A couple leave the aircraft after a steamy night flight from Marseilles. In their late twenties, dressed for a hot Provençal weekend, neither is particularly remarkable but what they carry is: in place of the predictable wheelie case, both have perfectly battered Globe-Trotter suitcases – hers in brown, his in blue.
As luggage brands go, Globe-Trotter is a classic but hardly ubiquitous. But, as holidaymakers flock to luggage carousels worldwide, it’s becoming more common to see travellers eschewing the traditional hallmarks of the frequent flyer – synthetic nylon and go-faster wheels – for something “neo-vintage”.
Jeremy Hackett, founder of men’s clothing company Hackett, says: “I still use an old navy blue Globe-Trotter suitcase I bought 15 years ago. They are reasonably lightweight and I find that my suits and jackets keep their shape better. I understand the case for nylon-wheeled luggage but they lack any sense of style. When the luggage finally makes its way on to the carousel it often has the appearance of so many black plastic rubbish bags.”
This may explain why Hackett has chosen to collaborate with Globe-Trotter on two cases, an 18in attaché (the same model Winston Churchill used while chancellor of the exchequer; £490, $778), and a larger, 21in wheeled case (£750). Lined with a Prince of Wales check and ornamented with Hackett’s logo of bowler hat atop crossed umbrellas, the “Mayfair collection” can be further personalised with the owner’s initials. Hackett says: “Years ago a retired army officer came into the shop carrying two battered dark green Globe-Trotter suitcases. The cases just struck me as being incredibly British, solid, sensible and well made.”
Not everyone is a fan, however. Clive Darby, founder of men’s wear label Rake, prefers the modern convenience of a German-made Rimowa wheelie, prices from £240. “Old-school luggage has its adherents but I recently completed a trip to Asia where the locks of my Rimowa were damaged in transit. Not only was the hotel able to repair it, it did so in a matter of hours. That would have been impossible with an old or vintage case.”
Still, fans of traditional luggage are unlikely to be lured away by the promise of on-the-spot repairs. At the heart of the vintage case’s renewed popularity is the concept of provenance. Shoe designer Olga Berluti says: “In our functional, sometimes soulless society, men are rediscovering the need to feel emotional about what they wear and carry. My clients have always been in love with the patina of time that gives their possessions beauty and authenticity so, with our Tela line [prices from £850], we have taken canvas, an airy summer material, and patinated this to give a worn, brushed look.”
Kim Jones, creative director at luxury goods group Dunhill, says there are other advantages to having luggage that evokes the golden age of travel: “Not only does vintage-style luggage allow you to express your style in the very generic airport environment but it is also easier to spot on the luggage carousel.” Last year, after trawling the brand’s 100-year-old archives, Jones reintroduced a Dunhill aluminium case from the 1940s (prices from £695). “The 1940s were an iconic time for the glamour of travel and the Dunhill cases pay homage to that,” says Jones.
Trevor Pickett, who sells his own range of classically proportioned canvas cases (from £425) from his shops in London’s Burlington Arcade, says one of the reasons people are moving away from wheelie bags is snobbery. “I think people associate them with stewardesses,” he says. “And, anyway, we don’t need to worry about packing in the way we used to. We wear jeans, and we stay in hotels with laundries.”
It remains the province of the older luxury houses to offer access to classic individualism. Gucci’s famous GG logo was devised in the late 1960s and this year the Italian fashion house decided to reintroduce a pattern that predates it. Originally created in the 1930s, the distinctive criss-cross Diamante design has been reinterpreted for a more modern appeal. “The Diamante canvas collection evokes the balance between Gucci’s luxury tradition and the contemporary approach to design,” says Gucci. Prices start at £800.
For those seeking a personal touch, Louis Vuitton’s Special Orders division will tackle even the most extreme of luggage requests. Fifth generation family member Patrick Louis Vuitton, who runs its bespoke luggage division, says: “The way in which we fabricate special orders has not much changed since 1854. However the clients’ needs have, of course, changed over the course of 150 years. While years ago we made record player trunks, we have [now] made an iPod Louis Vuitton trunk for Karl Lagerfeld, who always travels with his collection of iPods.”
Last year Hermès brought back an “over-nighter” in canvas and calfskin known as the UL53 (the “UL” stands for ultra light; price on request). Apart from being available in a range of popsicle colours, the new edition comes with a few nods to the conveniences required of modern travellers, including a detachable strap and a passport holder. Otherwise, it is identical to the case carried by Jean-Louis Dumas, great-grandson of the company’s founder Thierry Hermès and the creator of the Birkin bag.
One Hermès fan – he bought his first Drag bag in 1982 – is agent and publicist Charles Finch, who took delivery of a bespoke tan-coloured Hermès Drag last April. “It takes a year to make and a man to carry,” says Finch of his personal order: “Wheels”, he adds, “are for prams and girls.”
Bill Prince is deputy editor of British GQ