ZOOBEETLE Paris is a “sisters’ story”, as its founders, Elsa Lepeu and Johanna Lepeu El Iman beautifully call it. A personal touch that inherently conveys a desire to create something special, to be cherished and with a lasting importance, rather than the it-item of the season. With a background in the luxury accessory industry (Chloé, Cartier, Lancel, Boucheron), Elsa and Johanna decided to take a more personal route in launching their own accessories brand and setting out to write their own story in the fashion world. ZOOBEETLE Paris, founded in 2012, is the perfect amalgamation of family memories and values, a shared passion for travel and discovery, and a celebration of understated Parisian elegance and joie de vivre.
I had the pleasure to interview Elsa and Johanna right after they launched their new line of handbags, the Panthéon, earlier this month. We talked brand inspiration, their Hong Kong Château Zoobeetle concept store and their newest project happening soon right in the heart of the world’s fashion capital, as well as daily pleasures, movies and books.
What is the story behind ZOOBEETLE Paris? Why handbags? What does ZOOBEETLE bring new on the market?
ZOOBEETLE Paris is a sisters’ story: family is the core value of our partnership. We are very complimentary yet different! We both come from luxury industries: Chloé, Cartier, Boucheron, St Dupont and Lancel. We are really crazy with accessories – way more than garments, to be honest. It was quite natural for us to gather our different know-hows to create a leather goods maison.
ZOOBEETLE Paris stands from a desire to build something unique: light yet elegant bags that you can travel with, in a sense that every day life is a journey and your bag needs to be dedicated to that!
And what is the story behind the name of the brand?
Our logo is a little beetle – this renowned lucky charm is at the center of our story as our Mother’s Art-Deco bracelet inspired us. This golden beetle is now on every piece that we create: our own signature!
Who do you design for? Who is the ZOOBEETLE woman?
Our mothers and fathers, our friends, our sisters and brothers. Paris is always in our mind when we start to think of a new design: How would la Parisienne wear it? What does la Parisienne need? The woman who wears ZOOBEETLE Paris is in search of something unique, she travels a lot and knows the trends. However, she’s usually surprised to see a leather good brand focusing on functionality and elegance at the same time.
Do trends ever play a role in your designs?
Not really – or if it does, it is unconscious. Even though we prefer offering timeless leather goods, Elsa still follows what’s in vogue on social medias, but her inspiration is beyond everyday trends. Our clients are mostly fashionistas, but they’re not looking for the it-bag.
What is the tagline that would best describe Zoobeetle?
“Luxury Parisian Leather Goods” mixed with “Elegant Accessories to Travel With”.
If a reader were to invest in one of your bags, which one would that be?
For guys, we would recommend the Lapp Blue Paris-Chaon, which is the essential weekender bag they can carry everyday (sports gear, laptop, ipad, newspapers…). For women, the very new Misty Rose Panthéon is our favorite – for the moment! This bag is the quintessence of La Parisienne: loads of pockets, very light, elegant and versatile – you can wear it daytime to evening.
The Panthéon bag
You have opened your first concept store in Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong?
Family brought us to Hong Kong. Our brother arrived in Hong Kong a decade ago: we love our brother and we always loved visiting this vibrating city! Opening a concept store to share our Parisian Art de Vivre enhancing our Leather goods brand was quite an evidence at that time. We are really pleased to say we did the right choice.
Château Zoobeetle is aiming to bring a different kind of shopping experience, showcasing, alongside ZOOBEETLE Paris goods, jewellery, ready-to-wear and cultural items. Who are your guest brands and who curates the products available in the store?
Bringing a new shopping experience by working on the 5 senses was indeed our first aim while doing the things we always loved. One of them, for Elsa, is to reveal new designers through coups de coeur! To list some of them: Margaux Lonnberg, Atelier Paulin, Niluh, Briston, Delytra, Pure Altitude, etc.
