Today, travellers expect to zip from terminal to terminal with state-of-the-art suitcases; smooth gliding, slick lines and intricate gadgetry are all par for the course to those who demand that little bit more from their luggage. A century or so ago, however, travelling light was unknown. Back in 1898, Paul Morszeck, a young entrepreneur with a passion for exploring, became dissatisfied with the clunky, cumbersome cases which were the only option at the time. His solution? To create his own, from lightweight, pliable wood. Rimowa, the company he launched, pioneered the concept of streamlined, lightweight, functional luggage that has since become familiar and welcome to weary travellers.
Rimowa began as a relatively humble operation in a small factory in Cologne and has since become one of the world’s leading purveyors of innovative luxury luggage, with a portfolio of over 20 models and a client base that stretches from Bel Air to Seoul. As the aviation industry took flight in the 30s and glamorous figures such as Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post captured the imagination of the public, travel and, more precisely, looking devilishly chic while travelling, meant that luggage manufacturers had to rise to the challenge and adapt their products to the jet-set lifestyle. Richard Morszeck, the son of Rimowa’s pioneering founder, went to work diligently; he looked to the technological advancements of the aircraft themselves and, taking inspiration from the light aluminium used to make plane bodies, set about adapting the material for the luggage market. In 1950, the first structured aluminium suitcase was made. A decade later, cases for cameras and photography equipment followed, in materials designed to withstand the elements, from searing desert heat to Arctic chill; a trawl through the Vogue archives confirms they’ve been an essential on exotic fashion shoots for decades.
Not that Rimowa, now overseen by Dieter Morszeck, the third generation of the family to run the company, is a brand that relies solely on the reputation of its past glories and heritage. Today, the label continues to strive for design innovation. The current decade saw the development of a new, almost indestructible form of plastic for durable, tough but light luggage; weight remains an essential consideration for the 21st-century traveller. The company prides itself on impeccable, architectural-standard design; a visit to the stunning company headquarters, a series of cubic aluminium buildings designed like a row of cases, is testament to this. Rimowa today collaborates with Lufthansa and Porsche; projects with the latter include a brilliantly conceived classic Rimowa case that fits snugly into an assigned slot in the boot of the Porsche, in colours that match the car.
Rimowa’s intrinsic template for its cases has, reassuringly in a time of global uncertainty, remained the same since the 50s; a gleaming silver with ridged lines. Some minor adjustments along the way, however, have ensured that it remains completely up to date: the 00s saw the introduction of a silver aluminium case on wheels, for example. As the CEO explains, the use of ‘space-age materials’ keeps the label contemporary. ‘The fabrication is important.’
While functionality is at the heart of the Rimowa philosophy, the label has never lost its lustre among members of the A-list and the fashion elite and is regarded alongside Vuitton and Goyard in the stylish luggage stakes; Rimowa’s signature grooved design is as effective a brand signifier as any embossing or print. Milla Jovovich, Diane Kruger and Jessica Alba are the latest celebrities to be seen with the brand; Alba describes Rimowa luggage as ‘indestructible yet understated’. Susannah Frankel, the fashion editor of British newspaper the Independent, the secret of the label’s success is its niche yet no-nonsense appeal. ‘Many of the smartest make-up artists carry their products from job to job in Rimowa cases,’ notes Frankel. ‘On a recent weekend away I was joined by a colleague who demonstrated its four-wheel spinner action, sailing about as effortlessly as a swan.’
Elite luxury label Delsey recently announced that its entire headquarters is set to move to Hanover. Delsey, launched in 1946, is, like Rimowa, a luggage pioneer – it was the first manufacturer to produce a rigid case on wheels – and continues to unveil new innovations, including 2010’s patented Zip Securi Tech, the first mechanism to make zip fastenings difficult for thieves to break into. The range of sleek, efficient luggage produced in Germany has few rivals, however far its globetrotting clients may travel.
Werth & Werth, Berliner Strasse 42, Frankfurt 60311, +49 (0)69 695 2200