Victor Sanz, creative director at TUMI.

ESQUIRE: We’re told the spring 2024 collection is inspired by Singapore. Can you tell us more about that and why Singapore in particular?

VICTOR SANZ: Every season, the design team and I sit down and we look for a destination to become our muse. We’re always looking at things that have a cultural relevance—we saw that Singapore was one of the first places to open their doors to the world again. We started focusing into Singapore and realised that everything that’s happening here is in line with what we’re doing as a brand. The idea of balancing heritage with modernity; embracing technology but not abandoning where your roots are; of balancing this world of architecture and progression, but also supporting the environment and nature.

We then started to really dive deep from a cultural standpoint: How are the people living here? What are they doing? How are they doing this? We were inspired by places like Sentosa where we kept seeing these beautiful images of the sunsets. Then the shutters in the market streets with these bright colours of contrast, and they felt very spring to us. We also looked at buildings like the Art Science Museum where it’s a very modern building, but feels very natural and very organic at the same time. So from there, we started building our colour palette and the collections like Asra, where you can see this idea of a soft structure, which continues on to even within the Alpha Bravo series.

ESQ: What are some of the newer innovations you have devised for the collection that you’re proud of?

VS: We continue to bring new innovations every season. There’s a continuous partnership with McLaren and we were able to introduce a new chapter with the Extreme collection where we did these welded waterproof bags. Obviously, Asra, our women’s collection, and of course the 19 Degree series, which was born as a travel collection, but we were figuring out how do we continue to expand this 19 Degree design language into day-to-day uses? This 19 Degree Aluminum minaudière that I carry has a really simple detail. I can just rotate this element and I can put a shoulder strap on there. It becomes now that same archetype of 19 Degree but in a crossbody. And we’ve done a backpack as well. You’re going to continue to see these types of products evolve. We’re kind of pushing in all these directions and always looking at things from the lens of technology and luxury, and always ensuring that we’re bringing something new to our core customer but also bringing in that new customer as well.

ESQ: TUMI is also known for its Alpha Bravo series but there seems to be a more conscious decision to move away from just luggage and into a more lifestyle space, with a golf collection as well as Asra. Is this something that we can expect more from the brand?

VS: Absolutely. I mean, I would say we’re not moving away from the travel side. What we’re doing is we’re continuing to enhance our portfolio. Our biggest muse is the customer. We look at the lifestyle that they’re living. How are they evolving? What does their day-to-day look like? What does it look like when they’re at work? What does work look like for them? What happens post-work? And the more we begin to evolve the world we’re in, we’re bringing products that are enhancing their lives. That’s why you’re seeing things like the golf collection. We see our customers being increasingly engaged in golf and how it’s a new way for them to connect with their friends and peers. It’s a great opportunity for us to bring the very best of what we do at TUMI to a type of collection like that. Additionally, we’re doing fragrances now—we have seven fragrances in the line—eyewear, the crossbodies, women’s products, engaging in the world of sport… It’s really about evolving the brand for our customers.

ESQ: You talk about the customers’ lifestyles when designing for these lifestyle-specific items. Is the design approach slightly different from the travel series, or is it the same?

VS: When we started looking at products that may be more geared towards lifestyle—or what we call the more fashion-forward type products—one aspect where we’ve evolved as a brand, I think at times, is that aesthetics weren’t viewed as a feature. We’ve changed that thinking where aesthetics are a feature. If you feel good or confident about what you’re wearing, you perform better. With a collection like Asra, the thought process was how do we create something that’s very easy and that doesn’t look like it’s burdened with all this extra functionality, but the functionality is there? Similar to even this 19 Degree minaudière. It’s a very simple crossbody, but on the inside, it has a removable leather pouch that magnetises to the back so that when I need to pay for something, I open up the minaudière and I have my money and cards ready to go. Maybe in the past, we’ve had the mentality of always leading with function. Now, the beauty is part of the function.

ESQ: I’m curious to know, because when you talk about the minaudière and having that extra element inside, how many prototypes do you go through before you’re done with editing?

VS: It can depend. I wish I could say we do it once and it’s great. But it can be anywhere from three to upwards of 10, depending on how complex the functionality is. For example with the 19 Degree Aluminum backpack, we spent a lot of time making sure that when you push in the leather monogram patch that the front pocket would pop out. We also spent a lot of iterations where we’re opening up the backpack so that it stays perfectly balanced when opened. Typically, we like to do about at least three prototypes because the other part is test-wearing. And we test-wear everything. A lot of times when I’m travelling, I’m travelling with prototypes because if something’s going to fail, I’d rather it fail while I’m using it so I can fix it.

