“Paris is my muse,” says Chloe Perrin, the recently-appointed creative director of Perrin Paris, her family’s leather brand. The company was founded in 1893, but has quietly become a serious dark-horse contender in this lucrative and fiercely competitive segment of the international luxury goods business. This season is Chloe’s first in her new role, and the collection’s sophisticated- but-young, refreshingly different look is not going unnoticed. Perrin, in fact, is exactly the kind of elegant insider’s brand one is surprised to have never heard of before.
“I’m very excited about the new direction the house is taking,” says Sally Perrin, Chloe’s mother, who preceded her daughter as creative director. “I am wise enough to understand the necessity of a young, fresh eye coming into play.”
Chloe Perrin, 24, is a girl of the world. Perfectly bilingual in French and English, she was born in Seattle, when her French father was working at Microsoft. She lived in Istanbul for two years as a child, when his work took the family there. She studied at Paris’s prestigious Studio Bercot fashion academy, then moved to New York, where she lived for two years working as an editorial assistant at Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book magazine. Finally, she returned to Paris to design for the family outfit, which her father decided to revive 10 years ago.
Don’t let Perrin’s age fool you: She knows what she’s doing. She’s also very concise in explaining her design philosophy: “Wit and irony are the consistent personality of my work from one collection to another,” Perrin says. “That and impeccable workmanship and quality.”
Okay, but how can anyone reconcile the Anglo-American fashion concepts of wit and irony with the French absolutism that real beauty can only be classic and so deserving of respect? In a world where the accessories industry spins on an axis of “It” bags, which, just like cosmetics, are meant to amp up sales at massive parent conglomerates like Kering and LVMH, it seems futile.
“That’s the fashion world, but with all due respect, that’s not who we are,” Perrin says. Her design ethic, she says, is to create bags with indefatigable appeal—ones that won’t collect dust in the back of a closet in 50 years. “That’s our DNA, and it comes from the tannery in Saint-Junien where we made our own leather for generations, and where we hope to begin production again soon.” (The tannery has been closed for several years, but the Perrins would like to reopen it.)
Perrin Paris originally manufactured gloves, but the bottom dropped out when, in the late 1960s, people just stopped wearing them. So they began making other products. “Then my dad decided to resurrect the brand,” Perrin says. Today, the work is divided between the company’s atelier in France and one in Saigon run by her uncle. “All of the leather is French, though,” she says.
Without resorting to celebrity endorsements or the usual promotional artillery, the company has succeeded by using the most ancient tools of the trade: quality and good taste. They now have four boutiques of their own in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Paris—the last one designed by interior architect Chahan Minassian, who’s also working on the renovation of the venerable Hôtel de Crillon a few blocks away.
A telling example of Perrin’s style is their signature Glove clutch, an envelope-shaped bag with an open glove for its wearer to slip her hand into for carrying. It was introduced in 2007. “Like all of our designs, it’s practical, serves a purpose, and it’s sturdy and reflects our history,” Perrin says. “This is the kind of design basic that I intend to build on in my new job.” Another source of pride is the Rond Cuff bags she designed for the label’s spring/summer 2016 collection. Round in shape, metal cuffs take the place of handles to leave hands free when at a party. “Nobody wants a cumbersome evening bag, and any bag is actually a nuisance if you’re at a cocktail party, because you have to keep putting it down while you eat and drink.” Since it hangs from the wrist, the problem is solved.
As for her approach, Perrin says it’s architectural, with an emphasis on simplicity. “I don’t look at fashion magazines. I’m much more inspired by modern art and modern furniture.” Perrin’s love of classic contemporary design is a family trait: Her parents now live between a rare one-story house in Beverly Hills, designed in 1950 by the mid-century modern architect Victor Gruen, and an apartment on Quai Voltaire in Paris.
“My love of early modern also explains why I love Jacques Doucet [the French couturier] and French filmmakers like Jean Boyer and Jacques Tati.” All of these French artists and more figure in the mood board Perrin arranged for her current collection. The creative wick of her forthcoming fall/winter 2016 collection, by contrast, came from a much more personal source. “I went over to the Musee d’Art Moderne to see a favorite painting,” she says. The work, “Eve,” by the artist Jacques Valmier, was once a fixture of the family’s private collection. “So I know it really well, and every time I see it again, I have the thrill of rediscovering a much loved old friend.”
But now that her parents are living in L.A., is there the possibility that Hollywood might one day become a part of the Perrin aesthetic canon? It’s not likely. “We love L.A.,” Perrin says, “but we’re French right down to the tips of our toes.”