In 1834, when the Industrial Revolution brought about advancements in transportation, brothers Paul and Ernest Bertin had the idea to address the travel needs of this changing society by selling various types of travel trunks and accessories needed for fishing and hunting trips. In 1847 they purchased a shop on Boulevard De Denain in Paris, just across from the newly constructed Gare du Nord train station, which would soon see thousands of travellers pass through its doors every day.
Gianfranco Maccarrone with Bercy bag
The brothers began to re-sell travel items as well as customising elegant trunks that benefited from recently patented trunk-making processes. No matter what the request, Au Départ met the needs of any customer, however impossible it seemed. In the 1920s Au Départ became one of the most stylish brands in trunk-making and it soon became one of the leaders in this field. The designs were distinguished by a 3D-effect box monogram which was created by Paul’s son Francois Bertin. Francois was an early adopter of marketing and invented the brand’s motto “a beautiful voyage begins Au Départ”, which was seen on posters over the city and in many French magazines.
In 1965, Au Départ merged with fellow luggage company Moynat under the leadership of Francois’ son Alain Bertin. The joint company was named Moynat Au Départ and the brand continued to produce trunks and other leather goods until 1976 when it ceased production. Then in 2019, more then 40 years later, Au Départ was reborn to create a new chapter in the history of the brand. It was relaunched during Milan Design Week, showcasing its history and its new life by reinterpreting the trunks as interior design pieces with a much more contemporary approach.
Today at Au Départ anything is possible. Under the guidance of CEO Gianfranco Maccarrone, who brings a long career in luxury to the brand, Au Départ is continuing to honour its history and heritage, but also moving forward into the future with its unique use of technology and innovation that will allow the brand to speak to a whole new audience. As was the case in the past, no request is too big at Au Départ. From traditional luggage trunks to luxury bags, to technology accessories and bespoke gifts, the brand will make any dream a reality.
When he joined as CEO Gianfranco Maccarrone had the vision to bring Au Départ into the 21st century and in line with life and the needs of customer’s today. While they are diversifying into other areas, the core of the business remains the same – to provide bespoke trunks to luxury clients. To find out more about the future of the business and its plans in the Middle East, we talk to Gianfranco Maccarrone.
Can you tell us about the story of Au Départ and its comeback?
I feel lucky to have the chance to relaunch Au Départ. It was one of the pioneers of trunk-making when it began in the 1800s. The first store was at the departure lounge of Le Gare De Nord and so that’s how the name came about. At that point, we weren’t specifically a trunk- maker. We used to be re-sellers of items including fishing objects, travel products, hunting products etc. At that time these things were seen as luxurious. People would go shopping and pack everything inside their trunk and attach it to the top of their car or on to their horses and continue with their journey. During the twenties after the first World War, the brand moved primarily into the business of trunkmaking. At that time several other companies were starting to make trunks. Each brand would take their materials from the same place, but to make their designs look different, each would create their own pattern. So that’s why we created our beautiful three- dimensional monogram pattern. In the 1930s, we created our first advertising campaign and this featured the same font that we are using today. When we looked back through the history of the brand we found there were 29 different logos all using different fonts. So we brought them all together and we decided that actually, they did a great job with the one in the 30s – so we took that! Around the 1950s the brand was struggling, so we merged with Moynat and the company became Au Départ Moynat and then in the seventies, this company closed down.
In 2017, we came up with the idea of restarting where everything began. Instead of creating a new world, we continued where we left off with our beautiful trunks. We decided to start from what we already knew and present the brand through that, creating a new chapter of the story. So we hired a team of very creative interior designers and architects in Milan and I invited them to come to my office and showed them the entire archive collection. I asked them to choose five trunks of their choice and reinterpret them in any way they wanted. So with the inspiration of different arts, they created five different elements linked to water, sound, video etc. and we created an exhibition in a beautiful demolished theatre. It was fantastic. The exhibition presented inspiration from the past and then we introduced our new collection that was a mix of heritage, innovation and technology. Yes we began in 1834, but we don’t want to look old, we want to talk to the young community and that is the goal today. Today we see it as the start of the “Au Départ movement”. Before the pandemic, we were all constantly moving non-stop and that’s not travelling, you don’t get really to experience your journey, it’s simply movement. So we decided that we are going to be the brand that represents the movement of today. Movement can mean anything and Au Départ can mean everything so it is the perfect scenario.
How are you communicating with your clients now both old and new?
