Listen to this article
Once upon a time, luxury luggage areas of department stores played to a certain traveller fantasy: think Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday, trailing clouds of perfume, or Richard Burton and trolleys filled with capacious leather trunks. Well, not any longer. These days the luggage department has a new, altogether less weighty look.
“In recent years the request for classic luggage has shifted in favour of weekenders and carry-on bags. This is because of changing travel habits: today travellers need to move quickly, reaching far away places in the fastest and most convenient way,” says Marco Franchini, chief executive of Valextra luggage.
Sasha Sorkin of Net-a-Porter says: “We’ve seen a big rise in sales of weekend bags. People are taking more short breaks, they’re travelling more for work and they don’t want big pieces. Plus, check-in weight limits have become so low you can barely take anything anyway. It’s much simpler to have a carry-on.”
“Sales are up 28 per cent in the past three years,” says Stephen Spitz, chief executive of Case, which manages the luggage department at Harrods, where brands such as Tumi, Mulberry and Victorinox are sold. “People today are under enormous time pressure and often stay at quality hotels that offer a very quick turnaround for their laundry and dry cleaning.”
So is this the death of luggage as we know it? “We still sell larger check-in cases, primarily for long haul,” says Katherine Green, brand manager at Globe-Trotter. “After our trolley cases, our next bestsellers are the 30in and 33in extra-deep suitcases with wheels, which are our two largest sizes.”
Still, says Franchini, Valextra’s “classic rigid travel set, the Costa luggage, nowadays is purchased only by connoisseurs of travel” – and then most often in made-to-order materials such as alligator skin.
As a result, brands everywhere have put a new emphasis on the weekend bag. “It has become another luxury purchase, like your handbag,” says Sorkin. Globe-Trotter, for example, beloved for its traditional hard fibreboard, leather-finished suitcases, has launched Jet, a new series of weekend bags inspired by the 1930s golden age of jet travel made from Windsor grain leather. There are flight bags, holdalls and co-ordinating passport holders (£45-£1,200).
Mark Cross, the American heritage luxury brand that has developed a loyal following for its women’s Villa America oversize tote, is set to launch a men’s travel collection for spring 2014. Even Louis Vuitton, the bastion of the suitcase, launched a new compact four-wheel overnight valise, the Zephyr (£2,120), earlier this year. At Net-a-Porter, Sorkin says Gucci monogrammed weekend bags are top sellers, alongside those by Anya Hindmarch. At Mr Porter, there’s a bevy of men’s weekend holdalls on view from brands such as Givenchy, Mulberry, Alfred Dunhill and Santiago González (son of Colombian handbag designer Nancy), who has produced a style in crocodile for autumn. “The average price people will pay has more than doubled – we had a Nancy González exotic weekend bag for £5,150 recently,” says Sorkin. “Elsewhere, pieces cost from £700 into the thousands.”
Meanwhile, some new luxury groups have stepped on to the luggage scene. Fischer Voyage was launched this year by Steven Fischer, a former luxury industry analyst at Northwestern University, Illinois, with a single piece: the Prairie, priced at £8,250 and handmade in the American Midwest by artisan saddle and harness makers. Each individually numbered bag is made from a single side of leather from Horween Tannery, the last remaining tannery in Chicago. The handle is hand-stitched and the leather edges are burnished by hand. “I was inspired by a 100-year-old Gladstone travel bag handed down by my grandfather,” says Fischer. “It’s an heirloom, designed to be used by generation after generation.”
Fischer is following in the footsteps of British luggage brand Moncrief, created by Caroline Evans and Jigsaw founder John Robinson and specialising in handmade carry-on luggage and travel accessories. For £2,000, travellers can pick up a perforated calf leather weekend bag in rainbow colours (or trade up to calf hair), complete with a proprietary cashmere blanket “to make your journeys more comfortable”. The brand also makes bigger carry-on trolley suitcases with co-ordinating detachable wallets (£4,950) – all featuring treated linings designed to be fray- and stain-resistant.
Harrods’ Spitz says that, rather than the end of luggage, we should see this as the beginning of a new golden age. “People are compartmentalising their travel and types of suitcases,” he says. “They have different travel luggage pieces, sets or bags for the different types of travel they are undertaking.” It’s not an either-or situation, in other words, it’s a plus one. The suitcase closet isn’t half empty; it’s half full.
More of this week’s Style stockists