On a recent rainy Paris afternoon, I found myself in a secret courtyard off the fashionable rue Saint-Honoré. A haven from the crowded street, lined with haute couture boutiques, the showroom of Caroline De Marchi, luxury handbag designer, offers a respite for the weary shopper as well as a welcome change from the typical Paris shopping experience.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Caroline, catching her just after she had returned from a trip to Milan, where she splits her time between stays in Paris. Caroline is of Belgian origin, but has spent most of her life in Paris, with stints in other locations around the world. She followed her Italian husband to Egypt, where she lived for four years, and has also called Sao Paulo, Brazil home. And influences from these séjours abroad are wildly evident in her bag’s styles. The stunning Bali sac, for example, is in the shape of a pyramid, a direct reference to Caroline’s time in Egypt.
As Caroline is often on the road, she highlighted the importance of creating a sense of place in Paris for her brand and her customers. She explained this to me as her daughter Capucine – who is in charge of brand development and marketing for the family business – smiled warmly, preparing a steeping pot of tea in the cozy showroom.
“I wanted to find a space where women can feel at home,” Caroline explains when describing her vision for the space. Petting her energetic eight-month-old Miniature Schnauzer, Jaipur (who has a namesake handbag included in an upcoming collection), Caroline described her coup de foudre – or love at first site – moment with the showroom space. “I was lucky to find this place,” she told me, adding, “I love the courtyard, it’s like having an extra room!” During the warmer seasons, the De Marchi team often organizes apèros in the courtyard, or simply invites guests to sit outside and enjoy some rays of sunshine and rare silence in the center of bustling Paris.
The interior space is equally appealing and aptly matches the designer’s style – being both the essence of artisanal and impeccably elegant. A wall of whitewashed wooden crates form a cabinet of curiosities that could contain tropical fruits from an African isle, spices from India, or antiquities from an old world estate sale. The inspiration for the presentation of Caroline’s bags, each one nestled in its own wooden cubby complete with custom lighting, comes from freelance designer and artist Julien Spini, who dreamt up the layout of the showroom and single-handedly made it a reality.
“In luxury stores women are often scared of the salespeople… they latch on and don’t leave you alone, it’s horrible- je déteste!” Caroline told me. “They follow you and are always lingering behind you,” Capucine agreed. Making women of all ages and from all around the world comfortable and providing an enjoyable shopping experience is paramount to the mother-daughter team, whose doors are open to visitors from Monday to Friday.
The brand’s signature model, Cubo, has already reached international stardom, with fans from around the world buying each new seasonal incarnation. The spring/summer Cubo line includes a new extra-large model, which Caroline explains is, “great for weekends away or a day at the beach.” The bags incorporate playful bursts of color thanks to the addition of a band of multicolor fabric that is handmade by women in Guatamala.
“Caroline provides jobs to artisans around the world,” Capucine asserted, pointing out that many of their partners are women in small villages. The equally striking Bahia bag, for example, is made from hand-woven palm leaves by women in Brazil.
As Caroline lovingly presents her bags, you can feel the attention and appreciation she has for not just the women that participate in the creation of the product, but also the women that will wear her bags. “I’m drawn to women with personality,” she explains, adding that she makes bags for a niche clientele of women who want a high quality product that stands out from the rest. Citing her dislike for overproduced, overly branded products that are ubiquitous in the world of fashion, Caroline asks, “When we were children we didn’t want to dress like everybody else. Why would we pay large amounts of money to do that now?”
Caroline De Marchi’s bags, which can be purchased from her website in addition to their Paris headquarters, embrace the essence of elegance, confidence, and the nuances of the natural world. Much like Caroline, her bags are at home in the world and want to make you feel at home, too. And the next time you’re strolling the rue Saint-Honoré, be sure to pop by the showroom for a visit.
Caroline De Marchi Showroom – 217 rue Saint-Honoré, 75001. Tel: +33 (0)9 53 58 35 73
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