Hong Kong leather goods maker Olivier Dauchez talks luxury and his noble French roots
Frenchman who first came to Hong Kong in 1996 talks about opening his own store and workshop in the city, the meaning of luxury, and the importance of having his craftsmen on site
“I spent my childhood in my mother’s castle in the Loire Valley in central France. We had a music room on the ground floor, three different living rooms with various paintings, large-scale and intricate tapestries, and beautifully carved wooden furniture. Being surrounded by all these objects made me very interested in learning how they were made. I believe it was here that I acquired my first taste of luxury products.
Although the castle is very beautiful and you are in a wonderful environment that looks like a museum, living inside one is not as glamorous as people might think. There are a lot of big rooms, so it’s very cold in winter and difficult to warm up. One memory I have as a small child was being afraid of the life-sized suits of armour standing along the walls of the castle. The worst part was having to walk along a long corridor to get to a bathroom, with the suits of gilded armour on either side – it was frightening.
There were, of course, some good memories as well. I remember that my sister and I used to play a lot with an antique wooden carriage, the type that important people would sit on and have people carry. It was only later as an adult that I realised how precious the piece was, but as a child you don’t realise this and just play with it for fun.
There are a lot of noble families in France. Personally, I am the descendant of a French noble family that originated in the 13th century. That said, because we are related to the king’s family, we are what I would call regular nobles. We are in charge of taking care of our geographical area, but nothing more.
But what is interesting about my upbringing was the education I received. I was taught to be very comfortable with the prime minister as well as the farmer from next door. It is our philosophy to treat people equally, and with the same dignity and respect.
The first time I came to Hong Kong was in 1996. Originally, I came here by chance, and was only supposed to stop by for three days as part of a transit to Vietnam. But within 24 hours, I somehow managed to land a job offer, and I stayed.
After living in Hong Kong for three years, I eventually stumbled into the luxury leather goods industry. I went back to France for a year, and someone managed to secure a job in the leather business. I didn’t know anything at that time about this discipline, so I was taught briefly and travelled to a few very high-end ateliers and factories in France to learn about leather work.
The formal training period itself was only a couple of months, as I only needed to be able to recognise the basics of how to make a good bag, understand what materials to buy, and how to recognise a good factory from a bad one.
But it was the 20 years after that I learned more, and eventually started my own company to help big brands to develop and manufacture their leather products in this part of the world.
I have a grandfather who made luxury silk scarves. Because he was making scarves for big brands, he was always appreciated and well-remembered by the people who worked for him for 40 years. Even after he passed away, many of his workers were still talking about him very fondly. In this sense, my grandfather has inspired me to believe that I too can do something good for other people.
This is really the seed that helped me start D’Auchel – my grandfather’s close relationship with his workers, I saw the value of placing the artisans in our workshop right next to our retail space. This way, our craftsmen can establish a connection with other people.
And as our artisans have undergone a rigorous training programme and have a minimum of 10 years’ working experience, we are proud to show their expertise to everyone.
Of course our production capacity may not be as big or as profitable as a multinational company. But through this arrangement, I can make the best quality and show my clients what luxury is really about.
We can offer women not only the experience of buying a bag, but also a chance to use all their senses. They can see, touch and smell the leather, they can choose the leather type, thread and colour, and work with our team to create a product that is personal to them. Our customers can also ask our artisans any questions. When the product is finished and they pick up the bag, in a way it’s kind of like meeting your own newborn.
Right now, our first store has two craftsmen and I hope to have another two by the end of this year. If I need to increase production, I will have to open up another shop and try to find a similar retail-atelier arrangement.
I will never compromise on the quality of our bags by outsourcing them.
Our brand means that all products are made in the atelier, which is an integral part of the retail experience. Whatever you see by D’Auchel is made here in this shop.
Even if we have D’Auchel in Beijing or Paris, it is important that we have ateliers and retail shops in those specific cities, side by side.”