Revolutions are often a loud, messy affair. But on rare occasions, a revolution can be a very discreet affair, so subtle that it causes hardly a ripple in the aether of our collective consciousness. One such affair has been taking place in the luxury fashion accessories universe since 2010 when the fashion and luxury goods powerhouse LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton gained ownership of the Moynat brand. Since then, LVHM has very discreetly gone about resurrecting the once celebrated legend of the leather goods industry.
“Moynat was not just another leather goods and luggage maker; it was a trendsetter; even revolutionary at times”
The Moynat story began in 1849, before that of Louis Vuitton and Goyard, when Pauline Moynat partnered with the husband and wife team of Octavie and François Coulembier to establish Maison Moynat. Their 300 square metres boutique was located at Number 1, Avenue de l’Opéra at the heart of Baron Haussmann’s redesigned Paris. The boutique went on to become a Parisian institution for over a hundred years until it went into hibernation in 1976. In that time, Moynat was not just another leather goods and luggage maker; it was a trendsetter; even revolutionary at times.
To begin with, Moynat was named after and helmed by a woman, at a time and in an industry where women did not tread. Their first notable innovation was the use of the then newly discovered vegetal gum sourced from Indonesia called gutta-percha to waterproof luggage. Then came the innovation that put Moynat on the proverbial map. The much sought after “English Trunk” had wicker frames with varnished canvas and leather trimming. The result was a lightweight but sturdy luggage. They designed and produced in-house their patented latch bolt locks. Their luggage was studded every seven millimetres instead of the industry standard sixteen millimetres. These features combined with metal banding ensured added strength and security to their trunks.
By 1910, the house of Moynat had a four-storey factory in the Montmartre suburb of Paris where over 200 specialised artisans produced trunks and leather goods. It was the first to integrate into one location all the specialist skills involved in producing the finest luggage and leather goods.
The rise in popularity of the automobile among the elite for travelling and exploring resulted in new product innovations at Moynat that catered to this growing market. In 1902 they introduced their trademark Limousine trunk with an arched bottom, strengthened by metal bands, and finished in varnished canvas. It fit snugly on the curved roofs of the automobiles and thus became another favourite of the connoisseurs. By 1910, they were producing their patented lightweight “unbreakable” trunk models. This idea was taken further with the introduction of side and rear trunks that perfectly fit the car’s curves, as well as being finished in the same colour as the car. These innovations greatly contributed to the brand’s popularity and reputation among the automotive chic. So much so that they even took part in the Paris Motor Show of 1905.
“Being helmed by a woman meant that Moynat was innovative in catering to the needs of women as well”
Being helmed by a woman meant that Moynat was innovative in catering to the needs of women as well. Moynat was a pioneer in the development of the ladies handbags. In 1878, they introduced the “Mignon,” made in chamois leather, which was followed by the highly popular “shoe bag.” Pauline Moynat was well known among the elite of the Parisian performing scene. One, in particular, the well-known globe-trotter Gabrielle Réjane became a life-long friend of madam Moynat. She was the inspiration for several customised creations of Moynat, including some of their pioneering handbags.
Credit for the success of the brand also has to be given to Henri Rapin, the long-serving Creative Director at Moynat From 1905 to 1930. He designed their logos and illustrated their catalogues. In 1920, he designed Moynat’s distinguished and elegant monogram which was a concatenation of the letter “M.” He also designed some of their most iconic creations. His pièce de résistance has to be the trunk covered in red Moroccan leather and Art Deco florals which won the Diplôme d’Honneur at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels. Moynat’s products also won several gold, silver and bronze medals at this and other world fairs.
When Bernard Arnault, the Chairman and CEO of LVMH acquired the rights to the Moynat brand through his Groupe Arnault holding company in 2010, he did not want it to be just another brand, but rather, to resurrect the spirit of Maison Moynat. So he handpicked Ramesh Nair to be the Creative Director and charged him with bringing the Moynat name out of its hibernation. He was given two broad briefs: stay true to the core values of Maison Moynat while reinterpreting them for a chic modern clientele.
The Indian born designer was Educated at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) at New Delhi, and at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York. He then trained at the Institut Français de la Mode, Paris. His first professional experience was with Yohji Yamamoto. This was followed by a stint with is own brand “Rain,” based in New Delhi, and then with Christian Lacroix. His next move was to the big leagues with Hermès as a senior designer in the early 2000s where he worked alongside Martin Margiela and Jean-Paul Gaultier. His unconventional thinking, obsession with detail and skilful execution made him standout when LVHM came looking for a new Creative Director to steer their Moynat vessel in the right direction. Ramesh Nair has gone on to prove himself to be the right person for the task.
