HARTMANN ADDS FASHION TWISTS
Byline: Wendy Hessen
NEW YORK — While just about every other accessories classification has had its moment in recent years, luggage has largely been ignored.
Beyond the occasional hot designer offering or small collections from such firms as Kate Spade, Coach and most recently, Adrienne Vittadini, none of the category’s major manufacturers has introduced new, interesting pieces or injected a significant level of fashion into their products.
But now, the luxury handbag firm Lambertson Truex has paired with venerable luggage maker Hartmann, to change all that.
“Luggage can also be a seasonal product,” said John Truex, who is helping plot the course of the 123-year-old Hartmann brand, along with his partner at Lambertson Truex, Richard Lambertson. “Why shouldn’t it be fun and colorful too?”
In its heyday, Lebanon, Tenn.-based Hartmann was known as the luggage maker for the carriage trade, an American counterpart to Louis Vuitton. The company counted presidents and movie stars as fans and was also known to offer a range of specialized features in its trunks and traveling pieces, all marked by a familiar large red X splayed over the Hartmann name. Truex said he was intrigued by some of the pieces he came across in the company’s archives. Besides highly collectible, classics, like the belted leather men’s suiter, there were such novel pieces as a green tweed, polkadot case with green and ivory toile de jouy fabric lining and a three-piece ladies set in ivory leather.
In the late Seventies and early Eighties, much of the luggage industry seemed to lose its way amid a sea of black ballistic nylon. Hartmann lagged even further behind the times, abandoning its innovative heritage with copycat products and resisting nylon until the Nineties.
In their first joint project a year ago, Lambertson and Truex designed the millennium travel trio, a three-piece, carry-on set in bright colors like sky blue, orange or silver. At $1,500, the trio, which premiered at Bergdorf Goodman, sold out — including a $3,500 set in black and white, cow-printed hair calf.
Last July, the duo signed on as Hartmann’s creative directors overseeing the company’s designers and engineers in Tennessee.
“There is a need for utility, but we also realize now that luggage is being viewed as an accessory, and it has to be fun,” said Kathie DeVoe, vice president of marketing for Hartmann.
Because luggage is a such a technical entity, the transition won’t be as fast as with other product categories, said Truex, who expects the process could take about three years.
They have already made a healthy start. In an idea similar to the travel trio, but reminiscent of luggage suitable for an astronaut, Hartmann has created a three-piece set in bright orange fabric or silver ballistic nylon with silver hardware and reflective tape accents. DeVoe said the line got a huge response at the recent luggage trade show in Los Angeles.
In Hartmann’s more moderate-price division, H Studio, Lambertson and Truex have created a series called Primary, launched at retail late last year. It features black nylon pieces lined with shots of bright red, yellow or blue. This year’s merchandising companion to Primary is 247 — a casual collection of travel and everyday pieces ranging from compact disc covers, gym bags, totes, messenger bags and weekenders.
The line will be in stores in April. Primary and 247 both feature a modernized version of the famous red X logo, this time in rubber. Retail prices for Primary range from about $90 to $349, and $39 to $140 for 247, versus Hartmann’s main line, which retails from around $195 to $1,500.