Le Pin Drops, Again


For the typical woman, finding the perfect handbag can be as elusive as finding a cab in the rain. It takes a bit of magic to find an accessory that can house your entire life and still be called something close to chic. Solange Schwennicke, the former CEO of the Delvaux leather company, doesn’t just search for these rare specimens—she creates them. Schwennicke, who took over Delvaux in 1970 after the death of her husband Patriarch, was the designer of the original Le Pin handbag. The squared leather purse introduced in 1972 was the world’s first “bucket” bag; it was so influential that one can still see different knock-offs and copycat versions swinging from the shoulders of stylish girls today.

Schwennicke came up with the idea for a practical handbag while on a vacation to Tunisia. As she watched horse-drawn carriages go by, Schwennicke was taken with the deceptively simple canvas bags used to feed the animals. “Such wonderful allure and elegance in its simplicity,” said Schwennicke in an e-mail. “It occurred to me to create a handbag for every day use, simple and functional.”

When Schwennicke returned to Belgium, she asked the Delvaux ateliers to transform the rough-and-tumble canvas bags into something befitting the Delvaux clientele. The result is the luxurious and secretly handy Le Pin bag. The tailor-made bags have been a favorite of the European set for decades, with their most famous fan being Princess Stephanie of Monaco, who toted her favorite Le Pin in her 1986 music video for “Comme Un Ouragan.”

Founded in 1829, Delvaux is the world’s oldest standing leather goods company—beating out rival Hermès by eight years. However, it is only as the company reached its 180th anniversary that it got around to making its favorite handbags available stateside, exclusively at Barneys New York.

For Schwennicke, now retired, the company and the Le Pin have only gotten better with age. While Schwennicke passed the baton to her son in 1995, she remains an indelible force at Delvaux. “I was like the Mother Superior, and when Mother Superior laughs, the entire convent laughs,” said Schwennicke. “I feel a certain pride, to see the House go through the decades, trends and fashions with the objective to try and continue to do things differently.”

King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, then Prince and Princess, with ‘Mon Grand Bonheur’ bag when they married in 1959. Photos courtesy Delvaux