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HomeArts & CultureAerospace, electronics and couture: the multifaceted solutions behind Tumi's luggage designs

Aerospace, electronics and couture: the multifaceted solutions behind Tumi's luggage designs

As the creative director of Tumi, one of the world’s best-known luggage brands, Victor Sanz is well placed to offer packing advice. “Lay out all your clothes for your trip. And then cut that in half. That will get you closer to what you really need,” he suggests.

“Also, bring plenty of power because you never know when you’ll need it,” he adds. “And stay positive. That’s the other great travel tip. Try not to let the stresses of travel get you down, because there are some things that are out of our control.”

Tumi has been creating luggage, in its various forms, since 1975, when it was founded by American entrepreneur Charlie Clifford, a former Peace Corps volunteer and importer of leather bags from South America. The brand’s first major breakthrough was the introduction of soft, ultra-functional, ballistic nylon travel bags in 1983. This was followed in 1993 by the Tumi Wheel-A-Way, a piece of luggage that featured a number of custom-designed components, in-line skate wheels and retractable handles. The Tri-Fold Garment Bag came in 1994; a patented snap hook with swivel platform in 1996; and the Add-A-Bag strap with hook was launched in 1998. And so on and so forth.

In short, this is a company that has shaped the way we travel. Today, the Tumi portfolio includes carry-on and checked luggage, duffels, satchels, garment bags, backpacks, briefcases, wallets, card cases and other, smaller travel accessories. The brand has stores in the capital at Abu Dhabi Mall and The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, and in Dubai at The Dubai Mall, Mirdif City Centre and Galeries Lafayette.

Sanz joined Tumi in 2003 and became the brand’s creative director in September 2016. He studied at the Pratt Institute in New York, where he trained as an industrial designer, and his first job saw him creating digital cameras for the Eastman Kodak company.

“I also had an interest in fashion, but didn’t really know how to scratch that itch, so to say,” he says. “Then I came across Tumi and was amazed at how a brand could straddle the worlds of design and fashion. That was a real appeal for me. When I arrived here, it was amazing to be able to incorporate different techniques from all these different industries. So it’s not just about cut and sew; there are techniques from the aerospace industry; there are techniques from the electronics industry; there are techniques from couture. That has really kept me inspired.”

But designing luggage presents a very specific set of challenges. It is a canvas clouded by restrictions – from the weight and size restrictions imposed by international airlines to demands for extreme durability. “With travel, in particular, what we strive to do is stand out from an industry that has a lot of sameness in it. We are always striving to create designs that are timeless and that look great now, but will still look great five or 10 years down the road. But we do very little design for design’s sake. Everything has a purpose. I think that’s where the challenges lie, because a lot of the time, we are masking the functionality within the beauty of the product.”

For Sanz, it all comes down to “making journeys easier” and making clients more comfortable. It’s about facilitating efficiency, he says. “We really look at how our customers are living their lives. Before, people would go on a business trip, and then they’d return home. Now, it’s a business trip and they’ll tack on a few days for leisure, or they’ll put multiple trips in a row. So it’s about understanding how they are travelling and how our products can make those journeys easier.”

When it comes to luggage, the smallest details can make the biggest difference – whether that’s in the form of Tumi’s Packing Cubes, which enable people to access exactly what they need, when they need it; or dedicated pockets that will hold a phone or tablet.

“In a lot of our products, we have a simple pocket with a magnetic closure on it,” Sanz explains. “It’s located on the outside of our bags and it’s there to make it really easy to get your phone in and out. Or your subway pass. Or your sunglasses. It’s simple and discreet, and one of those little features that our customers really love.”

New additions to the portfolio include the Tumi V3, the brand’s lightest-yet piece of hardside luggage, which is constructed from a multilayer polycarbonate shell, to offer unparalleled impact resistance. It comes in a range of hues and prints inspired by Havana, including Banana Leaf Print, Magenta, Pacific Blue and Blur Print. Also new is the 19 Degree collection, a decidedly contemporary design characterised by its distinctive sculpted angles, which comes in aluminium and polycarbonate versions. “This is a stunning example of how luggage can almost become a piece of art,” says Sanz.

“People are looking at travel as more of an extension of their personalities; an extension of who they are. People want to look good when they are travelling. We are striving to make sure our products are inspirational and aspirational. The nice thing about travel is that people do it for so many different reasons. They do it to get away or they do it to connect – and being a part of that story is fantastic.”

Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, February 2.

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