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela by [former Vogue Fashion News Director] Kate Betts from the September 1992 issue of Vogue. In it, you were railing against bourgeois values . . .
Well, I also wanted to challenge this bourgeois aspect of Delvaux. Since I started in 1989, I have refused this bourgeois meaning in fashion. I wanted to give this bag no gender. I wanted it to not be treated as being precious; I have used mine since September, on my motorbike, exposed to the wind and the rain and the snow. You have to give your own trace to the bag. Voila.
How does it feel to see the endless nostalgia for the ’90s now, given you were someone who lived and worked throughout that decade?
At that time, we had freedom, and today, looking back to the ’90s, people are trying to recapture that sense of freedom, but it’s impossible. Fashion is in jail now. It’s in jail with influencers, with Instagram, with YouTube. When you had me, Martin, Ann . . . we all had one goal: to be out of the boundaries of the bourgeoisie. It wasn’t rebellion. For us, it was just an obvious thing to do; it wasn’t to say fuck for the sake of saying fuck. Now [that kind of freedom] is impossible, and I am very happy to be far from it. It’s my choice. But it wasn’t better before. Before is before. I hate regrets. I hate nostalgia. Maybe some people are looking back. But not me.