Comfort and high-tech design in travel luggage

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Published: February 22, 2015 12:10:01 AM

Luggage designers are learning that the trick to succeeding in the industry is to offer cutting-edge functionality without abandoning heritage

MORE THAN a century after the horse and carriage gave way to the automobile, luggage brands are combining nostalgia for old times with slick simplicity and high-technology add-ons. The result is a new generation of deluxe leather bags for road warriors who may want to pack both a tuxedo and gym shorts in their overnight kit—and charge their smartphones, too.

“If luggage designers can combine efficiency, comfort and design, then they’ve got a winner, and high-end designers have done their research to find out what people want,” says Anne McAlpin, who runs a travel and packing advisory service from Jacksonville, Oregon.

The trick is to design for contemporary functionality without abandoning heritage. Take Dunhill, for example: Alfred Dunhill took over the family saddlery and coach business in 1893 at the age of 21 years and turned it into the leading outfitter for the newfangled automobile and its driver—offering horns, goggles, leather overcoats, even a picnic set for an afternoon outing.

Dunhill’s autumn and winter Chassis collection is inspired by the leather dashboards of early cars and includes a new scratch-resistant leather weekend bag trimmed with bridle leather in a nod to the company’s early years in coaches and saddlery. The dashboard leather anchors other accoutrements of the Chassis collection, including an iPad holder that resembles a document holder from another era.

But nostalgia sometimes gives way to efficiency for the electronic-age traveller. With digital mobility in mind, Aspinal of London has created the Mount Street technology bag, one of the first high-end bags to have built-in phone and tablet chargers. Some mid-range brands offer similar chargers, but those are mostly in backpacks or nylon bags, says Mariya Dykalo, Aspinal’s creative director.

Aspinal already introduced a women’s tote bag with a phone and tablet charger last year. The juice pack, as she calls the battery charger, has a standard plug for phone or tablet charging chords. The removable 4.25 x 2.5-inch pack takes about two hours to recharge and stores enough power to charge a phone three times or a tablet once.

The idea of a practical bag hidden beneath a fashionable disguise also inspired a new suit bag by the Troubadour leather goods brand, which has paired with the tailor Thom Sweeney of Mayfair, London, to shake up high-end luggage for business travellers. The suit bag, made in a dense and sturdy oil-treated leather, folds like a typical suit bag, but without the typical bag’s flimsiness.

“The rectangular corners sort of make it look like a small art portfolio case, and there’s a slit in the top with a strap that holds the hangers, which are hidden below. There’s a minimalist and contemporary aspect to it,” says Samuel Bail, who founded the company with a fellow ex-financier, Abel Samet. “Suit bags fall apart pretty quickly, so our goal was to create a bag that fits in with other small bags and lasts a long time.”

That same approach to luxury and simplicity also inspired them to create a sleek, all-purpose matching day bag. “Both of us worked in finance and wanted to take the same bag to work as on the weekends,” Bail says, a bag “that looked professional and didn’t have logos.”

“When I was growing up, I could see my grandfather’s briefcase shine on all the worn parts,” he adds. “It had a lot of character and a lot of stories, and I want our bags to show the stories of where they’ve been.”

By David Belchernov

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