We also develop collaborations with artists. We already exhibited two art shows in the store (with Amit Greenberg and Clet). We created a whole experience from it: happenings, limited edition leather goods, books, wine bottles etc. We are currently working on the next ones!
Are you planning to open other brick and mortar concept stores in the future? Is it important to have a direct contact with your customers?
We are working on something great that will be revealed by the beginning of 2017. One clue: it happens in the heart of Paris.
How would you describe luxury?
Elsa: Luxury is to have the choice.
Johanna: Described as a golden poney.
You have worked for prestigious accessory brands before. What drew you to this field of fashion in the first place?
Elsa: Passion and great mentors.
Johanna: Most of the Luxury Maisons are made of history, craftsmanship – sometimes really close to Art – this is what I like in those.
What has been your most incredible experience in the industry so far?
Elsa: Opening our first flagship – quite challenging and very exciting.
Johanna: The product development of a complicated bag: to be sure of its feasibility, respecting its style and obtain a reasonable price.
Do you have a favourite fashion designer?
Elsa: At the moment I am in love with Anthony Vaccarello’s last show for YSL. Accessory wise, I really like the idea behind “Loquet” and would love to create a bracelet for myself.
Johanna: I’m more into design or architecture, to be honest (Mollin, Mategot, J. Lautner, C. Perriand, Le Corbusier, to list just few of them).
There is a fascination with the French that is unparalleled. Why do French, and especially Parisian women intrigue us so much? Do French women really hold the key and have the answers to style and beauty? Is there really such a thing as a je ne sais quoi?
Being natural is something that intrigues as it is more and more rare. The “je ne sais quoi” is more about the “Whatever, I do what the fuck I want – take it or leave it” that is hard to pull and that the Parisians excels at.
What is your daily source of inspiration? Who and what inspires you?
Elsa: People I love.
Johanna: Artists, entrepreneurs, people who are in constant search for novelties – surpassing themselves.
Would you choose to create in any other place than Paris? Why/Why not?
Paris is a priority as it’s our roots and is part of who we are – although I won’t say no to other places – it is great for creativity and the experience. Travel is in our blood and we are always on a plane for work or leisure.
What does style mean to you?
Elsa: Whatever you want to be according to your mood!
Johanna: Being yourself. Elegance with a twist that makes us different.
You feel your best dressed in:
Elsa: All black and very high heels.
Johanna: Pants, high heels and a silk shirt.
You love traveling. How have your travels influenced your designs?
The smells, the colours and the cultural ways that you learn from locals – all of what gives you substance to feel (good or bad) will influence you – in fine your designs which are part of you.
What do you always carry in your travel bag?
Elsa: Quite organised – I have everything I might need: trust me, the list is long as we never know!
Johanna: my ZOOBEETLE Paris wallet, my phone, my agenda and a book. And tissues for my children!
Where would we find you when you are not working or traveling the world?
Elsa: Anywhere with friends and family.
Johanna: At home with my family – cooking, reading, listening to music.
What is your favourite thing to do in Paris and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
Elsa: Hang out with the people you love at a terrace eating frog legs – so so so cliché.
Johanna: Dinner at my best friends’ places.
One thing you can’t start your day without:
Elsa: A nice stretch.
Johanna: A hug (a word, when I’m travelling) from my sons.
Words you live by:
Elsa: Try, you have nothing to lose.
Johanna: Keep trying until it’s a success.
The last film you’ve watched and the last book you’ve read:
Elsa: The Talented Mr. Ripley and Le Coeur Cousu from Carole Martinez.
Johanna: A French dramatic movie called Mon Roi from Maïwenn, with Vincent Cassel, and the John Kennedy Toole book:A Confederacy of Dunces.
What makes you happy at the end of the day?
Elsa: A glass of wine with my sister? (ahaha) Having the feeling that your day was filled with great work and loads of achievements.
Johanna: That everyone I work with is happy + that I dealt with my daily to do + an apero with my sister for sure!!!
photos: courtesy of ZOOBEETLE Paris