Please tell us about yourself
Of all the luxury labels in the world today, among the most interesting to study is, perhaps, Moynat. The French company, which pre-dates Louis Vuitton by five years, was one of the first leather goods houses of the day. The House of Moynat was set up by Pauline Moynat, who sold leather trunks on the Opera district of Paris, and the Coulembier family which helped her open her first atelier in 1849. The boutique was situated at Haussmann’s redesigned Paris, and it took pride of place as number 1 when L’Avenue de l’Opera was built. It soon became the oldest store on that grand street, until it shut down in 1976.
It was Bernard Arnault, the great helmsman of the cash-rich conglomerate Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy, who dreamed of reviving Vuitton’s old friend. And he found in Ramesh Nair, a suitable creative head. Nair, an Indian-born and raised designer, was working with Hermes, Vuitton’s current rival and Arnault, well, poached him. The story is delicious on so many levels: business rivalries, heritage revivals, and how a vintage French company is brought to life by Indian hands in a return to Orientalism of sorts.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
“Moynat kills me emotionally,” Ramesh Nair tells me over the phone from Paris. “It’s wrecking. But I wasn’t here for a little run. This is what I want to do. I would visit museums in Paris and dream of doing something new with something old.” Nair says Moynat shows the world who he is: a minimalist and a craftsman.
It’s Friday but the 52-year-old has taken the day off. He says he is in his pyjamas, surrounded “knee-deep” by books, as his author wife Rachna
potters around. The son of an army officer, Nair, whose family hails from Melattur, in Kerala, grew up all over India and learned the art of reinvention every couple of years. But by the time it came to choosing a career, he had no ideas. His grades were laughable, he says, so he signed up for design school at NID Ahmedabad.
But the city was torn apart by riots and the school was shut for six months. He ended up getting a degree in Zoology instead. Then, a newspaper ad by the Ministry of Textiles drew him to NIFT in Delhi, and the rest is as famous as the labels he’s worked for.
Tell us about your career path
Ramesh Nair graduated from a dual degree programme run by Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology before completing his training at Institut Français de la Mode in Paris. He then started out at Yohji Yamamoto, founded his own brand in India (called Rain) and went on to work with Christian Lacroix. In the early ‘90s, he worked alongside Martin Margiela and Jean-Paul Gaultier as a senior designer for esteemed luxury house Hermès.
His first stint was with the legendary Yohji Yamamoto, where a gentleman called Mihara would measure the number of stitches in a length using a vernier caliper. “I didn’t do anything intensive, I just mostly picked up boxes at first, but then I went into production.” Then came Christian Lacroix, where it was presumed that because he was Indian he loved flamboyance and colour. He left in six months.
Hermes propelled Nair to international fame. “It was my second home,” he says of his 14 years at this king-of-luxury palace. He assisted Martin Margiela, who steered the French house from 1997 to 2003. “After Hermes it became very hard to figure out what to do next. When you are right on top, there’s nowhere else to climb.” So, when Arnault offered him Moynat, Nair grabbed it with both hands. “I see Arnault every week now, Moynat is his baby. He asked me to surprise him. And I’m happy to surprise him till today.”
That is much more than a compliment these days, as creative heads often get the boot between two and four seasons. “Yes, it is quite cut-throat. But if you are good, you stay on,” Nair says.
What do you love about your career?
It was the opportunity of working with some of the most brilliant minds in fashion that has laid the foundation for Nair. “Yohji Yamamoto made me think. Hermès and Martin Margiela especially, made me think even more. And I was already a thinker,” he expressed. But the one main thing that he still holds on to is that “the craft is more important and much higher than anything else; it’s on another plane.”
It’s no wonder then that Ramesh Nair was chosen. But picking up from where it last operated in 1976 was no mean feat. Nair tells us how he went through flea markets and vintage automobile fairs to search for long-lost Moynat trunks and other creations just to add to the archive and draw references from. And all these had to be done in quite an obscure manner.