A few weeks ago, when writing about Callot Soeurs, I was contacted by Marcela Calvet of the Maison Calvet. She informed me of the fascinating connection between the Callot Soeurs and Maison Calvet that I was not aware of. Callot Soeurs, a couture house founded by four sisters in 1895, was purchased by the house of Calvet. In 1928, the House of Calvet had made a partial acquisition of the label, completing its total acquisition in 1937. Marcela was gracious enough to allow me to interview her about the House of Calvet, for which she currently designs a line of heritage handbags.
Q) I really had no idea that Callot Soeurs was purchased by the Maison Calvet in 1937. Can you provide a brief background on the Maison Calvet? I personally am not familiar with this Maison and find it very intriguing!
A) Back in the late 1920’s the Callot Soeurs had expressed their desire to expand their successful fashion label and thus, they sought out the capital investment of a serious company that would not be necessarily associated with the fashion industry — to avoid a take-over or competition. And so they approached the revered Maison Calvet which since 1819 was one of the most important and successful wine empires in the Bordeaux region of France (today it continues to be the 4th largest producer of French wine).
Calvet therefore infused the capital investment the Callot Soeurs label needed to expand their presence and open boutiques in key markets around the world: London, Buenos Aires, Biarritz, as well as to expand their couture and perfume lines while also allowing for the label to have exotic skin handbags made to order for their esteemed and exclusive clients. By the early 1930’s the Callot sisters had decided to retire and have the son of one of them run the fashion house.
This was not exactly the best move for it almost brought the label to ruin. Calvet therefore saved the label by acquiring the remaining stock in the company while sustaining not only the prestige and name of the famed label intact, but also their loyal designers and employees. The label under the leadership of Calvet continues to expand and succeed in the competitive world of fashion,while forming key partnerships with several other prestigious labels like Hermes, Rochas, Patou, Fath, Balenciaga, Nina Ricci, to name a few. An invaluable partnership that would ultimately pull all of them through the horrors of WWII, to surface victorious once the war was over.
Q) During the 1930s, right before WWII, many Paris based fashion houses were aggressively marketing in South America. Is this what launched and continued the Maison Calvet which is now in Buenos Aries?
A) Indeed, the wealthy population of South America and of Argentina in particular (before WWII), were accustomed to travel to Paris to acquire their best couture. This made it clear to the Parisian fashion houses that having a presence in such key markets was paramount, and thus, several of them began to open boutiques there. In Buenos Aires, where the majority of the population was of European descent and whose customs were decidedly European, this was a successful move for the fashion industry. Already in existence in Buenos Aires was the only HARRODS department store outside of London. The Parisians knew that the time to act and open their own boutiques there was of the essence; and Callot Soeurs was one of the first to do this.
Q) Your handbags are exquisite! What is your design process? Do you consult a historical archive to draw on the heritage of the brand?
A) Since I began to lead the new CALVET label, I realised how important the history behind the brand was and thus my mission has been to keep the traditional values that made the original label so iconic. That means: exquisite design, superior expert craftsmanship, use of the very best materials and to provide the best customer service experience in order to purvey the same level of luxury for which the label was famous. In regards to the particular designs I create for our handbags, I am fortunate to be able to draw from my background in Psychology as well as from our historical archives. From the perspective of Psychology, I design with the awareness that a handbag has to elicit an emotion. This emotion has to be the right one from the viewpoint of the person considering the design. And from our historical archives, the fact that there are several vintage designs created by CALVET still in existence and in pristine condition allows me to gain inspiration as these are true works of art. In this manner I recreate some of their best features in my new designs, and our clientele appreciates this very much.
Q) On your website, it says you honor the traditional methods of craftsmanship. Can you tell us a little more about your process? This is a great insight into what makes a Calvet bag a must have.
A) When the CALLOT label first opened its Buenos Aires boutique, they had also opened an atelier where the made-to order handbags would be made utilising the best in Argentine leathers and exotic skins. At this atelier only the most skilled craftsmen and women who possessed the know-how that had been passed down by the Italian masters who had immigrated to Argentina since the 19th century, were employed. They were artisans who possessed not only superior skills but also a great Sense of aesthetics to create the incredible pieces they did; and most importantly, they had a genuine passion for their craft. The Calvet atelier in Buenos Aires follows this tradition to this day.
What makes a Calvet handbag a “must have”? We pride ourselves in the fact that we love what we do and we spare no detail when it comes to our luxury lines. From the initial sketches I create to the finished product it is all there. That means, Argentine calf leather lining the interior of each exotic skin handbag, protecive brass feet when the design allows; the best Italian solid brass hardware.
In terms of aesthetics: the elegant design that is not just avant-garde but practical at the same time. The use of tanning methods that are
eco-friendly, the use of natural dyes that are not harmful to the environment and are better for the skin or leather. The creation of special colours and shades that make our handbags stand out. From a consumer-oriented perspective, our promise that a Calvet handbag is a solid investment to be passed down to the next generation. The proof is the vintage Calvet bags that can still be found in perfect condition after 70 years of life. This same principle applies to the new Calvet handbag. We are “Art-A-Porter” !
Q) What are a few of your favorite handbags for this fall from your line?
A) I think all of my handbags are favourites! I adore each and every one of them! What I find so encouraging is that our clients often communicate how happy they are with their handbags and how much they love them. Several have even admitted that their Calvet handbags are their favourites in their wardrobe! As a designer with a mission, that is what fulfills me. When a customer says that to me, it means that I am doing precisely what I set out to do: to provide a product that through its beautiful features and quality brings happiness to those who have placed their trust in our brand.
Calvet was recently the recipient of the 2011 BEST OF RHODE ISLAND award. For more information, or to order, please visit MarcelaCalvet.com