Paris is synonymous with luxury, but of the many brands that carry the city’s appellation, few can claim to be truly Parisian. The oldest French trunk-maker, Moynat opened its first atelier in Paris in 1849. A forgotten gem until its re-emergence in 2011 under Bernard Arnault, led by creative director Ramesh Nair the house today designs and manufactures its wares by hand in a small studio off Rue Saint Honoré and is one of a select few brands that can legitimately call the City of Light home – although one might never know it. As befits a brand that takes pride in creating pieces of subtle and understated elegance, Moynat prefers to let the product do the talking.
Moynat’s coyness isn’t some marketing ploy but a reflection of those who run the company, and in particular of the shy yet charming creative director Ramesh Nair. Possibly modest to a fault, Nair would rather be in his studio drawing up designs or in the workshop ironing out an intensely technical issue than doing interviews.
“What we create is the most important thing,” says Nair reflectively when asked why he shuns the limelight. Indeed, he seems to revel in his low profile, adding playfully that, to his knowledge, he is the only Indian designer in charge of a major luxury brand and that barely any of his countrymen know this.
Nair’s story, and that of Moynat, are indelibly intertwined, more so than most creative director-brand relationships, primarily because he was employee number one when the brand was revived by LVMH chief Bernard Arnault in 2011. “Before Moynat I was working at Hermès with some of the best designers. I was assisting Martin [Margiela] and Jean Paul [Gaultier], the very best in our industry, but I was always wondering what to do next.”
The call from Arnault was a surprise and the project that was pitched to him impossible to resist. “They asked if I was interested in putting a brand back on the map. For a designer, that’s a fantastic prospect.” And for a designer with a love of history it was a match made in heaven.“It wasn’t just taking the name and creating something,” says Nair of the parameters he set himself for resurrecting Moynat – a project he calls a “re-start-up” – “it’s the name, finding the story and then creating something.” The story was all-important, lending legitimacy to everything Nair creates under the Moynat name. “At Hermès I saw how important the archive and history were. Working with Margiela, we used to make clothes inspired by vintage pieces. So that’s why we collected old Moynat pieces. I needed a story, I needed history.”
With the help of Moynat CEO Guillaume Davin, Nair has spent the past few years scouring flea markets and antique fairs, both offline and online, collecting vintage pieces from the brand’s illustrious past. So diligent and successful have they both been that Moynat’s small Paris office has become a makeshift museum with trunks from various decades of the early 20th century stacked delicately on top of one another.
There is method to all this compulsive collecting, not least in what Nair, and by extension Moynat, can and can’t create. “Recently I picked up an old Moynat writing kit from the 1920s. It was so beautifully made and it made me think of what else I can create legitimately,” he says. He has also dug deep in the archives for the Limousine collection, its sleek and telltale silhouette homage to the time when trunks were strapped to automobiles. “Brand-building isn’t all about the present and the future, it’s about the past, too,” he says.
Born in India, Nair has lived in Paris for 16 years, the longest he has resided anywhere, he says, adding that “you don’t become French living here but you do become Parisian”. His love affair with the city is absolute and he talks effusively of the inspiration he draws from the architecture, the art and much else, but strangely for someone who works in the industry, rarely from fashion. “I love design, I don’t really follow fashion at all. I very rarely look at shows,” he says, adding that he “never [goes] to them even though I’m invited quite often”. Instead, Nair is motivated by design, which he feels is anchored and less fleeting than fashion. “I like the phrase ‘design leads, fashion follows’, so for me it’s all about design.”
Nair’s diffidence and focus on design mirrors that of one of his mentors, the notoriously reclusive Margiela, whom he assisted for a number of years at Hermès. Like Margiela, Nair firmly believes the products should be front and centre and the designer somewhere in the background. But as Moynat re-emerges and takes its place in the top tier of luxury, and as celebrity patrons such as Pharrell Williams extol the virtues of the company’s products, Nair faces the prospect not only of more journalists wanting to talk to him but also of a company moving from the start-up phase to something bigger. “Not compromising is something that we fight for every day,” he says. “I hate compromising, on anything, so when we grow, things will change obviously, but as we grow I’m trying to put in place things so that nothing changes.”
Coming full circle, Nair softly repeats that in the end, Moynat will be judged solely on the beautiful things it creates – and nothing else.