Adrien — In this new series, we’ll be going back a bit. Because well before we were looking for trains all over Europe, lunching with an actress who had a rather unlikely sideline, visiting manufacturers in Eastern Europe, choosing a manufacturer and designing our trains, we needed to hone our brand.
First we had to choose a name. Midnight Trains had come to me right at the start, when I was in Greece with Hervé Marro, our head of communications and the original author of this newsletter. As well as sounding pretty good, it seems to capture rather nicely the image of a train travelling around midnight towards Milan or Madrid, filled with passengers both sleeping and socialising. Midnight is only a fleeting moment between one day and another. It’s a dash, a connection, a bridge. A liminal zone. However, we’d already started questioning it, looking for alternatives, just in case. But honestly, we didn’t find anything that pleased us, really, nothing quite as good as Midnight Trains.
One of the biggest tasks we faced as a brand was creating a coherent visual identity. The task was all the more significant because we had to reinvent a product that already existed and completely redesign the experience associated with it. The sleeper train we were creating would rely on various design elements, involving various different sorts of jobs: a logo, of course, but also, the design of the train (both interiors and exteriors), the team uniforms, the restaurant, the sound design, a website, an app, our digital content, and so on. From the beginning, I knew that we needed someone with lots of experience, a man or woman with lots of perspective and creativity who could help us recruit the talent we needed and create a strong identity.
And I happened to have a name in mind: that of a man I had met several times in my life and whose work I admired: Yorgo Tloupas. Particularly well known for the logos he had designed for some very big businesses, he was also very well connected within the architecture, design and fashion worlds. What’s more, he also worked for traditional luxury brands, hipster outfits and mainstream names. Plus, he didn’t work only for businesses that already existed, but also helped create winter-sports gear for Black Crows. He had an entrepreneurial spirit that we were looking for in all our collaborators. Finally, he was also really into mobility and transport. He was pretty much always on his bike, whether to get around for his personal meetings or take part in bike-polo competitions. He was also into surfing, skiing and snowboarding. He also had a magazine called ‘Intersection’, in part dedicated to issues in mobility. He also spent all his summers in Greece taking a train, then a boat. I knew that our project could appeal to him.
I was correct. After our first meeting, which went particularly well, he joined the Midnight Trains team as artistic director.
Romain Payet — Yorgo arrived pretty early on, and when I joined Adrien, he was already there. Our first meeting with him consisted of explaining our vision to him (and his team). And as we’d already seen in our situations, the most important thing for us was to make clear that we weren’t doing ‘luxury’. Beauty, yes, but not luxury, nothing inaccessible. This wasn’t the Orient-Express, we were going for a sleeper train that was more intimate and convivial on board; a service anyone might like to join. Sure, there were a few cabins that might allow you to enjoy an extraordinary experience, but that was only a very small part of the inventory.
The challenge was all the more difficult because in the collective imagination, the sleeper train pictured by most was either ultra-luxurious or involved beds piled pretty much on top of one another. Same for hotels, which are either palaces or super-low-cost chains. Between the two, there’s very little, the brands are less strong, less well known to the wider public. But that’s where we wanted to position ourselves. So we insisted to Yorgo and his team that we are first and foremost a transport business, that our most fundamental goal was to get people from A to B. We also emphasised that we wanted to create something timeless, neither an old-school nineteenth-century design or something futuristic that would go out of date in five years. We wanted pretty but not simple. And Yorgo understood that. To the extent that, as soon as he put forward his first logos, one of them really stood out. This was the one we would put everywhere.