Maison Maes: Fine, French Vegan Luxury

French luxury? Sure, we all know about that. French vegan luxury? Well, Maison Maes is a bit of a pioneer in that area

By Chere Di Boscio

French luxury has long been a thing. Way back from the days of the French aristocracy, it was well known that the best clothing artisans in the world came from that country. Indeed, haute couture itself originated in France. Still today, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture is the regulating commission that determines which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses. And French fashion is so well crafted, vintage labels from Paris can actually fetch more money than new.

But here’s the thing.

A lot of French brands aren’t very conscious. They’re not very transparent when it comes to how and from where they source their materials. And even worse, they tend to use a lot of leather, fur and other cruel animal products.

But not Maison Maes.

This is one French luxury brand that’s actually vegan. Yep, that’s right: no animal products are used in their accessories whatsoever. But that’s not all! The label is sustainable, too.

Want to learn more? Read on!

Maison Maes: French vegan luxury at its best

French vegan luxury brands

First of all, why do you think French fashion so recognised for its quality?

France has a long history of luxury and high quality. It goes back as far as Louis XIV, the Sun King. Colbert, serving as the King’s First Minister of State at the time, played a significant role in creating the French luxury industry when he started developing royal manufactures and this culture of excellence. He made France gather the best craftsmen and craftswomen in Europe and develop exceptional techniques. 

And later on, French artists and designers took this tradition of quality and craftsmanship and put their art and emotions into it. For us, this is the very definition of French Luxury. It is savoir-faire put at the service of emotions.

So back to the question. We believe people know quite well how important quality and craftsmanship have always been to French fashion, and they value it for all the emotions it triggers.

Do you think French luxury highly considered when it comes to leather work, too?

Yes. There is a long-standing tradition of high-end leather work in France. The end of the 19th century  saw the emergence of Hermès, Vuitton and a few other like Goyard. Fierce competition has fueled innovation in techniques and a constant search for ever higher quality. 

This was the setting stone of French leather work excellence. And we have to be thankful to those prestigious luxury houses, as they have created and maintained this incredible level of excellence. We all aim at absolute quality, because at some point they taught us how beautiful it is to reach it.

Why do you think there are so few French vegan luxury brands?

Among luxury brands, there have never been any, except for Stella McCartney. She has positioned the brand as vegan. For quite some time, offering vegan bags and accessories also meant using petrochemicals alternatives to leather. So one might question whether it was a real improvement, from a sustainability standpoint, compared to traditional materials.
We needed new plant-based options for French vegan luxury to become a reality. This is why putting exceptional craftsmanship to good use by applying it to innovative vegan alternatives to leather is really new. We are very happy, at Maison Maes, to be among the very first to offer French vegan luxury bags and accessories.
And we are doing it while also bringing a significant improvement to the environmental impact of our industry, which is also part of our ambition. Plant-based innovation is getting stronger and stronger. We are only a the beginning of our journey, and we will keep improving our techniques and our materials to go even further in the emotions we trigger.

What kinds of French artisans does Maison Maes employ?

We have 3 partner workshops that help us bring our vision to life. All the artisans there have been trained by the best. They have developed their skills for years to reach excellence. All of them share a deep and genuine passion for their craft. Some of them have even taken after their parents, working in the same workshops where their mother or father used to work. 

We have a lot of attachment to each and every one of them. We respect the hard work, passion and dedication they put in our bags and small vegan leather goods. Together with them, we can take the time needed to deliver true quality and durability. They help us do beautiful, perfectly crafted products that will last for a long time.

What are your thoughts on large French luxury brands sending their goods to China for manufacturing?

To be honest, it is the first time we hear of such a trend. 

What we saw over the last 3 years (and the Covid pandemic even accelerated this trend) is a fast-growing demand for made-in-France luxury leather goods. We even saw some French brands manufacturing in Italy (another country with a strong tradition of leather craftsmanship) now looking for opportunities to relocate their production in France.

French craftsmanship is valued more than ever by consumers looking for authentic luxury and savoir-faire. It seems to us durability is valued more and more, and it is not as much just about the fame and marketing power of the brand as it used to be. 

As a result, workshops are stretched thin with this unprecedented demand. We are very happy to have built strong and sincere relationships with our partner workshops that allow us to secure the quality of our products.

If some large French luxury brands are doing this, it is not a trend we would ever consider following. Maybe they have their reason, and they can try to justify it. But whatever these reasons are, we would certainly not agree with them.

In an age of increasing automation and 3D fashion printing, how can we best preserve artisanal fashion traditions to maintain their exceptional reputations?

At Maison Maes we are very attached to innovation. When it comes to materials or jewellery, we are always looking for innovations, as long as they are “positive” and bring an improvement on our sustainability journey.  

But this does not mean we are not attached to tradition. Actually, it is pretty much the opposite. We want to shake tradition up a little bit, so it stays relevant and addresses the real challenges of our time. 

We believe people value the fact that we offer contemporary tradition in fashion. As soon as you automate too much, then you lose authenticity and somehow a part of your soul. Look at an iPhone, a Tesla. These are beautiful products, charged with innovation and technology. But do they trigger emotions? Not so much. They lack the soul and life that artisans put in the products they make. 

French vegan luxury brands

How did you choose the vegan materials for Maison Maes bags?

It took us almost 2 years to find a material that had a very good environmental impact and with which we could deliver high quality products. With the materials we selected we have been able to reduce the carbon footprint of traditional bags and small leather goods by 60 to 80% . So, from a sustainability standpoint, we are very happy about our debut collection, the M1 line. 

What was the priority in choosing fabrics: luxury or sustainability?

From the start we always wanted both! And this is why it is so difficult. You see a few brands starting to use innovative materials but lacking the quality of high-end French craftsmanship. This is why luxury brands have been very careful. Because delivering both sustainability and high-quality is quite the challenge. You have to show patience, curiosity and relentlessness in trying new things until you find the right match to deliver both.

Luckily, there are quite a few innovative materials coming to the market. Apple, grape and cactus leather has been on the market for 2-3 years now. Mycelium leather is coming, with great promises. We tested almost all of them, but very few allowed us to make high-quality products. And as we said earlier, luxury means high-quality. So, we had to try new materials over and over until we found the right one to start our collection.

How do you see the French vegan luxury industry becoming more sustainable in the future?

For us it has been a lot of communication and a lot of low-hanging fruits so far, but we see the industry is finally starting to tackle the right issue, which is the impact of the products themselves and with them the most impacting part, the materials they are made of.

Luxury has been a bit protected from consumer expectations because of its high-quality reputation so people would think “how could a luxury product made of the finest garment or leather ever harm our planet”. But we believe we all came to realize that this is much more complex than that and even luxury brands must show more transparency and improve.

So ultimately, how would you define French vegan luxury?

We said at the beginning luxury is “quality at the service of emotions”. And French fashion is at the point of realizing that being sustainable is also a strong provider of positive emotions. This is why for us at Maison Maes we always believed that true French vegan luxury is now “quality and sustainability at the service of positive emotions”. 

Do you have any experience of French vegan luxury brands? Let us know in the comments, below.

Chere Di Boscio
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