PRESIDENT GUILLAUME DAVIN AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR RAMESH NAIR SHARE THEIR VOYAGE TO BRING ONE OF THE OLDEST TRUNK MAKERS IN FRANCE TO WORLDWIDE SUCCESS.
Pauline Moynat, a visionary and the only woman trunk-maker in history, founded Moynat in 1849, and soon made the house the most Parisian among the French leather goods and trunk makers of her time. Founded at the time of the establishment of the French railway system, the house registered innumerable patents, especially for train luggage. Later as a pioneer in the automobile adventure, Moynat specialised in custom-made trunks that fitted the contours and were matched to the colour of the car body. The most famous example is the Limousine trunk patented in 1902, and never copied.
The brand, which is older than Louis Vuitton and Goyard exited the scene in the 1970s, and it wasn’t until 2011 when it was relaunched. Bernard Arnault, the great helmsman of conglomerate Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy (LVMH), dreamed of re-awakening the sleeping beauty, and he found in Guillaume Davin and Ramesh Nair a suitable duo to navigate the brand revival.
A graduate of Rouen Business School and Insead, Guillaume Davin started his career in 1998 as International Director of Travel Retailing at Christian Dior Parfums in Paris, going on to work as President of Christian Dior Parfums in Japan in 2001. He joined Louis Vuitton in 2006 as Vice President of Retail in Japan, until he took the helm at Moynat.
Planning to patiently rebuild the brand from the ground up with the aim of capturing a clientele that values understated luxury over logos, Davin has infused a new soul into the storied brand.
What three words do you feel sum up Moynat?
Exclusivity, Excellence, and Elegance.
To what extent do you still feel storytelling is important in the luxury industry?
It is the link to the past which is a treasure and very important.
How challenging is it to preserve the heritage whilst still being modern?
The challenge is in leveraging the savoir faire and the roots, without becoming a museum of craftsmanship. We have strong roots but are creating for the customer of today’s generation, so we use age-old techniques and apply them to the modern day.
Tell us about your views on how over-communication can kill desire?
At Moynat we are a bit mysterious and we will continue to keep it this way, as we are not about it-bags for the season. We really believe in timelessness, craft, and quality, and are able to repair products. Moynat doesn’t target the mass and remains niche, so what is important is this one to one message and experience, as word of mouth travels.
To what extent is retail still important in the digital age?
It is extremely important in terms of telling the stories, because technology can enhance the experience for customers. It can show beautiful images of our past and stories about our craftmanship, together with changing the way that we can interact with clients. Selling online is something that we are not yet fascinated with, as we want to continue to offer a one to one service, although we may still try and experiment with it from time to time.
What are the difficulties that you face today?
The biggest challenge is the production and the quality, as we make products in an old-fashioned way. Of course, this is not very cost-efficient, and you need to find very skilled craftsman which takes time.
Can you share with us the message from Moynat this year?
We always strive to make our clients happy and proud to carry one of our bags, encouraging customers to become part of the Moynat family.
What is a resolution that you made to Moynat for 2018?
There is no miracle for making Moynat more beautiful, so I have to continue working on this through finding more beautiful materials and inspiration. It is also important to ensure that we don’t try to be something that we are not.
What is your vision for the forthcoming years?
Keeping Moynat at the top in terms of craftsmanship.
Can you share with us a motto that you live by?
Hard work is the key criteria for success.
What do you feel is a mistake that many other luxury brands are making?
Going too fast, because luxury was never a rush. With us, when you put a deposit on some bags it can take between two to six months before you receive it. Luxury is about the craft and the exclusivity, and we want to be an emblem in the world of real luxury.
Do you feel that social media can dilute a brand?
No, because technology can be a fantastic tool for making a brand more beautiful.
How about bloggers?
We like when we are being talked about, but we do not seek this aggressively. It is not our style to pay someone to carry the brand, and we cannot compete with the larger more powerful brands on this.
