Three FT journalists test the latest products in a search for luggage they can love.
The Indestructible Case Avietta, by Valextra, £3,980
User Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor
This is a love story, about a woman and her suitcase. Think that is impossible? For a long time, so did I.
And then, one Milan fashion week, I found myself in the Valextra showroom watching Emanuele Carminati Molina, chief executive, throw a suitcase around.
Literally. Heft it up and toss it across the room. This is not, I must say, the sort of treatment usually given to Valextra cases, which are the Platonic ideal of a suitcase in terms of design but often made in white leather, thus rendering them practically untouchable. Carminati Molina smiled. “This is our new bag!” he said. “It’s made from a jacquard that is a mix of nylon and Kevlar.” “Kevlar?” I said.
“You can’t hurt it!” he chortled. “It is abrasion-resistant, waterproof and anti-stain, anti-rip, anti-static and anti-pilling.”
It also had Pirelli wheels and a pattern of silver Vs that looked less like a logo than a cool architectural moment. The case was very expensive (all Valextra cases are). Could you amortise it over a lifetime? I felt lust in my heart.
For a long time, the story of my life and my luggage was probably not that different from yours. I got married. My husband and I bought luggage. We were told it should be black and hard-wearing. And every time we travelled, as we stood by the carousel we would watch the conveyor belt belch up a stream of hard-wearing black luggage, one piece indistinguishable from the next.
One day, visiting the studio of the designer Erdem Moralioglu, I saw a bright yellow Globetrotter with a black-and-white floral lining, and felt a stab of desire. I wanted that suitcase the way some women want George Clooney. But I did not desire in vain. I bought it. For the first time in my life, I had a suitcase that made me smile. Every time I saw it coming towards me on the carousel, I felt a little surge of pleasure.
But one day, after a long flight, I saw it coming towards me on the carousel – crushed. It looked as if it had been run over by a truck (the repair shop said it probably had). I replaced it but lived in fear of another accident.
Until that Kevlar moment. I decided to test the Valextra case, aka the Avietta, in its 48-hour incarnation (it also comes in a larger size). If it stood the trials – well, we just might have a chance at a lasting relationship.
The first thing I did was invite various FT colleagues to relieve their stress by tossing it around the room. It bounced – literally – back. Then I filled it with two pairs of spiky high heels, two dresses, an evening clutch, a pair of jeans, a sweater, pyjamas, toiletries and several electronic devices, and off I went to the airport to catch a flight for a weekend in Milan.
I dragged the Avietta along pavements and I tossed it on to X-ray machines. But when I had to access its contents for security, it was all there, within easy reach. It made me feel very glamorous, like I had just stepped off the set of Pan Am. If my hair hadn’t been in a bun, I would have tossed it.
By the end of my journey, I was somewhat the worse for jet lag but my bag had not a scratch on it. (I know this because I asked my 11-year-old to go over it with a magnifying glass – really. I wasn’t going to enter into this relationship lightly.)
“You really want that bag, don’t you?” my husband said.
I looked at him and sighed. “I do.”
The Ultra-light Case Salsa Air, by Rimowa, £353
User Peter Aspden, arts writer
Location Hong Kong
The Salsa Air is the latest and lightest suitcase from German manufacturer Rimowa. An inauspicious name, I thought, when I was asked to try the new product on a flying visit to Hong Kong. I get on badly with anything with the word “Air” in it. It is always, almost literally, a let-down. A pair of Nike Air Jordans had promised to make me move like the wind. I remained stubbornly close to the earth as I pounded my way around my local park. As for “Salsa” – what was this, baggage or ballet?
However, the polycarbonate shell of the case, in navy blue, was reassuringly masculine, the kind of thing Iron Man would use for evening-dress body armour. The inelegantly named polycarbonate is one of those miracle materials that seem to be taking over the world with militaristic boasts (“bulletproof”). Message: in the hardened arena of business travel, there is no room for sumptuous leathers and fey designs. You want performance fabrics, tough and easy to handle.
The Salsa Air is, indeed, extraordinarily light. I tried the 55cm x 40cm version, which called for frugal packing. Two compartments helped instil a sense of discipline: obvious essentials, spare shoes, lightweight linens, all folded with precision engineering. There was not a spare cubic centimetre once I’d finished. It weighed in at a modest 13kg.
On the bus to the airport, my Salsa Air wanted to salsa. As I pulled it behind me, its multi-wheel castors spun in a 360-degree frenzy. This was the most manoeuvrable case I had ever handled but leave it alone and, on any but the straightest surface, it wandered off.
I suddenly heard a dull thud a couple of metres away on the bus: the Salsa Air had zipped away, like a flanker peeling from a set scrum to nobble the opposition fly-half. The fly-half looked at me, kind of impressed, but not in a good way.
But this was the only fault I could find: my new suitcase was a little frisky. Its design is understated and clever – the combination lock that ensnares the two zip fasteners is the simplest I have come across – and, once tamed, it was a joy to handle. On my return, I put it in the hold to test its mettle. It emerged unscathed and still in the mood to dance. I don’t think I will ever think of luggage in quite the same way again.
The Multipurpose Case Travel tote, by Bara Boux, £650
User Jan Dalley, arts editor
Location New York
A cold day in London, packing for a few days in New York. I am not someone who travels light. I’m the person who took three sweaters to the desert, and 12 half-read back issues of the London Review of Books on what was supposed to be a romantic weekend away. Just in case.
So the chance to fly with a bag that would be decluttering, life-laundering, a full-on packing makeover – the claim of a new brand called Bara Boux – was attractive, and its travel tote and I began our blind date optimistically.
It’s a fine-looking creature: pale leather, big enough to hold everything you need for a night away. It is, even empty, strangely weighty – but a bit of heft seemed reassuringly expensive in feel. It has zip-bags and nooks for phones and pens and glasses inside, and outside snap-on detachable bits that promised the nirvana of proper, grown-up organisation. I could put things in all the different bits! And find them again! An end to that rootling so annoying to male companions. A square detachable pouch didn’t quite fit my iPad, though my Kindle went in happily. But … it’s on the outside, clearly easy to pull off. So I took the low-tech option: I put my notebook in it. Above that, a smaller (also detachable) pouch seems intended to be a large wallet – it has slots for credit cards. But once again, it felt too vulnerable to be a refuge for passports, cards and all that booty. Then, two saddlebag extensions, fixed with rows of large poppers down each side and (this was to prove significant) at the bottom.
So that makes several dozen hefty poppers in all. But at the top? To close the bag itself? Not a one. No zip, no popper, nothing. Now, I’m sure I needn’t tell you what happens when you put a fullish tote that is open at the top through an airport security scanner. Or into an overhead locker on a plane. Yes, dear reader, things fall out. Lots of things.
By the time we arrived at JFK, my new bag and I were on slightly frosty terms. Then, leaping out of a cab, I pulled the bag after me, as you do – and the bottom scraped lightly across the sill of the door. And those poppers, the ones fixing the saddlebags at the base, unpopped … depositing an assortment of my stuff into a Manhattan gutter.
This bag is a handsome beast, and a lot of thought has gone into it. In the realm of the imagination, it works beautifully. In real life, however, less so.