On the case: Rimowa launches luggage customisation service

Rimowa Classic suitcase with customisable leather handles and wheels
Rimowa has launched Unique, its luggage customisation service
(Image credit: press)

When Alexandre Arnault muses on the thinking behind Rimowa Unique – a service allowing buyers of the heritage Cologne-based travel label to custom build their own aluminium suitcases – he uses an automotive analogy. ‘It’s like going online and configuring a car,’ says the 27-year old, who was appointed CEO of the German company in January 2017, after LVMH bought an 80 per cent stake in the 121-year old suitcase maker. ‘You can select the leather, the wheels...Most people have their own cars, and if you have two, from the outside things will appear visually different. It should be the same with suitcases.’

Arnault himself has been going full throttle in a successful bid to boost growth since he joined Rimowa. In two years, the label has rebranded with a slick sans-serif logo, worked on a roster of buzzworthy collaborations with brands including Off-White and Fendi plus artist’s Olafur Eliasson and Alex Israel, streamlined its sale points and product offering and upped its supply chain efficiency. Last month, Rimowa unveiled its first grooved aluminium clutch bag (its first foray into a handbag design), created in collaboration with Dior and tessellated with the French maison's logo, and launched scarlet and marine tone versions of its signature metal style.

Rimowa's pioneering aluminum suitcase was first launched in 1937, after its factory encountered a devastating fire, destroying all of its materials, like wood and leather. The only thing that survived the blaze was aluminium. ‘I think it’s close to a design classic,’ Arnault says of the utilitarian travel essential, which was given its idiosyncratic grooves in 1950, created today by state-of-the-art rilling machines in the label’s Cologne factory. ‘It belongs next to a Leica camera or a 911 Porsche.’

Now, the label is imparting its design capabilities into the hands of its customers. With Rimowa Unique, shoppers are able from tomorrow – instore and online – to personalise the brand’s Classic suitcase with soft Nappa leather handle sets and a luggage tag, and a set of 4 wheels in a spectrum of vibrant hues, including Clementine, Ocean Blue and Paprika.

Luggage customisation is centuries old. Travellers have chosen to monogram or emblazon their suitcases with stickers as a way to identify them on a airport carousel. At a recent Rimowa archive exhibition at Sotheby’s New York, a plywood and leather trunk from the 1950s was hand-painted with the initials ‘KW’. ‘Customisation has been intrinsic to luggage design for years,’ Arnault says. ‘It’s at a point where it’s becoming really desirable again. It allows people to bring their own creativity to the products. Rimowa Unique combines over 120 years of heritage, with a bit of fun and the unexpected.’

With Rimowa Unique, a traveller’s journey begins not with the first step into the Departure lounge, or the embarkation on a yacht. It begins instead with the very building of their suitcase. The possibility of travel is something Arnault has been keen to impart since he joined the label. Rimowa’s collaboration with Alex Israel on a series of hazy colour graded suitcases, based on the artist’s ‘Sky Backdrop’ and ‘Untitled (Flat)’ paintings, evoke the sunsets of the artist’s native LA, while its collaboration with Daniel Arsham on a crumbly attaché was inspired by a an archaeological discovery from the future, resembling an eroding artefact from another planet. Arnault’s wider intentions for the brand are equally interstellar. ‘I’d like to collaborate with NASA,’ he enthuses. ‘And send a Rimowa suitcase into space.’ The automotive just got aeronautical.

Paired image of Rimowa aluminium suitcases in the making

Inside the Rimowa factory in Cologne, its Classic suitcases are constructed from bended sheets of aluminium, which have been grooved using a rilling machine.

(Image credit: Marc-Krause)

Rimowa aluminium suitcases in the making

The upper and lower shells of Rimowa's Classic suitcases are bent by a robot. Sheets are punched, with cut-outs made for the design's telescopic handle, logo batch and wheel housing.

(Image credit: Marc-Krause)

Paired image of Rimowa aluminium suitcases in the making

Shiny aluminium corners are added to Rimowa's Classic suitcase design to prevent damages at baggage handling.

(Image credit: Marc-Krause)