Do you think that word of mouth is one of the strongest marketing tools?
Yes of course, the strongest marketing you can have is the marketing that your clients are doing for you. By creating beautiful products that are made extremely well, we believe that it is only a matter of time.
Hailing from Melattur, a small town in Kerala’s Malappuram district, Ramesh Nair began his professional career with Yohji Yamamoto and then founded his own brand, Rain, in India. He went on to work with Christian Lacroix before honing his skills as senior designer for Hermès in the early 1990’s alongside Martin Margiela and Jean-Paul Gaultier.
It was up to Nair to carry forward the vision on which the storied brand was built, which he has achieved through exclusivity, divine craftsmanship, and the finest fabric and leathers. This is not merely a renovation of what existed, instead the result is something brand new with classic yet contemporary designs. Hallowed traditions and century-old knowhow are preserved and revived in creations that bear the modernity that is the hallmark of Moynat.
How did the opportunity to revive Moynat come about?
The Moynat renaissance is an intriguing story, it is a brand that had a huge presence and was very successful, but then disappeared from collective memory, except for a few experts. Years later, Moynat became a part of Mr Arnault’s personal portfolio and in 2O10 he decided to revive it as a heritage brand and I was invited to take creative lead.
What was the appeal of Moynat?
The first thing I did was to dig into the past history of the House like an archaeologist. I believed there was more than just the story of a trunk maker behind the brand and I was right. What struck me from the very start is that this is one of the rare Houses to be founded by a woman, at a time and in an industry dominated by men, making it particularly relevant to our society today. It is not a coincidence that we have so many women artisans in our ateliers. The other aspect of Moynat that holds great appeal is the combination of heritage and innovation. Moynat was born at a time of sweeping changes in France and especially Paris, around travel, around a way of living, so there is a tradition of modernity and open mindedness, of seeking new horizons. Moynat is an old House with deep roots and heritage, but at the same time, it is a brand-new entity because of the rupture in its history from the 1970s to 2011. This combination enables me to continue the Moynat story so that it is anchored in the past but has a fresh, modern future before it. It is very stimulating creatively to know that I can map the way forward, and that behind every door I open there can be yet another door leading to new territories.
Why was it the right time to re-awaken the brand?
There is no right time for a project of this kind, but when things fall into place in a certain way and a certain time, you have to recognise the potential and make it work. In fact, when we started to work on Moynat, it was a more difficult time economically. The real boom-time for launching a luxury brand would have been 5-7 years before that. There are so many Houses from the past that have fallen into obscurity, but we no longer have much information about them. Sometimes I come across vintage pieces that are interesting, but no one is able to tell their story. With Moynat, we had the opportunity to tell the story of this beautiful House once again.
What do you identify as the major signatures of the house?
I built the Moynat style signatures around shapes, structure, and details such as metallic components, as well as the liberal use of colour. What brings it all together is the harmony and balance between the elements. This means that what looks simple and obvious at first glance is actually very complex and multi-layered when you look deeper. My design philosophy is very strong on ‘invisible design’, in the sense that the best design is that which blends seamlessly with the user. It does not overpower the presence of the person carrying it, but subtly boosts it so that others notice you rather than your bag. I have also integrated into the personality of the Maison, the fact that Moynat was founded by a woman. There is grace and lightness in the overall aspect, and yet there is innovation and engineering that comes through. For me, an object must be beautiful not just at the moment of creation, but that beauty must continue to grow and evolve all through its life. Each mark, each scratch, each blow that it gets must add to its character.
How do you think the DNA of the brand has changed over the years and what has stayed the same?
