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The Groovy New Look of Luxury Travel

By Gregory Woo

Model and activist Adwoa Aboah in Rimowa’s first global brand campaign. As she wheels the brand’s new Essential Trunk, she is  a prime example of the new Rimowa customer — savvy, eclectic and a global citizen.
 
Rimowa
Model and activist Adwoa Aboah in Rimowa’s first global brand campaign. As she wheels the brand’s new Essential Trunk, she is a prime example of the new Rimowa customer — savvy, eclectic and a global citizen.

Sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Hong Kong, taking refuge from an uncharacteristically warm day, I happen to glance up just as bellboys are moving a trolley of luggage. And as a gentle push opens a concealed door, I peek inside the coatroom and it is what looks to be, essentially, all Rimowa. Lined up, stacked and scooched in, are the instantly identifiable, vertically grooved shells of the luggage in every imaginable finish. It speaks to the ubiquity the brand has achieved amongst luxury travellers, almost like a members-only club where the entrance requirement is airline miles. 

There’s something else I notice, the trunks aren’t pristine or clean. They’re dented, covered with artfully eschew stickers, luggage belts, tags and the works in a way that extends past a practical need for identification, people are truly personalising their luggage. This makes me think back to about a decade ago when the look and feel of luxury travel was very different, almost elitist. 

Luggage was pristine and so were the travellers who wheeled these carefully protected, kink-free suitcases with such air you’d think they were transporting the royal jewels in them. It’s fascinating to see how the landscape has changed. The new, less precious and significantly less haughty approach to luggage is a reflection of how luxury is being consumed today; that’s to say, that customers are no longer looking at it in a rarefied or overly precious way, but taking something that feels almost like an Instagram approach to personalising their luxury goods — a smorgasbord of carefully curated moments made to look unintentional. 

RimowaFrom left: A shiny new nameplate bears the redesigned minimalist logo while a leather handle is an example of the new customisation options; the grooves that are now synonymous with the brand were first added to the aluminium trunk in the ’50s as evidenced by an antique piece.
From left: A shiny new nameplate bears the redesigned minimalist logo while a leather handle is an example of the new customisation options; the grooves that are now synonymous with the brand were first added to the aluminium trunk in the ’50s as evidenced by an antique piece.

This freeing approach to confronting luxury travel is something the newly refreshed Rimowa seems to have picked up on. Where in the past, the brand might have been seen as purely for business travellers of a certain stature, today that has changed and one of the most immediately apparent signifiers of that comes from the rebrand. Metaphorically speaking, the new, borderless mark of the brand feels like a breaking free of the boundaries that it was once enclosed by. The rebrand is an expansive one, with not one but two agencies commissioned to head up the project that saw an overhaul of just about every aspect of the visual messaging exercise.

In place of the thick typeface rounded off at the edges, the brand has opted for a thinner, more angular line that, by sheer force of majority in the luxury sector, has come to be the signifier of this era’s “less is more” ideals — just take a look at Rimowa’s contemporaries who have undergone a rebrand for proof. And with it, a new logomark that, while it looks deceptively like an “M”, does not stand for the second consonant sound in Rimowa. It is a stylised representation of the spires of a cathedral in Cologne, where the brand was founded. When viewed side by side, one can’t help but wonder why the decision was made to choose a mark that so closely resembles another readable graphic. That said, nobody calls Nike, tick. Time, at least for now, is on this logomark’s side. The rebranding isn’t just about a change of font.

RimowaA 3D illustration by designers Wang & Söderström that signify the brand’s new direction.
A 3D illustration by designers Wang & Söderström that signify the brand’s new direction.

Over the next few years, the customer experience will continue to change with store overhauls that are a reflection of their geographical location like the one recently opened in the newly refurbished Raffles Hotel that infuses elements of our tropical surroundings — each boutique is designed and outfitted in to a different destination, fitting for a brand centred around travel. The different channels of visual communication the brand has employed, have also veered onto a noticeably different path, chief among them is the brand’s Instagram page. What once was a high-tech, clinical page devoted to the make and linearity of Rimowa’s pieces, @RIMOWA has become a veritable lightning rod for the visual language of now — pseudo-’90s-inflected photography sits beside 3D animations and 2D illustrations, a mix more commonly associated with millennials than a luxury brand. If the goal here is to agitate the impression enough to change a perspective, Rimowa is doing just that. They’ve given the clinical precision a warmth and candidness without having to fundamentally alter the suitcase, quite a feat on its own when you consider that other brands at similar crossroads have usually opted to clean house and start from the ground up. 

They have, however, edited down the existing lineup to six main styles that have new names to reflect a more unfussy way of thinking. The “Salsa” line of polycarbonate suitcases is now referred to as the “Essential” series. Physically, besides subtle superficial changes like wheels that now incorporate the brand’s aforementioned logomark and a shiny new logo plate on the front, we’re told the pieces have been made more durable. 

RimowaRimowa’s newest store in Singapore at Raffles Hotel is a visceral interpretation of a colonial estate.
Rimowa’s newest store in Singapore at Raffles Hotel is a visceral interpretation of a colonial estate.

Elsewhere, the brand is venturing into new product categories, starting from stickers, interchangeable wheels and handles as well as iPhone cases (that sold out almost instantly). The brand has been propelled out of the world of utility, giving its offerings a sense of whimsy and infiltrating the world of fashion. The multiple collaborations it has engaged in, including a transparent cabin case with Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and an ombre-ed trolley with artist Alex Israel, have changed the way a piece of luggage can be considered and consumed while partnerships with Aesop and Bang & Olufsen see the brand lending their iconic aluminium stripe to completely new product categories. This is just a glimpse into what could eventually become the breadth of the brand. 

This is likely the most important thing about the new Rimowa, and it stems back perhaps to the new, borderless logo of the brand, which is an open-mindedness that is in tandem with the zeitgeist of luxury today. Being that the key to capturing the future is less about having a seer in an ivory tower but to look, feel and allow the real world the products live in to inform the direction in subtle but course-changing nudges.