Thu. Jun 8th, 2023

If you thought you’d heard all the mysteries surrounding the mythical Orient Express train line, think again! Last month, Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor Group who now owns the brand, unveiled images of the train the company will launch in 2025, few travelers were aware that a modern-day Hercule Poirot, the French historian Arthur Mettetal, was responsible for solving the latest enigma.

Just the words “Orient Express” conjure Agatha Christie’s 1934 Murder on the Orient-Express of course, and romantic images of luxurious trains transporting glamorous aristocrats from Paris to Istanbul. How many brands enjoy that kind of historical aura?

“In the luxury world,” said Mr. Bazin from Dubai recently, “You start with a product, and you try to create a feeling. Here, we have this romantic feeling as the base for a new brand. We are planning more of them but right now there are two Orient-Express hotels in the works, one in Rome and the other in Venice.”

Part of the old Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the Orient Express line was launched by a Belgian civil engineer in 1883 and operated until 1977. In the 1980’s some of the old cars were bought by the Belmont group (now owned by LVMH), refurbished, and then relaunched as the “Venice-Simplon-Orient Express.”

Then in 2018, Accor took control of the “Orient Express” brand with 51% of the shares, and this past summer, the group acquired the remaining 49%. Accor’s goal was the creation of a modern, luxurious reinterpretation of the original train. For historical accuracy, Accor worked with Mr. Mettetal, who manages the archives of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, and specializes in what he calls “industrial archeology.”

“I knew there were trains and individual cars discarded since the 1970s somewhere along the line between Paris and Istanbul, but where?” said Mr. Mettetal. He first consulted with a myriad of railway enthusiasts, studied ancient maps, and finally zeroed in, thanks to Google Maps, on an abandoned group of 17 cars at the border between Poland and Belarus.

“I recognized the white roofs” he said, “When a few months later, we were finally able to get there, it was a magical experience. A true time capsule. Lalique glass panels and Art Deco details by René Prou. The interior had barely been touched!” It would take two years of negotiations to bring the convoy back to France.

The redesign of the new Orient-Express train (which will be called the Nostalgie-Orient-Express is spearheaded by architect Maxime D’Angeac, who worked with such iconic brands as Hermès, Daum and Guerlain. The stunning train will feature twelve sleeping cars including a presidential suite with a bathtub, one restaurant, three living areas and a luggage car, but his enterprise has nothing to do with a renovation. The architect’s brief was to reinvent the most iconic train in the world.

Now, Accor is bringing an immersive virtual exhibit to Design Miami, from November 30th through December 4, and will reveal new images and designs including the presidential suite with its rosewood details, marble tables and bronze columns inspired by 19th century interiors.

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