In the mid-1800s products were designed around utility and novelty. They were meant to perform a function or find a solution to a constraint. For example, the Malle Anglaise, English Trunk, was created as an extra-lightweight trunk to overcome weight restrictions placed on railway travel, especially for those traveling between the UK and Paris. Similarly, monograms and logos were created as a novelty, to distinguish the House from other makers and to protect against counterfeiting. Both types of innovations led ultimately to design-led creation. Today, we no longer travel with wooden trunks the way Moynat customers used to do in the early days of the House, but we have maintained, and in some cases we have revived, the skills and techniques that were practiced in the 19th century and applied them to modern bags and accessories in ways that make sense for our way of living today. Hence, the modern Limousine case that works as a laptop desk. Or the Mini Vanity that uses the angle stitching technique that was previously used in leather trunks. Lifestyle changes mean that our creations today are aesthetically very different from the 19th century, but we still use the same natural materials, leather, wood, and canvas, even while we incorporate 21st century carbon fibre and titanium into some of our modern trunks. We continue to use traditional artisanal methods perfected over the centuries since the birth of Moynat and even earlier. The same master craftsmen trained in 19th century trunk making also work our carbon fibre.
What challenges have you faced with the revival?
Moynat is a unique case, we had no living memory of the brand, which is usually carried by owners, employees, or artisans because in the 30-plus-year rupture this entire generation had passed by. This means that we had to extrapolate from vintage pieces, not only the techniques that were specific to 19th and 20th century trunk making, but also those techniques that were specific to the House of Moynat. We did not have the luxury of relying on older artisans to help us nurture the skills. We did it ourselves by scouring the profession for talented individuals who have the potential for this level of workmanship and sometimes re-training artisans in the ‘Moynat way’. Of course, we are not alone in facing these challenges, some of the best Houses in the business have lost practices and skills because they no longer use them or make trunks the way they used to. This is not confined to the actual trunk making, but also to the makers of metallic parts, nails, closures, cabinetmakers, and other crafts that feed our work.
Can you share with us your greatest achievements at Moynat since you commenced your journey?
One of the things that make me very proud, quite separate from commercial success, is having set up the Moynat atelier and taking it to such a high level of workmanship. This is an achievement because although it was set up just 7 years ago, the work that our atelier produces has helped to establish our reputation and has ranked us among the most revered names for quality and refinement. All without the help of advertisement and product placement.
What do you believe distinguishes Moynat from other luxury leather brands?
I believe it is the special nature of our history, not just our founding in 1849 but also our renaissance. Following the rupture of more than 30 years in our history and our comeback about 7 years ago, Moynat has established itself in the forefront of heritage brands, almost seamlessly. Today, people find it hard to believe that we have not always been present on the luxury landscape. I would attribute this remarkable achievement to the exceptional character and quality of our products from the design, research and development, all the way through to the conception and production.
When we talk Moynat, we think only trunks and travel objects. How challenging was it for you to look beyond them?
Moynat to me is not about trunks or luggage or even bags. Moynat is about movement, mobility, and action. I don’t think in terms of product categories but about what Moynat represents in its character and its purpose. Trunks and travel objects were the foundation of the House of Moynat, but even then Moynat was forward-looking. Pauline Moynat, the founder, was the first to introduce a range of women’s travel handbags in the early days of the railway. The position of Moynat as a pioneer in incorporating lifestyle changes into products became clear to me when I started to collect and study vintage Moynat pieces. So, modernity and innovation were two of my guiding principles when I started to work on Moynat.
Which new materials and techniques have you introduced since reviving the brand?
