The big comeback of the luxury trunks
CEO Gianfranco Maccarrone on the comeback of Au Départ
»We want to be the perfect companion for people on the move.«
Nearly 100 years ago, the Au Départ claim campaign claim was „A beautiful journey begins at the departure (au départ)”. How were your beginnings a few years ago at Au Départ, and how would you describe the journey so far?
When I started at Au Départ, my very first task was to familiarise myself with the brand, as it had disappeared from view the very same year I was born. Little by little, I learned so many things about the potential and the heritage of the brand, and that was a fascinating journey in itself, to be honest.
In redefining the brand, we decided to start where everything began, so we started to reflect on trunks and all the multi-functional aspects they bring to modern life. We came to the conclusion that we wanted to highlight two facets in particular: being a perfect companion for people on the move and offering perfectly crafted trunks that can also serve as beautiful interior design objects.
So how did the re-launch of the brand actually come about?
After we defined the most essential pillars of the new Au Départ, we appointed Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci from the famous design studio Dimore to come up with spectacular installations. These installations marked the relaunch of Au Départ that happened within the Salon del Mobile in Milano in 2019. That was our initial starting point and the impact of the brand presentation was fantastic with more than ten thousand visitors we were able to welcome.
I can simply quote our old advertising claim: “Un beau voyage commence Au Départ”. In addition to that it was just amazing to experience how far a dedicated team was able to progress within a few months, setting up the foundations for our Maison in terms of operation, innovation and design under one roof.
Talking about innovation. What is the story behind the reflective jacquard fabric that Au Départ came up with out of the blue?
When we started brainstorming about fabrics to suit Au Départ, I asked the design team to think about lighter materials, so they played around with the jacquard. And while doing that, they created a jacquard using a reflective thread that allowed various colours to shine through subtly.
On the night before our exhibition (at the Salon del Mobile), it was already 8pm and I still hadn’t received a single photo from the design team for our installations, so I called them to ask for some images. In return, I received photographs taken with the powerful flash of an iPhone, and all of a sudden, we discovered this reflective effect that was much brighter than expected, and we loved it straight away. “Fortune favours the brave”, as they say.
»Au Départ is for people who are still curious, who are hungry to explore the world with an open mind.«
You’ve previously said Au Départ is all about ‘being on the move’. You are referring to a particular mindset, is that right?
In the future, when our current Covid-related standstill is over, our customers will be on the move once again and live an enriched life inspired by all the magic places and people our planet has to offer. It’s a cosmopolitan perspective.
It’s all about people who are still curious, who are hungry to explore the world with an open mind. Open to people, to cultures and to future challenges. That’s the on-the-move spirit I’m talking about.
You put a lot of emphasis on the statement that Au Départ is all about a perfect combination of heritage and state-of-the-art tech. Which objects best reflect this approach?
At the end of the day you can pick every trunk from our portfolio, but our PlayStation Backpack Trunk is a very good and stylish example of our approach. At Au Départ we want to make sure that our customers can fill our trunks with whatever they want. Whether it’s a DJ-Set, watches, wine or even a mini-cinema-set to enjoy your favourite movie in the remotest places – you name it, we do it.
At Au Départ we combine the most sophisticated high-tech with our contemporary interpretation of Au Départ to turn demanding customers into fans, never forgetting our very important values of craftmanship and handmade products.
Talking about bespoke services and production, we learned that Au Départ is quite fast in implementing individual customer wishes. What’s the secret behind this?
If you are really enthusiastic about a unique idea, then you want to have it as quickly as possible. That’s why we established an inhouse infra-structure that’s really effective and enables us to be two to three times faster than our competitors. At Au Départ, most of the times it’s just a matter of 90 to 120 days, whereas normally, you often have to wait nine to twelve months when asking our competitors.
We have our own workshop in Italy and two other Italian workshops that work exclusively for us. They had already been trunk makers previously and they were the only ones who could provide the level of quality that we expect. Making perfectly crafted suitcases and bags is a serious challenge in itself, but we’re also about embedding high-tech at Au Départ, and that’s a task which requires exceptional skills.
The history books say that Au Départ created a travel case for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1920. Is that true?
Yes, it is! I actually have it here in my office, safely hidden. (Gianfranco Maccarrone takes it out and shows a very well-preserved black suitcase to the camera.) This is the original luggage of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. You can see his monogram on the very center of the case lid. Inside the case, you find all the necessary things a well-groomed gentleman aviator needs when travelling: a shoehorn, a comb, a bottle of fragrance and even a manicure and pedicure set. Everything is in its well-chosen place.
The true treasure within this treasure is his idea-book – there is an extra compartment for it in this bespoke suitcase. (Shows the leather-bound book and some of its pages with sketches and notes.) We are really proud that this historical piece is part of the Au Départ archive.
Your brand seems well-placed to create synergies with the art world. Are there any plans to explore this area further in post-Covid times?
Yes, of course. I always wanted to link the brand to art but I didn’t want to involve artists in the conventional sense because everyone is doing it. After our launch at the Salon del Mobile in Milano we did a collaboration with the London-based art gallery Mazzoleni. It was a curation of furniture, fashion and our trunks and bags by the team of Dimore. Our aim was to further connect Au Départ’s vision to the world of modern and contemporary art, which I would say we did successfully.
After that we were asked by Nomad to showcase our London collaboration in St. Moritz together with paintings by well-known Italian artists such as Agostino Bonalumi, Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana thanks to the collaboration with Mazzoleni. Right now, we are currently planning a project in Paris, and we are designing another one that I can’t say much about yet.
Au Départ is available at selected luxury retailers worldwide and of course via your web shop. What are your plans in this context?
As we are already represented at thirty of the most important luxury multi-brand stores worldwide, we are expanding our network steadily but very cautiously. For example, we have just opened a beautiful 50sqm space at Harrods in London on the fifth floor, which I am very happy about.
We will be at the new “Le Samaritaine” in Paris from the end of May in a beautiful collaboration with the historiacal “Orient Express” and from June at “La Rinascente” in Milan. Today, Au Départ can be found from LA to Miami, from London to Rome and from Hong Kong to Shanghai and Beijing.