In terms of trains, few can boast of the international and historic reputation of the Orient Express. Offering a luxurious passage from east to west at a time when train travel was all the rage, its design helped define the idea of an era of luxury aesthetics. While the trains of the 2020s are more functional and less fancy than they were a century ago, a new, redesigned version of the Orient Express will offer a chance to restore train travel to its golden age. once it comes out of the station in the near future.
This week, the train formerly known as the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express will debut on the world stage at the Foire internationale d’art contemporain (aka FAIC) in Paris, updating one of the most transport icons for a new era of luxury.
The project was commissioned by Guillaume de Saint Lager, vice-president of Orient Express, who had the opportunity to revive and restore the historic train when it was surprisingly rediscovered in 2015 somewhere along the Polish-Polish border. Belarusian. After a long negotiation process, Orient Express took possession of the train in July 2018, when French architect Maxime d’Angeac, known for restoring Maison Guerlain on the Champs-Élysées and collaborating with fashion houses like Hermès, got to work on a forward-looking restoration.
For d’Agneac, the aim was not simply to revive the appearance of the famous train, but to foster a dialogue between its characteristic aesthetic and the 100 years of design that have since followed. “Of [the project’s] framework, a decor emerged – one without a defined era, rather inspired by Art Deco, Empire and contemporary styles,” d’Agneac said in a press release detailing the renovation efforts. “The history of the train has been rewritten, this time beyond trends. Nothing is superfluous, every detail has a meaning.
True to his word, d’Agneac envisioned a design packed with dramatic detail, from the bar and dining cars to the suites and hallway. The railway motif pioneered by Suzanne Lalique in the 1930s, which d’Agneac considers particularly linked to today’s aesthetics, deserves special reverence. Inspiration from Lalique is incorporated into d’Agneac’s design, from the wooden and leather partitions to the design elements of the dining car that reference his tapestries.
Perhaps even more remarkable, the new Orient Express leaves room for a number of Art Deco details one would have found throughout their trip to Istanbul. These include original Lalique lamps and panels, as well as Morrison and Nelson marquetry. Despite its age, d’Agneac sees this last design element as particularly ripe for a return to the present.
“The warmth and strength of the wood itself is timeless and an essential design element of 1920s trains that can still provide a modern, refined feel today,” said the architect. AD. “The treatment of wooden details allows us to marry the past to the present, presenting a refined, warm and truly luxurious atmosphere for future travelers of the Orient Express train.”
In terms of the impression he hopes to leave, d’Agneac’s design aims to recreate “the great transformation” of space from day to night, accomplished by subtle and clever means of creating changes in the setting. Moreover, he cites a desire to invoke the legacy of the French Union of Modern Artists and their creative milieu, which he describes as “a period which brought a whole generation of new theoretical and practical ideas to architects and designers of the time”.
Admirers of that era can soak up the aura of the Orient Express not only at Domus Maubourg during Paris Contemporary Art Week, but at Design Miami. And lest you think it’s a purely stationary design project, the newly renamed Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express will hit the rails and carry passengers from 2024, just in time for the Olympics. summer in Paris. Can an updated Orient Express revive luxury train travel in the present? Only time will tell. One thing is certain though: this is indeed a case where the journey is just as captivating as the destination.