Outside a discreet glass fronted shop on Mayfair’s Mount Street, just across from the Connaught Hotel, a queue can often be seen snaking down the street. The shoppers are already bag-laden, and on the pavement in front of the door sits a stack of coloured travel trunks. What are they waiting for?
The shop is the London home of luxury luggage brand Goyard, whose handbags, travel cases and pet accessories are recognisable by their dotted chevron print canvas. The brand was founded in Paris in 1853 by François Goyard, the year before Louis Vuitton founded his label in the same city. Unlike Louis Vuitton, Goyard is privately owned, and not answerable to shareholders. You will never see a Goyard advertisement in print, nor find its wares on any ecommerce platform. It retails in just 19 locations around the world.
This level of exclusivity has made Goyard highly coveted. Its clientele has included Pablo Picasso and the Rockefellers, Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, Kanye West and Meghan Markle. Jay Z referenced it in his latest collaboration with Beyoncé, “Everything is Love”, with the lyric “Louis V and Goyard trunks all in the closet.”
Part of its appeal is that not much has changed about the brand since it started out. It has continued with artisanal methods of production (although the bags are no longer hand-painted), and the wheelless trunks recall the days when luggage bearers were standard. It’s a heritage brand in the truest sense of the word.
The shopping experience is equally antiquated. The queue, which in the summer months can stretch down the street, forms due to a system of controlled entry that ensures the number of customers never exceeds the number of staff inside the shop. Every customer is given one-on-one service by a white-gloved shop assistant.
“We want to buy something that is special,” says one queueing customer, Nina, a Chinese student studying in Belfast. “In our country there’s isn’t such a shop. And you can’t buy it online,” adds her friend John, also a student.
In fact, two out of 19 Goyard retailers are located in China, but housed inside sparkling new shopping centres. With part of the appeal of the brand lying in its summoning up of the “golden age” of travel, purchasing Goyard products in one of its stores in Paris (the home of the original shop) or London (the first European store outside France) allows customers to experience part of the lifestyle of European grandeur upon which the brand was predicated.
Aisha, a teenager from Kuwait, was there partly for the experience, too. “This is the second Goyard product I’ve bought,” she said of the Yves Klein blue clutch bag she left the store with (which retails at about £700). “But the first time to come to the boutique.”
Luggage does not come more old-school than Goyard. Their website notes that for a custom-built trunk, “everything is possible.” Alongside their classic picnic or gardening trunks are examples of Champagne trunks, polo trunks, caviar trunks. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set a precedent for workaholics with his custom Goyard office trunk, which folded out into a desk, and featured a bookcase and typewriter.
The brand’s decision to eschew marketing and rely on the draw of exclusivity seems to be paying off. “It’s special,” says one man queueing to exchange a green Saint Louis bag for a clutch in the same colour. “There are too many Louis Vuittons. This is the only Goyard.”
- Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.