On 8 September, German luxury luggage brand Rimowa’s 125th anniversary was marked by the opening of the Rimowa Seit 1898—German for ‘since 1989’—exhibition. After its debut in Tokyo’s Jing Harajuku exhibition space on 9 June, it made its way to New York City. As of press time, the travelling showcase is set to end in Cologne, Germany, in the spring of 2024.
In the Big Apple, Rimowa’s retrospective was hosted at the Chelsea Factory with the intention of recapturing the cultural and technological significance of the brand and its association with discerning travellers. Each location, the brand notes, has a special place in its legacy. Tokyo demonstrates Rimowa’s reach by being one of its first global commerce destinations, New York mirrors its intersection with fashion and Cologne is an homage to its roots.
The journey of the heritage brand began in Cologne, in the saddlery shop of its founder, Paul Morszeck. What followed was the invention of leather and wood suitcases in 1900 and the introduction of aluminium as a “precious trim” in 1927. Combining durability with inimitably sleek design, Rimowa suitcases have stealthily become a covetable luxury travel must-have, winning over the fashion and art set in the process.
Graced by the likes of Blackpink’s Rosé, Rowoon, Martha Stewart and Spike Lee, the exclusive launch party on 8 September gave visitors a glimpse at an extensive archive of privately owned cases, brand collaborations and artistic partnerships—ranging from the personal suitcase of poster Billie Eilish to the Original Trunk XL as seen in Emily in Paris. Here, Rimowa’s senior vice president of product and marketing, Emelie De Vitis, delves into the brand’s legacy, its everlasting relevance and the cornerstones that make it universally loved and lauded.
Tell us about the beginning of your journey at Rimowa.
I’ve been at LVMH for 20 years. I was fortunate enough to work across many different industries such as beauty, wines and spirits as well as watches and jewellery. If there was a brand that I was very attracted to, it was Rimowa. I liked the fact that it was an old brand but it was also almost a new one. It started changing when LVMH took over to bring it to new heights. It was like a start-up. We had to configure the brand to be within the LVMH ecosystem while staying very true to what makes it unique. It’s German, it’s based in Cologne and it’s not a fashion brand. The brand is also quirky and maverick so it doesn’t take itself too seriously and hopefully, that’s what you got from the exhibition.
“We have lots of client care centres around the world and the owners always say, “Do not touch the stickers and do not fix the dents.” There’s really this emotional bond to your suitcase.”
What do you think sets Rimowa apart from other brands?
At first, it’s a brand that might appear quite cold. It features grooved aluminium and it is mostly minimalist. But then, each person creates such a bond with their suitcase. That’s why I loved that we had an entire section with the celebrity or privately owned cases because people have literally lent them to us with an end date. Martha Stewart, for instance, said: “I have another trip planned.” And as you know, she marks everything on her suitcase. We have lots of client care centres around the world and whenever we get a battered and stickered suitcase, the owners always say, “Do not touch the stickers and do not fix the dents.” There’s really this emotional bond to your suitcase.
How does the brand balance function and aesthetics?
It’s a fine balance. Yes, we work with big ambassadors. We have worked with Porsche, Dior, Moncler and Off White—but we also want to communicate the durability of our products. For example, we offer an unconditional lifetime warranty. And that’s a big commitment. It’s a big belief in sustainability because we will repair your suitcase for life. Of course we’ll replace it if it’s irreparable, but we will aim to repair it first.
We did a campaign called ‘The Art of Engineering’ and it was to show that developing a Rimowa suitcase is like a symphony of different parts within the factory. From very heavy technical engineering to craftsmen who come in with a hammer to make sure that both sheets are perfectly embedded together, it’s really an art to make a suitcase. It’s extremely complex. More people want to know what it is they are putting their money into.
“We’ve always been about purposeful travel. There’s the notion of enrichment, keeping yourself very open and that’s what our ambassadors reflect.”
Rimowa is also very committed to sustainability.
In some really mature markets like Germany, we introduced a recrafted programme where people who own old aluminium suitcases—or even ones that aren’t old—can return them. We give them a voucher that they can spend in-store and we fix those suitcases and then we sell them second-hand on our website. We haven’t even communicated this and it sells out within five minutes. People are just keen to have a suitcase that has lived and has been loved. There’s a real demand for this. And again, not many suitcase brands can offer that.
How does Rimowa decide what brands it wants to collaborate with?
I would say that we want to surprise and delight. That would really be the starting point. It’s never a commercial exercise. So, we do very short volumes. Ideally, it sells out before it hits the store and that’s how we want it. It’s really about creating buzz and surprising even our most loyal clients. That’s how we’re evolving our collaboration mindset.
Post-Covid, how has the brand tried to accommodate the modern day traveller?
That’s a super good question and honestly, we were in a good position because we’ve never promoted wanderlust travel. We’ve always been about purposeful travel. There’s the notion of enrichment, keeping yourself very open and that’s what our ambassadors reflect. Someone like Lewis Hamilton, for example, spends his life travelling, but it opens up his mind and nourishes him. And this is what we’re promoting with Rimowa. We love the Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.” It’s about breaking barriers and we all need to travel to make sure that we stay engaged with what’s around us.
What would you like for someone to feel when they leave the exhibition?
I would like them to realise just how rich our heritage is, but also, how parallel our evolution has been to the progression of travel. Our aluminium suitcases correspond to the explosion of aviation travel, in particular. Also, I would like them to discover how much innovation plays a role in Rimowa and how close to art we are in general. Finally, I would love for them to see what an emotional product we can be.