New York Fashion Week officially started today, and anyone who lives in New York City or works in fashion will tell you that it's already in full-swing. The past week has been littered with events and presentations, parties and dinners, runway shows and campaign launches. Models and celebrities and TikTokkers are flying in en masse, while editors and Uber drivers are putting their minds and anti-traffic prayers together to get to all of a day's events on time. Everyone is vying to get their brand's name in people's mouths. Rimowa, non-fashion brand, is succeeding.
The luxury travel brand set up quarters at Chelsea Factory for its 125th anniversary exhibition. During a week of luxury fashion launches, Rimowa's sticks out on the roster of events—and yet, their retrospective captures the heart, history, and future of luxury in a way any fashion label this season would hope to do. Rimowa, as it surges forward into a new era of high-end shopping, isn't afraid of looking back—and with a legacy as intricate as their own, there's a lot to unpack.
The History of Rimowa
It's a difficult feat, to cram 125 years worth of history into a warehouse in Chelsea. But Rimowa does it with flair and finesse. As soon as you enter the exhibition, entitled SEIT 1898, you're greeted with a line of Rimowa cases, from the oldest one dating back to 1898 to its newest aluminum model. You have to walk past each individual suitcase in order to enter the next room—they're each lit by a spotlight in the otherwise dim room, and it's impossible to ignore the blatant technological advances Rimowa luggage has been making since its dawn.
Rimowa started in Cologne, Germany in 1898 as a family-owned brand (it is now owned by LVMH). The name itself riffs off of the founder's son's full name: Richard Morszeck Warenzeichen, RiMoWa. Rimowa. And, as you find out as soon as you enter Chelsea Factory, aluminum luggage wasn't always the name of the game. The brand started with wooden suitcases, which were less than indestructible (one factory fire was enough to make that clear). It was the first luggage brand to pioneer polycarbonate suitcases, and in the 1950s, the contemporary, patented aluminum style was popularized, both for its sleek look and near indestructibility (there's a Rimowa suitcase with bite marks from a crocodile at the exhibition that shows just how strong these things really are).
After seeing the evolution of the suitcases, you're in the thick of the exhibition. There's a room with a giant case and all of its components, hanging suspended from the ceiling so you can see just how each and every facet of one piece of luggage comes together (much of it is done by hand, BTW). There's a Rimowa submerged in water (they created the first ever waterproof camera case) and a Rimowa being attacked by inflatable chrome helium balloons (to demonstrate how lightweight their aluminum cases are).
The exhibition is made up of unique mini-galleries and rooms dedicated to entire concepts, like sound or stickers. It felt—as a historical retrospective should—a lot like being in a museum. What Rimowa's 125th anniversary proves is that a luxury heritage brand isn't something to celebrate simply because of its age; what it proves is that a brand that's more than a century old can feel relevant, bold, and fresh.
Rimowa's Modern Age
Next time you're at the airport or the train station, start counting Rimowa suitcases. You'll know them for their sleek, grooved design that not even the most popular dupe can replicate, and you'll see them everywhere. Rimowas are expensive, but everybody who buys an investment piece uses it for life—and when I say everybody, I mean everybody.
At Chelsea Factory, there's a room dedicated to a bunch of miniature-galleries of Rimowas of the modern era. There are Rimowa bags designed and used by artists and celebrities, from Patti Smith and Virgil Abloh to Billie Eilish and Takashi Murakami. There's even that one Rimowa bag from Emily in Paris—you know the one. There are Rimowa collabs with Dior, Fendi, Moncler, Supreme, Adidas, and one brand yet to be unveiled, with a suspiciously Tiffany blue color scheme in its designated display case.
You know in the back of your head how popular Rimowa is, but when you see dozens of suitcases belonging to some of the most poignant cultural figures and tastemakers of our time next to each other, you can begin to comprehend how Rimowa is more than a luxury travel brand. It's a cultural artifact that's pervaded 125 years of change, adapting to fit what the zeitgeist calls for.
The Future of Rimowa
The one-of-a-kind pieces at the exhibition show, more than anything else, Rimowa's versatility. In one room, there's an aluminum keyboard case on loan from Pharrell Williams; in another, a custom aluminum speaker designed for Devon Ojas, placed parallel on the wall to a one-of-a-kind aluminum Rimowa TV that looks straight out of an episode of The Jetsons. The real kicker, though, is the cabin-sized aluminum Rimowa house, silver and grooved like a suitcase.
It's hard to think of another luxury brand that plays the part of chameleon so well as Rimowa, adapting to meet endless wants and needs, even outside of the realm of luggage. It's a rare treasure, in the world of luxury, to never plateau; people flock to fashion week in hopes to see a triumph or a fail, something to make headlines and trend on Twitter. Being consistently great is a remarkable thing.
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