Delvaux’s lineage is something to be admired. Founded in 1829 in Brussels, Belgium, the company was the official purveyor of luxury leather goods for the nation’s royal court. It has since branched into the international arena, opening a series of boutiques that imbue the regality embedded in its DNA, while also pushing product that appeals to the trend du jour. Recently, it has taken a leap by erecting a museum in Brussels, one that unabashedly celebrates its long history.
To realize this undertaking, the brand enlisted Bob Verhelst, a scenographer that is all too aware of Delvaux’s reputation. “I am well-introduced to Delvaux because I’m Belgian,” he says. “But also because I have designed the exhibition about Delvaux at MoMu, Antwerp’s fashion museum, a few years ago, bringing together the 180-year history of the house.”
This prevalent—if pervasive—practice of tooting one’s horn, so to speak, can appear gimmicky, especially since most are still in business. And with pushing a luxury product being the ultimate goal, a great way to entice consumers is to build up the cachet so as to justify the normally high price tags. But as Verhelst affirms, Delvaux’s history is credible enough to warrant such a distinction.
“I don’t believe the museum was created for marketing reasons,” he says. “Delvaux, after all, is the oldest luxury leather goods house in the world. They have a very rich legacy, and are the inventor of the handbag, which makes them unique. With the Delvaux Museum, I wanted to tell their story in a very visual, airy, and modern way.”
For this enterprise, Verhelst reconfigured an expansive space situated in a building that also occupies the brand’s atelier. Here, he curated a selection that pieces together over a centuries’ worth of designs from Delvaux and others, from embroidered purses to sleek top-handles, forgoing any chronological order. Instead, Verhelst aimed to highlight Delvaux’s quirky, artistically-inclined sensibilities. “There are so many elements and discrete details that reflect the playful and surrealistic Belgian style that, at the same time, is classic and timeless,” he explains. “It is far from a trendy space. And that’s exactly what Delvaux stands for: discrete luxury, exquisite quality, but always with humor, and always with that typical Belgian, surrealist twist.”
The company’s bonds with Surrealism was clearly visualized in a 20-piece assortment of leather goods inspired by the work of Belgian painter René Magritte. Debuting in mid-2019, the collection followed exhibitions on Magritte at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that were underwritten by Delvaux. “Partnering with an art foundation is a creative way for Delvaux and Magritte to bridge business with the meaning and heritage of the brand,” said the brand’s chairman and CEO Jean-Marc Loubier at the time. And it aims to strengthen these ties further with the Delvaux Museum.
“Both of us had our own ideas in mind, and it was kind of a puzzle to include every aspect of the brand in a clever and clear way,” says Verhelst of collaborating with Loubier. “We wanted to avoid an overload of information and imagery. In the end, the museum radiates exactly what we were after: the experience is pleasurable and calm. It’s the same feeling you get when you step into a Delvaux store.”