A brief history of luxury : The Orient Express

The Orient-Express is by far the most mythical of luxury trains. It was created by the International Sleeping Car Company which, since 1883, has been providing connections between Paris, Vienna and other European capitals.


The story of the Orient Express begins in 1867, when the young Belgian engineer Georges Nagelmackers, wounded by a heartbreak, flees to the United States. There he discovered the railroads with the first sleeping cars in the world, and was very enthusiastic despite the discomfort he felt. Back in Europe, he had the idea of creating luxurious trains for a wealthy clientele, which would lead to the Gates of the Orient.


Georges Nagelmackers © Orient Express


Almost 10 years later, in 1876, the Compagnie Internationale des wagons-lits was born. Behind the acronym, a company driven by audacity and offering trains with luxury decorations and unequalled comfort. The company offered new services on board, travel agencies and workshops throughout Europe.


October 4, 1883 marked the debut of the mythical train. On that day, an elegant and curious crowd crowded the Gare de Strasbourg, the former name of the Gare de l’Est. Politicians, journalists and writers were all gathered for the inauguration of a revolutionary train made up of sleeping cars and dining cars, the famous Train Orient Express, renamed the Orient-Express a few years later.


© Lola Hakimian / Orient-Express


The first journey it made was to Constantinople, crossing Europe by day and night to Bucharest. The passengers then took another train to Bulgaria and then a ship that took them to the Black Sea and finally to the Bosphorus. The train is occupied by about 40 passengers and the round trip takes 13 days.


The Orient-Express combines innovation and elegance. Its cabins were equipped with the most modern facilities for the time, central heating, hot water and gas lighting. The interior was upholstered and the beds were impeccably made up. Bathrobes marked with the company’s seal await the travelers in their cabins. The best materials were used, such as silk sheets, marble bathrooms, crystal goblets and silver cutlery.


Car bar restaurant © Jérôme Galland


In 1919, the Orient-Express unveiled the night-blue cars of the first Simplon-Orient-Express train. For the first time, Paris connected Istanbul via Milan and Venice, and crossed the Simplon tunnel. This technological feat opened a new route through the Alps. Around 1920, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits called upon the master glassmaker René Lalique and the decorator René Prou to decorate certain carriages. Glass panels, precious wood marquetry and other luxurious decorations gave Art Deco all its grace, embodying the excellence of French travel.


Among the personalities who have traveled in the sleeper of the Orient-Express are King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and the American actress Marlene Dietrich, to name a few. This prestigious train was also used by adventurers like Lawrence of Arabia and spies like the famous Mata-Hari.


But the myth of the Orient-Express was also built through literature and cinema. Joseph Kessel, Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie found inspiration there. Agatha Christie even met her husband on the train and her trips on board inspired 3 novels, including the famous Crime on the Orient Express, which made the train famous.


Murder on the Orient Express © Warner Columbia

In 1974, for the film adaptation of the novel, the director Sidney Lumet made the greatest actors of the time, such as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and Anthony Perkins, travel on the train.


On May 20, 1977, the mythical train made its last direct trip between Paris and Istanbul. The development of the air market at the end of the 20th century was the reason why the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits was forced to sell some of its cars at auction.


Collection O.E. © Samaritaine


In 2021, an O.E. collection will be on display at the Samaritaine in Paris, with travel accessories designed to revive the myth. Belmond (LVMH) is introducing the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express for travel to Italy.


Venice-Simplon-Orient Express © Belmond


In 2023 and in association with Arsenale S.p.A., and with an interior design by Dimore Studio, the company will welcome passengers on board the brand new Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains, embodying the Italian art of living and all its beautiful traditions in a contemporary travel spirit. A collection of luxury hotels is also in the group’s future plans. To be continued



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Featured photo : © Getty Images

Grâce à une veille accrue et à une excellente connaissance de ces secteurs, la rédaction de Luxus Magazin décrypte pour ses lecteurs les principaux enjeux économiques et technologiques de la mode, l’horlogerie, la joaillerie, la gastronomie, les parfums et cosmétiques, l’hôtellerie, et l’immobilier de prestige.


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