Au Départ, the art of trunk making

July 2021

Resurrect / Imagine


“A beautiful journey begins Au Départ”* declared the advertisement of the weekly magazine L’Illustration at the end of the 19th century. Founded in Paris in 1834, the trunk-maker, which had stores in the Gare du Nord and Avenue de l’Opéra, was resurrected in 2019 with a collection of bags, trunks and small leather goods. For its first collaboration with Orient Express, Au Départ is revealing the behind-the-scenes production of its trunk. A limited edition creation, intended to sublimate our interiors.

The awakening of a sleeping beauty

Along with Goyard, Moynat and Louis Vuitton, Au Départ is considered one of the most fashionable trunk makers in history. At the end of the 19th century, Au Départ, a specialist in “solid, light and elegant travel goods”, introduced collections of wooden trunks, canteen trunks, wicker trunks and flat trunks that were eagerly sought after by elegant travelers. The house’s glory days were at the beginning of the Twenties when François Bertin, heir of the house, designed a monogram in the shape of a three-dimensional parallelepiped inspired by the mosaics of the ruins of Pompeii. The style hit the bull’s eye and seduced the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, for whom the house designed a suitcase model. Merging, for a time, with its competitor Moynat, before a forty-year hiatus, Au Départ came back on the scene in 2019 during Milan Design Week where the house presented five new models of trunks.

Interior travel

From shoe, watch, champagne or cognac trunks to lounge trunks integrating DJ consoles with mixing decks, turntables, speakers, vinyl records, television and games, the new Au Départ creations are now making a comeback in the world of design and contemporary living. It marks a renewal of the genre that seduced Orient Express and gave birth to a trunk model conceived as a piece of furniture, covered with a coated cotton canvas bearing the Au Départ monogram, all on a Midnight Blue background, Orient Express’ favorite color. “The 45-kilogram trunk was inspired by the habits of train travelers,” explains Gianfranco Maccarrone, the man behind the company’s relaunch, adding: “From listening to music, having a drink, taking out a book or smelling a perfume, all the components of a beautiful journey are brought together in a box designed as a work of art.”

Outside-the-box Craftsmanship

Today, Au Départ trunks are made in northern Italy, in the Varese region, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. In a small family workshop, each project is entrusted to a craftsman, a specialist in the field. It takes between 90 and 120 days to create a trunk like the Orient Express,” trunk makers in the workshop explain, adding:  “The development of a trunk involves many different skills and techniques, from woodworking to carpentry to locksmithing, from the choice of leather to cutting and dyeing, to the installation of the protective metal parts and the coated cotton canvas, which for the first time is available in Midnight Blue.” Inside the trunk, Au Départ artisans have created several compartments designed to hold bottles, carafes and beautiful glassware, a selection of beautiful books that tell the story of the Orient Express legend, a candle case and snuffer designed with the wax maker Trudon, and a vinyl turntable with a Bang & Olufsen speaker.

A new art of living at home

At once a pocket bar, a library and a music box, each Orient Express trunk is carefully numbered, engraved with the name of the artisans who have created it and personalized at the request of its owner. “We collaborate with young designers in our workshops who specialize in made-to-measure products,” explains Gianfranco Maccarrone, adding: “It’s a way to make luxury even more distinctive.” Straight out of the Varese workshops, trunk number 1 has been on display for a few days on the first floor of la Samaritaine, the Parisian department store in the Pont-Neuf neighborhood. It is a travel object designed for the interior, to be discovered alongside the collection of bags, small leather goods and accessories designed by Au Départ for Orient Express.

(*at departure). For more information, visit as well as the Orient Express space at la Samaritaine.

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