Time was the savvy traveler took carry-on, period. And despite the advent of restrictive government-imposed regulations that make it tempting to check it all (or chuck it all) instead of parceling out moisturizer in a plastic bag for all and sundry to see, it’s still the way to go. Reason number one? Reduced waiting upon arrival. Reason number two: Carry-on bags have never been cooler.
Obviously, it’s always easier to travel light, and carry-ons can take the lug out of luggage faster than you can say “butler.” This was never truer than today, when the use of high-tech materials and innovative design by fashion-forward firms has produced a veritable revolution in carry-on luggage style and functionality. Many carry-on pieces today share some common characteristics. First and foremost, a carry-on bag must fit in an airplane’s overhead bin, meaning it cannot exceed certain dimensions. The ones typical to most airlines are 9 inches (depth) by 14 inches (width) by 22 inches (height). However, with the exception of obviously small bags, such as the two Kiplings we feature here, it’s always a good idea to check with individual airlines for dimension requirements and weight restrictions.
These vary not just domestically vs. internationally but also airline by airline. Aircraft size itself can be a factor in what you’re allowed to bring on board, too.
Most — but not all — carry-ons today are “roll-aboards,” with pull-out trolley handles that enable you to wheel the suitcase. (The style originated with a Northwest Airlines pilot in the late 1980s.) But otherwise, it’s anything goes — especially in terms of the way a bag looks. Our selection of cool carry-ons was made on the basis of toughness, layout (from outside pockets to interior compartments), and style.
Aldo Aramini, general director of legendary Italian luggage line Mandarina Duck, points to the brand’s symbol, the mandarin duck, as decisive in guiding his line’s new styles: “It’s able to fly for thousands of miles, it is monogamous and brightly colored; and therefore it symbolizes the values of loyalty, color and the long distance traveler.” Moreover, he adds, “these values determine every choice taken by our designers during the creative process, and why our products have recognizable features: a touch of color, a special fabric, an innovative detail, a new function, a sophisticated design.”
Founded in Bologna in 1977 by Paolo Trento, Mandarina Duck never ceases to dazzle and delight travelers who have a hard time settling for the humdrum. Aramini says his customers look to the brand to actually help define who they are. “It’s not just a choice of functionality, it’s a choice to have function and design meet in one solution. Our travelers state their personality with all the products they choose.”
Cory Depiero, head of business development at high-end travel boutique chain Flight 001, also emphasizes the fashion and functionality combination. He says when scoping out the hottest new luggage that “we’re looking for functionality that also takes into account fashion, trends, appearance and style, and staying ahead of other luggage dealers.” He adds, “We’re the only retailer of Bree in the U.S. — it’s like Germany’s Tumi.” The brand uses vinyl, which is lightweight, super durable, and, says Depiero, “fashion-driven.” It’s no surprise that Mandarina Duck is one of the top-selling brands at trendy travel store Flight 001, but that’s not all the store (with outposts from New York to Dubai) has on offer. There are sleek Samonsites made with cutting edge ballistic nylon and polycarbonate materials, marvelous shiny and sturdy pieces from Japanese designer Hideo Wakamatsu, and the latest looks from hot German brands Bree, Titan and Rimowa.
If the consumer must navigate a sea of choices, at least he or she can take comfort in the fact that, at least at higher-end stores like Flight 001, the goods have been pre-screened by some of the best in the business. “We look at every detail, from durability to affordability, and we ask if this is a bag for a frequent or occasional traveler,” says Depiero. “Urban sophisticated is the basis on which we select merchandise.” He notes, “there was an uptick in checked luggage purchases following TSA’s new rules, for about three months, then it evened out.” As the holidays approach, hardside luggage is also becoming more popular.
So which do you choose, a hard or soft option? Devotees of the latter may be surprised at just how light and nimble hard luggage is these days. Not to mention ultra-cool. Consider the Titan X2 two-wheel Matte International Carry-On. It weighs in at 7.3 pounds, comes in champagne, silver or black, and has a 100% polycarbonate shell that is more durable than ballistic nylon: your basic Bond bag.
Then there’s the lusciously ribbed Rimowa, which from afar looks like metal but is actually lightweight plastic. Its nearly indestructible polycarbonate case returns to its original shape as soon as the pressure is released.
On the softer side, Kipling is a colorful Belgian brand that was founded in 1987 in Antwerp, one of Europe’s most fashion-forward cities. Back then it was just backpacks, but now it's luggage, workbags and even a bodacious new line of handbags, Fergie for Kipling (yes, that’s the Fergie of “My Humps” fame). The Kipling brand uses bright, durable fabrics and sturdy oversized zippers, and each bag comes with a fun, furry gorilla keychain attached.
And bright is good if you want easy recognition of your bag — true, if it’s carry-on you normally won’t be plucking it off a baggage carousel, but in 2007, good travelers know it’s always best to leave your bags closed and your luggage options open.