Reinventing a classic label is not an easy feat, but Alexandre Arnault, the chief executive officer of Rimowa, has taken it in his stride with charm, grace and a lot of steel—or should we say, anodised aluminium. Taking the reins of the storied, centuries-old luggage manufacturer in 2017, the dashing 28-year-old’s revitalisation of the stolid company has been nothing short of breathtaking. It has since become one of the hottest brands in luxury travel and fashion.
This, as we find out, is part of the larger strategy put in place by Arnault, who wanted to enrich not only the journey of its customers, but every touchpoint along that journey as well. “We’ve done this by reinventing what it means to be a luxury brand today, merging worlds and bringing creatives from across industries together,” he says.
This reinvention includes collaborations with brands and artists that have traditionally not been the métier of Rimowa. To name a few highly coveted collaborations: Rimowa worked with Dior Men’s for its summer 2020 runway show, showcasing several iterations of miniature cross body bags; Off-White famously created see-through luggage together with the brand; and most recently, Italian luxury label Fendi made a version of the iconic Rimowa suitcase covered with the house’s instantly recognisable double F monogram. Contemporary artist Alex Israel, who Arnault reached out to via Instagram, dreamt up a capsule collection inspired by his airbrushed gradient sky paintings.
“We approach collaborations as a way to allow the brand to experiment with and share new techniques, innovations and designs,” Arnault explains. So far, the strategy seems to have paid off with customers, with sales making “good progress” according to LVMH’s 2019 financial reports.
But this has not been without its challenges, Arnault admits. “The biggest challenge has been switching the consumer’s mindset in order to incorporate much more novelty and modernity than the brand had originally been used to,” he says. But the pride that he feels when he sees a traveller at the airport wheeling one of its suitcases is what keeps him and his team going. “Each one is a choice to trust us,” he says simply.
“It’s our vision to provide contemporary, functional and elegant solutions for journeys near and far”
Sustainability is another area that Arnault is focusing his efforts on in the company. Since taking over, the CEO says that the company has been pivoting towards increasing its sustainability practices. Some of these include switching printed materials, such as the user manual, to 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable and FSC-certified paper and encouraging customers to make use of the brand’s client care and repair services, staying true to its core motto of making “luggage to last a lifetime”. Arnault adds: “We’re also starting to incorporate more recycled and recyclable materials into our latest products and upcycling materials at production to reduce waste.” Aligning sustainability efforts is a savvy move, with consumers—especially millennial and Gen Z shoppers—becoming more vocal about their support for brands that move beyond pure commercial product to champion important global causes.
It’s this finger on the pulse of what modern consumers want that has led Arnault to unveil Rimowa’s most personal—and fashion-focused— products to date. With travel altered for the foreseeable future by the coronavirus pandemic, Arnault is shifting the company towards the idea of personal mobility, creating new product categories for the modern traveller. “We’re increasingly focused on mobility at multiple touchpoints, including shorter distance travel, urban mobility and daily commuting essentials,” he says.
The result of this is a foray into categories that are a first for the 122-year-old brand. Think: a sleek Rimowa watch case designed for the horological aficionado looking to bring select pieces from her personal collection on trips; and, for the fashion-forward enthusiast, a new line of hard-shell cases—which the brand has dubbed Rimowa Personal—that can be worn across the body or held as a clutch.
“It’s our vision to provide contemporary, functional and elegant solutions for journeys near and far that facilitate our customers’ diverse array of travel experiences,” says Arnault. “The opening up of new product categories is allowing us to explore a more multifaceted approach to travel and mobility.”
Both new lines are scheduled to launch on 3 December 2020, but beyond the immediate slate of products lined up for Rimowa, the enterprising executive has his sights set on loftier goals. When asked about their dream for their brand, most CEOs might talk about financial benchmarks and commercial achievements, but Arnault doesn’t miss a beat. “Sending a suitcase to the ultimate travel destination—into space.”