Boutique trunk maker Moynat has a long and storied history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 January, 2015, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 January, 2015, 4:36pm

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Many Hongkongers may not be familiar with Moynat, as the boutique Parisian trunk maker has only recently appeared on the city's luxury landscape. However, the brand has a history that dates back to 1849, when it was founded by Pauline Moynat - the only female trunk maker of her time.

Moynat eventually closed its Paris boutique in 1976, but the brand was resurrected in 2010 as a personal project of LMVH chief executive Bernard Arnault, in collaboration with artistic director Ramesh Nair and president Guillaume Davin.

Moynat's boutique (or gallery, as it is called) at Landmark in Central, opens a new chapter for the storied artisanal brand. It sells women's and men's leather goods and accessories, trunks and textiles, with personalisation services ranging from hand-painted initials to made-to-measure bags.

The store uses a deep sensual brown Havana colour, based on antique Moynat trunks, as its core hue, and offers plenty of heritage references.

"A lot of it is imagination and is based on my collection of metallic pieces or parts of the trunks and bags," says Nair, who describes himself as a "crazy antique collector" who started collecting Moynat items years ago simply because he liked the brand.

We meet in the brand's small atelier and studio, just five minutes from their flagship on Rue Saint Honoré in central Paris. Leathers and parts are laid out on tables, and a craftsman is hard at work downstairs.

"The people who know Moynat are mostly not alive," he says. "I have got a few pieces, but there are very few bags remaining. We collected a lot of trunks, and that was when I realised that, wow, there is really something here to discover."

The reinvention of Moynat is Arnault's pet project, but Nair is no hired hand. "This is my baby as much as Monsieur Arnault's," he says, "I created the archives."

Building on the history of this lost label has been a kind of study project for Nair, whose background is in ready-to-wear; he previously worked with Yohji Yamamoto, Christian Lacroix, and Martin Margiela and Jean Paul Gaultier at Hermès.

Because so few pieces of Moynat remain, "you have to create everything again", he says. Even recovering the lost codes of the brand was a major task. Nair put up fliers at vintage car fairs asking for Moynat items, and bought everything he could find by the brand, including antique pieces, and catalogues so he could get a detailed impression of the style.

He has changed some elements such as the clasps, and has kept some of the art deco styles that characterised the brand in its heyday. But he has also modernised the look with pure lines and extra refinement.

Perhaps it's fitting that a central house code designed by Pauline Moynat, the first female trunk maker, is based around curves. The iconic curved limousine trunk caught Nair's eye immediately: "I'd seen trunks before, but this was different. I did not know what the utility was."

It was only when they acquired an old Moynat catalogue that it fell into place: the curved side was for placing the trunk on the car roof. The limousine briefcase, which is also curved on one side, was inspired by this trunk and was the first item Nair designed for the Moynat relaunch.

Like the heritage pieces of yesteryear, all Moynat items are still crafted in France in small numbers. "We are not about trends," says Davin. "We are a hidden brand. We are slow and we have no advertising. We are still a laboratory."

How does this fit into Arnault's vast luxury stable, which includes another, heritage-trunks-turned-handbag-brand - the all- pervasive Louis Vuitton? "We don't fit in", Davin says, "We are not part of LVMH, and we report directly to Mr Arnault. It's his personal investment."

It's easy to see how Moynat has charmed some of fashion's biggest names with its history. It registered plenty of patents, including the first waterproof trunk (using canvas coated in Indonesian gum) in 1854, and the lightweight "English trunk" in 1870.

We want to make sure that Moynat remains precious. We want to stay a hidden house, and we don't want to do aggressive marketing
Guillaume Davin, Moynat president

As the official supplier to the Comédie Française, Pauline Moynat developed a close relationship with the Parisian theatre of the belle époque period. A bag she designed for actress Gabrielle Réjane at the end of the 19th century, the "Réjane bag", was the first celebrity-inspired bag.

Celebrity designs are no longer part of Moynat's business model. But it made an exception for Pharrell Williams, whose colourful line, inspired by old American railways, includes bags in resin, wood and cut-out leather, with toy train motifs, and silk scarves with railroad graphics.

 

"We want to make sure that Moynat remains precious," says Davin. "We want to stay a hidden house, and we don't want to do aggressive marketing." After all, says Nair, "These bags are more about a silhouette than a logo."

Finding the right fans and clients is key to the success of a brand like Moynat. Prices start at €700 (HK$6,450) for the most basic small bags, and rise to around €26,000 for the Regent crocodile bag. Davin tells me that two were sold to a Chinese client in Paris the previous day.

Most of the clients at the Rue Saint Honoré store on the day of the interview were Asian. The Americans were the first to appreciate the newly revived house, Davin says, but "Chinese clients have been growing without us doing anything. They started coming a year ago."

"We met with a few of these clients, and they really want the best of the best," says Davin. "They enjoy discovering lost and forgotten houses, and like being the first to get their designs."

 

Chinese are now the number one buyers at Moynat, so a Hong Kong outpost makes sense. With the trend in understated high luxury steaming ahead, despite worries about a global slowdown, Moynat may have got its timing just right.

A HONG KONG STORE EXCLUSIVE What recession? If you have HK$1.18 million lying around, this item might catch your eye, though I'm not sure you'll want to be swinging it around the streets. The brand has released an exclusive Réjane mini (a new size) hand-made in crocodile leather over six days and featuring a rose gold and mother of pearl clasp, encrusted with 320 diamonds.

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