Watch the luggage revolving around on the baggage carousel at the airport and you’ll notice something remarkably unremarkable. After years of frequent flyers gravitating to conspicuously luxurious suitcases, there is renewed interest in more utilitarian options that are stylish, but in a much more discreet way.
“You’re looking for something that’s a classic, streamlined design that’s going to last you and go through all the changes of fashion,” says Antonio Roberto, a Canadian manager for MUJI, the Japan-based housewares and apparel retailer. Like smart-suitcase maker Away, MUJI’s lineup reflects a pragmatic approach to packing, categorizing models by volume (a 19-litre version should be sufficient for a quick two-day jaunt, while its largest 104-litre case promises ample room for 10 nights away) and come in soft- and hard-shell formats. A simple handle lock guarantees your bag doesn’t roll away at the curb.
Luggage has gone normcore, a term coined a decade ago from combining the words “normal” and “hardcore” to mean “finding liberation in being nothing special.” It’s a pared back aesthetic that can be seen in the bags of Eastpak, a brand founded in Boston in the 1950s and recently relaunched in North America, which are sold by fashion forward retailers including Ssense and Mr. Porter. The latter also stocks under-the-radar options from Berlin’s Horizn Studios that come packed with a GPS tracker that links to your cellphone.
“They still want it to be fashionable, but they don’t want it to shout,” says Paul Hanley, director of sales and marketing for Samsonite. With the growing popularity of luggage made of durable polycarbonate materials (25 years ago, they made up just 15 per cent of Samsonite’s business, while today it’s closer to 60 per cent), luggage designers are able to incorporate details directly into the case’s shell rather than focusing on loud colours, patterns and surface ornamentation.
Samsonite’s newest line, Ziplite 4, which launched in February, features a gloss finish that reflects light, and mesh texturing that ripples across the outer shell. “It’s not a flat surface so it’s not going to scratch easily and it will maintain its durability and its clean look,” Hanley says.
While such sturdiness has always been a design priority for luggage makers, accommodating a digital lifestyle is equally important now, says Raymond Durocher, president of Holiday Group, a Montreal-based company that owns the brands Travelpro, Atlantic, Austin House and Nextech. “Today, everybody has their phone, their tablet or their computer, so there’s a lot of features that are designed to be compatible with these things,” he says.
The Travelpro Platinum Elite Carry-on Spinner includes a USB port and a compartment to store your charger, so your phone will never be out of battery power when you’re on the move. Many of the other brands under the Holiday Group umbrella feature similar functional elements for connected travellers, such as padded sections for laptops or tablets.
“We’re all about mobility right now,” Durocher says. In 2019, functionality is taking priority over flair.