A few short weeks ago, had I been jetted off to Paris in search of a new “it” bag, I likely wouldn’t have ended up here.
Like every other purse fanatic, I’d be browsing through quilted chain bags and monogrammed logos as ubiquitous as Parisian baguettes.
Standing amidst the lacquered walls of Moynat, I realize how much I would have missed.
Framed in their niches are the bags: irresistibly touchable gems, punched with the signature metal closures descended from the luggage of well-heeled 19th-century travelers. Known for its automobile-fitted trunks, Moynat’s heritage may go back centuries; but, like myself, few would’ve heard of France’s oldest trunkmaker until the recent present.
“I am very proud of the revival of Moynat and love both the small leather goods and limited edition trunks,” says Arnaud de Lummen with a smile. In 2011, he resurrected the 1800s-era atelier, now a luxe Rue Saint-Honoré boutique, which ceased production in the 1970s. “I absolutely love the trunk which matches the Jaguar F-type perfectly.” Gracious and impeccably attired, de Lummen himself could easily have stepped out of post-Revolution Paris.
In a ruthlessly fickle industry, de Lummen is reversing couture’s direction: reaching into fashion history’s depths to breathe new life into long-extinct fashion houses that for years have languished in slumber. Moynat is one of the bygone-era brands that drew the Harvard Law graduate and vintage aficionado to the classic past.
“The heritage and the history of old brands are what makes them unique,” says de Lummen, whose portfolio of “sleeping beauties,” as he calls these previously dormant brands, includes Vionnet and Paul Poiret. “I look for historical significance and artistic relevance in today’s world. I believe there is no luxury without some part of nostalgia.”
Born into a family of artistic lineage — an ancestor’s paintings appeared at the Orsay — and a home that “resembled an art gallery,” de Lummen’s appreciation for culture doesn’t come as a surprise. “Having been raised in Paris, I believe I intrinsically know what is elegant, what is of good taste.” In a time of dizzyingly changing trends, he finds beauty rooted in an age of impeccable workmanship and elegance that never gets old.
“Vionnet changed the course of fashion with her innovative and sensuous designs, now venerated as masterpieces,” he says, referring to the French couturier who closed her doors in 1939, to become his first sleeping beauty half a century later. Now an act of dramatic, flowing forms headed by designer Goga Ashkenazi, Vionnet’s renaissance of its Roaring Twenties glory began as a pro-bono project, when de Lummen was called upon to secure the trademarks and a distribution agreement with Barneys New York for the cult brand’s followers.
“Reviving Vionnet opened a world of possibilities. It basically established that it was possible to wake up a brand which had been dormant for more than 50 years,” says de Lummen. “I was lucky to be the first to do it and to be one step ahead to identify the next ones to revive.”
The project would lay the groundwork for what would become a series of brand resurrections, a process as demanding as it is rewarding. The hardest part, says de Lummen, is finding an investor. “In a way, I am like a screenwriter and movie director; I may have the property rights and a wonderful script, but each time I still need to find the producers who believe in the project and provide the resources to make it real.”
What makes it all worth it? “When a dead brand that was unknown to many comes back to life and generates a new following,” he says.
Invigorated with fresh vision, the vintage brands brought back by de Lummen have gotten snapped up by major luxury groups: Moynat, for instance, has been sold to the French Groupe Arnault, while Paul Poiret made it all the way to South Korea, recently acquired by Shinsegae International.
The international success of these resurfaced designers is partly a product of the natural respect and appreciation we tend to feel for the past. Steeped in history, the designs captivate with the enchantment of a different time. Luxury brands, according to de Lummen, are “addicted to their past” — and aren’t we all?
Those in the know await with bated breath the next sleeping beauty to awaken under de Lummen’s magic touch. Gears are spinning for the regal fashions of Rose Bertin, dressmaker to Queen Marie-Antoinette, and trunkmaker Au Départ, which “certainly deserves to be brought back to life,” de Lummen says. It’s not all French designers either. “I am still trying to revive Herbert Levine, the most influential American shoe designer ever, who was copied and revered by Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin.”
Under Moynat’s curved ceiling, a trio of gorgeous steamer trunks makes me think of lace gloves and steam-shrouded platforms. I can see why the historic luggage holds such a special place for de Lummen, whose own collection of vintage trunks is rivaled only by the self-proclaimed audiophile’s limited-edition vinyls. Another love is travel — with trunks in tow, of course. “I would love to travel around the world in 80 days, the Phileas Fogg way, bringing along my old Au Départ trunks.”
For now, “there are still great brands that I feel I have a mission to bring back,” he says, coming back to reality. “I probably have ten years of work in front of me!”
Text by Kate Missine Translated by Rui Chen Produced by Peggy Liu