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The world of luxury luggage


Aircraft-grade aluminium frames, anti-hacking fabrics and the latest protective coatings: Josh Sims examines how technology has transformed our luggage

Josh Sims,

As if an aching back, split seams and sloppy handling by airport ground staff were not enough, it now seems that cybercrime is something travellers need to protect themselves from with their choice of luggage. Concerns over the possibility of so-called e-pick-pocketing – where a criminal skims personal information from passports, identity cards and credit cards – are growing. That’s why US luggage maker Tumi’s latest product development is its Ticon collection, made of a proprietary fabric using special metal threads that block this type of hacking.

Science lessons

If luggage was once beautifully crafted from noble materials such as wood, canvas and leather, weighed a ton and required a butler to see it from car to private jet, these days luggage design is more about the appliance of science. This makes for niche products expressing more the application of aeronautics engineering to advanced materials than time-honoured craft and designer logos.

Jet set style

‘If you’re not a senior executive in a company you probably haven’t heard of Tumi; it’s just not likely to be on your radar,’ as Tumi’s president and CEO Jerome Griffith puts it. He’s being modest; as well as senior executives the brand is favoured by the likes of Brad Pitt, Keith Richards, Tom Cruise and the current incumbent of the White House, not to mention by those who are attracted by Tumi innovations such as the use of in-line skate wheels, aircraft-grade aluminium frames and thermoplastic composite materials used for the protective gear worn by American football players but which just happens to be bulletproof.

‘You’re always going to sell more products at the commodity level than the premium level,’ Griffith notes. ‘Some 80% of all jeans sold are under $20, but if you want quality there’s now a premium product, as there is in travel goods. [These are advanced utilitarian products and] not really about looking pretty, although they do look pretty.’

Form and function

Certainly Tumi is no longer alone in this high-design part of the market. Brands such as Victorinox (makers of the Swiss Army knife), Samsonite, Zero Halliburton and Porsche Design are among the companies making ever more functional luggage. This means smoother running wheels, ergonomic extendable handles and clever interior divisions, all responsive to how people work and travel now, from the business world’s more casual dress to our increased use of electronic gadgets – and all without sacrificing style.

Outfitting the future

As Porsche Design’s CEO Juergen Gessler notes, the luggage industry can no longer afford to ‘neglect to remember that luggage is increasingly a reflection of personality. Your bag is a statement.’ Mark McGuigan, general manager of Samsonite for UK and Ireland, agrees. ‘There has been a shift in thinking. People used to look to luggage purely as a means of protecting its contents, not as part of their outfit. But as we travel more and more, for work and leisure, we’re conscious of how we look while doing so.’

Collaboration process

For some that has meant pursuing what has become an industry trend for fashion brand tie-ins, as Samsonite has with Alexander McQueen, Adidas, Yohji Yamamoto and Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf. For others form is style: Eagle Creek, for example, has its Hovercraft cabin case, moulded like a wedge of cheese so it can be stowed under the aircraft seat in front, while Italian brand Bric’s has teamed up with famed Italian car design company Pininfarina on a suitably streamlined range. Indeed, such is the speed with which both the construction and look of luggage from the most progressive makers advances that, if just a decade ago a model was expected to have a five-year shelf life, that has now been cut to less than two.

Stitches in time

Small wonder then that even makers of more traditional luggage are looking to more technical products. The Chassis line from Dunhill, for example, may be made of leather but comes with a carbon-fibre coating that makes it scratch- and water-resistant. In fact, many of the more traditional names owe their long-lasting reputation to making the most advanced products of their era: Globe-Trotter’s cases are still made from a 19th-century method of compressing 14 layers of specially bonded paper to achieve remarkable strength, for example, while Zero Halliburton, one of the pioneers of the futuristic-looking aluminium travel case, devised that with the help of aircraft engineers back in 1938.

Of course, while such luggage will both make you look the part and protect your belongings, none of it will help you decide what to put in it. That skill comes only with many, many journeys. Tumi’s CEO, for example, can take a two-week tour of three continents with just one bag. In his line of work, ‘you get very practiced at packing’, he says.

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