Busy Beverly Hills moms pile everything into them, in Cannes and Biarritz, they make the perfect beach tote, and during a 14-hour international flight, they’re filled with all the necessities for the seasoned jetsetter. Goyard, the French luxury house—with its easily recognizable chevron-printed canvas and leather travel goods—has become one of the most coveted, albeit under the radar, brands in the world.
Goyard doesn’t advertise. It doesn’t sell online. It doesn’t pay celebrities to be photographed sporting its wares, and its executives rarely (if ever) give interviews. Yet somehow, the brand has cemented its status as a major luxury fashion player—alongside designers like Louis Vuitton and Hermès—with seemingly little effort.
The company’s business has flourished from the beginning, virtually by word-of-mouth, through cliques of influential clients. Today, those clients run the gamut—from Michelein-starred Chef Alain Ducasse (who has a custom trunk for his cutlery) to rapper A$AP Rocky, who wore a Goyard messenger on the Grammy’s red carpet. In decades past, meanwhile, people like Coco Chanel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jacques Cartier circumnavigated the globe on steamships, trains, and airplanes, with their belongings safely packed away in custom-made Goyard trunks and cases.
Among Goyard’s most revered clients were The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who bought their first Goyard pieces in the 1930s and eventually became collectors, with a portfolio of Goyard-designed trunks, cases, travel bags, suitcases, hat boxes, pet accessories and more. Many of their pieces were acquired by Goyard’s now-owner Jean-Michel Signoles in 1997, when Sotheby’s auctioned the contents of the Duke and Duchess’s Paris home. A single lot comprised of a document case and monogrammed trunk went for $14,950; another fetched a cool $32,500.
The pieces are now kept in the Goyard archive, a secret underground warehouse in central Paris near the flagship at 233 Saint Honoré, which houses nearly 700 items. Both the design studio and the special order workshop cull the library for inspiration when approaching a new commission. For the majority of clients, a classic St. Louis tote (the most widely recognized of all Goyard items) or a Saigon handbag might be an ideal purchase, but discriminating collectors often prefer more individuality.
“Each special order is the result of a very close creative collaboration between a customer and the Goyard team,” explained the Maison. (Ed Note: Yes, we know a "Maison" can't speak, but the good people at the House of Goyard prepared these statements especially for us, and well, this attribution seems to suit 164 years of guarded corporate identity.) “We start with an in-depth interview of the customer, so as to fully understand their vision and expectations, followed by a very precise watercolor sketch of the future piece.” With an endless level of personalization in terms of materials, color, shape, size and function, the only real limit is the client’s imagination.
One rather infamous commande spéciale was commissioned in 1925 by Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster (and the wealthiest man in Britain at the time) as a gift for his lover, Coco Chanel. “The trunk was definitely a gift between clandestine lovers when it was ordered,” the Maison explained. The following year the Duke divorced his wife to propose to Chanel, who flatly declined. “Everyone marries the Duke of Westminster,” she said. “There are a lot of duchesses, but only one Coco Chanel.”
That same year, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle commissioned his famous Writing Trunk. “The idea was to craft a trunk that would allow Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an extensive traveler at heart, to write comfortably as if he were in the library of his Scottish home,” explained the Maison, “even in the most remote and exotic surroundings.” The desk made its way into Goyard’s archive when they managed to acquire it from the heirs of Princess Nina Midvani, the widow of the author’s son. “Denis Conan Doyle, who had inherited the trunk after his father’s demise, used it himself until his own death in 1955.”
Goyard has a rich history, though a rather unremarkable beginning: it started as a crating storefront in Paris, called Maison Martin, where the French aristocracy would go to have their precious possessions packed and shipped overseas. The company eventually found a more stylish niche thanks to François Goyard, who’d apprenticed for eight years before taking the helm (and changing the name) in 1853. Five generations of the Goyard family continued to run the business until it was purchased in 1998 by Signoles—a businessman who’d spent two decades obsessing over the company before convincing the Goyard family to sell it. Since taking over, he’s managed to keep the brand’s integrity in tact while shepherding it into the 21st century.
Recently, the brand has created pieces for the likes of Lee Radziwill, Karl Lagerfeld, Catherine Deneuve, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Dita Von Teese. (Kanye West, who’s been photographed sporting a custom Goyard backpack, even referenced the brand in one of his songs.) But being a bold-faced name—or having a lot of cash—doesn’t necessarily guarantee a Goyard commission.
“We turned down several orders for custom trunks for giant TV screens for instance,” said the Maison. “Goyard is all about travelling, distant horizons, escapism, so a TV trunk by Goyard really sounded like an oxymoron.”
A request for a bespoke Gardening Trunk, however, felt decidedly more apropros. “The piece is whimsical and timeless, but also highly practical and functional and used every day by its owner. It truly captures the essence of Goyard,” explained the Maison of the exquisite green trunk, which was commissioned in 2015 at a cost of about $15,000. Though the company wouldn’t disclose which of their clients has the green thumb, they did say that two pieces were made–one for the customer and one for their archives.
Another contemporary commission—a Chiffonier Trunk—wasn’t altogether new, but an exact replica of a piece produced in 1925 for the Paris International Exhibition of Decorative Arts. “It was crafted again last year, in 2016, and it was an incredible technical challenge that required us to rediscover and update almost forgotten skills,” admitted the Maison. Again, they remained tight-lipped about the client’s identity.
There are a handful of documented special orders from Goyard’s history that remain elusive even to the company itself. “We will not tell you which ones, as it might make the actual process of finding and buying them even more complicated,” the brand spokesperson hinted. “Finding a rare trunk is an extremely complicated hunt, requiring near private investigator’s skills… and a lot of patience.”
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