The first woman to make travel trunks was a visionary. Pauline Moynat founded the House of Moynat in 1849 and soon made it the most distinctively Parisian of all the era’s makers of leather goods and trunks.
Moynat set up shop in Paris at a young age and, in her own inimitable way, transformed a trade dominated by men. She had two passions, which remained the hallmarks of the enterprise that bears her name. One was the exceptional savoir faire of Parisians. The other was the arts of their city and particularly the theatre.
The House of Moynat built a reputation for the quality of its made-to-order trunks and other travel paraphernalia. It soon became the official supplier of such goods to the Comédie-Française, the theatre at 2 rue de Richelieu in Place André-Malraux in Paris. The Comédie-Française was founded in 1680 and may be the world’s oldest continuously functioning theatre.
Moynat came to the notice of Gabrielle Réjane, one of the most renowned actresses of the Belle Époque. Réjane was talented and adventurous. She achieved success on the stage in Paris, London and New York, and was well-known for her character, charm and humour. Legend has it that Réjane travelled with a trunk covered in purple crocodile skin so her luggage showed off the dramatic glamour of Paris and its theatre wherever she travelled.
The actress was a devoted admirer of the House of Moynat, and inspired the trunk maker to design her first line of women’s handbags at the end of the 19th century. It was no surprise that the friendship coincided with the Belle Époque. It was an era of unprecedented refinement and good taste. Those who experienced the years between 1871 and 1914 witnessed the advent of wonders such as the cinema and the motor car. The Paris of the era was the centre of the arts’ world, and Réjane the muse of the artists and couturiers.
The friendship between Moynat and Réjane helped shape the history of fashion. At the beginning of the 20th century, Moynat created the Réjane bag, the first handbag to be named after a contemporary celebrity.
More than a century later, in 2011, the artistic director of the House of Moynat, Ramesh Nair, a former senior designer for Hermès, created a modern Réjane, which has become emblematic of the House. Each bag is made in Paris by a single artisan, who takes 20 working hours to finish one after the leather preparation. More recently, the Gabrielle bag was introduced, quickly becoming another iconic bag. Its clean, graphic lines to the subtle play of the curves are inspired from the Limousine Trunks, an integral part of the brand’s history.
And so a different friendship exists today, one perpetuated during a “spiritual” afternoon between Nair and model/chef Amanda Strang at The Temple House in Chengdu. The old and contemporary style of architecture resonates wth the brand ethos of Moynat, something Nair appreciates when he stays at their properties. “Moynat has always been about people and relationships,” says Nair. “The connections I develop inspire me, similar to the bond Amanda and I have developed.”
Photography / Hans Ding
Fashion / Sacai
Location / The Temple House, Chengdu
This article originally ran in the September 2017 print issue of #legend magazine