It’s 9 a.m. in New York, and Christina Zeller, in town from Brussels, is sitting down for breakfast at the Bowery Hotel, effortlessly dressed in a bold ensemble: pale pink dress, eye-catching floral brooch, and statement stilettos, the beguiling scent of perfume trailing in her path. With a woman like her at the helm, it’s immediately understandable how Delvaux, the world’s oldest name in fine leather goods, went from sleepy Belgian heritage brand to a powerhouse of modern luxury.
“When I want something, I get it,” says Zeller, whose rare trifecta of creative confidence, savvy business sense, and discerning taste previously secured her roles with Karl Lagerfeld and Riccardo Tisci. “In all the jobs I’ve had, people have requested my creative advice and intuition,” she explains. “I’m a creative soul, but with my feet firmly planted on the ground.”
Founded by Charles Delvaux in 1829, the house’s reputation for impeccable craftsmanship earned a loyal following, most notably from the royal family of Belgium, to whom it became an official purveyor. In the past few decades, however, its popularity plateaued. Zeller was brought on in 2011 as product and image director and tasked with revitalizing the company. As her first order of business, Zeller reintroduced the brand’s iconic shapes with fresh energy via joyful colors, bold exotics, and subtle design changes. There are few better examples of her success than the return of the Brillant bag, a structured handbag featuring the iconic “D” buckle. The bag, which first became popular in the 1960s, now comes in a variety of sizes and playful colors and has quietly cemented its status as an It Bag among chic sophisticates who enjoy timeless elegance trimmed with cheeky irreverence. She also recently reintroduced men’s accessories, she herself preferring to carry a men’s portfolio over a purse at the moment.
“People confuse luxury with what is expensive,” says Zeller, who was promoted to artistic director this year. “I’d rather Delvaux belong to the brand of exception. We’re about tradition, craftsmanship, and remaining discreet. We take our time to develop perfect products, which is why we never overproduce and have remained a hidden gem for so many years.”
As Delvaux enters a thriving new era under Zeller’s keen eye and firm hand, there’s no doubt she’ll continue to delight both those nostalgic for heritage and those eager for what’s new. “I consider myself an Alice in Wonderland of sorts, passing through a room that leads me to another,” she says with a laugh. “If I am able to combine fantasy with extreme quality, that is my main success.”
A print version of this story appears in The Window issue 4, Fall 2016.