Scratched, stickered, weathered and time-worn with patina… If there’s ever a badge of honour for sophisticated jetsetters, a seasoned Rimowa suitcase is it. How did this premium German luggage maker attain its cult status – from its founding in Cologne in 1898 to the brand of choice for the well-heeled today? The answer: 125 years of exceptional design, innovation and savoir faire in the world of travel.
Heritage of Innovation
The brainchild of founders Paul Morszeck and Heinrich Görtz, the company initially called Görtz & Morszeck made steamer trunks crafted out of wood and leather. It eventually came under the helm of the former’s son, Richard Morszeck, in 1931, at the cusp of a radical new era that was buoyed by a new mentality on mobility and coincided with the arrival of consumer aviation.
In addition to registering the name Rimowa, which is an acronym for Richard Morszeck Warenzeichen (German for trademark), he would also take inspiration from the material of the first all-metal passenger plane Junkers F13 – an aluminium alloy called duralumin – to craft the very first such trunk in the world. Finally, airline passengers could match this revolutionary moment in history with their metallic suitcases in tow.
While the use of this durable and lightweight metal for luggage takes its place in history’s pantheon of amazing travel innovations, it isn’t the only feat for Rimowa. Explorers the world over should know that the durable, temperature-resistant and featherweight polycarbonate, which is universally used in luggage now, was pioneered by Rimowa in 2000 after over three years of exacting R&D. This invention had debuted under the charge of third- generation leader Dieter Morszeck, and also has its roots in aviation technology.
For every brand that has withstood the test of time, the credit goes to its finesse in moving with the changing world. The ’30s saw a boom in the early days of international commercial flights, and the noughties defined the rise in unprecedented mass air travel and the desire of passengers to differentiate their accompanying accessories. No matter the era, Rimowa has continued to make its mark on the transformation of transport.
Beyond The Grooves
If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the emblematic vertical grooves on the trunks that enviably roll out first on airport carousels, you’re not alone. Conceived in 1950 to pay tribute to the golden age of aviation and the Junkers F13, this design was added to Rimowa’s aluminum suitcases and has since sealed its destiny as a classic symbol for the international jet set.
The legacy of Rimowa as the ultimate travel companion, however, reaches far beyond that. Collectors, aviation enthusiasts and everyone in-between have the opportunity to discover more about the brand’s glorious heritage at SEIT 1898, a travelling exhibition commemorating its 125th anniversary that launches this month. Debuting in Tokyo, followed by New York City before returning to the place where it all began, Cologne, this show looks back on the cultural and technological forces that have shaped its generational commitment to crafting distinctive tools for world adventurers.
Just as Rimowa’s grooved aluminium still defines luxury travel today, so does the maison’s renowned German master handcraftsmanship, innovative design and slew of precision-engineered solutions that continue to shatter industry standards.
Its clever use of water-resistant, hard-wearing wood fit for 19th-century steamships in the early days have, in 1976, evolved into the engineering of Tropicana waterproof cases for sensitive professional equipment, shielding against exposure to anything from tropical humidity and Arctic cold. In 2001, the company would then launch cases with a patented multi-wheel system that swivel effortlessly through the bustle of contemporary airport terminals.
In the recent decades, the maison has also impressively expanded its repertoire and colourways that reimagined travel experiences and the individualisation of tastes. From Apple iPhone and Airpod cases to soft yet hardy nylon bags, from stylish cross-body slings to evening-worthy clutches, and from a 12-bottle wine case to an adjustable carrier for a violin or viola, the innovations have been endless. With baggage security becoming an ever-pressing issue, Rimowa has also inaugurated globally recognised TSA locks onto its product range in 2006.
At this retrospective, expect to see all these and more through Rimowa’s extensive archive. They include experimental artistic partnerships with the likes of Daniel Arsham and Olafur Eliasson, rarely seen privately owned cases, collaborations with other iconic brands such as Dior and Porsche, special-purpose pieces, and items that mark milestone advancements. All are presented in a series of diorama displays, which guide visitors through the material culture of movement from the 19th to 21st centuries.
A Friend For Life
What accords Rimowa its exceptional esteem among travellers is the fact that each suitcase isn’t just a trusty companion, but a physical representation of our most treasured moments, friendships new and old, and travels far and wide. Every scratch, blemish and dink tells an unforgettable tale.
From your own exploits, jump aboard another’s – in Rimowa’s latest campaign, A Lifetime of Memories. Through evocative short films directed by film-maker Fenn O’Malley, they follow the adventures of four globetrotters – an artist, a DJ and a gastronomist couple – as they navigate the world and indulge in their passions, all the while accompanied by their cherished Rimowa trunks. Each case you see is an authentic time capsule that spills its secrets through its owner’s very own stories, handling and embellishments.
In the same vein, Rimowa demonstrates its commitment to its lifelong journey with owners and their desire to champion sustainability – through the brand’s Lifetime Guarantee. While no Rimowa collector would ever dream of erasing their best memories from their cases, it is heartening that damages and defects that can affect the suitcase’s functions, such as worn-out wheels and zippers, malfunctioning locks and exceptional cracks, will be lovingly repaired by the brand.
Even if you have decided to move on to yet another Rimowa for your changing lifestyle needs, your beloved old friend will not be forgotten. As part of its sustainability initiatives, the company has also introduced the Re-Crafted Programme, in which used luggages can be refurbished and sold online. Keeping tradition, innovation and modern sensibilities in constant dialogue, this luxury luggage-maker is always at the forefront of the conversation around travel and what it means to move. Just like a best pal is for life, so is a Rimowa.