Olympia le-Tan and the world's coolest book club

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Designer Olympia le-Tan's literary luggage is an A-list favourite – she tells Harriet Walker about her new collaboration with Lancôme

It isn't often that the A-list champions anything as edifying or wholesome as classic literature. But designer Olympia le-Tan, 36, has changed all that – thanks to her idiosyncratic framed clutch bags, there's now only one red-carpet accessory to be seen with, and that's a book. They're officially no longer just for nerds.

“I've always been obsessed with books,” she tells me. “I grew up in a house where the walls were all books. My father has a very big collection of old books and I was always attracted by the nice graphic covers. I think that's what inspired me.”

Le-Tan's latest project – alongside developing her accessories label into a line of ready-to-wear clothing that takes inspiration from the chosen themes of the books and their covers – has been to collaborate with Lancôme, producing a limited edition of her classic and characteristic book-bag to celebrate the first anniversary of the make-up brand's Rouge in Love range of lipsticks and nail varnishes.

“It's a fake book,” she smiles, “and the title is 'Rouge in Love'. I designed the cover of it myself, an imaginary story.”

The minaudière (how the French refer to a cosmetics case) contains six shades of lipstick in varying pink, reds and corals, as well as six shades of nail polish, while the box itself can be used as an evening bag too (which is lucky, since it costs £995). Le-Tan's preppy-princess stylings sit rather well with the line, given that the face of it is the well-read actress Emma Watson, herself famous for having brought to life one of children's literature's most famous characters in Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter franchise. (Incidentally Watson herself has one of Le-Tan's Rouge in Love bags, meaning there are only 99 numbered editions left.)

“I've been wearing red lipstick since I was about 15,” says Le-Tan of the varying hues of incarnadine within – her favourites are Rouge Valentine for lips and Rose Plumetis for nails. “I love red lipstick – I just think it makes the mouth pop out. It's a beauty classic.

“I researched some lipstick ad campaigns from the Thirties and Forties, very elegantly decorated with hands and lips and kisses,” she continues. “And then I put a book on the book, with lips coming out of the pages and hands holding the book, so I could show off all the different colours of nail varnish. It's all very pink and surreal!”

There is something of the great Schiaparelli in Le-Tan's fusion of style and surrealism with bright colours and modish metaphor. It's that same sense of wit that has meant her bags have become such status symbols among the cognoscenti – they're a nudge and a wink, a knowing joke, and a profession of cult cool.

“They appeal to lots of different types of people,” she says. “People who like books, people who like fashion, people who like handmade things – it's more an object than a fashion piece. We do commissions – people can come with their favourite book that they want to have made. Some of them get declined because they're not good-looking enough – the book, I mean, not the person!” She laughs. “Although I won't do Paolo Coelho, you can totally quote that,” she insists.

Born in Paris to an English mother and a French illustrator father, Le-Tan studied Italian literature at university in London, before dropping out and attending art school in Paris. Her first internship, at the age of 19, was within the hallowed Chanel design studio under the designer Gilles Dufour, assistant to Karl Lagerfeld. It was a plunge into the deep end that eventually became full-time employment.

“It was a long time ago, but you learn a lot. I've always liked drawing and making things,” she remembers. “Chanel was a really good school – everything's very well organised, but you're not allowed to make any mistakes. When Gilles left to go to Balmain, I went with him – and then we all got fired.”

The problem was a series of T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as “bitch” and “whore” presented as part of Balmain's autumn 2000 collection, comparatively tame given today's standards, but enough to have Dufour and his team – including Le-Tan – ejected from their posts.

“My boyfriend at the time had done that T-shirt for us, so I felt a bit guilty. I worked with Gilles on his own label, and then I sort of needed a break. I took a few years off, just making my own little bags at home, and I was DJing a bit too.”

It was during this time on the circuit as one of the Parisian beau monde that Le-Tan made her first book clutch; she is now in her fifth season of producing them. The boxy skeletons are made from brass, wrapped in cotton canvas, which is embroidered and painted with the cover designs, and lined internally with Liberty print – something that betrays her English roots, says Le-Tan.

“I find them quite impractical,” she laughs, “but I still use them. You can get a lipstick, keys, a phone, cigarettes in the larger one. What more do you need? In the mini one, it's a bit of a squeeze. The smaller one was originally made for an actress for the red carpet, and nobody puts anything in their bags then anyway – it's all for show.” That actress was Marion Cotillard, but Le-Tan's book clutches have quite the celebrity fanbase. As you might expect, it's a certain sort of actress that chooses to walk the red carpet or pose for the paparazzi with a book in their hands. Michelle Williams took The Catcher in the Rye to the Oscars with her; Natalie Portman has been spotted with Lolita, and French star Clémence Poésy opted for La Belle et la Bête. Intellectual heavyweight Tilda Swinton chose the children's book Ant and Bee by Angela Banner.

“It has to be a good book and it has to have a good cover,” Le-Tan says of her design process. “The first collection was all my favourites – 1984, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter... And since then, I've been working on themes – black music, corruption, disease… I've read probably 80 per cent of the books I do, although I read so much less now, because I'm so busy!”

Despite her jet-set lifestyle, Le-Tan refuses to buy a Kindle – she cackles at this question anyway because, as she points out, an e-reader wouldn't fit into one of her diminutive clutch bags. “I just think a book is such a nice object to have – and to have on your bookshelves.”

The Rouge in Love minaudière, launched cunningly in time for Valentine's Day and the attendant profusion of all things pink, will ensure Olympia le-Tan's name spreads even further than her current, somewhat rarefied, book club – her designs are stocked on the website Net-A-Porter and are, at any given time, likely to be for the most part sold out. Given that each clutch sells for around £950, that's quite an achievement.

“I wasn't really aiming at intellectuals but I'm glad it happened. I guess I'd rather have Tilda holding one than Kim Kardashian… I personally think books are cool, so if it helps make other people think books are cool, then… Cool!”

The Olympia le-Tan for Lancôme Rouge in Love minaudière is available now, exclusively at Harvey Nichols, harveynichols.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: PSHE Teacher required in Devon - Star...

    SEN Teacher (Primary)

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Primary Teacher required Devon

    SEN PPA Cover Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Teacher Jobs in Devon Devon

    BSL Level 2 or above - Behaviour Support Assistant

    £50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are looking for Teaching ...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor