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In focus: Moynat luggage


Moynat, one of the most historic luggage manufacturers in Paris, has reinvented itself for the modern age without losing sight of its roots, as Karen Munnis discovers

Karen Munnis portrait
Karen Munnis,

Moynat’s luxury travel goods have been coveted by international jetsetters for more than 165 years. This Parisian label is one of the world’s oldest trunk and leather goods brands; Pauline Moynat, the only known female luggage-maker in history, launched her eponymous label in 1849.

This is not the only way the company has been a pioneer. Long before Hermès named a bag after actress Jane Birkin, Moynat led the way by naming a handbag after Gabrielle Réjane, one of the stars of the Belle Époque at the turn of the 20th century. During its history, the company has also filed numerous patents, covering everything from lightweight luggage to waterproofing, and it has designed trunks for every mode of travel, from limousines to trains.

Pauline Moynat arrived in Paris at the age of 16 and made her living selling travel goods in the city’s Opéra district. She soon teamed up with the Coulembier family, leather goods manufacturers from the northern suburbs of Paris. In 1869 they opened their first boutique at place du Théâtre Français (now place André-Malraux). The shop was across the street from the famous Comédie-Française theatre and Moynat soon became its official supplier.

The theatre strongly inspired Pauline Moynat’s work, but it was her friendship with Belle Époque actress Gabrielle Réjane that cemented the brand’s status in the arts world. Réjane was a rising star and a muse to many design houses, including Moynat, and the house created the Réjane bag in her honour at the beginning of the 20th century. It has become one of Moynat’s most iconic bags; in 2011, the brand’s artistic director Ramesh Nair redesigned the classic city bag for the modern age and in 2015 a smaller, compact version of the original leather style was re-released.

In 1906, Moynat started what was to become a long and successful collaboration with the artist Henri Rapin. He first worked on a series of black and white luggage stickers featuring a train motif. Next he designed Moynat’s signature print of repeated Ms that would become the brand’s trademark and feature across its product range. In 1925, Rapin designed a red Moroccan-inspired trunk, featuring studs and a palm leaf motif, which was awarded the certificate of honour at L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) in Paris.

Moynat has continued to collaborate with a wide range of international brands. It has worked with cosmetic and perfume brand Guerlain to create a blue beauty case for the Orient Express, and has joined forces with Jaguar to produce Le Malle Jaguar, a trunk fitted with an electric scooter that is designed to be stored inside a Jaguar F-type convertible.

From its beginnings, the brand has effortlessly combined beautiful, handcrafted design with innovation and functionality. In 1854, it created the first waterproof covering for its cases, using gutta-percha, a tropical sap. This was followed, in 1870, by the patented malle Anglaise (English trunk), a lightweight wicker trunk that was designed for travel between France and England and became increasingly popular when weight restrictions were introduced for luggage.

Moynat has always ensured it remains relevant to the times by customising its trunks for the evolving automotive industry. In 1902, the house designed a trunk specifically for limousines – its concave shape sat perfectly on the roof of the car. In addition, all its trunks could be custom designed to match the interior or exterior, as well as the contour, of any vehicle.

The company’s current collections take inspiration from its origins in pieces such as the Mini Vanity, which is modelled after its famous trunks. This modern evening bag and wristlet is a miniaturised replica of Moynat’s more historic designs and is handmade using traditional techniques such as angle stitching, an ancient French crafting method. Most recently, the brand has worked with singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams to create a series of train-shaped bags and clutches.

Moynat closed its doors in 1976 but in 2011 reopened on rue Saint-Honoré under LVMH ownership. Since its renaissance, the house has opened stores in London and Hong Kong and continues to produce handcrafted designs of the highest standard. Anyone carrying a Moynat will always be travelling in style.

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