Our goal is to communicate both offline and online. We want to create offline events to generate online interest. Online is the channel that we can exclusively use currently, as of course travel and physical events are difficult, but before COVID-19, we started to create connections within the world of fashion and art through events. We invited potential customers and people were very interested in exploring the brand and to see our connections with the world of art and design. We had a beautiful space in Paris where we showcased collectable design pieces from the 50s, 60s and 70s and we invited customers to come and visit us in more of a home environment than a store environment. Our method of communication is about making sure that people can see the difference in the approach of the brand in presenting the collections as well as using the online channels to enhance this. We don’t use influencers as that is not who we are as a brand. To sum up, our manner of communication is probably “non-communication”. We want to create a desire and an interest by giving little information to our potential customers around the world and there is a sense of mysteriousness.
How do you think the ideas of exclusivity and luxury are changing?
The meaning of luxury today is completely different from what it was in the past. As a brand, we don’t want to be for everyone, we leave it to other brands to be inclusive. We want to be extremely exclusive, but not because we want to be unaffordable, but more because we don’t want to be everywhere. In the case of Au Départ we know that
our bespoke pieces are not for everyone. So we also have smaller pieces that we consider as gifts and these can give accessibility to the brand to a wider customer base, but still keeping it small. I want to make sure that everyone who wants can experience Au Départ in some way. So luxury for me today is making sure that the quality of your product is outstanding and that the price is correct.
I also want to mention sustainability, as this is very important today when it comes to luxury products. It’s not just about producing products with no plastic, for me, it is about having exclusive long-lasting products. If something is done well, it will last forever and that makes it sustainable. I want to make sure our products can be kept with the owner for their entire life. And if we create this incredible quality, our products will never be destroyed. I have a collection of beautiful trunks from the 1870s that are still in my office today and I hope that we can create something that will still be used in 150 years.
What is in the pipeline for Au Départ both globally and in the Middle East?
Au Départ is a very sophisticated brand and we do have long- time clients, but at the same time, we want to talk to the younger generation, especially with our Reflective Jacquard design. This is completely new, but our design team were extremely respectful of the original design from the 1900s and used some of the original techniques in a different way but introducing new technology. This allowed us to add a reflective aspect to the designs with a new three- dimensional material.
So we want to talk to millennials and Generation Z customers as well as our high-end customers. Those young generations especially in regions like the Middle East are key to us. We absolutely want to have a presence there. We are already selling bespoke pieces to private customers in The Middle East. One of the special things that we sold to some customers in Saudi Arabia was a beautiful desert theatre creation which comes in a foldable trunk and inside is a video projector with a sound system and a large foldable screen, that can be opened in the middle of the desert, so you can watch a movie for up to two hours. I believe we are the only ones who have created something like this. This is what defines luxury. Time is luxury and we need to make sure that we can be with our customers when they have time to enjoy life. So we create items that include technology like this that can support then in their beautiful journey.
What do you think customers are looking for today from luxury products?
I wish I had the perfect answer so I could meet all of the customer needs! But let’s say for sure, in a world where everyone can access almost everything, especially with luxury brands having many more affordable options, we want to have a sense of mystery. We want to be mysterious enough to leave people wondering and we want to make sure that our customer can find the perfect partner for their new journey and the new movements I mentioned earlier. Our goal is to try and be with our customers not only when they are connected, but also when they are mentally disconnected from the world around them and create moments or objects that can be part of each person’s journey.
What can you tell us about the upcoming collections launching soon?
We are not a seasonal brand but this year we will introduce two new colourways. Then we are going to create new objects related to being outside. That will be our next project and the timing is great because everyone has been locked down inside lately, and now we all want to be outside with nature.
How do you find the balance of respecting and keeping the history of the brand yet remaining modern and appealing and relevant to today?
It is about respecting the brand and reproducing historical pieces with new innovative materials and technologies. So respecting the past and evolving for the future.
What would you still like to achieve at Au Départ that hasn’t been done yet?
I would like to continue to treat our trunks like they were treated at the beginning of our story. At the end of the day, the trunks were simple boxes but they allow people to dream when they open them. At Au Départ, we can do everything that our potential customer wants within that trunk and that is what I hope will continue.
What are the biggest challenges you face currently?
The challenge of the pandemic has actually been a strength for us. Before it happened, everyone was moving too fast and spending so much money. Thanks to the pandemic the world pushed the reset button and gave us all time to realign. And I would say this critical moment actually turned out to be an advantage for us because we are now living in a new environment.
What is a lesson you have learned from 2020 and what is the motto you live by?
2020 for me is just the end of an era. The era of how we used to live and the beginning of how we will live moving forward. Our brand motto “a beautiful voyage begins” is still very relevant. In 2021 we are at the departure of our new era and this is the motto that we are living by today.
What is a message you would like to share with your clients and friends in the Middle East?
It would be the same! “A beautiful voyage begins Au Départ.” I wish that the new journey we are going to live would be a fantastic one. So pack your luggage and get ready!
How would you describe Au Départ in one word?
What do you think sets Au Départ apart from the rest?
It is the perfect combination of heritage, romanticism and sophistication, but it can include the ultimate technology.