EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE; on and off the Avenue

By Marx, Patricia | The New Yorker, April 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE; on and off the Avenue


Marx, Patricia, The New Yorker


They say you can't take it with you, but why not? That's why we have luggage--not to mention suitcases on wheels, expandable pockets, and porters. If what they're really worked up about is the airline surcharge for bags that weigh more than fifty pounds, then suggest that they send the baggage ahead. (With Luggage Free, the minimum charge domestically is $110, with a $40 pick-up fee within forty miles of the airport; 800-361-6871.) I am currently in need of a suitcase. I have places to get to and only a single bag to my name--a smallish black upright from Costco (Kirkland Signature Executive twenty-two-inch Rolling Carry-On; $109.99) that looks like every other black upright made of Cordura nylon. I once tied a piece of fuzzy orange yarn to the handle to make it conspicuous and was deflated to discover my case circling on the carrousel next to a piece exactly like it, also adorned with orange yarn.

"Sixty to seventy per cent of the business is in black," Dan Bettinger, a salesclerk at Altman Luggage (135 Orchard Street), told me recently. According to Bettinger, red is on the way out, olive is a powerful runner-up, brown is on the rise, and the walnut-colored nylon tweed on Hartmann luggage is the longest continuously used fabric in the industry. Altman guarantees the best prices for luggage. Then again, luggage is one of those things, like bed linens and yesterday's bread, that you have to go out of your way to buy when they're not on sale. Altman also carries pen-and-pencil sets, perhaps because the store specializes in bar- and bat-mitzvah gifts that don't require batteries. I wonder, though, if the eighteen-year-old girl who was examining the futuristic aluminum Zero Halliburton computer cases ($255-$585) spoke for all teen-agers when she said, "I don't know anyone my age who sincerely cares about luggage." Perhaps luggage, along with anchovies and a good mortgage rate, can be appreciated only by grownups.

If the salespeople at T. Anthony (445 Park Avenue, at 56th Street) are to be believed, the desirable new luggage color is purple--although they officially call it blue. "I like to say it's the color of Liz Taylor's eyes," Jack Weiss, the company's director of retail, told me. It is a hue that looks stunning in stiff canvas trimmed with burgundy leather and made into a valise outfitted with brass feet instead of wheels ($1,250 for the thirty-one-inch Packing Case). But who, in this rolling age, I wondered aloud, would choose such a thing? Who would want to lift it? "It's the only thing men are still good for," a woman shopper who was admiring a beauty case in candy-apple-red canvas ($895) chimed in. (T. Anthony has been carrying the shade ever since Marilyn Monroe requested it.)

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule that luggage is always discounted. For instance, nothing is ever marked down at the Goyard boutique at Barneys (the brand is also sold at Bergdorf Goodman). This French company, founded in 1853, is currently the trendiest manufacturer of leather goods around. Kind of a feat, when you consider that the goods are not made of leather. Goyard bags are constructed of a waterproofed cotton-linen-hemp fabric (it comes in ten colors) that resembles the oilcloth that kindergarten teachers used to put on the floor before the children finger-painted. The first time I saw someone carrying a Goyard tote, I took it for one of those attractive department-store shopping bags which you think you should save but end up throwing in the trash. Then I learned how much the things cost ($950). Suddenly, I developed a penchant for anything imprinted with the company's signature interlocking chevron pattern--the steamer trunks, the duffelbags, even the travel water bowls for pets (trunks, $5,000 and up; duffels, $2,000 to $2,700; pet bowls, $1,790).

If imitation is the highest form of coveting the original, then the most sought-after luggage appears to be Louis Vuitton (1 East 57th Street). The LV monogram was designed in 1896, by Georges Vuitton, Louis's son, who put the emblem on his leather goods to insure against counterfeiting (ha! …

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