Cult issue: French bag company L/Uniform's classic utilitarian shapes fuse style and substance
It's not like L/Uniform co-founder Jeanne Signoles was in need of a designer handbag - her husband's family owns French luxury brand Goyard after all - but what she was at a loss for was something practical that she could tote everyday. 'The origin is the working bag,' she says picking up L/Uniform's 'tool' bag, reborn in treated canvas with a spot for your iPhone rather than a hammer. 'They're very light and in good materials,' she adds of her luxe approach to detailing and fabrication. 'I don't "create", it's not about creation, it is a working bag for everyday.'
With L/Uniform Signoles has reinvented classic shapes from the backpack to the duffel in utility materials including a water resistant cotton and linen canvas along with a 100 per cent cotton canvas. The latter is still used by the French Army, although under Signoles' watch it's edged in Spanish calfskin and finished with gold hardware. 'I didn't want to change anything, it is the basic one,' she says of the hardy fabric that's washable, water-repellent and stainproof.
Produced in Carcassonne in the South of France, the same area where Goyard also houses its manufacturing, L/Uniform also offers a made-to-measure service in addition to its timeless neutral colourways. Infinite combinations of canvas, leather, webbing, handles and edging colours are available through their website or Paris boutique, which means that you can colour block your own design in addition to customising it with silk-screened initials.
The brand's utilitarian simplicity has also been smartly reinterpreted within its French flagship, designed by Tokyo firm Wonderwall. 'I like forcing objects to mix so they only keep their substance,' said founder Masamichi Katayama of the project - his retail portfolio including Colette, APC and Uniqlo. 'I combine styles and influences to imagine spaces where experience and illusion blend together,' he continued of the space's cabinet de curiosity-style display cases and parquetry 'woodshop' area.
Signoles herself studied mathematics, working in aviation for Airbus before joining the family accessories fold. 'In the end, it is very complementary,' she says of her practical approach. The reasoning behind L/Uniform's inception was similarly close to home: 'We have a lot of handbags and beautiful trunks, we are very lucky like that, but because I have three children, you must take care with these bags,' she smiles. 'My daughter was ill in the car and it was a disaster with the luggage,' she recalls. 'After that you end up having one very nice and one very cheap,' she says of their travel cases. 'I wanted something that was very simple but aesthetically strict.'
Many of the brand's styles have been born from the same necessity: 'A lot of my friends have requested a bag for baby, and I say, "No way!" as they are often very ugly, so I said, "We need to find an alternative",' referring to her tool bag. As for the brand's backpack, 'I never found a good one for my children, so they use the small size as a school bag'.
Signoles' N°20 tote - keeping to the utilitarian theme all bags have a number rather than a name - similarly reworks a classic: 'My grandmother had this style for carrying her shopping,' she remembers, 'But now in France you can buy it everywhere, and it's always made in China in plastic and cotton. I had this bag, and one day I thought, "Oh my God, it's awful, I have to make something nice for every day". You cannot have a Céline bag and then when you got to the supermarket it's an awful plastic thing.'
In a industry where beach bags are now available in alligator, it's nice to know that someone is making sure that less is still more. And clearly chicer.