Make your case! Unpacking the 2021 travel trend for bespoke luggage

As lockdown lifts and travel corridors open, we ask Britain’s best luxury luggage brands why bespoke luggage is this summer’s biggest trend

We’ve all carried our fair share of baggage this past year. Not literally, of course. With lockdowns and quarantines, it’s been months since anyone escaped — suitcase in hand — on a globe-trotting getaway. 

Instead, the baggage we’ve been piling high and packing tight has been largely metaphorical. We’ve zipped up our worries, buckled down our anxieties and packed up our troubles — soldiering on and plodding through to the end of the pandemic. But, now the restrictions are easing, we’ve noticed another baggage-based trend; bespoke, personalised luggage.

Across the country, Britain’s best luxury luggage brands have reported a rise in the number of customers keen to customise their cases and carry-on. Cedric Stonex, CEO of Chapman, tells us that his brand “has a waiting list for bespoke bags, and it’s getting longer as our customers look forward to the reality of getting away”.

But it’s not just classically customised pieces of luggage; those large monogrammed trunks and vast sets of matching suitcases. Tabitha Simmons, Creative Director of Tanner Krolle, says that 2021 has also seen a rush on requests for smaller bespoke pieces. It’s a development the designer attributes to the tentative toe-dip back into the world of travel; with customers currently more likely to take a countryside roadtrip or weekend rail journey than they are to hop on an airplane.

“As as a result,” Simmons adds, “we’ve seen a rise in demand for beautifully crafted overnight and weekend bags and backpacks for short haul trips — as our customers know their smart bags won’t be thrown into the hull or damaged on a luggage carousel.”

Similarly, Alistair Tusting — CEO of Tusting Leathergoods — has also seen a surge in the popularity of shorter-haul bags. “Day-bags rather than luggage,” he tells Gentleman’s Journal, “no doubt due to the lack of travel opportunities. They make very special gifts and lockdown has encouraged creative gifting in lieu of visiting, I think. Now that travel is once more in sight, we expect to see increased orders for bespoke luggage coming through again — there will be special trips being planned that warrant special luggage!”

"We’ve seen a rise in demand for beautifully crafted overnight and weekend bags..."

Both this peace of mind and the special occasions mean buyers are more likely to spend significant money on their new luggage in 2021. It’s less a necessity; more a status symbol, or a seasonal investment like the clothes your luggage carries. This month, heritage luggage maker Globe-Trotter’s Burlington Arcade Flagship store re-opens — and it has an entire floor dedicated to the full ‘bespoke’ experience.

“Our appointments are taken by our store staff,” explains Vicente Castellano, Executive Chairman at Globe-Trotter, “who will guide customers to create their dream case right down to the fine details; from the colour combinations to the corners, lining, thread colour and locks. Bespoke is the ultimate extension of your character and personal taste, so it’s crucial to design that is completely tailor-made for that person.”

It’s a level of precision and personalisation shared by Tanner Krolle; a brand with a history of made-to-order designs that dates back to the 19th Century. Thankfully, today there are higher-tech solutions to streamline the bespoke process — but it still all starts with an appointment-only consultation.

“We will ask for a briefing of what the client is interested in,” says Tabitha Simmons, “understanding the purpose, measurements, colours, particularities. We will then pass this briefing to our designers, who make a mock-up design to confirm with the clients — in case adjustments should be made.”

Tusting, too, offers a spin on the traditional bespoke process. CEO Alistair Tusting tells us that ‘archival customisation’ — when a client digs out and resurrects a pattern Tusting has created in the past, is particularly popular. It’s like visiting a Savile Row tailor to get a replica of your grandfather’s suit made.

“And we have the patterns for every style we have ever made,” says Tusting, “so we can recreate them even if they are a style we no longer sell. We did this recently for India Hicks — she wanted a recreation of her partner David Flint Wood’s very old and tired Tusting Clipper bag. It needed to be a faithful reproduction, but with some personalisation and also some customisation in the shape of a special leather-free handle, since David is actually allergic to leather. All of this was possible and made for a very special gift”.

It sure sounds more involved than a simple monogram or embossed initials. Although all levels of customisation are seeing an uptick this summer, with prospective jet-setters clearly so keen to travel in style that every tailor-made element — from bespoke badges to entire custom-created luggage sets — are soaring in popularity.

So, whether it’s a personalised luggage tag from Smythson (available for around £100) or a made-to-order leather weekender from Chapman, it doesn’t matter to what level your luggage is custom — just that it does stand out from the crowd.

“Often, we adapt products in our range for specific uses,” adds Chapman’s Cedric Stonex. “Such as adding special pockets. But bespoke is a mutual creation which takes time and, it has to be said, is expensive.”

It’s a high cost, however, that consumers seem willing to absorb. And, whether that’s because a year without holidaying has done wonders for our bank balances, or because we’re reaching a moment — as Globe-Trotter’s Vicente Castellano says — “that people are noticing all the small factors and moments that make travelling so unique”, luggage is proving an unlikely outlet for our cooped-up creativity.

"People are noticing the small factors and moments that make travelling so unique..."

And what creativity we have. Tanner Krolle’s Tabitha Simmons reveals that, among the brand’s bespoke offerings, fully custom-made wine and watch trunks are “hugely covetable as travel items”. And Globe-Trotter’s Castellano recalls similarly tail0r-made examples.

“We once had a customer who wanted just one corner of their suitcase an off colour from the rest,” he says. “It’s very interesting, and I guess it just shows how luggage can bring out your eccentricity. We get inquiries from customers wanting to match their luggage to their car, or their favourite outfit!”

“But,” he adds, “while we have many colours to choose from, many of our bespoke orders appear rather conservative — just with a small twist, such as the handle or corners in a different colour”.

2021’s bespoke luggage trend offer an exciting prospect; train stations and airports filled with a rainbow of unique luggage this coming summer. There’ll be holdalls and roller-cases, backpacks and duffle bags, trunks and totes — all made-to-order, meticulously crafted and completely, utterly individual.

And, even if you don’t have the funds to commission a fully-customised set of luggage, Chapman’s Cedric Stonex says that a simple embossing or emblazoning of your initials is more than enough to give your luggage that special touch.

“We see it as an extra hallmark,” Stonex says. “It makes a Chapman your Chapman. Because buying a Chapman is discerning in and of itself — but, with your initials or crest, it becomes even more distinctive”.

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