Founded in 1910, Maison Leleu, specialist furniture makers with worldwide renown, ended production in 1973. 45 years later, Alexia Leleu (M09) left the pharmaceutical industry to revive the family business. A radical change of scene – which she reveals to us on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour.
EA: Why did you choose to relaunch the family business now?
A. Leleu: I’ve only really appreciated the importance of the Maison Leleu in art history since becoming an adult. Since then I’ve felt it my duty to preserve what is an exceptional heritage - while also wanting to put my own mark on it. I accept this contradiction: it’s a sign of the times. We’re both eager for new technologies and keen to return to our roots – to meaning and values.
EA: How do you revive a house that’s been sleeping for 45 years?
A. Leleu: First of all I had to reinvent myself as a private detective. I had to carry out a genuine investigation to find the archives and original drawings, and to understand why the Maison Leleu closed its doors… An unpaid bill by the Shah of Iran…
Next, I signed up at the École Boulle to study the history of art, furniture, lifestyle and habitats. I also read up on intellectual property, and learned to use Photoshop and Illustrator.
Once this was done, I thought about my strategy. Firstly, to respect the history of the Maison Leleu on which the brand reputation depends. Secondly, to ensure the quality of what we manufacture and position ourselves in the luxury sector. Thirdly, to integrate modern touches, adapting colors and prints to current tastes and communicating on social media, in particular Instagram.
Finally, it’s about finding the right balance between tradition - respecting proven techniques from the past - and innovation, developing a contemporary aesthetic. A search for balance that you can see in my first collection of carpets. I called it “Itinérance” (roaming). I chose to hand-knot the carpets, following in the footsteps of my ancestors, rather than using “turf” - the automated process used by some of my competitors. And I chose 12 historic drawings that I propose both in their original coloring, and in more modern colors that I personally selected. We’ll present two examples at the Déco Off trade show in Paris, from the 15th to 22nd January at the Hotel Bel Ami.
EA: What are your plans and ambitions for the brand?
A. Leleu: I want to give the Maison Leleu the place it held before it closed, both in France and abroad. The “Itinérance” collection is a first step in this direction: the carpets are signed and numbered and will be sold in prestigious stores, and presented to famous decorators and interior designers for them to recommend to their customers.
To grow quickly I’m already exploring several paths: partnership with a large supplier, fundraising, and a search for partners. I also plan to launch my first wallpaper collection before the summer. Then expanding, perhaps, into lighting and furniture…
EA: How did you handle the transition from a 8-year career in the Bristol-Myers Squibb group to entrepreneurship?
A. Leleu: I was lucky to have a very understanding employer. Bristol-Myers Squibb is really inspired by the start-up model and aims to develop that same agility. They are very supportive of intrapreneurship. For a year they provided me with the services of an Altedia consultant, who advised me in particular on my choice of status and the creation of my business plan.
I still use all the skills I developed at Bristol-Myers Squibb: project management, sales forecasting, negotiation, transversal management… Although entrepreneurship is a continual learning process.
EA: Did your studies at ESSEC and the services provided by ESSEC Alumni help you on your journey?
A. Leleu: ESSEC gave me the foundations for managing a company. I also met exceptional alumni such as Valérie Dailly (E84) and Anis Rezigue (M14), who got me interested in entrepreneurship and encouraged me to pursue my dream.
I’m convinced that the network can have a huge impact. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find my future clients or associates among ESSEC graduates.
Interview by Louis Armengaud Wurmser (E11)
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