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Moynat & the relevance of the trunk in modern travel

As luggage brand Moynat launches its first boutique in the Middle East in Dubai, artistic director Ramesh Nair explains why the trunk still has a place in modern travel 

Leather is supposed to age with you; if it’s a living material, it has to scratch. It has to take on the blemishes of time. ~ Ramesh Nair

As excited as Ramesh Nair is about the opening of Moynat’s first boutique in the Middle East, it doesn’t come without trepidation. The man behind the revival of the Parisian luggage label founded in 1849 made the mistake of posting details of the brand’s recent open day on social media, leading to a stream of fans crossing over the threshold. 

“That’s a very good sign, though,” Nair tells Debonair. “It speaks to how large our customer base is out here. But with this store opening I think we’re going to have problems at our boutiques in London and Paris.” 

But challenges don’t seem to deter the brand, relaunched in the midst of a global recession in 2010 after a decades-long hiatus. “It was a very interesting time. We had competition, and that’s a good thing. 

“That said, downturns don’t normally cause problems for well-made, high-end brands because they offer something people will continue to pick up. Sometimes a recession is good for a shake-up. You need it once in a while.” 

Leather is supposed to age with you; if it’s a living material, it has to scratch. It has to take on the blemishes of time. ~ Ramesh Nair

Nair joined Moynat, known for its luxurious bags, small leather goods and its hardsided luggage especially, as artistic director after stints at celebrated brands such as Hermès, Christian Lacroix and Yohji Yamamoto. 

Moynat is a throwback to a more glamorous age of travel, its trunks having accompanied the well-heeled jetsetter of yesteryear around the globe. Nair says one of his biggest challenges has been reclaiming the savoir-faire of that era. “Setting up a brand like this to the exacting standards which I wanted to take it to, a key concern is losing key skills and an appreciation of amazing materials.”

He uses language as an example of how we’ve evolved regressively, in a manner of speaking. Non-English speakers who can make sense of the alphabet give way to those who can form simple words, they to those who can make sentences and eventually to those who create poetry. “Yet somehow we’re back to Egyptian hieroglyphics, with emojis standing in for words and expressions. We’re taking shortcuts. 

Ever since Pauline Moynat set up her atelier in 1849, excellence in craftsmanship has been at the very heart of the House of Moynat. Just as they were 169 years ago, bags are made in France by a single artisan who oversees all parts of leather making. Hallowed traditions and century-old know-how are preserved and revived in creations that bear the modernity that is the hallmark of Moynat.

“Similarly, sewing by hand gave way to machine stitching, and that became the norm. And plasticisation hit the luggage and clothing sectors hard in the 1960s and ’70s, when we started selling leather with this coating on — presumably to protect it. Now the scratching thing has become an excuse to avoid buying good materials. People don’t realise the difference between good leather and plasticised leather. 

“Leather is supposed to age with you; if it’s a living material, it has to scratch. It has to take on the blemishes of time. Everything I own is well scratched,” he says. “It’s like we’ve lost poetry somewhere along the way.” 

Nair is determined to revive traditional craft and the appreciation of goods that tell stories through the character that weathered luggage carries. “I always tell customers to open the bag, to breathe it in deeply, to touch it — so you have all your senses being messed around with.”

Of his favourite skins, Nair says, “Anything natural. Anything amazing. My favorite is box leather. Boxcalf is one of the most beautiful, beautiful materials ever. It truly ages beautifully with time.”

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“I keep seeing a lot about smart luggage. But it’s scary. We’ve been talking about smart luggage for quite some time now. We’ve talked about materials that adapt. We’ve talked about automatic closures. But we have to understand something: Being smart is also making us dumb.”

-Ramesh Nair

He also doesn’t buy the idea that people don’t travel with trunks any more. “We still use trunks. Only now they’re on wheels and you can pull them around. It’s an evolution, like everything in life. 

“In olden days we had these heavy trunks. It became modern trunks. It became handbags. It became plastic totes that we take around everywhere. It’s going back to leather. It’s become Rimowas, made of aluminium. And the next iteration could be a fantastic new material that makes it easier to carry a trunk. 

“And yet there are people who still buy trunks. A lot of people.”

In keeping with tradition, Moynat still offers intricate lettering and personalisation services — hand-painted, just like with its first items nearly 170 years. Nowadays, though, modern techniques and materials are incorporated, so your emblem can for example glow in the dark, or change colour depending on the temperature. 

“Heritage should never be a challenge,” Nair says. “Heritage is something you can use as a stepping stone. I see a lot of brands where it’s just about the heritage; they only have the ‘Since so and so date’ logo and everything else is nonsense. They seem to think that this label will take them through the entire journey. It’s not true. 

“Heritage is like when somebody gives you a name. It’s what you do with your name that makes you who you are.”

Nair is also inspired by another aspect of the days of yore — the salons where artists, writers, philosophers and the like used to gather to exchange ideas. He enjoys interacting with people from different fields, and these conversations have led to some truly unique trunks: French three-Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno got a mobile cooking station, replete with a gas cylinder and rudimentary equipment so he can cook anywhere; and the Franco-Hungarian artist Mambo got a mobile gallery for up to six paintings, as well as an easel and canvas for spontaneous pieces. The latter didn’t even know Nair was making him a trunk until it was delivered. 

French Art Deco painter and illustrator Henri Rapin invented the toile initiale Moynat Paris, a motif formed by alternating lines in the letter “M”. Initially a simple means of protecting the house from copies, the discreet, elegant monogram became its signature.

Looking back over the past nine years, Nair recalls his apprehension. “I was a fashion designer for years. The day I signed on with Moynat, I got back home and I panicked. I was thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ Sure, I had done bags. I had actually done quite a number of bags for Hermès, but it was in a sheltered environment. Here, I was on my own. There were scary moments! 

“And I think what really got me through was my crazy, crazy fascination for know-how, the ‘making’ process. It’s something that has stood by me throughout it all, whether I was making clothes or bags. It’s like what they say in French, têtu. Headstrong.” 

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