7 min read.Updated: 19 Mar 2021, 02:35 PM ISTThe Wall Street Journal
Longing for a journey far away from home? Insider tips on getting your bags ready for takeoff. Plus: what to do when the wheels come off—literally.
Did your frequent-flyer status downgrade to “sofa elite" this last year? With many travel bans still in effect and fewer Americans currently boarding flights, this sabbatical from airports is an ideal opportunity to give languishing luggage some overdue repairs and mileage-extending refurbishments. As travel starts to pick up—Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian said on Monday that the company is already reporting an uptick in ticket purchases, and airline stocks are on the rise—you, and your bags, might want to get ready for takeoff.
“It’s like a car and changing your oil. If you just maintain it, you’ll get a lot of wear out of a very good suitcase," says Tony Pecorella, who co-owns Modern Leather Goods in midtown Manhattan, a handbag- and luggage-repair service. He has handled a circus’s worth of repairs: The now-defunct Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus regularly sent scores of battered suitcases and trunks his way on annual stops in New York. “Oh, it was everything—who needed a new lock, who needed a new wheel…. It was really a myriad of repairs with them," he says.
One non-circus civilian brought in a T. Anthony suitcase to have its wooden frame entirely re-covered with brand-new leather. Rimowa’s restoration department has resuscitated a misshapen aluminum-shell suitcase hauled out from the wreckage of last year’s Nashville’s catastrophic tornadoes. And Tumi’s repair team deconstructed a beloved, beyond-repair garment bag that was no longer in production, in order to draw out a new pattern and replicate it.
Brands such as Paravel and Rimowa are currently reporting a below-average number of inquiries within their repair departments, which likely means a faster return trip for that freshened-up carryall. And better to do it close to home, rather than ship a broken bag back 10,000 miles or so from somewhere like the NIHI resort on Indonesia’s Sumba island, as David Prior, co-founder of Prior, a members-only travel club, once arranged for a client.
Below, a guide on how, where and why to get suitcases suited up.
The Fine Print
Start by consulting your warranty, or better yet, contact the brand or maker directly. And don’t get discouraged: Most luggage companies are committed to facilitating repairs with minimal cajoling, and, if needed, offer replacements to keep their products in consumers’ hands. Away, for example, exchanged a banged-up suitcase that had tumbled from the trunk of a car on the highway. Baggage experts say that unless a suitcase’s frame is compromised, just about any repair is possible.
Deborah Calmeyer, CEO and founder of the luxury travel company ROAR Africa, recently invested in wheeled suitcases by Briggs & Riley, a brand revered among savvy travelers for its unfaltering, no-questions-asked lifetime warranty. Filson offers a similarly sterling lifetime guarantee. Rimowa’s five-year guarantee, meanwhile, covers most damage, including general wear and tear, and even aesthetic blemishes.
Many haute labels like Mark Cross and Louis Vuitton (which mends more than half a million travel-related products annually), however, are reluctant to put forth standard-issue warranties, instead opting for a more bespoke approach. In other words, ask and—upon assessment—you might be pleased with the result.
Especially in this pandemic era, more providers are willing to offer quotes based on photos, but Rimowa, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Tumi, Globe-Trotter, Aviteur and Away all advise bringing items—even if you purchased them online—to a nearby store. Louis Vuitton, which also provides preliminary assessments remotely, has 11 repair centers worldwide where it sends more complicated jobs, and will coordinate pickup and delivery if the haul is too vexing a proposition, as will Tumi.
Paravel typically nudges customers toward a local repair service from their nationwide network of recommended ones. For any in-house fixes, they’ll cover the shipping—and ensure its carbon offset. Away similarly dispenses with unnecessary heavy-duty shipping by sending out DIY repair kits specific to the particular issue. Replacing an exterior compression pad and feet, for example, should be a five-minute fix, a rep says.
Many luggage brands, luxury labels included, endorse and might even recommend third-party repair services, provided the quality of work matches up to their own. For example, though it’s officially authorized by over a dozen different travel brands, Modern Leather Goods also maintains close alliances with a number of other high-end companies, from Paravel to T. Anthony. Better known by handbag snobs for its impressive work on smaller pieces, Purse Rehab in Malibu also handles luggage refurbishments, specifically on pieces by Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Gucci and Tumi. Co-founder Taleen Akopyan says that brands discreetly point clients in their direction. “It’s really just word-of-mouth," she says.
