Juliette Angeletti is the founder of Phi 1.618, a French leather brand inspired by the beauty of the “golden ratio.” Written as the Greek letter “phi,” the golden ratio is a ratio between two numbers that equals approximately 1.618. Enthusiasts of the golden ratio believe it is ideal because it’s common in nature and pleasing to the eye. Angeletti’s company, Phi 1.618, makes leather bags, belts, and accessories in the French savoir faire saddlery tradition.
What sort of innovation or impact were you hoping to bring to the leather goods industry when you started your business?
When I created Phi 1.618 four years ago, I had a mission – which is still the mission today – to prove that luxury and sustainability can work together. That is really the DNA of the brand.
The name of the brand is the golden ratio: 1.618. The golden ratio comes from nature, and it has been used by sculptors and artists including Phidias and Leonardo Da Vinci. Le Corbusier built la Cité radieuse close to Marseille based on the golden ratio. My sustainable creations are inspired by the golden ratio.
The second aspect of our DNA is that everything is made in France within 200 kilometers of Paris in artisan workshops. This is important to me because we have savoir faire (professional competencies learned by experience) in France and it would be bad to have our products made anywhere else in the world.
The third part of our DNA is sustainability. The leather comes from leftover stock of the French luxury maisons. I choose each of the hides. I have access to the stock because the French maisons always order bigger quantities than they immediately need to account for faults and to have enough material to reproduce certain products using the same quality and colors. If the maison doesn’t buy the leftovers after 6-9 months, the tanner is allowed to sell the hides to other people. It is a very small world, everyone knows everyone, and access is restricted. But once you have access and the confidence of the tanners, you can have access to exceptional quality materials.
I’m really not into fast fashion. I create for transmission – I create goods to last, cherished by their owners, and passed to the next generation. One of my clients bought a bag and had initials printed on it. She said they are the initials of her daughter who is 8 years old now, and when she is 18, she will receive the bag. Until then, the mother will use the bag every day. This is a story I like to tell because it’s the way I create. Transmission, long-lasting, timeless creations.
Who do you consider to be your mentors or other people in the industry who you look up to?
For mentorship in quality, I will always look up to Hermes and Delvaux because their finishes are very exceptional. They’re also the finishes I prefer. It’s called saddlery (leather options in the style of saddles and bridles).
For innovation, I’m always looking outside the leather industry. My master in innovation is nature. The golden ratio is everywhere, so I’m inspired by nature and its organic or geometric forms. That is actually my major master for innovation and creation. I create and prototype every item, so inspiration is very important.
I work with a master pleater. There are three master pleaters in France. When one firm was purchased 10 years ago by Chanel, their master pleater decided to leave and start his own firm. I work with him. He has been pleating for 40 years, mainly textiles. Imagination can go so much further when you collaborate with people and complement each other’s competences.
I have more prototypes in stock than I can make. I listen to clients – clients are my priority – and I want what I make to be useful. I don’t want to make a fashion “thing.” When clients told me repeatedly that they needed a bag for traveling and it should be soft, but they didn’t just want a tote bag, that’s why I started making a pleated bag. You can travel with it, and it folds easily. That’s how I work.
When you’re working with the pleater, are you collaborating with him closely? Does he work with you to get to the design?
My master pleater is incredibly humble. He says, “I’m not the creator, I’m not the designer. I might help with having a successful product at the end because I know the technique.” When I meet with him, I have all the forms prepared – all the shapes – and because of the golden ratio, I write everything down. I tell him where to fold the pleats. He will tell me if I have one pleat too many, and if I should reduce the number so it’s easier to fold the bag. He will suggest where to simplify, but he’s not creating. It is a collaboration. I’m thankful that he’ll work with me because he used to work with much bigger firms. It’s incredible.
What is your background and how did you get started in the industry?
I’ve been creating since I was small. Creating has always been parallel to my official work life. I studied to be an international lawyer which gave me structure. When I decided to become an artisan in leather goods and started creating, I was still working for a media firm. I started making belts because I had purchased a vintage Burberry trench coat that had no belt. So, I created a belt. People stopped me in the street to ask me where it came from, and I told them I had actually made it.
Then I created a bag, and people were doing the same. I went to a Balenciaga store and was having a look around, and the salespeople were crazy about my bag. It was then I started thinking about developing something because the DNA – Phi – was already there. I decided to launch four years ago. I was helped by so many people who were enthusiastic about the project. That helped me to bring it to reality.
Is there an architect who inspired you?
Le Corbusier because of the golden ratio. He’s not extravagant, but he’s very innovative. He really made a difference in the world of architecture.
What is the most important thing someone should know about your business that would make them interested as a customer?
What I create is timeless. What is important is quality and the fact that they will be able to have the bag in 10 years or 50 years and it won’t be out of fashion. It will be in harmony. Harmony with nature which reinforces the notion of sustainability. This is very important. When I create, I always put the harmony of the golden ratio into the bags and belts. I have clients who are really happy about that. When they have an important appointment, they will add the belt or bag to make their look timeless. I try to put my best energy into it.
Who are your typical customers and how do they learn about you?
My typical customer is a woman who knows fashion. Many of my clients are also clients of the major French luxury maisons. They can identify the quality. The difference, which is important, is that it’s something new, something fresh, and something that is not too in fashion or out of fashion.
How many of a particular bag do you make?
I only create limited editions because of the sourcing of the leather, and it depends on the leather. The orange bag – the round one – that is the bag I sell the most. I’ve made around 50. It’s never 5,000.
Do you sell in the United States?
Americans are my favorite client! They are enthusiastic when they discover the brand. They love it. They stop in front of the shop in Paris and say “wow, what is this, it’s incredible.” (Editor’s Note: This was the experience of French-American Cultural Foundation President Debra Dunn when she first discovered Phi 1.618 in Paris.) And they are thankful for the fact that we sell limited edition bags with numbers. They understand French savior faire and they know the value of it.
How can we help Americans discover your products?
I work a bit in America, but having access to that market is very expensive because of advertising. I would love to eventually have a small boutique in the states and share my passion with American customers. Until then, I appreciate the opportunity through the French-American Cultural Foundation to create exposure for my brand in the United States.