ESQ: I remember from our previous interaction in Hong Kong in 2019, where you explained how the handle of a TUMI luggage is shaped like a strawberry for better ergonomics.

VS: You remember? This one! (points to the telescopic handle of a luggage nearby)

ESQ: Yeah. It’s one of the things that, if it weren’t pointed out to me, I wouldn’t have necessarily realised it. Have you come across customers who have pointed out nuances like that in your designs?

VS: It’s a really interesting thing. People don’t notice good design because it just works. That’s the goal. It sounds a bit ironic, right? You spend so much time, energy and thought into it, and when a customer uses it, it just becomes kind of back-of-mind. But when something is poorly designed, that’s when you really, really take notice. That’s why we spend so much time really analysing the details—testing, feeling and going through these motions where they just need to feel and work so right that you don’t even notice them. From a design and creative perspective, it makes me quite happy when people say that something feels or works right. But, hey, very good memory. I’m very impressed.

ESQ: It’s definitely a takeaway that has stuck. Now, on to collaborations. The way TUMI approaches collaborations is perhaps quite different from its contemporaries. With TUMI, there seems to be a preference to collaborate with more lifestyle-driven partners and artists as opposed to say, a fashion brand or streetwear. Why is that?

VS: TUMI has always been looking at a wide breadth of people to collaborate with. We’ve collaborated with fashion houses like Missoni, athletes, jewellery designers, artists etc.. For us, it’s always been about people that are very true to who we are as a brand. But also we’re looking beyond into that future customer, right? I’m going to collaborate with people that are multifaceted, that people can relate to and understand. There’s a future-forward thinking for the brand as well. So this is why we’re always kind of looking at it through our own lens. There was a time when everyone was collaborating and you didn’t know what the hell was happening—every week was another collaboration and everyone just got very caught up in this hype. For us, we’ve always held true to what we feel is authentic to us. How do we connect with them? And then how do we support them on their mission? It’s never really been about wanting to collaborate for hype sake.

ESQ: And now we have brand ambassadors being announced every week. You mentioned how the customer is the driving force behind designing at TUMI. But when it comes to brand ambassadors, do they also influence you as well? Or are they more of like a manifestation of the TUMI customer?

VS: When we started getting into brand ambassadors, we were looking for people who embody the truth of the brand. When we started with Lando Norris, not only is he a fantastic F1 driver, but he’s also this hungry, young athlete who’s starting his own businesses and establishing himself. The same thing with Son Heung-min—an amazing, established Asian athlete within a European team, which is also quite international and it poses its own challenges. It was this amazing storyline that connects with us. As we were starting our journey within this new women’s category with Asra, we thought about having an ambassador who embodies not only who we are about but also this new customer. Mun Kayoung is an amazing person to begin with and she’s so humble. We’re saying that we want that type of aesthetic and that type of strength to come through to our products.

It’s always a challenge to find that perfect connection, but so far, we’ve been quite lucky to have people that love the brand. When we start having conversations with them, it’s very, very authentic. They travel with the brand and that always makes it very, very easy to kind of make everything happen.

ESQ: It seems very organic.

VS: Absolutely. You’d be surprised how many times we sit down, and they’re like, “Oh yeah. I’ve been travelling with TUMI for 12 years, 10 years...”

Sanz has been at TUMI now for more than 20 years.

ESQ: This is a bit of a throwback to 2019. When asked what were some of the best things about being a creative director at TUMI, you said, “It’s amazing to dream an idea and have it come to fruition.” Has anything changed since then?

VS: Yes. It’s still amazing to be able to dream something and bring it to fruition, but I think what’s changed is that the dreams now are becoming ever more vivid. It almost feels like there’s an endless sense of possibility. In 2019, I would never have imagined I’d be sitting here showing you this 19 Degree Aluminum minaudière and backpack. To be able to see the brand and customer base continue to grow but also being able to still push the brand in different directions, that’s been fantastic.

ESQ: You’ve been at TUMI now for more than 20 years, which is insane to think about.

VS: You’re telling me!

ESQ: I just want to know, what keeps you inspired?

VS: Every day I walk in, I have an amazing team. We have people on that team who I’ve worked with for the past 20 years as well as people into their first year, and every day, we are constantly pushing ourselves. I was up at 1:30am this morning on a call with the team in New York working on a project for the future. We’re talking about the smallest of details, but with the intensity of it being the next biggest collection. And that’s what really kind of continues to feed this creative energy. We want to make a difference with the elements that we put in. And I get to work on just some of the most interesting products. I’m very humbled and blessed to have had 20 years. I mean, just like that, it’s been 20 years. And you and I have been on a journey now for exactly five years. Who would have thought?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.