“Transparency” has been a go-to buzzword in the business and technology industries over the past few years, but German luggage maker Rimowa has taken the concept to the extreme.
Its new collaboration with Virgil Abloh, artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton and designer of the cult streetwear label Off-White, has rendered the brand’s iconic carry-on style in clear polycarbonate for a completely see-through piece of luggage. Pack accordingly.
Abloh, known as a close collaborator of American rapper Kanye West, became menswear chief for the French luxury label, owned by luxury conglomerate LMVH, in March.
He has worked closely with Rimowa, the 120-year-old German brand in which LMVH holds an 80 per cent stake, on a product that would reflect both its dedication to quality craftsmanship and his own postmodern, internet-influenced sensibility – one that has made him and his work deeply popular with the Instagram generation of tastemakers.
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The Rimowa x Off-White Cabin Multiwheel (€850, or US$994) collaboration is being released in tandem with a series of design updates to honour the German luggage brand’s 120th anniversary.
Touted as the “most significant evolution of the brand’s designs since the 1950s”, the changes are quite subtle: new, lighter materials; understated-to-the-point-of-unnoticeable ergonomic design tweaks; new wheel designs to maximise mobility; and some practical storage features for frequent travellers.
A newly conceived product line of four “collections” updates the brand’s core line-up with a refreshed visual identity and new size runs: four cabin sizes, two check-in sizes, and two larger trunk sizes per collection.
Rimowa is taking a risk by leaning on features that are not necessarily perceptible to the average customer, especially as today’s market seems to react better to bold gestures.
Just look at the incredible growth Kering’s Italian label Gucci has seen, thanks to its recent maximalist makeover.
Which brings the Abloh collaboration into focus: much as an earlier collaboration with streetwear brand Supreme caused a stir, this looks to be a pointed push from Rimowa to appeal to a younger customer base that feeds off buzz.
Hector Muelas, Rimowa’s chief brand officer, said it was all more natural than that.
“Every partnership we establish always starts with a strong organic relation,” Muelas said.
“For us, it is important that the people or organisations we partner with have some sort of history with Rimowa and understand not only the product, but also the brand’s vernacular and its mission.”
Abloh was already a customer, he said.
Muelas said Abloh reached out to Alexandre Arnault, Rimowa’s chief executive officer and son of Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s chairman and CEO because he had used the cases for years, setting forth a collaboration process that took place mainly via the cross-platform messaging app WhatsApp.
In working with a designer known for his prolific output (Abloh recently released collaborations with Nike and Ikea, in addition to his day job), Rimowa was able to easily accommodate his prototypes.
“By the virtue of owning our factories, we can experiment, test and ensure a superior level of quality, so technicalities rarely get in the way,” Muelas said.
“The biggest challenges are always peripheral: time zones and travel schedules.”
Those sorts of challenges, however, are relatively minor compared with the perceived benefits.
“The most rewarding thing is to have someone like Virgil push the envelope conceptually and create a product that balances functional luxury with an artful approach.”
The see-through bag is certainly an unexpected, attention-getting design choice, if a difficult sell. Céline designer Phoebe Philo’s cheeky take on a US$590 clear plastic grocery bag, part of her spring 2018 collection, launched into enviable notice with imitators and breathless write-ups in the fashion press, such as Vogue and Refinery29.
But making that jump to the more utility-driven luggage market has no clear (ahem) precedent.
Australia’s Crumpler released a transparent suitcase in 2016. It is no longer available for sale on the brand’s website, suggesting that Abloh’s idea might be exciting, but commercially impractical.
“The idea isn’t necessarily to target this or that demographic, but to participate in culture in thoughtful ways with like-minded brands that have an organic relationship with Rimowa,” Muelas said.
“We’ve also collaborated with Fendi” – also owned by LVMH – “which sits on a different spectrum, and we have some projects in the pipeline that point at new and exciting directions. The modern travel experience has many facets.”
Of the more nuanced design updates, Muelas said, “we wanted to have something more pure, functional, and timeless – more in line with our brand values.
“The monogram is the brand’s original one, dating back to 1898, and the font was created in Germany the same year. Reworking those two elements was a way to maintain a strong link to our heritage while establishing the foundation for the future.”
Rimowa was mostly acquired by LVMH in 2016, when the company reported revenue of €€400 million. Because LVMH is privately owned and because 2017 was its first year with the Rimowa brand, financial data is not readily available.
Growth projections take into account millennial consumer trends of splurging on travel and experiences, which require travel accessories.
Prices for Rimowa’s new collections range from €380 (US$446) to €1,300.
Meanwhile, Abloh’s eye-catching interpretation sits perfectly at the crossroads, where the brand is now: catnip for younger, streetwear fanatics, often referred to as “hypebeasts”, which gives off an aura of understated cool without alienating Rimowa’s more conservative business travellers.
It is luggage writ large on the menswear market, where some favour traditional suits while others prefer slouchy tracksuits. The sartorial middle ground slowly erodes.
One thing is for certain: those who buy the Rimowa x Off-White case ought to make sure its contents are worthy of spotlighting. They will be scrutinised by more than just baggage security officials.