There’s a great deal of change underway in the luxury luggage category right now. With year-end vacations looming and holiday shopping underway, we here at Dandelion Chandelier thought that this would be the perfect time to test-drive some roller bags, test the IQs of the latest round of “smart” suitcases, and help you make your great escape in style, whether you’re headed for the sand or for the snow.
Luxury luggage is a booming business. The growth in high-end leisure travel, driven by the increased desire for luxury experiences over luxury products – especially by millennials – has resulted in a concomitant rise in the sales of related businesses. Euromonitor estimates that the global luxury travel goods market will reach $7 billion this year, and will grow 16% over the next four years (the total global luggage market is a $35 billion industry, growing at 3.7% annually, compared to only 2% and 1.2% for handbags and watches, respectively).
The surge in consumer demand sparked a wave of consolidation this year in the highest reaches of the luggage market. In March, Samsonite bought the British brand Tumi for $1.8 billion; in October, luxury powerhouse LVMH bought an 80% stake in German brand Rimowa for $716 million.
Meanwhile, in the past year or so, Chanel and other designer brands have launched limited luggage lines. New “smart” brands have entered the market. And some brands are trying to be both. (Interestingly, both FENDI and Hermes used to make luggage, but have exited. Inventory management is tough in the luggage category, and our guess is that might have been part of the reason).
Before we proceed in outlining your options for a new bag for your year-end vacation, I know what some of you are thinking: is all of this fuss over luggage really worth anyone’s time? Isn’t a suitcase just a functional tool that doesn’t deserve this level of scrutiny?
Dear reader, consider this: your suitcase is a vital part of the first impression that you make as a traveler. Whether you’re on a business trip or a family vacation, when you arrive at the first class lounge, or the private jet terminal; the luxury resort or your villa by the sea; your luggage is telling everyone a lot about you. At that moment, it doesn’t matter what’s inside your bag, it’s all about the exterior – and like a great coat, a great suitcase will allow you to stand out, or to remain discreetly out of sight; it will help shield you from view, or draw all eyes to you – whichever you desire.
Also, a great suitcase makes traveling more fun! When I’m roaming the world with a strong, smart, chic set of luggage that keeps my hands free, I feel more optimistic, and freer to devote my attention to the passing human parade. Who wants to struggle with a poorly-designed or poorly-maintained bag when the world is waiting?
Onward! Having checked out the shops of Madison Avenue, the first class lounges at JFK, and the private jet terminal at Teterboro, our intrepid correspondents report back the following:
If you want a truly special suitcase at top-of-the-market prices, you’re in luck. There are outstanding options both old and new.
–French brand Goyard creates uber-chic roller bags in eleven different print colors that can be paired with a variety of handbags and overnight bags for a top-drawer solution to the two-carry-on rule. (If you’re going to buy a wildly expensive suitcase, please promise us that you won’t check it at the airport). My vote is for the Bourget Trolley and the Hardy Handbag in red. The Hardy started out in a larger size as a pet carrier, and was so popular that the house downsized it into a handbag – there are air holes on both sides, in case you have a tiny furry companion to stow away. You can personalize your bag any way you like. Total cost: $7,930 for the trolley, and $2,810 for the handbag.
–If you’re seeking British smart instead of French chic, Smythson of Bond Street has just launched a new line of luggage called the Greenwich Travel Collection. For now, only two colors are available: black and sea foam green. The company did a very nice job on the interior: the trolley lining is made of heavy cotton with a vintage print; it has suede inner pockets. There’s an elegant smaller bag that can be fastened to the top of the roller bag, suitable for laptops, snacks and other in-flight essentials. $2,995 for the trolley, and $2,195 for the carry-on.
—Louis Vuitton was born as a luggage company, and it is still the king of designer travel gear – I’ve been crossing the world with the same trusty Pegase Legere roller bag and ICare carry-all for almost a decade, and they seem to be indestructible (the carry-alls now run $2,340 and up, and the trolleys are $3,550 in canvas, more if you opt for leather). It’s a pity that knock-offs of these are everywhere, but the real thing is totally worth the investment – you may never need a new suitcase again.
—Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Bottega Veneta all have luggage collections; the price ranges vary between $3,500 and $7,000+for a trolley, and $3,500+ for carry-ons. I love Gucci’s latest resort luggage line – the prints will definitely make you smile and fuel your wanderlust. The current Dolce luggage for men is also really appealing. Buyers, beware: the early reviews on the Chanel bags from people we know is that they are incredibly stylish but sadly too fragile – they’re for show, but not really to go. We suggest you go with a brand known for luggage-crafting skills, unless you truly have money to burn.
–Personally, we’re a bit weary of seeing Rimowa roller bags — it was interesting when they first took off a couple of years ago, but now the airport is full of them (or full of knock-offs, even worse). Ditto Tumi – almost every business man that we know carries black Tumi luggage, which makes us want something different – something more femme and more exclusive. But we have friends who swear by both of these brands, and they must be good or we wouldn’t see them everywhere.
If you define luxury as more about tech than about style, there are several new “smart” suitcases for you to consider. Almost all of these have UBS ports so you can charge your phone using your suitcase (no more fighting for space at the airport charging station!). Most also have weight calculators and location trackers, and most are sold direct-to-consumer to keep price points lower, a la Warby Parker:
—Bluesmart, founded in 2013, was the first significant “smart suitcase” to arrive on the market. You can lock and unlock the suitcase from your phone, and it has an excellent GPS and digital scale. You can track your past trips and share your itinerary with friends via the app. It comes only in black – the Model One costs $449 and the Black Edition costs $599.
—Raden launched earlier this year with the two-bag A Series. Designed in part by the talent behind Beats with Dr. Dre, the bags have a polycarbonate shell that is surprisingly light, and they come in 7 colors. The smart features include weight and location trackers, and real-time traffic, weather and TSA wait time updates. The carry-on size is $295, and the larger checked size is $395 (if you’re checking it, many of the benefits of having a smart suitcase go away, so we’re puzzled about why it would be a good idea to go for the bigger one).
—Away is the very latest launch in the smart category; the company’s founders include Warby Parker alumni. The brand’s debut bag has a hard-shell exterior, and comes in 7 colors. Curiously, it has neither a weight sensor nor a location tracker, making it among the least intelligent of the smart suitcases. Early reviews suggest that its best feature seems to be the spaciousness of the interior. The price is $225.
—Travelmate Robotics’ new suitcase follows you through the airport like a loyal dog – it can move as quickly as 7 miles per hour, can be outfitted with a camera to shoot video of your travels, and costs $400. You can customize the color, and also give it a name. Not sure if it responds when you whistle.
–One important note for style mavens: you may or may not like the design elements of these bags; even if you do, be aware: many of the reviews we read note that the exteriors scuff rather easily, after only 1-2 trips. Ugh. For us, that’s a knock-out.
There is an emerging “hybrid” segment between these two extremes, with brands that try to achieve that elusive goal of being both “smart” and smart. Two new launches this year have received a lot of publicity:
—Arlo Skye (we love that name!) was launched by alumni of Tumi and LV and seems to aspire to becoming the Tesla of luggage. The bag is made of scratch-resistant aluminum, and it has very quiet wheels, one-touch opening, and a built-in charging station. The luxury elements really come into play in the interior: the bag comes with packing cubes, shoe sleeves that are made of anti-microbial, odor-proof material, and compression strips to make room for more items. The debut line comes in three colors: sardine silver, champagne and penguin black (we love those names, too!) The price tag is $550. Early reviews warn of scuffing and scratching on this line, as well, so be aware of that.
—Vocier launched a male-businessman-focused carry-on bag – the C38 – this year, touting its patented “zero-crease technology.” The early reviews are that the technology only works if you pack carefully. Like an Edsel, it comes only in black, and its top of the line version lists for $1,195.
So far, we’d say the quest will need to continue for that perfect combination of “smart” and style. The truly “smart” bags are not particularly interesting from a fashion and design perspective, and none of these new tech-enabled bags is so outstanding that I would abandon my LV. But it’s still early days for this category – and as we know, luxury is in the eye of the beholder. We’ll be keeping our eyes on this space, and we’ll report back as the innovation continues.
For now, as we zip up this story and head out for the airport, we’ve been thinking that actually the ultimate luxury is no suitcase at all. If you own multiple houses, and have a staff at all of them, and you’re traveling by private jet, what do you really need to bring with you, anyway? As with the people you see on the streets of major cities the world over, the person with the least amount of “stuff” to carry is always the wealthiest one in the crowd.
Want to look rich? Buy an expensive suitcase. Want to look really rich? Don’t carry anything at all.