Tumi: The Global Citizen

Creative Director of lifestyle brand Tumi, Victor Sanz, chats to Port about the role of technology in luggage design, keeping the customer at the forefront, and what to expect from the Spring ’18 collection

When creative director Victor Sanz joined Tumi in 2003, the company was very much focused on luggage. Founded in 1975 by a Peace Corps volunteer, Tumi had its origins in importing leather bags from South America before moving into designing its own luxury executive travel cases and bags. Yet it was not till Sanz joined that Tumi could position itself fully as a lifestyle brand – a move that saw the company leading the premium-luggage segment of the industry and, last year, being acquired by Samsonite.

Sanz, who trained as an artist before finding himself drawn to product design, worked at Kodak designing award-winning digital cameras in the early 2000s, but he felt “the itch” to try fashion. Tumi arrived conveniently and, apart from a brief hiatus working at Olivet International, designing collections for Tommy Hilfiger, Nicole Miller and Joseph Abboud, he has been with the company ever since. As he launches the new Spring collection, Port caught up with Sanz in London to discuss designing for the global citizen, collaborating with MVP stars, and sending suitcases into space.

Would you say Tumi was a luggage brand, or is that too restrictive?

I see Tumi as a lifestyle brand for the global traveller, the global citizen. It’s about giving people the tools to make their lives easier, keeping them elevated and inspired and able to push themselves.

How new is this within the industry? What is Tumi doing which is different to other brands?

I think the key has been understanding the customer. That is at the heart of what the brand has been about, looking at how the customer’s life is changing, how travel is changing, how business is changing, and creating the solutions for that. For me, that’s been one of those things that has kept me at the brand, the world is changing with it. And now we’re creating products that are more fashion forward and lifestyle driven, it’s not just about the functionality. 

It’s interesting to see how people’s lives are changing. How do you think technology is going to impact what you do in the future?

The rise of the iPad and the smartphone represents a global, cultural shift in how we handle business and communicate with one another. People aren’t carrying so many heavy products, laptops are getting lighter, more work is being done on our phones. People want a bag to go to the office and then to the gym afterwards, it needs to suit both places. People want things that are reliable, durable and lightweight, that are an expression of themselves, that are stylish, that are refined. We’re three dimensional individuals.

Tell me about your market.

In the past, we were very focused on the business traveller segment of the market. Yet, the more we learned and understood, the more we realised that DJs and CEOs were also carrying our bags. Our customers are interested in art, music, architecture, food, travelling – their world is much larger than just the particular city they’re living in. It’s really about this world experience. We collaborated with Russell Westbrook, a professional athlete, the MVP of the NBA, a fashion icon, but he’s also a Tumi fan.

How do your collaborations come about, and what form do they take?

Collaborations always start off with a conversation: about life, culture, food, music, the way we live our lives. That ping-ponging of ideas is very fluid, it’s never one-sided. At the end of the day the product needs to be born out of both people, we’re not able to do it on our own, and neither are they. So it’s the best of both worlds. When we did a collaboration with Eva Fehren, a jewellery designer, the bag is true to how she travels, with a hidden compartment underneath for jewellery. That’s why it has this leather drape to it, these oversized details, this hardware, the functionality of it ties directly into what she does. That’s very Tumi. We work with people who are trailblazers in their industry, whether it’s MBA stars or jewellery designers, fashion icons like Public School or artists like Anish Kapoor.

How important are collaborations for you as a designer? How useful are they in inspiring new designs, new ways of thinking?

The best part about collaborating is the conversations with people outside your own field. They spark new energies, new ideas, new flow, new ways of looking at the process. The customer also appreciates seeing something different, something unexpected. I think that’s why you see so many collaborations out there in the marketplace as well, it’s a great way to generate new creative energy.

What are some of the challenges that you face, in terms of innovation?

We never sit still, we’re always looking to improve the collections. We like to reach out to other industries for material knowledge, to understand different engineering techniques, to make the product work at a higher level than ever before. That’s an ongoing challenge because materials are always developing. For example, the aerospace industry is going through its second phase, like what Elon Musk is doing. We’re thinking about how to tap into that knowledge of material and technology, and how to get that into products like luggage.

I wonder what a suitcase that you’d take into space would look like.

You’ll have to wait and see! We’ll be there sooner rather than later, as the human race progresses… So we might as well prepare for that now.

In the less distant future, what’s the idea behind the spring collection?

As a brand, we’re still grounded in travel, so we definitely look to different destinations as everybody gears up each season. So, for our spring collection we’re looking to go to some warmer places, looking for energy and some life. That’s what you’re going to be seeing in the new collection, there’s a lot of bright colours and freshness. The world has had a very interesting 2017, and I think everyone needs this kind of refresher. 

