Throughout the corridors and in the attics of his home in Amsterdam, a one-time ship chandler’s warehouse, Menko ten Cate has amassed an almost bottomless collection of vintage luggage.
Heaps of cases are stacked uniformly and neatly, like a globetrotter’s version of Tetris, while others are used as side tables; a few are jumbled together and piled very high, all seemingly a second away from collapse, bringing to mind a game of Jenga that’s gone on for too long. There are cases in weathered browns and deep oranges; many are monogrammed with their designer’s house stamp; it is a welter of leather trims, peeling stickers and unpolished metal locks.
“I started collecting thirty years ago,” says ten Cate, who used to frequently travel with his partner, Kyra, from Amsterdam to English markets, auction houses, and luxury hotels, such as The Ritz and The Dorchester, in order to buy stock for their silverware shop.
“My attention was drawn to one individual suitcase that was made to hold many pairs of shoes in small draws, all leather lined — and then and there the collection was born,” he says.
Since that inaugural acquisition, ten Cate’s collection has blossomed, running the gamut of storied Gallic makers, from Louis Vuitton to Goyard, with most items coming from the 19th and 20th century, a period in which industrialisation facilitated faster travel and the ability for European aristocrats to socialise as easily with Indian maharajas as they did with American tycoons — and with this came the widespread need for an on-the-go wardrobe which arrived in the form of the flat-top trunk.
Ten Cate’s singular collection exists as an emblem of this golden period, acting as a baton of sorts, passed from maker to owner, to reseller, to collector, and it also makes a persuasive argument that we should care as much about an item of luggage as we do about what goes into it.
Moreover, though there is a eroding beauty to his stock- pile, the way that worn-in Derby shoes sure look good nowadays, ten Cate’s appreciation of such objects is seemingly less about their aesthetic qualities and more about the creative process behind each piece. “Starting the collection was for the love of the craft — many different skills, many different individuals worked to finish one piece. In France, there were over a hundred factories making suitcases and any form of luggage.”
When it comes to his own travels, although Menko and Kyra no longer explore the world, they both still research about the countries that they didn’t manage to visit and still reflect fondly on their past adventures to the likes of Yemen, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
“When I met Kyra, we used to travel two to three months a year”, says Ten Cate, “and left the car in a guarded place — and then we’d fly back to Amsterdam to work and plan our next journey.”
Now, where to go? This is where our most stylish friends are travelling to this summer…
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