The Longchamp tote bag is being sported by the Hollywood A-list

Unbelievably, more than 31 million of the bags have now been sold globally – not bad for a family-run business which started out in 1948 selling small leather goods for men.

So just how did the Longchamp foldable tote take over the world?

Celebrity aficionados clearly love them for their sheer practicality. For the A-lister on the move, no other design manages to cater for all life’s eventualities and yet still look effortlessly elegant.

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Bake off queen Mary Berry is a fan of the tote and wore a medium sized black handbag to match her coat

The beauty of Le Pliage (which means ‘folding’ in French) is that it folds down into a neat rectangle secured by the leather flap, making it perfect for stashing in a smarter handbag for times when you need to carry a few extra bits and bobs. The Duchess of Cornwall and Mary Berry never seem to travel without one and actress Katie Holmes uses hers for gym kit.

It’s a godsend for mothers, too – the fabric wipes clean and is water resistant. Amy Adams isn’t the only Hollywood mother to be seen out and about with a child in one arm and a long-handled Longchamp in the other. Although only the stylishly single can plump for a white one like those carried by Pippa Middleton and Alexa Chung.

For the globe-trotting fashionista, meanwhile, the rainbow of colours on offer is a simple way of colour coding belongings. Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes has confessed in Vogue that she has several foldable Longchamps.

‘The smaller ones in bright colours were not so much to go with my clothes (although I am partial to purple, wine-red and turquoise). It is rather because I must know in a microsecond which bag I am grabbing each morning: the one with my laptop? With my show shoes? Or with the iPad?’

Meanwhile, for those of us who own only one, the bags have proved a welcome riposte to the eye-wateringly expensive Bag published by Laurence King bags of the Noughties, which cost almost as much as a family holiday.

‘Instantly recognisable, this is a designer handbag with a very modest price tag,’ says Sue Huey, trend forecaster at Stylus Fashion and co-author of Bag. ‘It is such a popular bag because of its refined simplicity.

‘Whilst its primary material is nylon, its use of leather trim gives it a luxe look and feel. It’s durable and incredibly versatile. And its endless colour range and size options means it’s a style often purchased more than once. It’s a transitional piece that’s functional enough for shopping, yet smart enough for dinner.’

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The Longchamp is fast becoming the favourite of celebrity mums like January Jones and Kate Middleton

The first Le Pliage was sold in 1993. It was developed by head of the family firm, Philippe Cassegrain, who wanted to create a practical yet stylish fold-up bag inspired by Japanese paper-folding art, origami.

He hoped to create luxe accessories for female customers. And so he did, although at first, the bag was the close-guarded style secret of Parisiennes.

It was a chic French friend who introduced me to the bag eight years ago. She had a couple in the car for her weekly shop. When I asked her what they were, she showed me and I was green with envy. They certainly knocked the spots off the plastic bags in my boot.

Then the Sloanes caught on and Longchamp Le Pliage moved up a notch from emergency shopper to everyday handbag. Kate Middleton was one of the early converts. Her love of the bag (these days she appears to have most sizes, from small shopper to overnight travel bag) dates back to her student days at St Andrews.

She even had a small brown Longchamp Outlet swinging from her wrist when she graduated in June 2005.

Whereas once she no doubt just threw in a purse, lipstick and diary, these days her favourite carry-all is proving more useful for carting George and Charlotte’s toys about.

However, Le Pliage really started to go mainstream during the economic downturn, due to its affordability and discreet branding. Sales will no doubt now be boosted by the new 5p charge for plastic bags, too.

Having emerged as a modern woman’s must-have, it’s perhaps no surprise Longchamp is keen to turn the practical little bag into a lifestyle concept.

And so there is now a Longchamp Bag Woman ready-to-wear clothing range, a shoe collection and, last year, to mark the 21st anniversary of the nylon original, a luxury leather version – and so it was that the bag that was a refreshing change from pricey designer bags gave birth to the super-expensive Le Pliage Heritage, which starts at £680. Mad Men actress January Jones has been spotted with one.

How things can so quickly come full circle – but still, I defy you not to lust after it.

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It’s also worth noting there’s a more affordable leather range called Le Pliage Cuir, with prices starting at £145 for a practical cross-body bag – and all the bags in this range still fold up even though they’re entirely made of leather. The nylon original, meanwhile, can now be personalised, meaning you can choose your own colours, as well as handle lengths (some like long, I like short), three types of zips and so on.

