Globetrotter, Sébastien Létrange dared to take on a new adventure reviving the family’s legacy.

Here, he shares how he nurtured LÉTRANGE back to life, and dives into the finer details of its exquisite signature styles.

Left: Sébastien Létrange; Right: The Empreinte Mini

What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?

Wow, this is the first time anyone has ever asked me this question! I love it. Well, the very first 30 minutes of my day consists of a quick shower because I then have to work on preparing and readying breakfast for my five-year-old twins. I am blessed as a happy husband, and the responsibility of breakfast is completely on me as requested by my children. This is our everyday 30-minute family routine and it’s one I thoroughly enjoy – the only time we don’t follow this is when I’m travelling. These 28 minutes are cherished moments of great connection between us… The last two minutes is our version of ‘rush hour’, a stressful few minutes as we rush to pack and leave the house since we like to stretch our breakfast sessions to as long as possible!

How would you define the DNA of the brand and how has it evolved over the years?

Auguste, the founder of LÉTRANGE in the 1800s, was from a very humble family. His father was a postman in Paris, and Auguste started working at the age of 13 as a saddler’s apprentice. At the age of 21, he founded his own saddle workshop directly connected to the Louvre Palace stables, exactly where the iconic pyramid stands today. In those days, it was formerly a neighbourhood called the “Doyenné”. He soon became the Royal Saddler, an extremely prestigious position at the time. By continuing to develop his skill, in 1844 he patented the first cigar holder in molded leather. That was the instance of a unique innovative and creative spirit within our Maison and has been the spirit of our family ever since. From that moment, our humble business began to grow steadily. Armand, the second generation head, was a visionary technician. He was trained by Auguste and was the first one to receive several medals at the World Expos in 1855, 1878, 1889 and many more. His motto was “Achieve excellence and challenge it each and every day”, linking to our strong commitment to craftsmanship, a phrase he engraved on the pediment of his workshop in 1865 and we strive to live by this even today. Later on, in the 1900s, my great grandmother Henriette came to the helm, adding her own motto to the brand’s DNA: “Life is a peculiar journey with unexpected stop overs”. She added a feminine touch to an otherwise masculine technical base, thus diversifying LÉTRANGE further. What’s more, she was one of the very few women who held such a position of power within what was then one of the biggest leather houses in the world – she was constantly a trailblazer. Nurturing the creative spirit of Auguste and embodying the drive for excellence instilled by Armand, she opened LÉTRANGE’s door to a world of more possibilities, curiosities and encounters.

Henriette Létrange

I decided to stay faithful to my ancestry, by adding my little stone to the Maison and modeling a new vision that is: “Heritage with a twist” – paying homage to three great members of our family but modernising their wise principles to today’s world.

What are the brand signatures?

Our main signature is the three punches in the leather that is on some of our bags for the past 150 years. It is a distinctive and discreet understatement, three points of suspension, telling a story that continues to unfold every day, capturing the adventurous spirit of the founders. They also underscore the three pillars of the brand today: Excellence, Elegance and Exclusivity. The name tag that is attached to some of our bags is the second signature element. We hold a genuine LÉTRANGE patent from 1926 that sits as the tribute to the house’s innovative spirit and desire of discretion for our customers, hiding their name away from the sight of everyone. Some of our bags, the Égo style, feature Saddle Nails, which act as a tribute to Auguste and his life as a Royal Saddler. We have also come to be known for our iconic Empreinte shape, a style that has become particularly famous. We just launched a special Ramadan capsule collection called the ‘Gilded Age’ collection, a special celebration of this stunning work of art.

When did you know it was the right time to relaunch the brand and how many styles did you launch with?

It was never really in my plans, if I’m being completely honest. It is much more about the serendipity I’ve experienced over the past 40 years. I decided to dig into our family archives of the Maison, and I found such stunning pieces and stories I didn’t even know about… It was enough of an inspiration for me that cemented my next steps. I decided to take over the company as my great uncle stepped down a few years ago and take the wheel of a company that no one else in the family was willing to continue. I was lucky enough to find the most amazing designer to create the most beautiful luxury handbag collection: Mathias Jaquemet. Mathias is the genius designer who gave birth to some of my briefs in the most amazing and unexpected ways. He first worked on three bags: The Empreinte, the Vis à Vis, and the Attachant. Then he added the Égo and the Pourquoi- Pas? – each style is a distinctive piece with its own character, story and rich history behind it.

“LÉTRANGE is more about excellence in craftsmanship, for those who pay immense attention to details and look for distinctiveness.”

You had different career transitions – from a photo and video reporter to running a creative advertising agency in Paris. Was it an obvious transition for you and how were your experiences useful in the world of design and luxury?

I had all these rich experiences in my life that helped shape my outlook in life – while the journey may not have been the traditional route, it helped me clearly understand my goal. I cannot pretend that those experiences were useful for me in terms of design, but luckily, I am not a designer. But they definitely sharpened my eye a lot and helped me ascertain what I wanted to achieve with the LÉTRANGE legacy.

Luxury is a commercial word that can lack content, especially with how many things are now marketed as “luxury”. LÉTRANGE is more about excellence in craftsmanship, for those who pay immense attention to details and look for distinctiveness.

