The “strange character” behind Moynat luggage
Words by Rob Chilton
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Ramesh Nair, the eccentric creative director of the Parisian leather goods company, tells EDGAR he’s still searching for a photograph of the woman who began the brand in 1849
Back in the mid-1800s there was a revolution in tourism as trains and boats took wealthy passengers to foreign countries. Suddenly people needed luggage – specifically large trunks to cart their extravagant wardrobes. Step forward Pauline Moynat. This visionary French woman opened a store at 1 Avenue de l’Opera in Paris in 1849 and quickly became the city’s leading trunk maker.
“At that time there were about 400 trunk makers on Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris alone, and over 200 on Avenue de l’Opéra,” explains Ramesh Nair, creative director of the Moynat brand today. “For Pauline Moynat, a woman, to start this business in that era is amazing. When I researched the company that was the first thing that struck me – it was a revelation. I wanted to find out more about her but couldn’t find very much. I’m still looking for a picture of her.”
Nair, a clothes designer up until this point, signed with Moynat in 2010 to revive the brand. “Day one was chaos. I walked into a meeting and there were four trunks in the corner of the room – we had nothing. I went home and thought what on earth have I got myself into? But from chaos comes energy.”
Nair began sifting through the Moynat archive and was struck by the workmanship. “For me, that’s the crucial thing,” he tells EDGAR. “When I started at Moynat I had two options. Option one: go and buy what’s available today. Option two is the hard way: recreate.”
Rather than buy modern metal trunk clasps, for example, Nair asked a metalwork expert to remake closures used by Moynat in the 1800s. “Our trunks today are built like the ones from around end of the 1800s – the nails, the stitching, the joins,” he says. “We have maintained quite a bit from the early days because I wanted to keep the authenticity.”
However, not everything could be recreated. Moynat’s famous English Trunk from 1873 was made from wicker covered in canvas and gutta-percha, a black gum from Indonesia. “I tried to get hold of some but was told it was terribly toxic,” says Nair. “In those days dentists used it to fill in root canals!”
Next, Nair learned about the construction of Moynat’s trunks. “I’m a strange character, I like to take things apart, it’s why I never had good toys when I was a kid,” he laughs. “I pulled the trunks apart to see how they were made. I do the same with clothes because the construction fascinates me.”
Although the quality of Moynat's output is undoubtedly serious, Nair lightens the mood by putting fun motifs on small leather goods such as aeroplanes and vintage cars. Festive luggage tags, meanwhile, bear images of a walrus wearing a scarf and a fox burying its head in the snow. “I’m not a very serious guy," smiles Nair. "You have to have humour."
The Indian designer who trained in Delhi, New York and Paris has a personal collection of vintage Moynat pieces he finds from trawling antique shops around the world. He showed EDGAR beautiful hand-stitched leather cases that were used to transport bottles of cologne. “I store everything in a messy little room,” he says. “I have a few trunks in my office that I use for various purposes but I don’t like the idea of trunks being used as living room decoration or furniture – I want them to be functional or I want them to travel.”
As well as continuing to hunt for old Moynat pieces, Nair is still seeking a photograph of the elusive Pauline Moynat. What does he think she looks like? “Well, I don’t think she was a waif,” he smiles. “She was a businesswoman – and she was smart. I think she was probably a pretty robust woman.”
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