Choosing a highly personalised handbag should not be a speedy process. In this case, appointments are made for two hours at the Haute Maroquinerie, which Louis Vuitton has quietly introduced at its New Bond Street maison as a slightly more accessible alternative to the super-exclusive privilege of ordering a bag designed from scratch. The only hint of this service in the main store is a selection of discreet bags in individual vitrines. Customers are ushered to a lift that whisks them to The Apartment on the second floor, and into a luxurious room with blond sofa, low table and walls of what appear to be walk-in wardrobes.
The presentation is part of the theatre of making such an illustrious purchase. Clients are made to feel comfortable and are supplied with refreshments – then the wardrobes are thrown open to reveal a vast selection of whole skins and stacks of colour samples. Examining and feeling the skins is encouraged, as is trying different combinations and standing in front of a huge mirror while holding each of the five bag styles (two new and three Vuitton classics; Milaris in second picture) in up to three sizes. The smallest can also be made in exotic skins. Trained advice is on hand at every turn, which is useful when there are eight leathers and 27 colours, along with the outer skin and lining, hardware colour, personal embossing colour and wording to be selected. Though not a bespoke service in the purest sense, with about 80,000 possible combinations it is highly unlikely that a Haute Maroquinerie creation will be replicated by anyone else.
Such precious items will become a lifelong part of some customers’ wardrobes, so no obvious logos or seasonal details are chosen. Many pick classic styles, but often do so in bright hues or to match a particular outfit. However, colours have been carefully devised so that an excruciating clash between exterior and lining is almost impossible to achieve, and there is always tactful advice to hand. Some clients, unable to decide, opt for more than one.
Each bag is handmade in Vuitton’s historic workshop at Asnières in Paris (parts awaiting assembly in first picture), where a specialist craftsman makes each stage. It takes five months for non-exotic skin bags and up to a year for exotic-skin orders. Prices start at £5,000.
The whole experience is so fascinating, it’s tempting to book twice to truly take it all in. Or, simply, to buy another handbag.