Létrange is a family business. What is it like to be part of a brand with such a rich and storied heritage?

Some would say such a responsibility could feel like a burden. However, thanks to Henriette’s free spirit, and as I never aimed to take over, I came to the table with a fresh approach, “Heritage with a twist”, which allowed me to follow the legacy but still gave me freedom to make new decisions, whilst voluntarily staying true to the brand’s spirit and DNA. And given this spirit seems to be in our blood it makes this crazy journey very entertaining and deeply satisfying.

LÉTRANGE pieces are truly unique. How important is it to use traditional techniques and how do you combine this with innovative design?

The key is the talent of the designer, and I have to say Mathias Jaquemet, our Artistic Director excels on mixing our traditional handcrafting techniques from our legacy and a truly radical innovative spirit and line. He completely reimagined the technique for making a bag with the Attachant style (assembled without stitching but using a LÉTRANGE unique leather tab system) and the Égo (an asymmetric leather origami wonder). With the Empreinte, we wanted to create the most beautiful bag ever, so Mathias decided to literally make a jewellery-like bag, with a real piece of jewellery as the handle of a very minimal leather body enhanced by a little stiletto, providing an ultimate elegant silhouette. That “sweet spot” took us three years of R&D and hundreds of prototypes. Today, its production is still a feat of strength as it requires the highest skills in crafting both the bag and the handle.

From your perspective, is there fear that an online presence would diminish a luxury brand’s equity? Did you think it was an issue with scaling the brand?

We are a ‘relationship’ brand. We aim to connect with our clients and start a conversation with them. Our LÉTRANGE apartment in Paris is the essence of that approach – existing or potential clients can visit by appointment only. So, we eliminate the need to queue (which takes away from the luxury shopping experience) and clients don’t just come to buy a product, you come for the LÉTRANGE experience. Though being online is miles away from this, it has become compulsory in many aspects. We still don’t have an online shopping platform, but our Instagram account has become a tool of interaction with our audience. I do not think it diminishes our brand’s equity as, for us, it is on a small scale for now.

As an independent brand, how do you navigate the global fashion market?

Being an independent business is tough, in all back-office and financial aspects. But it can be an incredible chance for creativity and innovation. Our developments are not driven by marketing, studies or data. They are driven by a deep creative process, as a family. We are within the fashion maelstrom, but we do not follow the quintessential “fashion agenda” and seasons. We are not a fashion house. We are an authentic leather maison who aim to create products that will last a lifetime.

The brand has opened its first pop up in partnership with Galeries Lafayette. How has the brand been received in the region?

I have a wonderful, personal relationship with the region. I explored the Middle East for one year driving the four corners 23 years ago (probably to places only a few have been to!) and I still feel that connection to this region. I love its people. The opening at Galeries Lafayette was a very warm welcome. We had, as an example, two existing clients who came specifically to attend the event. One who flew from Kuwait in and out the same day, one who drove from Abu Dhabi. They are great ambassadors for us, and I was so blessed they came. It shows the relationship we have with them.

LÉTRANGE at Galeries Lafayette in Dubai Mall

For bespoke pieces, how do you work with a client on crafting a customised piece?

We have different levels of personalisation as we offer an inimitable in-store experience. We offer a range of personalisation options, starting with the Égo mini style, where you can choose bespoke Saddle Nails with precious gems, or your initials engraved on them. Then with the Attachant 10:30 style, which can be entirely assembled in-store and then sent to Paris for the final touches – clients can choose the colours and textures for each part of their bag, creating a piece that is totally unique to them. For those who crave something even more exclusive, we can create made-to-order Empreintes using exotic leathers or specific gemstones in the handle. We recently created a version of this we like to call the Empreinte 178 – a masterpiece using Himalayan exotic leather with 178 diamonds set in a white gold handle.

What were the biggest lessons from seeing your grandmother operate the business? Through her philosophy, did she shape your point of view on design?

Strangely, I never actually saw Henriette operate the business, she retired in 1975 and I lived with her from the 1980s until 2000. She embedded a spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship into me during this time through her delightful stories and knowledge. As an example, for years she told me stories of travel and adventures. She was admiring a famous French explorer and marine commander, Jean-Baptiste Charcot. In 1907, LÉTRANGE produced the travel equipment for Charcot’s Antarctic expedition on board the vessel ship named ‘Pourquoi-Pas?’ Digging through the archives, I found a piece of equipment and it reminded me of many of Henriette’s stories. I asked Mathias to design a bag we could name the Pourquoi-Pas?, becoming our tribute to both Henriette and Charcot. The inspiration for the aesthetics behind our designs come more from my mother, who is an elegant, timeless character herself.

This is The Authenticity Issue – what does it mean to you, and how do you create it for yourself?

Authenticity for me is being yourself and following your instincts, before anything else. I guess through the story I’ve told today, you can see this is something I’ve been doing for the last four decades. I think our motto “Heritage with a twist” is another example of my interpreted authenticity as I’m respecting our brand DNA, but adding my own instinctive spin. Transposing this to LÉTRANGE, I like to say that we aim to “make every day unique”, which is what I know Henriette, Armand and Auguste would have wanted.

March’s – The Authenticity Issue with Mouawad – Download Now

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