The Exclusive and Elusive History of Goyard
The Exclusive and Elusive History of Goyard
- Words Phil Levens
- Date April 8, 2019
Few brands can boast such longevity, dedication to hand-craftsmanship, and iconic status as Goyard. The notoriously exclusive luxury travel goods maker has stood as a symbol of wealth and classic French design, without ever displaying its products online. Yet, the name does not carry the same instant recognition as Louis Vuitton or Hermès, in part due to the brand’s aversion to marketing, interviews, and mass production. How, then, has Goyard managed to remain at the pinnacle of French opulence and craftsmanship for its two-plus century history?
The brand was founded by Pierre-François Martin in Paris in 1792 as “House of Martin,” specializing in box-making, trunk-making and packing for the French aristocracy. Martin predated the great trunk-makers to come in the 19th century, and quickly became favored among the French upper-class. He earned the title of official purveyor for Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Siciles, Duchess of Berry, and continued to develop his business. In 1834, Martin’s store moved from 4, rue de Nueve de Capucines—where Louis Vuitton would open in 1854—to 347, rue Saint-Honoré. A new street numbering policy in 1834 Paris changed the address to 233, rue Saint-Honoré, where the brand’s flagship store still resides.
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Martin took one employee, Louis-Henri Morel, under his wing, arranged for him to marry into the family, and ultimately passed leadership of the business to him. Morel followed in Martin’s footsteps, advancing the rising success of his mentor. Morel then hired a 17 year old apprentice, François Goyard in 1845 to train under both Martin and Morel, and when Morel died suddenly seven years later, Goyard took over the house. By 1853, he changed the name and the “House of Goyard” was officially established, a full year before Louis Vuitton set up shop.
Immediately upon inheriting the house, François Goyard opened a workshop in the Parisian suburb, Bezons, maintaining premium production nearby. It was Goyard’s belief that his complete control of the manufacturing process was at the heart of attaining exceptional quality. François Goyard led the company for another 32 years before passing stewardship to his oldest son, Edmond. Until this point, Maison Goyard was a reputable luxury malletier, with its flagship Paris store and workshop in Bezons. But it was Edmond who envisioned a greater level of excellence and truly cultivated Goyard’s international acclaim.
Edmond Goyard would draw on his father’s work, turning his store into an “increasingly elitist institution with international clientele.” He renamed the company E. Goyard Ainé (Ainé being French for “eldest”) and developed a new growth strategy for the business. Edmond created the first Goyard advertisements, led Goyard’s participation in World Expos, and opened three new stores in France, as well as trade offices in New York and London. Despite the considerable expansion, arguably his most important contribution to Goyard was the introduction of the iconic Goyardine canvas in 1892, laying the foundation for the modern iteration of the brand as we know it today.
The creation of the Goyardine canvas was revolutionary in the trunk-making industry. The distinctive canvas is created with a coated cloth blending linen and cotton, similar in appearance to leather, that Edmond Goyard’s ancestors used for their garments as log-drivers in previous generations. The Goyardine canvas’ durability, together with its soft, lightweight, and waterproof qualities, proved to be a true technical innovation at a time when other trunk-makers were only using plain linen cloth. The instantly recognizable monogram was designed with the Goyard family heritage in mind, too. The dots on the fabric create three adjacent chevrons forming the letter "Y", the central letter in the Goyard family name. The piled dot pattern is meant to represent log stacks, referencing the Goyard family’s former log-driving trade. Within one chevron, E. Goyard in white contrasts the pattern, while 233 R St. Honoré Paris appears in two successively darker shades of brown, symmetrically arranged in adjoining chevrons. The canvases were originally all hand-painted, although modern mechanizations have transformed the process slightly. Now, a ground-color application is followed by three layers of etching colors to produce the trademark slightly raised pattern on the canvas. However, personalizations—including initials, stripes and other motifs—are still all hand-painted in-house by artisans at each atelier, and the additional detailing of a crown logo still requires proof of royal ancestry.
The introduction of the Goyardine canvas significantly upgraded the brand’s offerings, and Edmond Goyard planned to showcase his luxury travel goods for a worldwide audience at World Expos. In 1900, Goyard participated in the World Expo in Paris, displaying the company’s full range of trunks, briefcases, suitcases and accessories, earning a bronze medal. Six years later at the World Expo in Milan, Goyard won gold for its products that embodied quintessential French craftsmanship and taste. Edmond Goyard would continue to exhibit in World Expos and earn the plaudits of the international aristocracy, notably winning a gold medal in head-to-head competition with Louis Vuitton at the Franco-British Exposition in London in 1908. The brand’s remarkable success awarded Goyard the international acclaim Edmond sought. The house became a favorite among international celebrities and royalty, and Goyard swiftly accumulated a list of esteemed clients, including Pablo Picasso, Jacques Cartier, John D. Rockefeller, the Romanovs, Estée Lauder, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld. In a modern context, this client list has extended into the world of hip-hop—most notably embodied by an infamous (and, since parodied) photo of Kanye West and company outside of a Comme des Garçons show at Paris Fashion Week in 2009.