Rimowa and Away, however, strongly advise against third-party repairs. “No one but us has our parts," says Josh Udashkin, Rimowa’s managing director of North America, of the company’s tightly controlled inventory. Going outside the company’s own network means you’ll come home with “not only a physically different-looking case, but one that doesn’t perform as well."
Perhaps the most extreme tough-love policy by a luxury brand: Hermès won’t even consider repairing a product that bears evidence of having been handled by an outside service. So if you stray for any repairs, you’re on your own. “They’re the only company I know that operates that way," says Pecorella.
For at-home maintenance, Away (which doesn’t cover superficial markings under warranty), recommends using a Magic Eraser sponge to rub out scuffs and scratches, while Rimowa suggests using isopropyl alcohol as a cleaning and restoring agent. Pecorella of Modern Leather Goods recommends Apple Brand’s leather cleaner and conditioner ($10 a bottle) for keeping bags pliant, supple and new-looking. “This is what we use at the store. It’s the best," he says.
For a practical, fast fix (especially mid-trip), buy an extra handle-and-wheel set if possible when ordering, Rimowa’s Udashkin suggests. “If you did run into trouble, you could change them yourself," he notes.
For anything harder to handle, Modern Leather Goods will do basic cleanings and exterior touch-ups for as little as $45, and run upwards of $175 for more intricate detail work on designer brands like Gucci and T. Anthony. Rimowa can treat dents by sending your bag to a repair center to have the shell banged back into shape—while it’s there, they will remove annoying baggage-claim stickers and give the shell a buff and shine. Luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton and Hermès, better known for their soft canvas and leather pieces, also offer cleaning services, often priced out upon assessment.
And once you are all set, keep your bags shipshape with a few tricks: Some experts recommend plastic-wrapping luggage at the airport to prevent break-ins, as well as damage. Paravel provides a chic, recycled dust cover featuring wheel and handle cutouts with its hard-shell Aviator range, which cleverly doubles as a protective layer for check-in. In addition to annually oiling his leather travel bags, John Dewberry, a frequent traveler and the hotelier behind Charleston’s The Dewberry, attests that hanging leather bags in storage will help maintain their shape.
If you want to really keep things pristine, copy Calmeyer: She ships everything ahead via delivery company Luggage Free. All she takes onboard are a few necessities in a khaki-and-tan 48-hour bag from The Bespoke Company, which she estimates has done 95 flights in three years, covering millions of miles. “It’s the golden nugget I would never go without," she says. “It’s actually due for a dry-clean session."
Building the Perfect Luggage Collection
Top recommendations from stylish and seasoned travelers.
The Garment Bag
This multifunctional piece from Away has zip pockets for shoes, a hanging hook and a clip to attach it to the brand’s suitcases.
The Weekend Duffle
Celine’s soft stowable is the perfect size for a night or two away, or to carry on board while your luggage gets checked.
The Practically Indestructible Pack
“You could take an ax to it," says David Prior, co-founder of the membership-based travel club Prior, of this rugged backpack. He’s owned one for 15 years and appreciates the brand’s water-resistant twill pieces for the patina they develop over time.
The Chicest Packing Cube
Trust Hermès to elevate the humble packing cube, complete with an equestrian bandana print and leather zip tag, to something that you may just want to leave out once you’ve reached your destination.
The Well-Organized Wallet
Keep on top of various currencies, tickets and documents in style with Loewe’s long wallet. “They’re beautiful and super-functional, and I enjoy it as a treat," says Prior, who loves to pair one with his more understated Filson travel bags.
The Timeless Trunk
This heirloom-caliber classic has been envisioned by Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquière with a new jacquard print.
The Shoe Solution
Travel lifestyle company Paravel has cracked the pesky problem of footwear by creating breathable cases that keeps their soles safely away from pristine clothing.
The Reliable Roller
Rimowa has practically elevated hard-cased luggage to an art form—indeed, the brand often partners with contemporary artists on designs. But even in basic black, their pieces stand out.
Aerin Lauder, entrepreneur and founder of the lifestyle brand Aerin, never travels without her carry-on roller by T. Anthony. “They’re durable, come in a variety of colors, and mine even has my monogram on it. It’s the perfect bag," she says. For longer trips, she relies on the brand’s larger packing case in matching red.
The Everything Bag
Designer Ulla Johnson’s quilted cotton makeup and toiletry bags are malleable (for packing into small nooks) and come in a handful of her signature artisanal prints.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.