Ephtée or the complicated art of trunks

On 07 May 2020, by Stéphanie Pioda

Is it possible to exist in the luxury trunk market and seriously compete with Vuitton or Hermès? A young Bordeaux brand proves that yes, it is, with creativity, high standards and bespoke service as its only credos.

In the workshop, the whole Ephtée team: Volcie Descudet, Vincent Jacquinot et Franck Tressens. 
© Ephtée 

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the Ephtée workshop is the smell of leather and glue. Here, a few kilometres from Bordeaux, at the foot of the Garonne, they work according to traditional methods: the nobility of the gesture and the intelligence of the hand could be the key words. The drawing block has not yielded to computer assisted design, because director Franck Tressens feels it important to preserve a sensitive relationship with the materials and imagination. His strength lies in this abiilty to inspire his customers by tackling the impossible and creating customised, fully personalised pieces. We discover that Vuitton, Hermès and Goyard are not the only ones to design trunks, and that this little company of three people can indeed rival these long-standing firms with their unparalleled financial power. And you cannot but admire the achievement of its self-taught founder, who has carved himself a niche in this luxury sector across the globe. 

The writing desk trunk, open.© Ephtée/Photo Alain Caboche
The writing desk trunk, open.
© Ephtée/Photo Alain Caboche

A love for shoes
In the 1990s, Franck Tressens was working as a real estate agent, and growing bored. A keen shoe lover, he drew designs for trunks to store them in, with room for polishing equipment. Then one day he gave shape to his thoughts, and actually made one. His friends were so thrilled with it that they ordered trunks for themselves. Then he had a chance to exhibit his prototypes in a Church’s store in Toulouse. The brand director in charge of France was instantly impressed by the original character of his pieces – and if Church’s was interested in his work, then others might be as well! So he left his job and the region, and took courses in woodworking, leatherwork, photography, video work and IT. "La Gazette Drouot was at the root of my creativity, because it formed my taste and I was bursting with ideas," he says. And so, "quaking with shyness and full of questions," as he now admits, he made an appointment in Paris with two potential clients, Harel and Testoni, to talk about his trunks for shoes and polishing accessories. Both meetings led to commissions! His daughter became involved and persuaded him that his trunks would certainly interest others as well. When he lent one to the Salon du Mariage in Bordeaux, the artistic director of Façonnable was bowled over. In one year, Franck Tressens made seventeen trunks. And that's how Ephtée came into being in 1998. But its rosy beginnings gave way to problems in 2011, when orders completely dried up. "I was really sad, because so much remained to be said and done," he reminisces. But then fate took a hand. One grey and rainy morning, the telephone rang – and it was Rolls-Royce! The company wanted a tea service trunk for the Brussels Motor Show. Thoroughly fired up, Franck took up his pencil and designed a far more ambitious trunk. "It turned into a picnic table with place mats, cutlery, crockery, glasses and wine decanters," he says, his eyes sparkling at the memory.

The "Round the World" trunk, apart from the fact that it has actually made the trip, also serves as a wardrobe and a small writing desk.©
The "Round the World" trunk, apart from the fact that it has actually made the trip, also serves as a wardrobe and a small writing desk.
© Ephtée/Photo Alain Caboche

Pushing out the limits of the possible
These examples illustrate Ephtée's spirit: new challenges, excellence and refinement, with each customer representing a chance to try out new possibilities. He gradually extended his product range to include jewellery boxes, writing desk trunks, tasting cases, a dressing room trunk to store the shoes of the Russian owner of an English football club, and smaller items for storing watches or wine bottles. His latest brainchild is a studio trunk 160 cm high and 100 cm wide, containing a bedroom for two, a dressing room area, an office space, a table, seats and cupboards to provide a harmonious life while travelling… There's never been anything like it!  His rigorous standards are evident at every stage of production, in the techniques, the finishings, the choice of leathers and the tailor-made fittings, with most of the raw materials sourced in France. Each of his trunks is a unique item that acquires patrimonial value, and which he hopes will be passed down through the generations like family heirlooms. In 2013, the blood, sweat and tears he poured into this venture earned Ephtée "EPV" state accreditation as a "Living Heritage Company", while its director was recognised as a master craftsman in the art of trunk-making. He is one of the last in France to master the complex techniques involved in making luxury trunks. Generous and highly aware of his good fortune, Franck Tressens is now passing on his expertise, ensuring that the craft continues and that the dream is always possible.  

"While the exterior looks like an early 20th century trunk, the inside combines the complex art of the game Tetris and that of a puzzle. Each area is calculated to occupy the smallest possible volume while limiting the weight."  
Leather case with integrated work mat.© Ephtée/Photo Alain Caboche
Leather case with integrated work mat.
© Ephtée/Photo Alain Caboche
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