He is the personification of understatement and likes to keep it that way. He shuns the limelight but is openly critical of those in the fashion industry who tend to focus more on bringing attention to themselves rather than on the product. He had high aspirations to work with the best names in the industry but was never willing to compromise just to fit into the crowd. Always dresses in simple t-shirts and trousers because shirts and ties make him feel restricted. He once politely declined an invitation to the Singapore Cricket Club because they had a strict shirt-and-tie dress code policy. What did interest him in Singapore was the Defu Lane reptile skin tannery who count among their clients Christian Dior and Prada. This is where Nair likes to experiment because they are open to exploring new ideas.
“Moynat is a unique story: it is a brand that had a huge presence and was very successful, but then disappeared from collective memory”
Before he could settle on his design language, he had to first research what Maison Moynat was all about. This was quite a difficult task as very little material from its illustrious past remained. Nair had to go to yard sales and put up fliers at vintage car shows to find Moynat items. Even finding the codes of the brand was a major task. What he could find he bought. About this adventure, he told The Hindu newspaper “Moynat is a unique story: it is a brand that had a huge presence and was very successful, but then disappeared from collective memory. So I started by looking for the story of Moynat. I went beyond the blank canvas to what lay behind the canvas. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Painstakingly he was finally able to put together a design language for the resurrected Maison Moynat. It is a language that is innovative and luxurious yet understated; it is staying true to the Moynat heritage while being modern chic. His carefully assembled a team of skilful artisans to bring his designs to life in the company’s workshop, where every wooden frame is built, leather tanned to exact specifications, and details like hinges and latches are created from scratch. Nothing in the workshop is hurried or compromised. Some one-off or customised items may take up to a year to finish.
Nair has also incorporated the difficult techniques of marquetry to leather as a pictorial technique and is offered à la carte as part of a design motif, or as a customised optional accessory. The technique has been so highly refined by Moynat’s artisans that the individual pieces “become undetectable to both the eye and the touch.” While the technique itself requires the highest skills and seriousness, the themes and images they depict are light-hearted. This is in a way, an honorarium to Henri Rapin who often infused light-heartedness or humour into his designs. It was a quality that became almost synonymous with Maison Moynat. Each marquetry is, therefore “a nod to Maison’s steadfast belief in tradition and craftsmanship, while opening new possibilities full of inherent humour and lightness of spirit.”
Since 2011, Nair and his team have quietly put together a range of products finished in the finest leather, for both men and women that fall into three distinct collections. The Bags collection consist of ladies handbags, clutches, shoulder bags, and travel bags. The Small Leather Goods collection consists of flat pouches, covers, cardholders, organisers, wallets and others. The Hardsided Luggage collection consists of trunks, briefcases, and vanity cases that have distinct concave bases inspired by the Limousine collection of old. The products in all three collections come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, and textures.
“The Réjane range is a tribute to the skill and achievements of Pauline Moynat herself, as well as a rebirth of the collection of pioneering handbags first launched in 1903”
Of all the products on offer, the one that must be given special mention is the Réjane range of handbags and clutches. It is a tribute to the skill and achievements of Pauline Moynat herself, as well as a rebirth of the collection of pioneering handbags first launched in 1903. They were inspired by and named after her good friend Gabrielle Réjane. The new Réjane takes about 20 hours to make. It has simple, uncomplicated lines and distinctively feminine curves on the outside and is voluminous on the inside. It features handles sculpted out of leather and a lock inspired by an original from the Art Deco period. It is available in “a range of natural and exotic leathers, in permanent and limited edition colours.”
Gabrielle is another range of women’s handbags and clutches named after Gabrielle Réjane. This range, however, is more reflective of the personality of Réjane herself: “dramatic and flamboyant.” Its complex all-leather construction is put together by a single artisan.
The Mini Vanity has an unconventional cube shape that makes it stand out. It is also “the perfect canvas on which the House’s techniques can be expressed in full freedom.” The Limousine range of Hardsided Luggage is the perfect homage to the Moynat icon: patented wooden frame, concave arched bottom, and nails spaced 10 millimetres apart. It was never copied earlier and is unique even today.
Without marketing gimmicks and with no compromises, the quiet revolution of the resurrected Maison Moynat has been spreading discreetly. Begining with its flagship boutique at the Rue Saint-Honore in Paris. It now has boutiques in London, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Dubai.