Meet the Malayali behind Moynat
As life goes on, the word ‘experience’ acquires a different meaning for most of us. Not the kind that is associated with fancy degrees, internships, and jobs. We’re talking the about everyday occurrences that shape and refine the way we see the world around us. From his memories of running around in a small village in Malappuram to leisurely cycling around Paris, Ramesh Nair feels that each of these instances has played a role in building his repertoire.
While his portfolio points towards coveted stints involving renowned designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Martin Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix, the man we see is someone who’s full of wonder. “I believe that even as your sensibilities evolve, a designer should try to hold on to the naiveté of a child, for whom anything is possible.The more you push yourself to discover different fields, be it fashion, leather crafting, or furniture, the more you expand your own capacity to create,” begins Ramesh. This 50-something designer is credited with restoring Moynat—one of the legendary labels in Paris dating its origins back to 1849—which closed its doors in 1976. Ramesh didn’t just revive the enterprise from its three-decade-long slumber, he exceeded expectations by launching over 15 stand-alone boutiques for the brand across 11 countries.
So, what does it take for a person to attempt something that no one has dared to do before? “Growing up in an Instagram-free generation,” would be the likely answer from Ramesh. “As a kid, I was constantly made aware that the world did not have a place for design or art, which was what I was drawn to. So, it was a test of character,” he tells us, elaborating that when starting out with the laborious task of reviving Moynat, there were practically no references to begin. His only hope was to embark on a mission, salvaging the older pieces and catalogues of the brand. From there he crafted iconic handbags such as the Réjane—which sports a moulded handle made of precisely cut layers of leather, hand-stitched together. The design is currently listed as as a favourite of celebrities including Zoë Kravitz and Reese Witherspoon.
According to him, the whole process was about striking a balance between purity and sensuality, where he places equal emphasis on elements such as touch, smell, and colours.Referring to his time spent in India and Europe as a learning curve, this NIFT alumnus goes on to say that his perception of ‘design’ has drastically evolved over the years. “Working with Martin Margiela, honed my conceptual and intellectual approach. It is this experience that made me realise that I am a minimalist and a purist. Jean Paul Gaultier strengthened my technique, repertoire, and the ability to connect references. I also identified with the use of humour in his work,” adds the ex-Hermes employee, who fine-tuned his skills at the Institut Français de la Mode.
Reinventing the past
A stickler for in-depth subject research, Cuir Impérial is one of the critically-acclaimed projects undertaken by Ramesh at the moment. Boasting of a history that leads all the way to 18th century Russia, this particular variant of reindeer leather was processed by the artisans of St Petersburg over a period of 18 months using birch tar oil and myrrh. But, the craft was lost in time post the October revolution (1917). Widely preferred for its rich colour and distinctive perfume, the process behind the creation of this Russia leather is an enigma that has been haunting the industry for over a century.
“In 1973, a Baltic shipwreck, that had lain forgotten in the English Channel for 200 years, was discovered with its cargo intact. In the ship’s hold were rolls of Russia leather that was in remarkably good condition. A few years ago, I managed to get my hands on one of these legendary skins and we began the long research and experimental process to recreate the mythical Russia leather,” he shares. Despite being fully aware of the challenge, Ramesh embraced the possibility and went on to create Moynat Cuir Impérial, a finer iteration of the original Russia leather. “Our line shares the same oily, silken suppleness and crosshatch grain, and its heady aroma can once again be savoured,” explains the innovator, who perfected the technique and realised the milestone of applying it to exotic surfaces such as a crocodile skin. An integral part of Moynat’s business trajectory, he considers this segment to be a way of educating people about the true meaning of luxury.
Connecting the dots
To Ramesh, the process of continuity is of utmost importance. Just as his work lays emphasis on researching and reinventing techniques of the old, he too finds comfort in the wisdom imparted by the past. Going by his words, such an experience is exactly what Paris has been giving him.“It is a unique city where the past is always with us, not just in a museum setting. For example, the building I live in is 180-years-old and carries the original fittings while being perfectly compatible with life in the 21st century,” exclaims Ramesh, continuing to list out the names of former tenants who lived on his street which includes Claude Debussy. However, he isn’t someone who subscribes to the idea of ‘being in the right place, at the right time’.“It is never a question of where you are physically or geographically, but a personal journey, an evolution. Most creative thinkers and philosophers need stimulation and exchange with others to make the leap to the next level of progression, whether through geographic displacement or by getting immersed in experiences that force you out of the comfort zone,” he ruminates, leaving us once again to wonder about ‘experiences’.
Where does India stand?
Though he has no doubt about the space occupied by Indian society within the ‘universe of luxury’, Ramesh considers it to be a very small component when it comes the international market. “Many global brands, including Moynat, count Indians among their clientele, but it is a population that performs much better overseas than in our own country,” he claims. High entry barriers and the complexities of local infrastructure are the probable reasons behind this phenomenon according it to him. “I believe it is also because most Indians tend to use luxury to establish themselves in the public eye, not for personal pleasure that is invisible to others,” says the neo-Parisian.