Hartmann, the 135-year-old American luggage brand, is getting a push from Samsonite, its Hong Kong-based parent.
“For the last 10 to 15 years, the brand has been in the hands of different private equity firms and underinvested,” said Ramesh Tainwala, chief executive officer of Samsonite. “We’re now ready to relaunch the brand globally, as a true American heritage brand.” Samsonite acquired Hartmann in 2012, for $35 million.
Tainwala was sitting in Hartmann’s first U.S. store, at 520 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, which last week celebrated its inauguration with a party at Lever House.
According to Tainwala, Hartmann combines craftsmanship with the technological edge and engineering knowledge of Samsonite. “The front end of the brand has independent marketing and design, and the back end — supply chain and logistics — will ride on the Samsonite machine. We’re going to leverage the Samsonite machine.”
Hartmann is to open stores in the U.S. “in all the major gateway cities, such as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. There will be a strong pull from Asia and Russia,” with units in Japan, Korea, Beijing, Hong Kong and Moscow. “Department stores play a big role in Japan and Korea,” Tainwala said. “We’ll have shops-in-shop there.”
“One thing about our heritage is being modern,” said Tainwala. “That’s what we’re returning to.”
Hartmann has been carried by heads of state, royalty and Hollywood royalty. Ian Fleming in 1954 immortalized the brand in “Live and Let Die,” with James Bond carrying a Hartmann Skymate suitcase. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used Hartmann luggage, and, more recently, it’s been featured in films such as “Oceans 12” and TV series such as “Mad Men.” “Don Draper is always seen with Hartmann luggage,” said Tainwala, referring to the character played by Jon Hamm.
“Fun and style is as important as anything,” Tainwala said, noting that Halston and Gloria Vanderbilt designed collections for the company in the Seventies. “We foresee this as a luxury fashion category. Brands such as Prada and Gucci get excited by this category, and many brands do stylish products, but when they look at the functionality of the bag, many don’t understand. It’s easier to make good-looking bags than [functional] bags.”
Tainwala isn’t rushing to produce handbags. “We don’t see ourselves as specialists in fashion handbags,” he said. “Tote bags and [women’s] briefcases we’ll get into, but not necessarily handbags. We don’t see how we can add value.”
With the 7R collection, Samsonite has “tried to bring the best of the knowledge we have to bear,” Tainwala said. For example, 7R has Curv, an ultrastrong and light material that’s proprietary to Samsonite. “You can throw it from a mountain,” Tainwala said. The carbon-fiber handles are made from the same material used on skis.
Samsonite is also working on wearable technology that would embed microchips into bags so they can be tracked. “We’ve designed bags for Lufthansa, but the airlines are not on a common platform. Wearable technology is still not there, but there’s quite a few things that can come. We’re ready,” he said.