Of course, as with any fashion fad, the counterfeit trade in Le Pliage totes is a threat to the brand and a real temptation to consumers. One friend guiltily admits that she picked up two for £4 each in a Turkish market on holiday. ‘They’re not as good quality but it’s hard to tell the difference from a distance,’ she says. Such is the extent of the problem with fakes, Le Pliage devotees have come up with a detailed checklist to help consumers quickly spot a fake.

Look closely and the leather used by Longchamp has a diamond pattern, whereas the fakes tend to have a fish-scale design.

On the reverse side of the leather flap, look out for an indent of the brand logo (a jockey on a horse) as counterfeit copies don’t usually have this. Also, the handle should be flat and the stitching in a beige thread not white.

So what is next for the Le Pliage? Trend forecasters say it’s now time for men to adopt. It’s already happening in Milan, where uber-stylish chaps are carrying them in fetching shades of lemon and coral.

I’ll have to put one on my husband’s Christmas present list – and if he doesn’t want to use it, I know someone who will …

For Longchamp Outlet entire fashion collection starts with handbags

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Longchamp Men’s Racing document holder from the Racing collection brings an energetic, timeless feel to men’s bags.

LOS ANGELES — Long-champ, the traditional French luxury accessories and clothing brand famous for its nylon Le Pliage bags, touched down in Los Angeles recently to celebrate its decade-long relationship with the eccentric fashion designer Jeremy Scott.

Over the years, Longchamp has let Scott use Le Pliage as a canvas for a number of limited-edition designs inspired by his self-named ready-to-wear collections. The highly collectible bags have featured eye-popping graphics including brightly colored piles of pills, 1980s Madballs characters, Zodiac symbols and retro postcard images. A $370 “Greetings from Hollywood” design was released to coincide with the LA celebration and anniversary.

Founded by the late Jean Cassegrain in 1948, Long-champ is still a family business 60-plus years later, run by the second and third generations. Creative Director Sophie Delafontaine and Chief Executive Jean Cassegrain (the founder’s grandchildren) talked about the brand’s heritage, including the back story behind their father Philippe Cassegrain’s origami-like Pliage design, which debuted in 1993. Here are the takeaways.

Longchamp started with pipes, not bags — and even Elvis was a fan.

“A lot of young men were smoking pipes at the time, and a lot of Americans were coming through Paris after World War II. At some point, Elvis Presley must have been through Paris and purchased the pipe,” Cassegrain said. “The name of the store was not Longchamp Outlet at first. It was a tobacconist, selling cigarettes, cigars, lighters and stuff like that. My grandfather was successful supplying the GIs in Paris, but when they went home he was left with an excess. So to give his pipes an identity, he decided to cover them in leather and stamp them with the Longchamp name, after the racetrack in Bois de Boulogne, since another company was already using the name Cassegrain.” In the 1950s, the company expanded into leather goods, then luggage and eventually handbags and ready-to-wear.

More than 30 million Longchamp Le Pliage bags have been sold worldwide, and it takes more than 100 steps to make each one.

A tote that folds flat, Le Pliage (French for “the folding”) comes in a range of sizes and fabrics including leather, nylon and canvas, all accented with a signature leather oval that snaps over the leather handles. On the brand’s website, you can customize your Pliage by choosing colors and monograms.

“Our father was the first person to have the idea to make luggage from nylon. And the first nylon he used was the nylon used by the French army for the floor of their tents. It was khaki-colored,” Cassegrain explained.

Longchamp makes clothing to accessorize its bags, not the other way around.

“I started with six or seven pieces — coats, jackets, very simple,” Delafontaine said. “Season after season, the collection has grown, and now we also have shoes. I always start by designing the handbag collection first, which is different from most brands.”

Hermes is not the only luxury goods brand hand-making bags in France; Longchamp does it too.

Longchamp has six factories in France, mostly in the Loire Valley region. Half of what the company makes is done there, and half is done outside. “It’s difficult to automatize the making of handbags, so a lot of it is manual,” Cassegrain said. “Hermes is quite unique, insofar as the same person makes an entire bag. Even brands like Vuitton and Chanel don’t work like that. But the know-how of our workshops is impressive.”

“For the 20th anniversary of Le Pliage, we created the Pliage Heritage, a version of the bag in full leather,” Delafontaine said. “The opposite of foldable nylon, it is very structured. And I was pleased to work with our team on it to show all the qualities we have at our fingertips.”