Is Rimowa's $1,400 Suitcase Worth the Money?
Since setting up shop in 1898, Rimowa has established itself as the first name in luxury luggage. The German brand might’ve started out making lightweight wooden cases, but today, the signature aluminum trunks it introduced in the 1930s represent the ne plus ultra of the genre, an impressive feat in an increasingly crowded market. (In 2016, LVMH, the multi-billion dollar luxury juggernaut and parent company of Louis Vuitton, acknowledged as much when it bought a majority stake in the label, adding it to its roster of household-name designer brands.)
Celebrities like LeBron James, Roger Federer, and Rihanna have served as Rimowa ambassadors. Taste gods like Jony Ive—Apple's former chief design officer—are fans, as are plenty of deep-pocketed average Joes waiting to board their flight to Dubai. In recent years, Rimowa has also partnered with brands like Moncler, Off-White, and Dior on collaborations that have seen its signature ridges shined up to a reflective polish, embellished with caution-tape-yellow luggage belts, and done up in blue ombre patterns. Just about every cool person, it seems, owns—or, at the very least, wants—a Rimowa suitcase.
But all the cachet in the world doesn’t negate the fact that prices for Rimowa’s bags—which can range from $1,400 for a standard cabin model to thousands of dollars for a limited-edition spinner—start at “Let me call my bank” and jet off into the stratosphere from there. Which begs the question: Are they really worth it? To answer that, we called in Rimowa’s Original Cabin carry-on, the brand's most popular model, and put it to the test. Here’s our verdict.
The Rimowa Original Cabin Carry-On
Rimowa Original Cabin carry-on (silver)
Rimowa Original Cabin carry-on (black)
Weight: 9.5 pounds
Volume: 36 liters
Dimensions: 21.7 x 15.8 x 9.1 inches
Warranty: Lifetime warranty
How We Tested
Rimowa’s pedigree is unimpeachable, but what about its performance? Does its carry-on offer a smoother ride than its cheaper counterparts? How durable, really, is its light-as-a-feather ridged exterior? To test our hypotheses, we set the Rimowa wheel-to-wheel with one of the most ubiquitous affordable hardshells on the planet, Away’s signature suitcase. With Away’s version as the control, we put some mileage on each bag, compared and contrasted the stats, and set out to determine how they stack up.
Hold On—Sell Me a Little Bit Here
Before we dive into the product specs, let’s provide a little context. If you’re unfamiliar with Rimowa’s history, its products might not look all that different from the sleek DTC luggage plastered across your timeline. But here’s the thing: Rimowa did it first. The brand has been in the game so long that the blueprint it established from the get-go has now become the norm; the sleek grooves of its brushed metal suitcases are instantly recognizable from across a crowded airport, much like the chevrons of a Goyard print. All the while, Rimowa's prided itself on sticking to a predominantly hand-crafted production process in its hometown of Cologne, along with select factories in the Czech Republic and Canada, to better ensure a higher degree of personalization and quality control.
That attention to detail extends to the materials themselves, too. Rimowa crafts its luggage from tough-as-nails anodized aluminum and ding-resistant polycarbonate for extra durability. Their aluminum construction means they’re not the lightest bags on the market, but if that's cause for concern, the brand also sells a line of aptly-named Lite suitcases that are about 30% lighter than their counterparts. Across the board though, you're guaranteed a smooth ride: The wheels don't roll so much as gliiiiide as you rush to your connecting flight, courtesy of ball-bearing mounts with cushioned axels.
Yolanda Edwards, the editor of travel magazine Yolo Journal and a former creative director of Condé Nast Traveler, was turned onto the brand by her husband, a die-hard fan of Rimowa’s hardshell carry-ons. Edwards claims the suitcase’s smooth-gliding, multi-wheel system is what really puts the luggage over the top: “The wheels roll perfectly and pretty much glide through the airport without you having to pull much at all.”
Still, the brand has its detractors. Editorialist senior fashion editor Danielle Naer owns a suitcase from the Dior x Rimowa collection, and notes that it's spent a travel-packed year collecting dust in the back of her closet. She blames the wonky locks, unforgiving sizing, and overly forgiving flex dividers (instead of zippered compartments) that let smaller items slip through the cracks. When we spoke to her, Naer was planning on dropping her suitcase off at TheRealReal that very week. (Gulp.)
There’s no doubt Rimowa's got the looks part of the equation down, but is its hero product actually equipped to slide into an overhead bin without any serious elbow grease? Both Rimowa’s and Away’s carry-ons are cabin-compatible at 21.7 inches tall and roughly the same depth. But Rimowa’s version is about two inches wider than its competitor—a shade closer to Away’s Bigger Carry-On—though it’s also slightly less portable and offers less storage. The original Away clocks in at two pounds lighter than Rimowa’s famously lightweight 9.5-pound frame, and has a storage capacity of 10.5 gallons, versus Rimowa's 9.2 gallon capacity.