Unlike most other luxury brands, Goyard products do not change from season to season. As the house proclaims online: “In a disposable society, they are meant to last.” Goyard relies on its storied heritage, elite exclusivity, unparalleled craftsmanship and timeless elegance to sell merchandise. The house offers four distinct product lines: travel goods, bags and accessories, special orders and pet accessories. The travel goods date back to the brand’s beginning, including trunks, hard-sided luggage, trolley cases, vanity cases, hat cases and weekender bags. The bags and accessories line is comprised of men’s and women’s handbags, briefcases, clutches and tote bags (like the popular St. Louis tote), together with wallets, change purses, checkbook holders and other accessories. Goyard’s special orders business allows its moneyed patrons to collaborate with the house to create one-of-a-kind, hand-made trunks and luggage to the exact specifications of the customer. Past orders have included a caviar trunk, a picnic trunk and a gardening trunk. Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously had a Goyard special order trunk outfitted with a full writer’s desk and typewriter. The fourth Goyard product line, “Chic du Chien,” was launched in 1890. Translating to “Canine Chic,” the line features collars, leashes, bowls, and other accessories designed for pets, sold exclusively at the Chic du Chien boutique across from the original store on rue Saint-Honoré. And of course, each item in every line is emblazoned with the house’s unmistakable chevron pattern.
Following the success garnered from exposure at the World Expositions, Edmond partnered with his oldest son, Robert. Naturally, Robert acquired the business when his father passed in 1937. World War II and the Nazi Occupation of France took its toll on Goyard, forcing its flagship store to close temporarily and halting production. Business slowed in the post-war years, and while the Maison remained with the Goyard family, some ateliers closed and the house struggled financially.
By the 1990s, the company was owned by a fifth generation Goyard, and family money was being injected into the brand annually to cover losses. Fervent Goyard collector and founder of kidswear brand Chipie, Jean-Michel Signoles, bought the company in 1998 and sought to revitalize the house, leaning heavily on its heritage. He set up new workshops in Carcassonne, in Southern France, and began opening retail locations worldwide. Signoles also expanded the brand’s color offering from the historic black to include 12 additional shades. In 2010, 233 copies of an exclusive art book were commissioned by Signoles in conjunction with Devambez Publishing, commemorating Maison Goyard’s achievements and heritage, and offered privately to clients complete with its own trunk. Dubbed a “luxury bible” by fashion critic Suzy Menkes, the book is valued at upwards of $7,000 and available for viewing by appointment at the original 233, rue Saint-Honoré store.
Operating the maison with his sons, Signoles has aimed to preserve the historic values and essence of the house, while returning the business to its rightful spot amongst the most lauded and exclusive luxury brands. Still to this day, Goyard remains privately owned. Passed from Martin to Morel to the Goyard family and eventually the Signoles’, the house is free from the pressure of shareholders that comes with the backing of a major fashion conglomerate like LVMH or Kering. Autonomous, Goyard is able to play its own game; dismissing mass marketing and production, avoiding interviews and ignoring trends. The brand remains heavily rooted in an elegance harkening back to the beginning of luxury travel, inherently based on sophistication, quality, and exclusivity. As a top-tier brand to remain unassociated with e-commerce, Goyard continues to cultivate a shroud of elusiveness, with items only available at a few dozen standalone ateliers and store-in-stores worldwide. Yet, it is precisely this uncompromising nature that has kept Goyard at the forefront of luxury travel.
Even with occasional additions to fabric offerings throughout its history, Edmond Goyard’s original coated canvas Goyardine design has stood the test of time. The quality of craftsmanship by Goyard artisans has not wavered, and Goyard items still possess the excellence and prestige that they commanded at the World Expos a century ago. The world’s wealthiest and most influential figures still comprise Goyard’s highly regarded clientele, and the emblematic interlocking-Y monogram remains a symbol of status and grandeur. Goyard is not out-producing or outmarketing other top luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci, but the house’s timeless appeal—founded on quality, heritage, and exclusivity—will likely embody the best in luxury travel for years to come. As Goyard stated in a rare interview with Hypebeast, “Luxury is a dream, and revealing too much of what goes on behind the scenes would spoil the magic...we believe that whispering softly in someone’s ears is not only more elegant, but also much more efficient than screaming at the top of one’s lungs.”