Ramesh Nair of Moynat on launching Bad Dreams; reporting to Bernard Arnault and customizing scooter cases for Jaguar
Ramesh Nair suffers from a beautiful craze, ideal for a designer; product mania. Almost single-handedly, and rather under the radar, this single-minded Indian has built Moynat into potent symbol of luxury elegance, savoir-faire and tangible humor. Just like his latest project: Bad Dreams.
A link-up with Franco-Japanese artist Tiffany Bouelle; a capsule selection of bags featuring her naïve yet nasty illustrations picked out in bronze and metallic pigments, done on pouches and totes with no visible seam, a classic style statement by Nair for Moynat.
Available already for Christmas, Bad Dreams is a rare link-up for Nair, who confesses: “I’m very anti-bling. I hate collaborations, but I met up with Tiffany in a gallery and loved her work; and asked her to paint my bags. It is more about an artist who came to paint our canvas,” stresses Nair.
One senses he is more excited about working with Jaguar on the new F-type, customizing cases for Europe’s latest transport mania – micro scooters.
“I shouldn’t really be showing you this, but I love it,” beamed Nair, revealing a precision sculpted leather container for the scooter.
It’s all part of his plan for Moynat, which began life in 1849 making trunks for luxurious carriages. A remarkable French marque that literally fell asleep, and stopped trading in the late '70s, before being brought back to life in 2010, after being acquired by luxury giant LVMH.
A key first step – hiring Nair, who joined from Hermès where he spent over a dozen years as assistant designer first to Martin Margiela and then Jean-Paul Gaultier. He racked up a remarkable record at Hermès creating such hits as the instantly recognizable Médor clutch; the tote-like So Kelly; the Birkin Shadow with its tell-tale sealed straps; and the Kelly Flat, easy to carry entirely collapsible. All the way to a tubular Hermès Paris Bombay in 2006, recalling Nair’s youth in India.
“I oversaw the offshoots of quite a few bags and created a few originals at Hermès with (then-CEO) Jean-Louis Dumas, who gave me a free hand. Basically most of the bags in runway shows. Though one should understand that at big houses like Hermès or Vuitton, you are surrounded by gifted artisans who just take you along and all you need is to have good strong ideas. Whereas here, I have to get on the shop floor and really create!” laughs Nair, who had Moynat create an active atelier nearby on Rue de la Sourdière. Where they create prototypes and even produce exotic pieces.
Yet, there is little of the artiness and eccentricity of either Margiela or Gaultier in his work at Moynat. Instead he has developed the uber clean lines of the Réjane, a Belle Epoque influenced bag named after actress Gabrielle Réjane, with a jewel-like lock; or the stately Gabrielle bag with its distinctive flat 'M' clasp. Or for gents, the rather marvellous Top Brass, a Limousine suitcase with one curved side recalling Moynat’s long association as a maker of trunks moulded to classic car marques like Bugatti.
A key Moynat signifier is the curve. It’s part of what Nair calls "Eye-denification." Like sister LVMH brands Fendi and Louis Vuitton, Moynat provides over-painted stripes; a habit first invented for owners to find their trunks more easily from all the mass on a dockside.
Next year, he is planning more emphasis on men’s ideas. Backpacks for day; watch accessories, but not satchels. “Nobody buys satchels anymore!”
It’s widely known that Moynat is a darling of Bernard Arnault, the chairman of patron of luxury group LVMH. Notorious for keeping polite but firm pressure on both his executives and designers; and showering few of them with compliments.
Not that this phases Nair.
“Monsieur Arnault is someone who is extremely difficult, extremely difficult, to please. He keeps it under wraps. He is very involved. You show the most amazing bags and he asks for something exactly the opposite. It’s a classic challenge. Normally in our business one gets used to people telling you how amazing you are. How beautiful things look, and I get that from journalists too, so when we are hit with criticism it makes you grow stronger and more able to explain ourselves better. We need criticism,” shrugs Nair, who meets Arnault biweekly and has done for the past eight years.
“Designers need a reality check. Before we had the terms BC and AD; now there is BI, meaning Before Internet. A generation who don’t understand that the world existed before the web! Who think that if it is not on Google something never happened,” snorts 53-year-old Nair, who with his left hand has built up a significant archive of Moynat suitcases and luggage, which he keeps upstairs from the house’s key flagship on rue St Honoré, a clean spare space designed by architect Gwenaël Nicolas.
He’s like a school kid pointing out the rarities he found in Paris street markets; London auctions; vintage stores and Internet dealers. From streamlined but battered elongated cases for car roofs; to tiny medicinal cases for savvy gentlemanly explorers on safari.
“Initially I could find things for tens of pounds. Now you can add two noughts to that, which means I must be doing something right,” he chortles.
Today, Moynat boasts over a score of “decently located” stores, with flagships in London on Mount Street and New York on Madison Avenue.
Nair was born in Kerala, south India, though travelled all over the sub-continent. His father was an army officer, and the family never stayed anywhere more than three years. Eventually, he ended up in fashion school in Delhi in 1987; took a leap of faith and came to Paris, where he snagged jobs at greats like Yohji Yamamoto and Christian Lacroix. Eight years ago he got a call from LVMH.
“It was very organic, when I think back. It was strange, like a Cohen Brothers movie. I was on my bicycle crossing bois de Vincennes, when I got the call,” recalls Nair, whose definition of Moynat is simple.
“It’s about real, real, real workmanship, jusqu’au bout, until the very end, as the French say. Respect for what we do, traditions and craft and somewhere I tie it all back to real luxury. I see so many brands just walking the streets of Paris. But, in fact, clothing brands are all about accessories today. They don’t sell clothes. A standalone bag brand is very rare; most brands now use clothes to accessorize the bags, and I find that completely bizarre and absurd.”
He seems less than obsessed with the concept of travel.
“Moynat was not a big traveller brand; more a voyage in your head. Travel is a big fantasy, while the
concept of baggage we need to review. I could work on Rimowa but to do a trunk now thinking that someone could carry it to the back of the car is a little unlikely,” concludes Nair, who cycles to work from his home near Parc Monceau.
And he confesses his own luggage is Globetrotter, the vulcanized canvas British suitcase brand used on the first ascent of Everest.
“People don’t buy luggage every day; maybe every couple of years. Though as a boy we moved from place to place with big aluminium trunks. Being a rolling stone means you gather no moss and you can easily fit into different environments without a problem. You adapt yourself and that’s an important part of being a designer,” insists Nair, whose education, like so many upper middle-class Indians, was entrusted to Irish priests, in colleges with names like St Joseph’s and Mount Carmel.
“Irish priests who would beat the daylights out of me. Good teachers, like Father Patrick. I used to confess in confessions to copying from my neighbour; and then he used to spot me in the exams and thrash me. It took me a couple of months to realize it was the same priest,” he cackles.
“Their canes had a rope twists around them. We’d wear shorts and I’d call home with welts. We were forced to kneel in 45-degree temperatures outside in 99 percent humidity. So, after all that Bernard Arnault seems very gentle!” he hoots.
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