Women in Business Q&A: Sophie Delafontaine, Artistic Director, Longchamp

Sophie Delafontaine works alongside all of her family members (her parents and her two brothers) as Artistic Director at Longchamp. Responsible for the image and creation across the collections of bags, leatherwear, luggage, business lines, menswear and ready-to-wear.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in the middle of a family that created, and developed, Longchamp and therefore I have always been in contact with the values of the house. Values like the know-how, the quality of the products, but also the respect of the customers and the people we are working with every day.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Longchamp?
I was with Bonpoint for four years by the side Marie-France Cohen, where I learned all the basics for my current work as an Artistic Director. I learned how to create a collection, how to tell a different story each season, how to work on color ranges and how to be concerned with specific details. As I always say the fact that it was clothes for children made the work even more meticulous. It required a higher concern about small details and, for instance, a greater attention to proportions of the cuts. All this, plus the fact that I have been working by the side of my father at Longchamp, have helped me immensely for my current position.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Longchamp?
Clearly the landscape of the leather goods business has changed a lot over the last twenty years. The leather handbag has changed from a role of functional, and practical, product to a fashion element playing a key role as in the silhouette. The fact that the leather handbag dethroned the ready-to-wear became a true challenge for the house, and the teams, on how to support the development of this evolution. All the while making sure Longchamp not only remains the house with a true know-how, and produces great quality products, but also is the house that's always innovating, creating and proposing fashion oriented collections.

What is the secret to Longchamp's success?
Our ability to react quickly when leather goods became so fashion oriented but also, at the same time, keep our values like know-how and quality. The fact that Longchamp is a family business helped us to make long term, permanent decisions with development perspectives for the company instead of a big revolution and then nothing... Longchamp has always, and will continue to be an "always on the move" house.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in a creative business?
My advice would be to always be curious and interested, to be open-minded to the world and the universes surrounding us. Nowadays the world tends to be oversaturated and it is important to be sensitive to architecture, design, music and cinema as well as to the evolutions of society. You also need the ability to reinvent and question yourself permanently and to restart from zero with a new story for a new collection each season.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Being a mother of three helps keep your feet firmly on the ground... I always dedicate my weekends to my children. We do things they like (watching a soccer match for example) but also try to make them discover things I like, like going to an art exhibition. Of course, it requires to be well organized and structured and it also requires a cooperative husband and a reliable mobile phone.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe finding and maintaining the right balance between your professional and personal life without feeling guilty. It is when you start to feel guilty that, at times, become hesitant in decision making ... I believe the children will be happier with a mother having a well-balanced life that fulfills her.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
The mentorship of my father, with whom I started to work with at Longchamp in 1995, has helped me significantly to make a difference in my personal and professional life. He taught me key life values such as love, family, work, and rigor. At the same time, I learned everything about working at Longchamp from him; from his knowledge of leathers, to the necessity of being rigorous in your work, and never putting style/fashion ahead of functionality. He lives on every day by my side and keeps a caring eye on what I do. My father's confidence in me has always bolstered my motivation and made me work harder in order to keep Longchamp the success that it is.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Any female leader in the medical and scientific research fields working for a better world, without hesitating to take risk to move forward, like physicist and chemist Marie Curie. I also admire great sportswomen who achieved incredible exploits with great passion like British navigator Ellen McArthur.

What do you want Longchamp to accomplish in the next year?
I'd like to keep surprising our customers by introducing new lines into the collection as well as creating innovations on the existing ones. Also, to continue to evolve our men's handbag collections.