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While the company has been turning out a range of leather handbags and luggage from its factories in France's Loire Valley since the Fifties, it wasn't until 1993 that the name Longchamp became synonymous with a certain utilitarian chic. That's the year company president Phillipe Cassegrain, whose father, Jean, founded Longchamp as a producer of tobacco pipe coverings, introduced the Pliage, a leather-handled nylon tote that folds flat. The bag was an instant hit, with everyone from college students to Ladies Who Lunch snapping them up; these days it seems you can't walk down a city boulevard without passing a Pliage in one of its myriad colors and sizes. "We sell 2.5 million units a year. I don't think any brand has any single design that sells that much," said Jean Cassegrain, son of Phillipe and Longchamp's managing director.
One of a handful of luxury companies that are still family-run (Sophie Delafontaine, Jean's sister, is the creative director, while brother Olivier runs U.S. operations and mother Michele manages retail operations), the Cassegrain clan enjoys the freedom to make creative decisions that, as Cassegrain said, "are a little bit out of the ordinary without worrying what the stock exchange will think about it." To wit, as part of its anniversary celebration, the company has collaborated with Belgian artist Jean-Luc Moerman, known for his tattoo-like renderings of shapes on photographs of icons like Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, to emblazon 60 bags with his signature loops and scribbles. Each bag will be slightly different from the others — Moerman silk-screened individual bags with an original design — and sold for $6,500. A set of reproduction bags will be sold separately. Those who can't shell out for the oversize leather totes, which are based on a design the company produced in the Seventies, will also have an opportunity to see Moerman's installation work at the July 2 anniversary bash at the L'Elysée Montmartre in Paris, where The Kills will perform a live set (conveniently, Kate Moss, the company's spokesmodel, is dating Kills member Jamie Hince).