I first got acquainted with Rimowa on a business trip with a photographer who always travelled with two aluminium suitcases from the brand. He’d hand-carry his most expensive equipment in his cabin-size luggage and check-in a second, larger one stuffed with the rest of his gear as well as his personal belongings. Over the next few years, we made several trips together to various parts of Europe for work. The same two suitcases would always accompany him, seemingly none the worse for wear whether we traversed carpeted halls, rough asphalt pavements, or icy cobblestone streets. What particularly impressed me was just how manoeuvrable they were; these two pieces of luggage turned on a dime, and were so easy to handle that they practically wheeled themselves.
Out of curiosity, I once asked him why he chose Rimowa for his luggage. There are, after all, dozens of brands that cater to photographers, and many offer well-engineered solutions that address this segment’s unique needs. He didn’t give a terribly exciting answer: the suitcases had proven themselves by going everywhere with him and surviving his rough handling with nary an issue, and repairs were within easy reach anyway thanks to the brand’s comprehensive warranty programme.
This quiet confidence in Rimowa’s products – and the brand itself – struck a chord with me. As I spoke to various people, I also learnt over time that his experience is far from unique. In a world dominated by planned obsolescence and short product lifespans, the brand has earned a reputation by sticking to its guns with hard-wearing offerings that stand the test of time instead, and became immensely successful by doing so.
Trial By Fire
Rimowa traces its roots back to 1898. The brand was initially a saddlery that rapidly evolved into a small suitcase maker in Cologne, Germany. Its cases were constructed in hardwearing wood in those early days, and bore the name Paul Morszeck Koffer- und Lederwarenfabrik (literally “suitcase and leather goods factory Paul Morszeck”), after the company’s original founder. It was his son Richard who registered the Rimowa trademark in 1931 as a portmanteau of “RIchard MOrszeck WArenzeichen”, with “Warenzeichen” being the German word for trademark.
The 1930s would prove to be a turning point for the company in more ways than one, when a rumoured factory fire destroyed most of its raw materials. A batch of aluminium survived the blaze though. Its resilience wasn’t lost on the company’s owners, and Rimowa proceeded to craft and sell trunks in the metal, thus establishing a raison d’être that persists to this very day. And the rest, as they often say, is history.
Rimowa’s pioneering work with aluminium proved fortuitous. As the world entered the golden age of air travel in the 1950s, the brand’s light and durable suitcases quickly set themselves apart to become a hit among the international jet set.
In many ways, the company was also inspired by the aviation industry. For one, the iconic grooved aluminium design was a nod to classic aviation, specifically the Junkers F 13 that was developed in Germany and first introduced in 1920. This was the world’s first commercially-operated all-metal transport aircraft, and its body employed a distinctive corrugated fuselage.
Rimowa’s innovative work with aluminium would be repeated in other forms elsewhere throughout the rest of the 20th century – and beyond. A waterproof camera case for professionals in 1976. The industry’s first polycarbonate suitcase in 2000. The patented Multiwheel System soon after and, following that, integrated TSA-approved locks. These were all functional leaps forward that have made globe-trotting easier, and Rimowa cases today sport these features to free the traveller up to focus on other things.
But there are also a number of features that have never changed. Every suitcase today is still individually tested, and comes backed with a five-year warranty. After-sales service is comprehensive too, and includes hotel repairs at participating luxury hotels such as The Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, which ensures that any work is completed before its owner departs.
The brand’s suitcases aren’t, however, just characterised by utility and reliability. Timelessness is still the defining aspect of luxury, and it’s a quality that Rimowa has in spades, thanks to its core product line’s aluminium construction. Despite its robustness, aluminium isn’t impervious to scratches, dents, and other forms of physical damage. A Rimowa suitcase in this material will therefore accumulate wear and tear over its lifetime, transforming into something unique to its owner. According to the brand, aluminium has Persönlichkeit, or personality, because of this. You may write it off as marketese, but you can’t deny the truth in it. It’s something special to luxury products that are built to last, not unlike a pair of well-worn Chelsea boots with a leather upper that has acquired a patina over the years.
At The Forefront
Today, Rimowa’s offerings span the gamut in terms of sizes and designs, from the Classic range of suitcases that are rooted in the brand’s heritage to the Essential Lite collection of ultra-light models. Despite the range of models available, the brand has stuck to its guns and only offers hard shell cases in either aluminium or polycarbonate, as these are the only two options deemed resilient enough to withstand the rigours of travel.
Core products aside, Rimowa also offers various parts and accessories with which you can customise your suitcase. From coloured wheels and handles to luggage tags and sticker sets, you can put your own spin on things to ensure that your suitcase is instantly recognisable on the baggage carousel.
Beyond just serving the needs of the contemporary traveller, Rimowa has worked to capture the cultural zeitgeist as well, most notably with its line of successful collaborations. Supreme, Off-White, Dior, Moncler, Fendi, and Aesop are just some of the brands that have teamed up with Rimowa to release capsule collections that feature blends of the partners’ influences and DNA.
With these releases, the brand is well-poised to capture the market’s demand, which has shifted towards ready-to-wear collections and accessories. It’s also elevated the brand’s street cred and demonstrated its cultural relevance over the past two years, which has given Rimowa an added dimension that complements its rugged, serious traits.
What’s next for Rimowa? The brand has developed multiple aspects of its business seemingly simultaneously in the last two years, from a refreshed corporate identity to streamlined product offerings and a slew of collaborations. For now, it looks set to continue these – and more – as it forges ahead. Travel-related developments could just be what is next on the horizon, once the lockdowns around the world are lifted. What will certainly remain, however, is the brand’s expertise in creating tough, reliable suitcases for the discerning traveller.