I constantly work on multiple projects since some ideas take a longer time to mature and realise. This could be a revival or reinvention of ancient techniques and materials or developing entirely new ones from scratch. For example, I have applied trunk-making techniques to modern handbags so that these skills are not lost and remain relevant to modern lifestyles. One of these is the angle-stitching used in our Mini Vanity bags, another is the marquetry technique originally used in wood and which we have perfected in leather. In 2017 we created a magnificent ‘Cuir Imperial’ after a long research and experimental process to recreate the mythical Russia leather. Originally made in a jealously guarded process that took about 18 months and cured with birch tar oil and myrrh among other ingredients, this knowledge was lost following the Russian revolution of 1917. Since then, many attempts have been made to recreate Russia leather with not much degree of success. Moynat Cuir Impérial is finer than the original Russia leather, but it has the same oily, silken suppleness and cross hatch grain and heady aroma. We have even applied the technique to exotic leathers such as crocodile skins, which has never been done before. In terms of inventing new techniques and materials, we have created some unique techniques on crocodile skins, called Croco Ceramique, which we launched recently. I was inspired by ancient glazing techniques of Asian ceramics, from the depth and layering of colours to the crackle effect. Particularly inspiring was Kintsugi, or ‘golden joinery’, the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramic with lacquer and gold dust. Thus, a blend of two rare, traditional techniques from two very different fields, leather and ceramic, experiments what were manually realised at the tannery, which is how I like to work.
Which collections tend to prove most popular for Moynat?
Unlike other brands, at Moynat we do not work on seasonal collections, nor do we rely on one or two bags or models to carry our success. I have yet to see a line or a season that has not received an enthusiastic reception from our clients. It is also interesting that we have a high percentage of success with our range of precious leathers such as crocodile leather, which is typically a smaller part of any brand’s sales.
Can you share with us how a Moynat bag comes to life?
Inspiration for a bag is always a free-wheeling activity with no set path to determine what could trigger the design process, it could happen while I am traveling, and often it happens at the moment when I am about to fall asleep! The idea is a usually latent in the sub-conscious, I have to work to free it from all the other thoughts, and to turn the abstract concept into a concrete object. Frequently, the starting point is a material or a detail, the shape of a metallic component or the grain of certain leather or even the way two pieces of leather are joined together. Once the 1st drawings are ready, I give it a volume in a prototype, for which the choice of leather is very important. The type of leather chosen will determine how the bag behaves, how it holds itself, and how supple it is. After modifications and testing, we make a mini-series, which is subjected to wear tests before actually launching production. It is important to remember that each bag is made from start to finish by a single artisan.
Despite great demand, Moynat has kept prod¬uction small and exclusive, why is that?
I prefer to think of our approach as a quest for excellence rather than exclusivity. For me, luxury is about generosity, it is about pouring out the best of our ideas, skills and materials and not holding anything back. So, I would not define Moynat as exclusive because our aim is not to create scarcity by controlling our output. What is true is that our production, being artisanal, is by definition slower. Our standards for quality mean that our artisans are among the best in the trade, therefore not easy to select and train. Our leathers are among the finest and must meet our stringent requirements, again not easy to procure in unlimited quantities. For all these reasons, the rarity and the price of our products is a natural consequence of our vision and of who we are.
With limited prod¬uction Moynat is considered the epitome of luxury. How would you define luxury?
I am not a fan of the word luxury, I feel it has lost its meaning in an age of commodification of luxury. For me, luxury has to have both physical and metaphysical aspects. In addition, luxury is something that transcends time, never becoming out-dated even if it is attached to a particular period in history. A luxury object or experience is something that will give you the same sensory pleasure and intellectual stimulation time after time whether it is something you use or experience every day or rarely. This is the core of my design philosophy for Moynat as well.
With such a luxury good that is primarily available instore, how do you think it will keep up in the world of digital shopping and media?
With great convenience and speed comes great loss of experience. I do believe that the two models of retail can and should co-exist. In fact, brick and mortar stores are not just a point of sale, but primarily a point of physical contact and communication. It is where you can really connect with the brand beyond product, through the sensory experience that results from architecture, lighting, smells and sounds. The day is not far when brick and mortar stores may be truly experiential, and independent of the compulsion to purchase. At the same time, there is a lot to be done to make the e-retail experience more valuable, and more relational rather than transactional which is the case today.
Luxury brands are moving towards a younger, more energetic look, do you see this direction continuing in the years to come?
