French Fancies: La Maison Goyard
Since we had footwear last week, it only seems right to have luggage, including handbags again this week. But whereas last week’s company was a newcomer, this one’s been around for over 200 years.
Goyard is a French trunk and leather goods maker, first established in 1853 in Paris, previously doing business as Martin (Pierre-François Martin founded the House of Martin in 1792) and then Morel.
In 1845, Morel hired François Goyard (1828 – 1890) as an apprentice. The 17-year old boy received training under the guidance of both Martin and Morel. When Morel died suddenly in 1852, François took over, and remained for 32 years at the helm of a house he took to a whole new level. He finally handed over the reins to his son Edmond in 1885.
His son Edmond Goyard (1860–1937) expanded his business from 1885 to 1937, drawing on his father François’ work. He turned the store on rue Saint-Honoré into an increasingly elitist luxury brand with an international clientele and laid the foundations for the brand as it is today, as he developed the emblematic Goyardine canvas, launched a pet accessories range and introduced products for automobiles. He partnered with his eldest son Robert, and together they ran E. Goyard Aîné et Fils (E.Goyard Elder and Son).
Just like his father did, Robert ran the store until his demise in 1979. His impact on the house proved considerable, as he constantly updated the range of products, notably by developing a new woven canvas patented in 1965. The Chevron pattern remained but the overall design was simplified leaving the canvas bare of the company name. Robert’s son François Goyard also played a significant role in the firm’s growth with his daughter Isabelle Goyard (1959 -) before it passed outside the family.
In 1998, Jean-Michel Signoles took over from the Goyard family. A keen collector of all things Goyard, he undertook the challenge of reinventing Goyard with the help of his sons. Without the backing of a leading luxury brand group, he exploited the heritage of the house, built new workshops in Carcassonne, France, and opened retail stores all over the world.
Visually, the luxury travel brand is known for its hand-painted Chevron pattern made from cloth, although its appearance is very similar to leather. Goyard canvas is made from three plant fibres: hemp, linen and cotton. Hemp is particularly sought after for its hydrophobic qualities, linen is a fine thermal regulator, and the softness of linen probably caught the attention of the trunk maker.
When Edmond Goyard was establishing himself as a trunk maker, he incorporated his name into the canvas. Plus, the pattern on the canvas fabric represents the central letter of the family name: Y. It uses three chevrons to create the Y and the pattern also includes “Paris,” repeated twice in different shades of brown.
The initial metres of Goyardine were most likely hand-painted. When the Goyardine was launched, the workshops moved to Bezons, and the manufacturing of the canvas required a ground-colour application followed by three successive layers of etching colours. The trademark slightly raised pattern of the Goyardine results from both the cloth and the printing technique used during the manufacturing process: the plain weave shows through the Chevron pattern, and superimposes on top of the raised pattern produced by the paint dots. The overall effect is absolutely unique, and near impossible to counterfeit.
If Edmond Goyard left his mark on the history of the brand by creating the Goyardine canvas, his son Robert created a four-shade-woven canvas, mainly used in bags designed for frequent air travel. Robert Goyard patented his new canvas in November 1965, and described its design as “Chevrons intertwined with linear stripes.” This new canvas is woven and hence much softer than the previous one.
In 2002, exactly 110 years after its creation, the Signoles family inaugurated their tenure at the helm of Goyard with the introduction of twelve new colours on top of the historic black canvas. In 2010, for the first time Goyard marketed a canvas woven on a jacquard loom building “E.Goyard” into the lighter-shaded thread of the canvas, a previously unheard-of achievement in the textile industry.
Custom orders are entirely hand-made in the Goyard workshops in southern France, in the Aude where the workshops are installed in converted wine warehouses. Whilst some trunk makers specialize in standardised goods, Goyard is equally at ease with both special orders and ready-made items.
Each piece of hard-sided luggage is entirely hand made by one of 20 highly skilled trunk makers. When the crafting process is over, the trunk maker writes down the serial number of the piece they made on its identification tag, along with their initials. They also record that same serial number in the manufacturing register that has been keeping track of all items made by the Goyard workshops ever since Jean-Michel Signoles took over. The manufacturing register is used as a reference in the event an item needs to be repaired.
When several members of a same family travel together, their luggage stripes are identical, and it is difficult to tell which piece of luggage belongs to whom. In France, tradition dictates that each piece should be monogrammed with the initials of its owner.
Initials have been used for a long time, as evidenced by the wooden trunk the compagnons de rivière used to carry along with them on their timber raft. It was the only valuable object on board, and it was used to protect food and personal belongings from the river water. Over time, it became a token of remembrance, reminding its owner of the many travels he made. It was monogrammed with its owner’s initials and also stamped with the employers’ logo. François Goyard’s grandfather was a compagnon de rivière, and he owned a monogrammed trunk long before the family went into the trunk making business. Stripes perpetuate old traditions, notably those related to horse carriages, which were painted in the colours of each family.
Goyard’s monograms are hand-painted onto the Goyardine canvas and can be customised with a variety of different colours. The revival of customized leather goods, whether they are adorned with initials, stripes or coats of arms, proved Goyard’s answer to the logo craze.
The strategy behind building the Goyard brand has always been an independent one. With limited brick and mortar shops, zero marketing, and only a few stakeholders, Goyard is unlike any other brand. The name of this two-century-old Parisian brand may not ring a bell the way other luxury fashion houses do, but Goyard’s elusiveness is exactly what makes it the ultimate status symbol among the world’s wealthiest.
Goyard’s prime press strategy is silence. It forgoes any advertising, e-commerce, and celebrity endorsements. It rarely grants interviews and very occasionally makes products available to the mass market. Turns out, a lips-are-sealed tactic is the best way to build buzz.
Its mystery demands desire. Everyone loves a sense of exclusivity, and what’s more exclusive than a brand whose heritage and allure is based on discretion, garnering business solely through word of mouth of its influential clients?
After all, high-end brands risk losing their luster and jeopardising their exclusivity if they fall into the everyday hands of mass consumption. Goyard’s under-the-radar reputation is the pinnacle of ultimate indulgence for its buyers.
All images courtesy of Goyard