Welcome inside the travelling exhibition celebrating 125 years of luggage brand Rimowa. From famous personalities’ luggage to limited and extraordinary editions, the ‘Since 1898’ exhibit chronicles over a century of the German luggage manufacturer, with destinations including Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, and Cologne.
A novel traveling exposition titled ‘Since 1898,’ brimming with ‘living artifacts,’ marks the celebration of Rimowa’s 125-year legacy, originating in Cologne, the German city that continues to serve as the luggage brand’s headquarters after more than a century.
Rimowa CEO Hugues Bonnet-Masimbert, speaking at the exhibit’s Tokyo debut in June at the Jing Harajuku, a glass-walled gallery near the bustling metro station, remarked, “These items are far from being museum relics.” He clarified that they are not devoid of value but have been contributed by daily users of Rimowa cases, including a multitude of celebrities such as Pharrell Williams and LeBron James. After the exhibition concludes in Cologne, the cases will be returned to their owners, resuming their regular use.
The pinnacle of the exhibition showcases cases from distinguished clients, ranging from the fictional (an aluminum case featuring the likeness of Pierre Cadault, the outré couturier from “Emily in Paris,” for a faux collaboration portrayed in the Netflix series) to the surreal (a transparent carry-on employed by artist Takashi Murakami, packed with plush toy versions of his iconic cartoon flower motif) and the highly customized (musician Patti Smith’s case adorned with studio stickers). Some cases display signs of wear and tear, which Bonnet-Masimbert claims only reinforce their status as lifelong travel companions.
Rimowa’s Senior VP of Product and Marketing, Emelie De Vitis, noted, “There’s an emotional aspect to it. People take immense pride in their cherished Rimowa cases when they travel, and they were enthusiastic about loaning them to us for display.” She also mentioned that some suitcases arrived with their owners’ discarded belongings still inside (no names mentioned), emphasizing, “At the end of the day, they are meant to be suitcases, not relics of the past.”
The choice of Tokyo as the inaugural destination for the exhibit was deliberate, as Japan was one of Rimowa’s earliest international markets in the 1970s. The brand’s signature aluminum ridged suitcase gained rapid popularity in the country, attributed by De Vitis to the shared principles of design between Germany and Japan. “The Japanese appreciate durability, craftsmanship, and exquisite design,” she remarked, adding that it has achieved cult status in Japan.
Other stops on the exhibition tour carry their own significance: New York will coincide with the city’s fashion week, while the final return to Cologne is scheduled to conclude the festivities in 2024. “We take immense pride in being a German brand,” De Vitis emphasized, underscoring the brand’s commitment to its German roots, even after French luxury conglomerate LVMH acquired a controlling stake in 2016. “Germany represents engineering, craftsmanship, and excellence.”
These facets of Rimowa are prominently showcased within the exhibition itself. Visitors are greeted by a colossal version of the brand’s iconic aluminum suitcase, first introduced in 1937 and featuring its signature ridges since 1950, suspended in the air. Some exhibits delve into the brand’s history, such as the lightweight polycarbonate model introduced in 2000, while others highlight Rimowa’s tradition of creating bespoke pieces for performers, like a custom-built case for musician David Garrett’s Stradivarius violin, and sports stars, including a tennis racket travel case for Roger Federer. The exhibition also serves as a wunderkammer of curiosities, showcasing cigar cases, champagne boxes, TVs, and vanity cases by Rimowa.
“We aim to demonstrate Rimowa’s versatility, our penchant for pushing boundaries, and our comfort in embracing innovation,” De Vitis expressed. “Our intention was not just to showcase suitcases from 1898 to the present one after the other.”
Bonnet-Masimbert concurred that “Since 1898” should not only look back but also elucidate the brand’s journey. He emphasized that it’s not a static vision of a distant glorious past but rather fuel to drive continuous improvement. Innovation and creativity remain at the core, with a desire to not just continue but accelerate these facets as the brand enters its second century in the industry. “I believe the luggage industry can sometimes be overly serious, but in the right hands, it can become an exciting adventure.
The next stop for the “Since 1898” Rimowa 125th Anniversary Exhibition is New York, scheduled to run from September 8 to 17, 2023, at Chelsea Factory. Dates for the Shanghai and Cologne stops will be announced later.
You can find more information at rimowa.com.