Longchamp’s new champion: Hector Cassegrain

A classic French brand still run by the founding family now has great-grandson Hector Cassegrain on board. He explains how he’s been prepared all his life to work at Longchamp.

His future was cast early. When Hector Cassegrain was still a very young boy, his grandfather Philippe told him that he had two options in life: “You can do leather goods for women – or leather goods for men.”

In truth, he’s ended up working with both. The fast-talking, likeable, enthusiastic great-grandson of the founder of Longchamp, one of France’s best known accessories brands, has taken on the role of UK general manager, a position that has brought him into the family business for the first time. Still only 29, he’s fluent in English, has a Master’s in management behind him as well as half a decade of management experience notched up at French supermarket chain Carrefour and Picnic supermarket in The Netherlands.

Back in 1948, great-grandfather Jean Cassegrain started producing the world’s first leather-covered pipes and then expanded into small leather goods, travel accessories and handbags, creating the platform for the global brand Longchamp is today, a business valued at around 1.3 billion euros.

But the new generation Cassegrain prefers to play down the scale of the business. “We’re still a small family-managed company,” he insists, as if he’s talking about some corner shop. He says this while we are standing in the three-floor Longchamp flagship store, global prime retail estate on London’s Regent Street, one of more than 300 stores around the world. “Well, I think we’re much smaller than other French giants,” he laughs, referencing the likes of LVMH.

It’s remarkable in the 2020s to find a fashion brand with a decades-long heritage that is still privately owned by the founding family. The advantage of this, he explains, is that the business can take a long-term view, untroubled by outside investors or the pressures of a publicly quoted company. The disadvantages? “You take a little bit longer to make things change. Typically, digital transformation can be very heavy for teams that have been working with us for 30, 40 years. If you’ve never worked with a computer, suddenly working with TikTok feels kind of a big move.”

Hector joined the company in mid-pandemic in 2020 from Picnic and has had to guide the London retail business through some challenging months. A benefit of the family connection is that his full-on commitment can be taken for granted. “I really believe in the product and I really believe in the brand,” he says, intensely. His early months at the company were tinged with sadness: his grandfather Philippe, who created Longchamp’s signature Le Pliage bag and led the company into the modern era, died of Covid-related complications in November 2020 at the age of 83.

His absence is still keenly felt. Philippe always fed Hector stories about the business. “He was an extremely curious man, and anything would interest him,” Hector recalls. He talks about how Philippe incorporated the Chinese lucky number eight into every product code as a symbol of prosperity, how he urged his grandson to “stay curious”, and how in 1993 he invented Longchamp’s signature nylon bag, Le Pliage – a lightweight practical masterpiece of engineering that has become the world’s bestselling handbag (ask Kate Middleton or Kate Moss).

Following the fashion world’s trend for collaborations, Longchamp has partnered with some surprising brands, such as Hong Kong’s Emotionally Unavailable (developed by Canada’s Edison Chen) and Pokémon. Just as much as any luxury brand, Longchamp has to keep refreshing product and providing creative incentives for Gen Z shoppers. A new collaboration with a French street artist will be announced this spring. A recycled nylon version of the bag was launched last year – by 2023, all Pliage bags will be in recycled material. “We look at the Pliage as a blank canvas for designers, artists and everything,” Hector explains.

Longchamp has six production sites in western France and two in Tunisia and Mauritius, working closely with tanneries in Europe and South America. France is at the core of leather accessories manufacture. “Not because we like to be proud French people,” jokes Hector. “But simply because we have the know-how, and there are people that have been with us for 40 years.”

As befits a new generation Cassegrain, Hector is well versed in digitalisation and influencer marketing. “What I really tried to do since I came here is to steer a little clearer of traditional media and focus much more on digital,” Hector says.

Will he end up running the company? It’s rather too early to say that, but it’s clear that a Cassegrain will be at the helm for a long time to come. Hector’s father Jean is CEO, his aunt Sophie Delafontaine is creative director, his uncle Olivier runs US retail, and brother Adrien is transformation director. Hector is just delighted to be on board. At Longchamp it never gets boring, he says. “We’re lucky enough to have had very good growth over the past 20 years. I’m very happy to grow here.”

The page could not be loaded!