"It feels like I'm on holiday," says Christina Zeller, artistic director of fine leather luxury house, Delvaux. "Like we're in Bali," she continues incredulously, surveying the verandah of a historic Black and White bungalow bordered by tropical ferns; their green canopy trembling under the force of fat rain. "But we're actually in Singapore. It's wonderful."
We're having lunch at Corner House in the Botanic Gardens — just a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road — and it's an intimate affair: The gracious Zeller seated in front of me; Delvaux chief executive Marco Probst to my left; and diagonally opposite, communications director Aude Pecheux.
"We take our time to make our products," says Pecheux. "Because we are not fashion, we are luxury." Probst nods in agreement: "And we must keep it that way. This is the essence of the house."
As the rain continues to pour — a rhythmic accompaniment to our midday feast — conversation turns to Delvaux's first boutique in Singapore.
Norman Tan: Why Singapore? Christina Zeller: I think Singapore really is the Southeast Asian headquarters for luxury and fashion. And we've seen an increase of interest from South East Asian customers, so we thought that Singapore would be the perfect place. Also because we don't want to over distribute. The point was not to be everywhere, but to be at the right place.
Do you think Singaporean women will appreciate Delvaux? Yes, definitely. Singaporean ladies are very sophisticated, but in a very elegant and discrete way. They like a kind of luxury that is not obvious, and they also like high quality, which is exactly what Delvaux stands for. And our bags are kind of classic with this modern twist and a touch of unconventional details.
Like in the way you contrast different exotic skins? We dare to take risks with exotic skin when it comes to design. But, it's also the way we prepare, cut and process our skins.
Boasting more than 185 years of heritage, Delvaux must have impressive savoir-faire when it comes to leather craftsmanship. We are the oldest luxury leather goods company in the world and we are still here for a reason: Impeccable quality. When we use the skin, even if we have to lose a part of the skin, we'll make sure that the skin is 100% perfect and we will not compromise to save money. For example, with ostrich, we are the only house that has a special technique to make sure that each bump is not destroyed when you shave the skin. It's a house secret. If you don't know how to treat ostrich skin, you will create holes where the bumps are, and I know certain manufacturers that actually re-glue the bumps onto the skin to patch up the holes.
How long does it take to construct a Delvaux bag? Our bags are very complex and can take up to nine hours to craft one bag in our European workshops. And because they are so well-made, they are expensive. But it's real value for money. They are timeless, the quality is incredible, and you can even give the bag to your daughter.
What was the inspiration behind the latest AW15 collection? The collection was inspired by extreme luxury. We introduced a lot of exotic skins that have been mixed-and-matched to create graphic and architectural lines, which is what Delvaux is known for. And it's also about tradition and innovation. We like experimenting with new technologies, providing that it remains elegant and refined and graceful. For example, we applied a white PVD coat to hardware and leather to create the Smoking black and white bags.
You've worked in fashion accessories for many years; be it with Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix or Givenchy. Now that you've been appointed artistic director of Delvaux since the beginning of this year, what has been the biggest change? I never used to have time to think when I was at the fashion brands. It was always creating collection after collection. But with Delvaux, we are focused on getting the details and processes right. You can work deeply and do things better. As Aude said, "We are not fashion." We are also not 'luxury' because that is such an overused word. We are quality.
Where do you want to take Delvaux in the next five years? It's an evolution. I think it has to be the same book, but a new chapter. I want to be very faithful to the past, to the tradition of the company. And very often I ask myself, "Will Solange Schwennicke, the Belgium owner of the brand, appreciate what I am doing?" I have the responsibility to preserve the attitude and spirit of the company so that, someday, someone after me will create another chapter that is faithful to the heritage and the history of Delvaux.
What is one bag every girl should own from Delvaux? For me, it's the Ceci n'est pas un Delvaux because I think it's the perfect illustration of the witty but young spirit. It's a bag you can carry all day. It shows that you have a free-spirited attitude without being provocative. It shows the right balance between humour and elegance.
And you also have a collection for men? Yes, we have briefcases and functional bags such as the computer bag and newspaper bag, or the more contemporary messenger bags. We try also to balance our products for different types of consumers. For example, Marco is carrying the President bag in matte crocodile with calf leather, and it's the same quality level as our women's bags: Sophisticated and very discreet.
The Delvaux Singapore store is located at #01-18/19 Scotts Square, 6 Scotts Road.