The design cycle and the generational change in designers leading brands today mean that we are always looking to the next generation of clients. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the designers that we consider serious and classic today were yesterday’s young turks. Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela ushered in deconstructed and conceptual clothing more than 30 years ago, which today’s generation is only just re-discovering.
Tell us why you choose not to use advertising?
We wanted to let the product speak for itself, to rely on word-of-mouth as a more authentic and organic form of communication. This lets us focus on the brand story, our heritage, and our craftsmanship rather than a slick, glossy presentation where the product is secondary to styling.
When researching new designs, what has been the greatest find in the Moynat archives?
There is no single object or period in the history of Moynat that has inspired me, rather it is the ensemble and the trajectory that the House has had over the years. When I see all the trunks together, I notice certain elements that strike me at different levels, depending on what is already going on in my head. One day, it could be the locks, which could bring me to focus on metallic components, or it could be the variety of curved shapes that may become the stimulus for me to design around.
You have created numerous iconic bags for the Maison, which might be the one bag that you favour?
It is impossible to choose one bag, just as it is impossible for a parent to choose a favourite child. The recent bags that I am fond of include the Loulou for its playful form and unusual closure inspired by the front clasp of our vintage trunks. It is also memorable for its singularly challenging construction where the surfaces are curved as though moulded to achieve a gently rounded face. I also have a soft spot for the Réjane Opera, a sleek evening clutch where the iconic clasp is set like a jewel.
On average, how much time goes into making a Moynat bag?
Depending on the kind of bag involved, it could vary from 3 to 7 days. However, this is just the actual make, once the artisan has all the necessary materials together. On the other hand, if you take into account the fact that our leathers are designed, developed and produced to our specifications, as well as our metallic pieces, right down to the last nail and D-ring, it could take as long as 3 months to have all the ingredients ready.
Tell us about how the craftsmanship sets Moynat apart from other brands?
Firstly, all our production is entirely located in France. Secondly, we have an artisanal approach to all our manufacturing, which means that each bag is made from start to finish by a single craftsman, instead of an industrial or assembly line approach. This means that each product is really a unique piece, and also that each artisan must be trained in many different techniques. Since many of my designs are intended to highlight Moynat savoir-faire, it is very important to maintain this approach. In some cases, we have reinvented or revived techniques that had been forgotten, which enriches not only our Maison, but also the craft itself.
How do you continue to keep the brand covetable and fresh, balancing tradition and innovation?
It is all about innovation, which is a core value of Moynat. When we talk about traditional craftsmanship or noble materials, I do not think of it as just a single technique or a single usage. I think of different ways of using the same metallic elements or using the same traditional gestures but either modifying them or applying them in different ways. It is a kind of cross-pollination between materials, processes, and applications. This is also where design steps in to add a contemporary twist or a humorous touch to lighten what may otherwise be heavy with tradition.
How popular is the made to order service, and can you explain how the process works?
Bespoke is at the very heart of Moynat heritage. The House was renowned for custom-made pieces created for each client since its inception, including automobile trunks that were fitted to the contours of the car and often matched to the colour of the car body. We work closely with our clients on their wishes, always keeping in mind the Moynat codes and expertise. We start by exploring what the client dreams of and then design the object in a truly Moynat way. There is no catalogue of styles, colours, or linings that the client can assemble the custom object from. It is important to understand that all our special orders are custom-made from scratch for each client. Each component is hand made to our specifications, including metal parts and closures specific to each trunk. It is not simply a question of assembling previously prepared components. Depending on the kind of object in question, the time taken to make it varies widely.
What are your thoughts of logomania, and the rise of logos in luxury fashion?
Luxury, like so many things in life, in cyclical. We went through a phase when logos and obvious branding was very trendy, then moved into a more discreet period, and now people are once again drawn towards logos. Being a surface embellishment, a logo is the easiest way to declare an identity. It also depends on the brand’s philosophy, whether to be visible with a logo or to place the focus on other design elements. I took the decision to emphasise our incredible heritage of form and functionality rather than an obvious logo. This does not mean that logos are not important, as when used intelligently a logo can support and strengthen the identity already created by other means.