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At Home with Mark Hix

From his south London home, the celebrated chef, restaurateur and food writer speaks to The Modern House about what modern living means to him

I lived in Shoreditch for 20-odd years, as well as Notting Hill, and I wasn’t considering south London before I bought this place. My friend Richard, who’s a search agent, showed it to me on The Modern House website, and I zipped straight over on my scooter to take a look. I said yes straight away. I didn’t even come for a second viewing because I knew I was going to redo it.

Space was the main consideration, but I’ve found that Bermondsey is a really interesting area. It’s also easy to get to any of my restaurants… I nip over London Bridge to get to the Oyster & Chop House. I’m close to lots of bridges here! I visit at least two of my restaurants every day. I’m not really in the kitchen any more; I’ve got lots of other things to look at, mostly overseeing the creative side.

This place is my home, and I also do some work from here: writing and experimenting. I might start doing some cookery demonstrations, like I do in my Kitchen Library at the Tramshed.

I worked with Tekne on the refurbishment. Originally they’re shop fitters, but they’ve fallen into doing hotels and restaurants. They did my Bankside restaurant, Hixter, and the one in Soho. I recently put them in touch with my friend Robin Hutson, who owns The Pig Hotels, so they’ve done the last two projects for him. When Robin buys old buildings for the hotels he clears them out, and he’s given me a few salvaged things for the flat – a shower and some old Crapper loos.

I designed the space, and then Tekne worked as the contractors and architects. I gave them the ideas, and they put it all on paper. We gutted the whole thing, taking it right back to the bare bricks. We played around with materials: the wine racks are made out of scaffold planks picked up from building sites around here – some we paid for and others we were given for nothing. The same with the bookcase. Because they’re old, they’ve got a bit of character.

The kitchen counter is made from liquid metal. You can pour it over MDF to create curves at the edges, and you don’t get joins. Underneath are pieces of cast concrete from Retrouvius; I think they were originally columns in a mid-century office block. I wanted simple, natural oak units, something that would wear in naturally. Cooker hoods are normally so boring, so we went to a foundry and made a semi-industrial-looking unit that’s wrapped over the top of a normal extractor. We went back to the natural brick on the wall behind, which would have been the end wall of the original factory.

The spoon on the wall is a Michael Craig-Martin – it’s the cover of one of my books, The Collection. The ‘Vacancies’ neon piece is a Peter Saville art piece that he made. The fridge came from an antiques shop in Paris. It was made in the 1800s – originally they would have put a block of ice in the middle compartment to keep the whole thing cold. The refrigeration guy that I use for my restaurants converted it and made the top bit to match the bottom. It’s got different sections: dairy, wine, glasses, negroni cabinet!

I buy a lot of stuff from junk shops and reclamation yards. The kitchen lights are from Trainspotters in Gloucestershire, and I’ve collected midcentury Stilnovo lights over the years.

I bought the cocktail cabinet years ago at the Paul Smith shop. It had a horrible Chinese painting on the front, so I got my artist friend Mat Collishaw to make a replacement. The taxidermy mice in bell jars are by Polly Morgan, and the Bridget Riley is one of the first pieces I ever bought. There’s a shop across the road – a sort of Lithuanian shop – and they were selling what I thought was a mandolin, but I couldn’t work out why it was so big; it turns out it dates from 1903 and was used for slicing white cabbage.

The guitar comes from an event in Lyme Regis called Guitars on the Beach. A friend of mine said: ‘If I get a Fender guitar sponsored, can you ask Tracey Emin to draw on it?’, and she did. I thought it was going to be a silent auction, but it ended up being a raffle at a pound a ticket. So I bought a thousand tickets for £1,000 to narrow the chances down! It’s signed by Paul McCartney as well. I go back to Lyme Regis maybe three weekends a month. I’m part of the local community, I suppose. I get involved in local charity work and I do a food festival, which brings quite a few people to the area.

I made the garden room because the little terrace is quite small. In the summer you can open the doors up and feel like you’re inside and outside. I put the bi-fold doors in, and then got lots of crazy plants from Covent Garden. It’s a nice place to have tea in the morning. I found the old plantation chair on eBay. The artwork is by my mate Henry Hudson, who works in plasticine. That’s an Australian Moreton Bay Bug [on the ceiling]: it’s a sort of prehistoric crab. Then this is an old python skin I found rolled up in a box in a junk shop. I guess there’s a touch of the macabre, but really I just thought this room was crazy enough that you could put anything in it.

I’ve got a fishing and shooting cupboard here. The wallpaper is by one of the guys who works in the gallery, Tom Maryniak; he’s done a few different types of wallpaper in the loos at my Bankside restaurant. And then the wallpaper in the main bathroom is by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

The photographs above the bed are by Susannah Horowitz – she was one of the winners of the Hix Award. Every time we do the award I end up buying something. And this one isn’t from the Hix Award: it’s just two fucking flamingos with a little bird watching… I forget what its name is! The rooflight was already here; it was quite a weird space before, with a pool table and not much else.”

This feature is an excerpt from The Modern House, read more here