As a designer, I often find myself conflicted; between the half of me that values all things tasteful and considered, and the half that takes the Eurovision Song Contest entirely in earnest. I’ll drink a €5 cortado in a hipster coffee shop as readily as a sugary mug of Nescafé Gold Blend. And so, faced with an afternoon to fill and an entire European city’s worth of exhibitions to explore, the opportunity for genuine cultural enrichment was superseded by my eye for bad taste.
The steampunk poster (see above) and promise of a Disneyworld-esque presentation were too much to resist. Curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself at the entrance to ‘Legendary Trunks – The Exhibition’ at Beurs van Berlage; essentially an exhibition of vintage Louis Vuitton travel cases and the stories behind their various and noted owners.
With its slightly clunky logo and promise to “guide you thru the unique collection of the legendary world of Louis Vuitton Trunks”, all the signs were there to suggest that this would be €12 well spent. Undeterred by its location opposite the Sex Museum in the touristic centre of Amsterdam I ventured forth, ready to be sucked in by stories of rip-roaring adventure and, presumably, mannequins in questionable period costume.
But, wait, what?! Madame Tussauds this is not. The exhibition is… actually good. We begin with an explanation from the eccentric Swedish collectors:
“Why so passionate about luggage? Well, that’s easy – we love travel, history and human stories.”
Fine, I was sold. My cynical expectations thwarted, I let myself be taken along on a somewhat hammy but otherwise cleverly curated journey through the Golden Age, beginning in an explorer’s base camp. We passed the docks of the Titanic via Judy Garland’s dressing room, entered a Las Vegas casino, and even swung by the boudoir of an Indian king. And the centrepiece of each set? Collections of beautiful vintage trunks. I was unashamedly sold on the Hollywood-meets-Hogwarts aesthetic, but even more interested than I’d expected to be in the cases.
I have a confession to make. I get geeky about boxes, which is fortunate given that I design packaging for a living. I love the anticipation and theatre of opening a beautiful container, revealing a world within. The same was true in this instance. Each trunk, with its infamously patterned exterior, is opened to present a story through personal artefacts alongside the craftsmanship of the cases themselves: monogrammed initials, embossed brass locks, hidden drawers and premium detailing.
I realised that I was looking at luxury packaging on a grand scale. Originally intended to be functional and durable, these trunks were personalised, decorated and crafted to be viewed as glamorous status symbols. Lost among the slow trickle of weekday afternoon visitors, the 1930s soundtrack and the comforting smell of musty leather and paper, I admit it. I felt a bit emotional.
And isn’t that, after all, how well-designed luxury packaging ought to make you feel? It should enhance its precious contents, becoming part of the experience, telling the story of the brand and creating a heightened anticipation.
I can safely say that I will never look at an Arrivals luggage belt in the same way again.
Here are some other things I learned at the exhibition:
You can visit the exhibition until 18th February – you’ll find the details on the exhibition website.
Special thanks to the exhibition organisers for sharing these photos with us.
Benjamin Farrell is a Senior Designer based in our Amsterdam Studio.