Beyond the numbers, Rimowa's handle can be customized to lock in at any height, a major boon for leggier travelers. (Away’s relies on pre-set levels that still get the job done, but without the same degree of personalization.) Both bags feature their own takes on interior compression, TSA-approved locks, and 360-degree spinning wheels. And, true to its reputation, Rimowa’s really does move around elegantly, though Away's Japanese-made Hinomoto wheels (prized for their silent glide) are nothing to sneeze at. When it comes to maneuverability, the experience felt eerily similar—for a $1,125 difference.
One of Rimowa's biggest aces is its suite of customizable features, giving you the chance to modify your bag down to the wheels, luggage tags, and handles; you can add a monogram to your Away bag at checkout, but that’s about it. One edge it does have over its fancier counterpart, though, is the option to add on its signature USB charger, which tacks on about a pound to the overall weight, but might be worth it given what a nightmare it is finding an open outlet in an airport terminal.
Man, Does It Look Pretty
The biggest downside to traveling with a top-of-the-line suitcase is exactly that: it’s worth a lot of money, and it’s hard not to be precious with it. Call us neurotic (guilty as charged) but we couldn’t help but feel a tinge of trepidation every time we loaded the Rimowa into the back of an Uber or pulled it down from a crowded overhead compartment. On the other hand, we tossed the Away suitcase onto many a luggage bridge without a second thought. There was something oddly comforting about its basic functionality, which, in a backwards kind of way, helped it do its job (carting our stuff from A to B) without making us lose any sleep over it.
But the psychological hump is worth getting over. The first time we took the Rimowa for a spin it kind of felt like wearing new sneakers on the subway, but we quickly realized there’s no need to baby it—it’s primary purpose, after all, is to ensure the stuff inside of it is safe and secure. And if you've ever ogled a well-loved Rimowa before, you know that the dings, scratches, and dents it accrues only add to its appeal—that patina is just a reminder of all the miles it’s logged criss-crossing the globe to unimaginably glamorous places. Trust us: Those new Jordans will look way better with few creases around the toe box, and the same logic applies here.
One Important Note on Design
The fundamental design difference between Rimowa’s suitcase and Away’s is pretty negligible, at least at first glance: The latter closes with a zipper, and the former fastens with a lock. Away’s zipper is mercifully forgiving—an overpacker’s dream. Rimowa’s double-locks, on the other hand, can be a pain to close. Sure, they look exponentially more elegant and hold up far better than a plain ol’ zipper. But latching the two sides together eliminates the most satisfying part of wrangling an overstuffed bag: sitting on top to squeeze the case shut. If you’re prone to tossing half your closet into your carry-on no matter where you’re headed, you’ll appreciate the functionality Away’s zipper provides.
Finally: Is the Rimowa Suitcase Worth It?
Well, folks, your patience is about to be rewarded. (Frankly, if you skipped straight here from the introduction your impatience is about to be rewarded, too.)
Is Rimowa’s hero product actually worth it? In a word: Yes. In a few more words: Yes, but… After taking the Original Cabin carry-on for a joyride or two, its appeal is obvious. If you’re a first-class flyer with cash to burn on a flashy spinner, there’s nary a better option on the market. It looks aces, rolls like a dream, and the suite of customizable features are a cool way to ensure no one mistakes your bag for the flimsy spinner they just ordered on Amazon. The lifetime guarantee is nice, too, and if you run into trouble thousands of miles from home, Rimowa also works with a handful of hotels to help repair your luggage on the fly—or you can just send your bag back to the brand itself to fix that wonky wheel, on the house.
If you’re shopping for luggage on budget, Away’s comparable suitcase more than holds up when it comes to the specs. But as with any luxury good, what Rimowa is selling can’t be quantified in terms of mere product specs. In this case, what you’re really buying is far less tangible: it’s a notion of who you are—or who you want to be—every time you touch tarmac or sprint through TSA.
What differentiates Rimowa’s products from the competition is its hard-earned pedigree in the space, its status as an OG maker of hardshell spinners that birthed a generation of copycats. Is that pedigree steeped in a century’s-worth of brand lore and marketing hoopla? Sure. But it’s also the same reason status-hungry shoppers keep shelling out thousands of dollars for Moncler puffers or Eames chairs despite the preponderance of solid dupes at a fraction of the price: Sometimes, it pays to go straight to the source. And when it comes to luggage, no source is more definitive than Cologne.
Originally Appeared on GQ
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