As Moynat grows, in which geographical markets are you experiencing the strongest growth?
As for most other brands, Asia continues to be a strong market. In the case of Moynat, being such a young brand we have a long way to go in any market and so there is a lot of potential for us everywhere. So, I do not want to focus on just a single market but on nurturing and developing all our markets. I strongly believe that for us, the home territory is a key market, essential to maintain a strong identity and link with our roots, and more so in this age of global travel. I always keep in mind that from its inception until the brand closed down in the 1970s, Moynat had only a single store, which was in Paris.
Tell us your views on the Middle East market?
We have a strong base of clients, friends and followers from the Middle East who look for exquisitely crafted objects, from watch trunks for some to crocodile leather handbags for others. Our Middle East clients have very refined tastes, they don’t look only at the logos and branding but are very discerning about quality and appreciate discreet, subtle and personalised aspects of luxury.
Tell us about the exclusive pieces you made for the region?
We have selected some of our finest and most precious new creations for our first home in the Middle East that are as contemporary in their aesthetics as they are perfect representations of Moynat heritage and savoir-faire. Three rare exotic skins have been developed to showcase our iconic bags and a one-of-a-kind trunk. Crocodile Céramique is inspired by the ancient glazing techniques of Asian ceramics. From light to dark, 3 to 4 colours are applied to crocodile skins, and between layers the skins are hand polished to reveal the underlying coat of colour. The final effect is a complex, delicate, and layered hue unique to each skin, and echoes the layered colours and unique crackling effect of precious Asian porcelains. For the Crocodile Camouflage, I experimented with hand-applied water-based dyes in transparent washes to create military-style camouflage patterns that are unique to each skin, while the Crocodile Natura skin is treated to maintain the natural pigmentation. Finally, the pièce de résistance. It has long been a personal dream of mine to create a special trunk as homage to a piece of art that also has a spiritual significance. After several years of reflection and research, I finally brought together all the ingredients. I had a rare 18th century hand-illustrated Kashmiri Qur’an in its original lacquered binding, which to me symbolises wisdom as well as an object of beauty and a work of art in its own right. The one-of-a-kind trunk I created for it is a perfect cube, realised in an exacting technique where the wooden frame is held together not by nails but by hand stitching the panels, a rare technique that only a master craftsman can achieve. The trunk is covered with a flawless green crocodile skin and lined with supple amber-coloured suede. Classic Moynat langue-de-chat clasps, lever locks and handles were custom-made for this trunk. Inside is an ingenious lectern mechanism that gently lifts the book when the lid is opened. The name ‘Al Noor’ was chosen because every known civilisation in the world has used light as the symbol of knowledge, freedom, and life. We even use the word enlightenment to signify spiritual awakening.
Will you look to make further capsule collections to satisfy the Middle East market?
We do not target markets with particular collections, but I do try to integrate tastes that are specific to different markets. The Middle East market loves rare and refined objects, so we try to ensure that such pieces are part of the mix here, such as exotic leathers and more unusual creations.
What do you expect to be the biggest challenge the brand will face in the coming years?
As the brand grows, we know that we have to expand our production. Keeping in mind our artisanal production model, our stringent standards for our materials and our workmanship, our biggest challenge will be to deliver growth while maintaining our obsession with quality. It is something that takes time and planning, which we have already begun working on.
Can you share with us your future plans for Moynat?
The future has its roots in the past. My aim for Moynat is to continue our trajectory, keeping in mind the philosophy that I have placed at the heart of the House, an emphasis on quality, educating people about our approach to design and artisanal craftsmanship and pushing our boundaries through research and development. This, for me, is the only way to sustain our growth and our success.