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October 5 2019
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Carry on! Princess Diana arriving at Heathrow with her Tanner Krolle suitcase in 1993.

It’s tough to own a Van Gogh. What happens when you embark on vacation? Does the painting really have to stay home all by itself? If only one could pack it away and bring it along like a toothbrush. But haven’t you heard? Billionaires can travel with anything they please, especially when private aviation is involved. So how do you pack the Van Gogh? Call Tanner Krolle, the obsessively discreet British luggage brand that will be happy to design a bespoke trunk. Which is exactly what a client did last year when he couldn’t bear to be separated from a cherished piece of art.

Bespoke Beginnings

In recent years, social media has taught us that airport style is A Thing; luggage is as statement-making as fashion. Clever entrepreneur Damian Mould of investment firm One Luxury Group noticed this phenomenon, and the firm acquired Tanner Krolle, the 163-year-old brand originally founded in 1856 by German master saddler Frederick Krolle. Krolle invented the portmanteau, a hand-stitched dresser case for first-class rail and steamship travelers, and in the 1920s, his company merged with British bespoke luggage firm Tanner & Co. The brand has a rich history of associations with the British royal family, making custom vanity cases for the Queen, briefcases and luggage for Princess Diana, and Eton-bound trunks for Princes William and Harry. More recently, Tanner Krolle masterminded bespoke items for Aston Martin and couture-loving royals.

Cary Grant at the airport in New York in the 50s; a bag from Tanner Krolle’s new collection.

But don’t expect a splashy launch party. Mould’s business model is what he calls “patient capitalism.” “We’re relaxed about how we grow,” says the dapper executive, who has a background in marketing for luxury brands. Mould sits on a sofa on the top floor of the luggage-maker’s new London town house. “We want to take baby steps and do things correctly. Everyone is in too much of a rush these days.” In recent years, Tanner Krolle was focused solely on custom-made items, but as part of its relaunch, the brand’s design team is refining and expanding the collection for a 21st-century audience. “We are not hooked on a big name [designer],” says Mould. “There isn’t a hierarchy. We prefer our product to speak for itself.”

Minimal Style, Maximum Impact

The Tanner Krolle collection on display at ground-floor level of the town house—a beautifully appointed space designed by Hollie Bowden that features original, 13th-century parquet flooring sourced from Avignon—includes a tightly edited offering of tan or black leather carryalls, trunk-shaped backpacks, the unisex Sportsman bag, a soft briefcase for generation hipster, and Tanner Krolle’s signature trunk, complete with its rounded edges. The guiding principle is a restrained sense of luxury and, above all, exquisite craftsmanship.

The business has no plans to go mass-market—instead, it will continue to serve a refined, global clientele. “You won’t see edgy collaborations,” says Mould. He is cultivating a hidden world where salespeople are dispatched to the four corners of the earth to perform what he describes as “selling ceremonies”—highly staged presentations for a select few. The first event will be a dinner hosted alongside antique-jewelry dealer Harry Fane, who will display his antique Cartier gems in custom Tanner Krolle cases. Mould cites George Cleverley, his favorite British shoe brand, founded in 1958 and beloved by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, as an example of how to do things properly without remaining beholden to the trends of the day. Evolution will come in the way of small, elegant handbags and travel pouches. Unlike the C.E.O.’s of some luxury houses, Mould is not feeling especially pressured to deliver immediate growth or wholly re-invent the collection each season. “We don’t want this for Tanner Krolle,” he declares. “We want it to be a jewel.”

Vassi Chamberlain is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL

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