The latest project from titan of luxury Bernard Arnault is the revival of Parisian trunk-maker Moynat into a modern luxury goods house. Creative director Ramesh Nair and president Guillaume Davin discuss quality and craftsmanship.
With little fanfare, no opening party and not even a press release, the quiet reopening on December 3 of Parisian trunk-maker and luxury goods house Moynat (pronounced “moi – as in the French for ‘me’ – nah”) belies its impeccable pedigree both old and new. With a slick new boutique on Rue Saint Honore (its first store in over 30 years) the label has been revived by luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault. But rather than the latest addition to his LVMH conglomerate, Moynat remains independent both in terms of ownership and direction – hence its understated unveiling.
“Very good design comes from a small team of people who have similar thoughts,” explains Moynat’s creative director Ramesh Nair, who for the last two years has shared Arnault’s “coup de coeur” with just two other core team members: managing director Guillaume Davin and art director Gwenael Nicholas, who also designed the shop. “It took some courage to decide this was Moynat and we had to go this way,” notes Davin of their unusual approach. “If we had started to listen to people they would have said it was nonsense.”
To understand the next chapter of Moynat, one must understand its history: founded in 1849 by Pauline Moynat, the daughter of a craftsman, the trunk-maker quickly gained a reputation for durability, quality and innovation that led to a large showroom at 1 Avenue de l’Opera and an even larger factory in Montmartre that was home to 250 craftsman. Working with the artist Henri Rapin, Moynat was also well known for producing trunks that were objects of beauty, such as the red Morocco leather trunk that won the Dipolma of Honour at the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris.
From its beginning, the luggage was closely aligned with the rise of the automobile (it exhibited at Paris Motor Show at the Grand Palais from 1905 onwards), and it is here that it made its greatest innovation: the limousine trunk that fitted snugly on the roof of a car with not only a matching colour but also matching contours. It was just one of 20 patents that the brand had officially registered.
While the newly launched Moynat does not offer luggage specifically designed to fit cars, the spirit of ingenuity remains. As do the signature contours. “If you don’t go back into history, if you don’t take a step backwards, then you can’t go forward,” remarks Nair of seeking inspiration in the archives. Even the curved suitcases have made a reappearance: “One of the first things that I talked about was a suitcase that sat on your lap. It fits on your lap and when you walk it doesn’t touch your legs. This is for the modern traveller.”
Clever details on handbags include handles engineered so that they fall just before touching the leather and seamless panels that are the product of laborious craftsmanship.
The new collection itself is small but includes bags, wallets, briefcases, small leather goods and scarves. The palette, too, is limited to a carefully considered selection of ultra sophisticated tones. And everywhere, from the leather interiors to the welcoming Moynat boutique, quality abounds. “Quality and craftsmanship – we have to stick to these two principles,” says Davin of his strategy. The future of Moynat? “It’s about continuity and durability. To be very loyal to what Moynat was and what she did. And at the same time it’s about doing products that really last.”
Creative Director of Moynat, Ramesh Nair’s definition of luxury?
Never having to explain myself.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Something that is timeless, that I always find beautiful and relevant.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
The second before I fall asleep.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
A place you could call heaven.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
A newborn baby, at the purest, most perfect stage of creation.
How did the Moynat renaissance come about?
GD: Mr. Arnault started the project. He was the first one to have “coup de coeur” for the history of Moynat. Then we came on board one after the other. And we remained a very small team throughout the revival.
RN: It was a chance meeting, just like what happened with Pauline Moynat and Henri Rapin, who was creative director of Moynat. I bumped into Guillaume. Guillaume bumped into Gwenael Nicholas. It was about finding the right people.
What were you first thoughts on Moyant as a brand?
GD: The first emotion was about the limousine trunk that perfectly fitted on the top of a car. It’s useful design, like a watch complication. It was about innovating to fit a functional purpose. We loved the curve. All of us had this “coup de coeur” when we were exposed to the archives.
RN: The first thing that struck us was the curves of the trunks. It’s amazing that it takes the form of something else, like a glove. The square trunks went under your train seat, so they also had a very particular shape.
You are writing the next chapter of Moynat – what does that look like?
GD: It’s about continuity and durability. To be very loyal to what Moynat was and what she did. And at the same time it’s about doing products that really last. Quality and craftsmanship – we have to stick to these two principles. For us it was not only about reviving Moynat; it was about reviving her craftsmanship.
RN: We are not rushing into anything, we’re not following trends or fashion. Things will evolve. The vintage trunks that you see here in the store were exposed to real misery. There were no garages and yet they’ve lasted 100 years and are still in great shape. The leather still holds. It takes you back in time. That’s the essential part of the future.
You have kept the signature Moynat curve in your designs as well as in the trunks – but what does it fit if not a modern a car?
RN: One of the first things that I talked about was a suitcase that sat on your lap. I took the form of the limousine trunk. It fits on your lap and when you walk it doesn’t touch your legs. This is for the modern traveller. We decided not to worry about questions of whether anyone is going to buy it. That’s when you start falling into the commercial trap. If we felt emotionally about it, we did it.
GD: The trunks used to fit the body of the cars and now they fit over laps. There is a sense of harmony, comfort and functionality that is true to the spirit of the founder. To me, it as surprising as seeing the first trunk. It took some courage to decide this was Moynat and we had to go this way. If we had started to listen to people they would have said it was nonsense.
Where do you find the balance in being inspired by Moynat’s archives and creating contemporary designs?
RN: I have always felt that if you don’t go back into history, if you don’t take a step backwards, then you can’t go forward. The archives are one of the most important things because we cannot build a house without its roots. My new bags hang onto these roots.
You were first presented with a very limited Moynat archive – how did you create one?
RN: We found strange things in strange places. There were pieces in Alexandria, Argentina, a trunk from Brazil, America, England. It was like a treasure hunt because we were so passionate. The more we found the more interesting things got. With every object we got a story.
In a world of big luxury brands, why are you determined to remain relatively small and independent?
GD: It is very positive to be small and independent. We never tested things or did any market research. We are not part of LVMH. We don’t have a communications department. We were more obsessed with making sure that the bag would hold well, would be well constructed, would be durable and of extremely high quality. We never questioned the design. The obsession was about crafting it well. This was the dialogue between Ramesh and the workshop. I feel our mantra should be high quality and beautiful products. And hopefully we will be able to bring more innovation to Moynat.
What is the definition of quality today?
RN: Quality is something that at the end of the day when you have it in your hand, you feel proud. It’s personal. If you put your hand inside our bags and touch the leather, you know you have something. Quality is all about intimacy and craftsmanship. What you can achieve with your hands is totally different to what you can achieve with a machine. Each of our products is made by a particular person. There is an emotion attached to the product.
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