Treasure Trunk

Rimowa: how the luggage luminary is
wheeling us into the future.


The bright Toronto emporium that is home to the world’s most advanced collection of premium luggage is tucked off the revered Mink Mile in Yorkville.

Inside, gleaming rows of Rimowa’s signature, grooved hard cases are at the ready, newly embedded with Bluetooth technology, drawing the eye, igniting wanderlust, hinting at the future of global travel. Some pieces are loud in bright red polycarbonate but weightless at less than five pounds. Others, in matte gunmetal aluminum with monochromatic rivets, evoke nostalgia and romance.

The crown jewel of this futuristic store, though, is more than 30 years old: a battered aluminum suitcase coated with an adventurer’s patina – worn stickers, dents, scrapes from rough abrasions. If the piece had a passport, it would be dog-eared with stamps from missions in Angola, Mozambique, Burma, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and South Sudan. It flew on rescue missions, and survived a missile strike and even a plane crash though the aircraft itself did not. The bag logged more than two million miles before its owner, a Canadian-based pilot, retired the case, empty but full of memories. “It never failed to do its job properly,” he said.

Paul Morszeck, the German steamer trunk manufacturer who founded Rimowa in 1898, would doubtless be proud. Crafting his original trunks from wood and cladding them in leather, Paul built his company on a reputation for quality pieces that stand the test of time and the hard wear of world travel. Today, nearly a century and a quarter later, Rimowa is still driving innovation in the luggage industry by working to smooth all the wrinkles wrought by modern air travel for an increasingly global clientele.

Third-generation CEO Dieter Morszeck – the grandson of Paul Morszeck – operates Rimowa under the motto “handmade meets high-tech.” His aim is to expand the company across new frontiers, both geographical and technological, while staying true to Rimowa’s principles. “We ensure every single detail, down to the quality of thread, is of the utmost quality,” says Morszeck. “Our customers want to have a suitcase they can rely on.”

Ensuring that begins with a closely governed supply chain. Almost all the luggage Rimowa sells in North America is made at its 80,000-square-foot factory in Cambridge, Ontario. Opened in 2008 with a staff of 16 people, the factory now employs more than 300 workers. Each piece they make is rich with craftsmanship: two dozen hands work on each case before its completion, stitching leather handles or the parachute linen used to divide inner compartments, anodizing aluminum, installing Rimowa’s trademark wheels on which the cases glide.

“The wheels roll beautifully over all sorts of terrain,” says Steven Palumbo, the manager of Rimowa’s outpost in Toronto. “You’re never going to feel the weight of the suitcase.” The real attraction of the collection, prized by filmmakers, photogra phers and pilots alike, is its proven durability. The aluminum used in Rimowa’s collection is aircraft quality. When the metal was added to the company’s lineup in 1937, Rimowa used duralumin, the same alloy used in the 1919 Junkers F13, the first all-metal aircraft to take flight. In fact, Dieter Morszeck has been so taken with that inspiration that he recently had a replica built to fly in, reinforcing Rimowa’s connection to aviation.

A pilot himself, in his 44th year with the company, Morszeck has overseen the addition of waterproof cases to the lineup, making them essential for on-the-job globetrotting. He was the first to build luggage out of polycarbonate, a durable, lightweight material also used by automakers (Porter crew members carry Rimowa polycarbonate cases in custom ice blue). He also pioneered Multiwheel, the company’s patented double-ballbearing mounted wheel system.

The pieces work hard to ensure seamless travel. To guard against damage in the baggage handling process, Rimowa includes a built-in Allen key in every bag, which also features two standard TSA-approved locks that can be opened at airports and resealed without damage.

Recently, the company unveiled the world’s first and only electronic bag tag. Available for an additional $90 to $115 per piece, the tags are designed for use with a smartphone app, enabling users to check their bags digitally. Bluetooth technology embedded in each piece communicates the bag’s whereabouts to both the airline and the bag’s owner. It can also be used more simply for identification, showing the bag owner’s details or destination in case of loss and eliminating the need for paper ID tags.

Sven Lepschy, vice president of Rimowa Electronic Tag, says the company is prepared to support “the full digitization of the traveller.” He expects that the technology Rimowa has pioneered will soon become industry standard. “You can compare this to TV technology 20 years ago,” Lepschy says. “We were all able to buy HDTVs, but at home there was only one HD channel available. Today, every single major network has HD channels. It was only a matter of time.”

Looking ahead, Lepschy says that Rimowa is unlikely to add gadgets such as USB charging ports to its pieces. “We like to keep it simple,” he explains. The company’s pursuit of simple, sensible, electronically enabled travel will be buoyed by a US $719 million infusion from the French luxury conglomerate LVMH. In October, the company announced its acquisition of an 80 percent stake in Rimowa, which brings the brand under the same management team that controls Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. With LVMH’s backing, Rimowa’s imprint on the future of travel is sure to grow.