What’s in a suitcase? More than just the owner’s belongings if it is coming from British luggage maker Globe-trotter.
Nowadays – the glamour has somewhat gone out of travelling. It’s no longer the journey that excites, but the destination and suitcases are more often than not regarded as a mere utility – a glorified box on wheels. Look at the baggage carousel at any airport anywhere in the world and no doubt it will be awash with a monotony of navy blue, black, red and green bargain basement cases. Of course, there will be the occasional Samsonite, expensive but perhaps a little too functional, but these will be followed in quick succession by cardboard boxes wrapped in cellophane and red and blue tartan launderette bags pootling round and round, waiting for their owner to come to the rescue – shabby and battered from their automated excursion. Dirty, dank and dull luggage, a meagre conveyance of personal items that last two and a half trips before the zipper breaks or the plastic clasp snaps off, rendering it practically useless.
It strikes therefore that a real traveller should invest in their luggage. They will tell stories of you long after your days in the air or at sea are behind you – a friend, a personal valet, journal and travelling partner all in one. Once upon a time, suitcases had genuine longevity as standard and were storytellers. Every scratch dent and ding to the surface, each scuff and burr, every immigration sticker and address tag would give subtle hints to the life of travel the person who entrusted their belongings to its safe keeping undertook. The unspoken story of journeys physically illustrated like collaged biography of a life on the road. It was those unspoken tales that had the power to inspire the uninitiated to explore the world. I know this to be true because it has happened to me.
My granddad owns a small travel case that has gone with him everywhere he went. For decades the small trunk – only slightly bigger than a briefcase, accompanied him all over the world – to Rhodesia when he was stationed there during his national service in his twenties, when he holidayed in Europe with his young family and when he was sent to Moscow with the trade unions in the 1970s. He used it until it could be used no more.
When I was but a nipper at his knee, he would take the case down from its cupboard in the spare room and show me his prized possessions that were held within it. The case has long outlived usefulness as a genuine travel case, but he has never disposed of it. He still occasionally brings it down from its perch to go through its contents. Every time, I marvel that this little case has survived the trials and tribulations life has thrown at it. I think that, as much as the cruise ship menus, postcards, letters and boys brigade badges it holds, this case has itself become an artefact with a story all its own – the physical representation of his meandering life. It went on every adventure with Albert – a small trunk with a personality, earned from a life on the road. That is what beautifully made luggage can be, and is exactly what modern suitcases all-too often are not – characterful.
More and more people are cottoning onto this notion that a bag can be so much more than the sum of its parts and are coming to understand that luggage can be a lifelong investment that just gets better with age. There are many connoisseurs of fine handmade valise and portmanteau, fabricated in the traditional way that continue to demand a high level of tailor made perfection when it comes to their baggage.
Globe-Trotter is one such brand that fills this void. No longer do people need to buy new suitcase after new suitcase, replacing damaged and travel weary pieces. Rather they can have and cherish a single piece that will stay with them. The company was founded in Germany Englishman David Nelkin in 1887 and eventually moved to Britain in 1901 where it has stayed. Since then it has been a kit maker of genuine integrity and craftsmanship, supplying the great and the good with its expertly made, impressively designed and effortlessly beautiful bags, trunks and cases for over 125 years.
The process of fabrication since that time has gone relatively unchanged and as such, its bags are reminiscent of those from an age long passed. Consequently there is glamour and style in each stitch and rivet that is ideal for the keen yet sophisticated traveler.
Every suitcase stamped with the Globe-Trotter logo is handmade at its Hertfordshire manufactory and the creation of each piece involves 98 different processes and takes a total of ten days, nine hours and thirty-five minutes to make and many of the technical procedures are performed using original tools and manufacturing methods dating back to the company’s establishment. The first step in the production process is the making of the trim elements. These include the handles, straps and corners and are created within the suitcase leather division. Each of the hand made handles and straps are made to order and cut on the factory guillotine. Once the shapes are cut out, they are stitched together on a 1928 harness sewing machine, achieving time-tested results. It is a point of distinct pride within the company that all the leathers used are sourced from high quality UK tanneries.
The archetypal Globe-Trotter corners are designed to protect the case from wear and tear but are also a key design element and takes time to perfect. These pieces are formed over five days on antique Victorian presses so that the leather remains strong enough for decades of travel.
After this, the suitcase body is assembled. Unlike many suitcases, Globe-Trotter employs the use of vulcanised fibreboard for the suitcase body. The vulcanised fibreboard is moulded into shape using a method patented by Globe-Trotter in 1901. The fibreboard itself is a particularly unique material made from layers of paper bonded together with rubber and produced in house. The method of making this board is unique to Globe-Trotter and while others have attempted to imitate it, none has succeeded. The material is incredibly strong and light as aluminium. So confident was the brand in the strength and durability of their cases, they decided to prove it publically by hiring an elephant to stand on it without breaking it. The bag survived and a legend was born. The board is cut to size on a guillotine and formed by hand on a heat press; handles and locks are attached to the vulcanised fibreboard by hand.
Each pieces of the suitcase is then riveted together along with the leather corners. The company’s in-house carpenter produces a frame for the case made from locally sourced beech wood that is fixed into the lid of each case; then both lid and base are lined with a paper-backed cloth that is glued and fitted by hand – a process which sounds much easier than it in fact is. The base is then fitted with a lip that is again produced in-house from a roll of steel. This ensures that each suitcase retains its form and rigidity. Finally, the lid is attached to the base and then quality checked before shipping to the customer.
The traditional design of the Globe-Trotter bag has been updated with extendable trolley handles and wheels an essential addition especially if you are forgoing a porter at the departure terminal.
One look at Globetrotter pieces and it is clear to see why this brand has seen a definite revival in the last few years. Customers are eating up the chance to pick up a piece of luggage from the London based brand; many even take the opportunity to collaborate with them to create their own bespoke pieces. However, this can only take place upon visiting their London showroom – this process requires a hands-on approach and is something that Globe-Trotter would never compromise on.
Anachronistic they may appear, but their hardwearing design is time, and elephant proven durability and longevity make for a stunning investment pieces. Certainly a bargain basement case will get the job done, but they will undoubtedly break under the stresses of the task at hand – plus they are hideous to look at. A Globe-Trotter bag is timeless – and with a little gentle care, can last a lifetime. They will never go out of style and will hold their intrinsic value because they will be usable time and time and time again for any travel need.
The reimagining of the brand for the 21st century came at a time when the brand had become a little staid and unfortunately forgotten, but imagination and a little investment has put this little known Hertfordshire firm back on the map. Globetrotter as it turns out, is very big in Japan.
With collaborations from the likes of Vivienne Westwood to Mohsin Ali and special editions to inspire and whet the appetite, the future of this Iconic brand is bright, and oh so beautifully made.