Scratch yourself, Ramesh Nair tells The artistic director shares the secret of identifying superior skins, and talks about how he is rebuilding Moynat’s lost savoir faire, one skin at a time
“i’m cooking a crocodile,” teases Ramesh Nair, almost too gleefully. Moynat’s India-born artistic director looks more like an intellectual bohemian than luxury fashion’s Crocodile Dundee — he tames not by hunting the maneating reptile, but by manipulating its prized skin.
Nothing is preposterous for him to attempt, even a chemical used in developing photographic films has been applied on the skin to achieve a rust effect. “I have also tried to use iron rust but it didn’t work out,” he divulges.
Undaunted, he moved on to other “crazy experiments”, producing hits that have made it to the shelves. For one, the Crocodile Camouflage unveiled during Paris Fashion Week this year was the first time water-based dyes were used on the skin to reveal the inherent beauty of the scales. Created together with Heng Long Leather, Louis Vuitton MoëtHennessy’s (LVMH) partially owned tannery based in Singapore, each skin was made more exceptional with one-of-a-kind patterns stencilled onto the skin by hand.
His inquisitive mind and inventive streak have also reinvented the legendary Cuir de Russie (“Russia leather” in French) in 2016, regarded as one of the world’s finest leathers. Revered for its rich colour and distinctive perfume, it required a traditional 18-month-long rigorous process that was lost after the 1918 Russian Revolution. Nair’s riff is the Moynat Cuir Imperial (“imperial calf” in French), which bears the same distinctive hallmarks of crosshatch patterns and whiffs of smoky incense and myrrh. Recently, close collaborator Heng Long
successfully applied the technique on crocodile leather.
The Great Leap
When the French malletier opened its first Southeast Asian gallery in Ngee Ann City last July, it marked the occasion with a Singaporeexclusive Réjane model imbued with a Croco Céramique finish. The multidimensional colour and unique crackle effects emulate those on Asian glazed procelains.
Less than a year later, Nair is back to open Singapore’s second Moynat boutique at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. It’s hard to imagine that until 2010, when LVMH took it under its wing, Moynat had fallen into obscurity for many years. Nair inherited a heritage house without a history when he took up the creative reins in 2011.
“This is why I am so proud of the work we have done in just seven years. We didn’t just revive this beautiful House; we took it to an unprecedented level of quality craftsmanship and design. Look at the marquetry motif of individual pieces of leather, so seamlessly integrated it often gets mistaken as a print. This technique was originally used on woodwork, and in cabinetry and furniture. Now we have applied it to leather.”
Clearly, founder Pauline Moynat’s legacy of innovation — she created the first waterproof trunk in 1854 with canvas coated with gutta-percha (the sap of a tree from Indonesia) — is safe in his hands. Carrying forward her bold spirit of using unexpected materials or methods to elevate her designs, he relishes the thrill of trial and error. “It is one of the increasingly rare luxuries of creative work today, where I can really break new ground through research and experimentation.”
Truth Be Told
But don’t let those special effects distract you from the top-grade skins. Nair believes design has to be honest.
“For me, the material and the object must go hand in hand. One of my strongest design principles is about purity and authenticity, which means I don’t compromise on the quality of my materials. Leather is a living material that changes with time and use, and becomes more beautiful as it ages. This is why I avoid heavily treated, plasticised leathers that look exactly the same after years of use.”
“I think the beauty of the bag comes from the unique patina it develops from years of use,” he opines. In fact, those marks of ageing — discolouration and scratches — are the characteristics of a quality skin. Which brings up the importance of educating consumers. It starts from the retail staff, who go beyond selling to helping customers understand the value of leather and its origins.
How do you treat such pure, precious skins with respect? Nair keeps designs clean and frills-free. “Excessive decorative elements mask mediocrity in design, make and materials,” he reminds.
from left: ONE of THE MANY STEPS IN THE MAKING of MOYNAT’S famous TRUNKS; MINI VANITY; MINI RÉJANE IN croco camouflage