A Voyager, Even Now

  • Modern Limousine trunks start at $9,000.
  • Photo by Fuzeau Philippe
    Moynat's modern custom pieces include a bicycle case equipped for a picnic (starting at $37,000). Photo by Fuzeau Philippe
  • The archives include a 1925 red Moroccan-leather trunk with a frieze of studs.
  • Photo by David Atlan
    A trunk designed for the Jaguar F-Type that holds a scooter. Photo by David Atlan
  • A black Poursuite city bag
  • A briefcase in Moynat's signature M canvas.
  • Photo by Fuzeau Philippe
  • Photo by David Atlan
<< Back to Robb Report, April 2014

At the beginning of the 20th century, the maker of the most stylish and practical custom luggage in Paris was not Louis Vuitton or Goyard, but Pauline Moynat. The only prominent female practitioner of the era, Moynat created distinctively curvaceous bags and witty conceptual pieces, such as a round trunk designed to hold a spare tire that could also, in a pinch, be filled with water to serve as a bathtub. She founded her business, Moynat, in 1849, and by 1854 she owned the patent for canvas coated with gutta-percha, a natural tropical latex that guaranteed a watertight finish. She developed the first frame trunk made of lightweight wicker covered with watertight canvas, and when motorcars became a staple of modern life, she adapted her designs to suit them, making custom luggage that matched the exteriors of Bugattis, Binders, Voisins, Labourdettes, and other marques. In 1902 she received five patents for her signature piece of luggage, the Limousine trunk, which featured a curved bottom that fit snugly onto the rounded roof of a car.

But for all her technical accomplishments—and the aesthetic appeal of her designs—Moynat gradually faded into obscurity, and the brand’s single Parisian shop finally closed in 1976. Fortunately, Moynat’s legacy captured the interest of Bernard Arnault several years ago. A master at reviving storied brands, the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy–Louis Vuitton purchased Moynat through Groupe Arnault, his private holding company, and set out to restore its grandeur for a new generation of travelers. Nearly four years later, the Moynat name once again rejoins the exclusive ranks of fashion, appearing on the fronts of boutiques in Paris and London that stock its full range of handbags, small leather goods, and luggage. Yet unlike most leather-goods producers, Moynat’s hallmark is not a logo; instead, it is the streamlined, slightly curvaceous shape and simplicity of its designs, which once again set the standard of style among today’s travelers.

The first challenge in authentically resuscitating Moynat was assembling an archive of the company’s original trunks, which would serve as the inspiration for future pieces. After the closure of the shop, no such collection existed. Under the supervision of the chief executive Guillaume Davin and the creative director Ramesh Nair, bags and trunks were purchased across Europe from antiques dealers and at vintage-car rallies, where some old automobiles could be found with made-to-order Moynat luggage that, after more than a century, was still in excellent condition. The collection, which numbers about 150 pieces, is displayed at the brand’s boutiques and in Moynat’s Paris offices. Among the more interesting finds are a 1929 leather trunk once owned by Juan Bautista Pérez, the president of Venezuela, who covered it with stickers touting his extensive travels, and a 1925 red Moroccan-leather trunk decorated with a frieze of studs that earned a grand prize at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris.

In the era when a trip across the Atlantic via steamship often took weeks, the concept of ordering bespoke trunks that required months to complete was unremarkable; today, however, such consumer patience is in short supply, except perhaps among those who truly admire that level of quality work. Moynat’s modern workshops in France employ only skilled artisans, who ply the same techniques that defined the brand 150 years ago. Weeks or months are still needed to make a trunk—but, as Davin points out, the completed piece will last for generations. “Our clients want what is precious, authentic, well-made, and lasting,” he says, noting that, unlike Louis Vuitton and other megabrands in the LVMH stable, Moynat is under no pressure to expand. “Mr. Arnault gave us no specific instructions—other than to surprise him.”

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