Rimowa Alex Israel

LOS ANGELES Venture inside a 20-foot rendition of the suitcase designed by local artist Alex Israel and luxury luggage-maker Rimowa, and it brings the concept of experiential to another level.

The installation, at the corner of La Cienega Boulevard and Melrose Avenue, celebrates the collaboration between Rimowa and the Los Angeles artist, who transferred his work inspired by sunsets in the city onto the company’s aluminum suitcases.

“I really love this tradition in California architecture of the roadside attraction building,” Israel said. “There’s this history of it. There were buildings designed to attract drivers and, oftentimes, the building is in the shape of the thing that it’s meant to sell.…They’re amazing examples of this tradition and so I said to Rimowa, ‘Can we do something in this tradition because this is L.A. This is our history. Let’s really do something that makes sense in this landscape.’ They said ‘yes’ and we designed this giant suitcase to showcase suitcases.”

Inside the installation, viewers can sip on drinks from Alfred Coffee. The level above that serves as an installation within an installation where the two suitcase colorways in the Israel collaboration are at play.

The suitcase from the collaboration retails for $2,800 and goes on sale in the summer.

“I chose to make them the colors of the L.A. sky because that’s a constant in my work,” Israel said. “It’s my favorite thing to look at the sky and I thought it would be great to have suitcases that go up into the air on an airplane that match that color.”

Israel, who said he’s been a fan of the brand since making the switch to Rimowa luggage a few years ago, said the luggage-maker’s chief executive officer Alexandre Arnault reached out to him initially through Instagram asking to visit the artist’s studio. A friendship developed and Arnault eventually offered the idea of collaborating with Rimowa.

Arnault said the collaboration “links us to the art world,” in talking about why it made sense for the brand to partner with Israel.

Rimowa Alex Israel

The interior of the 20-foot installation by Rimowa and Alex Israel.  Pablo Enriquez

“We’ve realized that many artists and many people from the art world use our suitcases, so we’re trying to acknowledge that by taking one of those people and having him reinterpret one of our suitcases,” Arnault said. “The other idea is that we really view our products as, I like to say, blank canvases which are so recognizable that people can really express themselves on it and still keep it true to their identity. When you look, you see that it’s a Rimowa suitcase and you see that it’s an Alex Israel painting.”

The giant suitcase runs alongside contemporary art fair Frieze Los Angeles, which bows Friday for the first time on the West Coast. Launching the installation at the same time as the art fair was intentional given the fact that Israel is an artist, Rimowa chief brand officer Hector Muelas said.

“The city has had an art scene for many, many years, but this [Frieze] validates it now for the first time,” Muelas said. “So we’re not treating this as a commercial exercise by any means. We’re not selling any of the suitcases. We’re treating it as an art installation, which is part of the Frieze walk. We wanted to integrate and didn’t want to force our way and do a sponsorship or put our logo into Frieze.”

The strategy is another case study in defining what organic marketing means today. Israel’s dreamy take on travel is the latest in a growing list of collaborations and ad campaigns that have helped reinvigorate the brand, which celebrated 120 years in 2018. The company more recently worked with Virgil Abloh, Roger Federer, Fendi and Aesop.

“When we came in, meaning LVMH, we had a brand that was very iconic that had an amazing product but wasn’t behaving very iconically. Part of what we’ve done is start telling stories associated with the brand that add a little bit of that storytelling to Rimowa,” Muelas said. “The [ad] campaign was part of that to start explaining what the brand stands for at a more conceptual and emotional level.”

Still, it’s always a fine line to walk when inserting a brand into any part of popular culture, the executive added.

“Our strategy of partnering with interesting artists is part of that larger strategy of infusing the brand with storytelling and contributing to culture in meaningful ways,” Muelas said. “One of the things that we did from the beginning was we didn’t want to be one of those brands that steals from culture; we want to participate. Working with artists is a way of doing that.”

The Rimowa and Alex Israel installation was able to be viewed by the public beginning Thursday, a day ahead of the launch of Frieze, and remains open through Saturday at 8495 Melrose Avenue.