IT'S NO SECRET that most high-end brands rely on accessories – especially bags and shoes – for their bottom line. In spite of the spectacle of the runway, with houses staging grand shows every season to display their ready-to-wear, clothes often function as a billboard for the real bread and butter, those covetable It bags that fly off the shelves and can make or break a label. Just look at the layout of most luxury boutiques and you'll notice that bags, shoes and small leather goods take pride of place, while apparel is often tucked into a corner or an upper floor.
It then comes as little surprise that in recent years a number of low-key leather-goods houses have been brought back to life by savvy executives, aware that, barring a handful of exceptions, ready-to-wear is not what makes the registers ring.
In recent years, previously forgotten entities such as Belgian house Delvaux and Italian label Valextra have come to the fore as niche and successful luxury players, trying to follow the path of household names such as Goyard, the trunk maker whose monogrammed chevron-patterned carryalls have become a staple of ladies who lunch from New York to Tokyo to Hong Kong.
The latest house to make a foray into Asia with a boutique in Hong Kong is Moynat, which seems to have been plucked from obscurity, given its status as a sleeping beauty for most of the second half of the 20th century. The house was founded in 1849 by Pauline Moynat, the only female trunk maker of renown at the time, and specialised in the making of automobile trunks. It's also believed that Pauline Moynat was the first designer to make a bag targeted at women (in 1880) and also the first to name a bag after a celebrity, with the creation of the Réjane, which paid homage to early 20th-century theatre actress Gabrielle Réjane.
In 2010 LVMH owner Bernard Arnault, the man responsible for the revival of Louis Vuitton and countless other luxury labels, discovered Moynat and decided to buy the name, with the intention of bringing it back to its former glory. Arnault, however, didn't make Moynat part of his luxury conglomerate but acquired it privately as a special investment after falling in love with it. “Monsier Arnault is very hands-on,” says Moynat President Guillaume Davin at the opening of the Hong Kong boutique. “We see him often, although by far we're the smallest piece of his world.”
Davin was employee number one at Moynat and was soon followed by Artistic Director Ramesh Nair, who had learned the ropes of the trade at Hermès. The two weren't given a brief by their boss, who simply told them: “Try to make me dream.” From day one, Davin and Nair delved deep into the history of the maison, reacquiring pieces from collectors of vintage cars, who owned a surprisingly large number of trunks made for Bugattis and other automakers, and going through catalogues found here and there.
Restoring the allure of such a little-known brand is obviously no easy task. The two agree that there's no immediate plan to turn Moynat into the next Louis Vuitton but just to “follow our intuition,” as Davin puts it.
Such a rich heritage is a great asset, but Nair points out that while he always keeps in mind the history of the house and that of its founder as a pioneering female designer, you can't just remake the old classics. “We can't just revisit because bags don't stay the same,” explains Nair. “You're picking up codes, you're picking up details like closures from somewhere and creating new codes, taking a big bag that is superb and making it modern. You have to be modern; it has to talk to people.”
And people seem to be listening. Although it's obviously too early to talk about figures or the expansion plans of a niche label such as Moynat, which so far only has stores in Paris, London and now Hong Kong, it's clear that a general sense of logo fatigue and the overexposure of ubiquitous brands are significantly changing the market, with high-end consumers opting for more discreet labels.
What these recent revivals share is a focus on making beautiful and exclusive products, shunning the logo mania and inyour- face attitude of the last two decades – think Gucci and Louis Vuitton back in their heydays. Although pieces such as Le Brillant handbag from Delvaux are becoming staples among in-the-know style setters – just look at the crowd outside the shows at fashion week – and Moynat made a splash last year with a much-publicised collaboration with Pharrell Williams unveiled at Colette, these reborn brands don't bow to the pressure to follow trends. As Valextra president Emanuele Carminati Molina says, “We don't want to grow too fast and we don't make fashion or care about trends. Our products are modern classics.” Wise words that seem to have become the mantra of executives dealing with a much-changed luxury landscape.