The Allure of Goyard

How an old Paris luggage house that won't advertise makes the toniest bag in the world.
By Robert Klara

In 2009, Canadian fashion photographer Tommy Ton was at Paris Fashion Week when he noticed Kanye West—posse in tow—heading his way with no other photographers in sight. Ton swung his lens in West’s direction and, a moment later, captured one of the year’s most buzzed-about photos. Today, almost a decade later, the street-peacock clothes (think: fedoras, leopard prints, gold sneakers) are forgotten. But one accessory isn’t. West was holding a monogrammed briefcase by Goyard, a gesture that vaulted the French luggage brand into the epicenter of hip-hop specifically, and celebrity culture in general.

The store at 233 Rue Saint-Honoré where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (bottom right) came to shop. Goyard also made luggage for Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle (bottom left) and Coco Chanel (center).

These days, Big Sean can be seen with his Goyard duffles, A$AP Rocky with his blue MM Messenger bag and, of course, there’s Rihanna, whose 2015 video for “Bitch Better Have My Money” featured a Goyard steamer trunk just big enough to hold the body of Riri’s kidnap victim. Even factoring hip-hop out of the mix, Goyard luggage is a celebrity favorite lugged around by the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Hilary Duff, Ozzy Osbourne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon and many, many others.

Of course, if you’re a consumer of paparazzi pics, you know all of this already. So here’s something you might not know: In addition to being a very chic, very expensive maker of luggage, Goyard is a singular anomaly in the realm of marketing—a brand that’s trendy, coveted and famous despite the company’s manifold efforts to be none of these things.

At its Carcassonne, France, workshop, Goyard still does the monogramming by hand.

Headquartered in Paris, Maison Goyard does not advertise, has no paid endorsers and rarely deigns to speak to the press. Assuming you’re possessed of the $1,200 that’ll buy a bottom-rung Saint Louis tote, you’ll have no luck buying one online, as “Goyard does not engage in any form of ecommerce,” the website sniffs. Instead, you’ll have to visit one of the company’s eight locations in the United States. Of course, there’s also the preowned option, though even on sites such as The RealReal, prices for Goyard used bags perch dangerously close to full freight.

Kanye West’s showing up at Paris Fashion Week 2009 with a Goyard case handed the brand a new customer base overnight.

“In terms of popularity, [Goyard] is up there with Chanel,” notes RealReal’s chief authenticator, Graham Wetzbarger. “There’s not a lot of inventory. It sells extremely fast, which is why you can command prices close to retail.”

How to explain all of this? Well, there’s the Kanye effect, of course. But Goyard has drawn an exclusive clientele since François Goyard established the house in 1853. From the Belle Époque forward, Goyard was ever the luggage of the 1 percent, trundled onto steamers by the footmen of the Romanovs and the Rockefellers. This proud lineage had faded by 1998, when businessman Jean-Michel Signoles purchased the brand. But even as Signoles opened a new atelier and cautiously updated the designs, he understood that, in luxury, less is always more. While publicly traded brands like Louis Vuitton scramble to please investors, the fiercely private Goyard pleases no one except customers.

Dots and dashes The signature element of any Goyard piece is “Goyardine”—the proprietary canvas that bears an interlocking “Y.” Developed by François Goyard’s son Edmond in 1892, the pattern consists of tiny tick marks that symbolize logs, for the Goyard family were lumbermen before they learned to make luggage. Originally stenciled by hand, the canvas is now screen-printed.

The secret of Goyard, then, is one of planned scarcity. Christina Papale, svp, strategy at CBX, calls Goyard a “speakeasy brand”—not only do you need to know where the door is, but the fact that not everyone gets in only adds to the mystique. Goyard “is literally for the in-the-know über-tasteful,” she said. “It’s almost meant not to be seen.”

But of course, it does get seen—and not just on the likes of Kanye. Turns out his daughter North West has a personalized $1,400 Goyard handbag of her own. Not bad for a 4-year-old.