By Cristina Schreil
It began with purple
Katja Goetz, who took over BAM in 2011 with her husband Robert, explains that founders Laurence and Philippe de Trogoff had already forged the instrument case company from an innovative place. In building a sailboat one day nearly 40 years ago, Philippe realized the lightweight material would make a fitting shield for his guitar. Upon assuming command, Goetz recalls an urge to continue producing innovative, quality cases—but to take the company one step further.
“When we took it over [there] was a lot of black. It was a little bit old fashioned, the designs,” says Goetz, who talks with me from BAM’s home base in Normandy on France’s Atlantic coast. She adds that most cases were available only in classic dark colors—ubiquitous sights in the music world. “So we thought, ‘Why not just bring in more color and more fashionable designs?’”
Cue the first line they introduced—fashion-forward leather cases taking cues from luxury manufacturer Hermès’ Birkin bag, which sports colorful leather and white lining. They dubbed it L’Étoile—“The Star.” The line’s top shells of fine leather, sliced to reduce thickness for minimum weight, are hand sewn. There were four colors: black, a supple tan hue called cognac, a grey-beige meld named “greige,” and violet—their first step into what Goetz calls “the color world.” That ended up being a bold choice.
“I said, Let’s do a purple,” she recalls. She was thinking about female musicians, who might treat the dark plum as an alternative to black. But her idea met pushback. “Everybody really told me, ‘No, don’t do that. This will bomb.’ It was so funny because this purple is actually not such a wild color but everybody said, ‘No, don’t do color!’”
Time proved Goetz’ hunch was correct. The violet ended up being BAM’s best-performing color, even among men. To Goetz, the clouds opened. “This was kind of like a sign that we can really go into color.” L’Étoile has since added sky blue, chocolate, and bright pink options.
Looking at the lines that emerged afterward, the violet seems tame in comparison. The company’s full name is “Boîte-à-musique,” translating to “music box,” but several lines featuring bold hues and trendy patterns seem more suited to a painter’s palette. The line introduced after L’Étoile was a limited edition inspired by menswear designer Paul Smith, featuring purple and green stripes. The line La Defense features a bright orange; even its sleeker, brushed aluminum cases feature a tangerine-colored handle. Browsing BAM’s Hightech line feels like perusing nail polish, with its azure blue, pale-yellow “anise,” and “orangey” options. The limited edition “Paris” flaunts Goetz’ embrace of patterns with a rainbow houndstooth.
Though its cases sport a boutique feel, BAM’s actual output is on a larger scale. Around 50,000 cases are made each year at its factories in Bangkok and Normandy.
Challenging the Norm
Goetz understands the lasting allure—and comfort—of the black case. The traditional design is almost an expected fixture in practice rooms, music schools, and orchestras alike. “I think it’s kind of like, ‘I just want to be in the group’ or ‘I don’t want to be very flashy,’” she muses, adding that customers in American and German markets still trend toward “classy” and “old school” aesthetics with dark tones. Customers in Asia, Italy, and Spain, however, embrace “a lot of color” and “are totally opposite . . . they want to be very individual.” Encouraging players to dip into the color wheel takes some patience, she says. BAM recently branched out into the South American and Russian markets, and has seen growth in China.
While a fashionable design is pivotal, it does not take priority over the case’s core purpose. Goetz describes developing new designs as a balancing act between safety and style. “The most important thing for us is to protect the instrument for our customers. Form follows function,” she says.
Each new development has hinged on keeping the product light, durable, and resistant. An example of combining design with function is the L’Opera line, comprised of 100-percent-polycarbonate cases. Goetz explains the unique lines in the design look sleek, but more importantly strengthen the case around the instrument’s bridges. A new cello case—to be released in 2018—is designed to be easily stood upright, leading to a unique asymmetrical design.
Goetz, who has a background in marketing and advertising, draws inspiration from trending styles. She especially gravitates toward French fashion labels like Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Research is core to her process. In forming BAM’s latest line, Katyu—geared toward and dedicated to their emerging Russian market—she consulted books on traditional Russian ornamentation, history, and art. Taking a cue from Gucci’s handbags featuring bold decals on monogrammed print, she opted for colorful embroidered decals of flowers, dolls, and ornamentations over a dark fabric.
Traveling players are the focus of an emerging line called BAMFrance, which will be available in a Paris flagship store next year. The line includes sheet-music sleeves, phone cases, handbags, and carry-on luggage. The line also involves a new design for a case geared toward players who travel by air, often sacrificing their carry-on luggage to accommodate their instruments. Violinist Vanessa-Mae, who owns a case from BAM’s Paris line, is collaborating closely with Goetz on the design.
“They’re always telling us, ‘I need something more—I need a shirt, I need shoes,’” Goetz says of the mobile musicians she’s surveyed. The design is under wraps until its debut in 2018, but Goetz promises a slim design and “high-end, fashionable materials.” A musician’s tool to help define the travel experience—and a player’s style.