In todayís world of bespoke luxury luggage, old-fashioned craftsmanship and space-age carbon fibre are coming together to enable individualised designer goods in which tradition and technology go hand in hand. Now we can enjoy all the benefits of the latest technology and materials and still either custom design or personalise our luggage in very limited editions. Why? Because artisans who handcraft custom luggage Ė traditionally made from wood, leather and brass Ė are beginning to integrate carbon fibre into their designs.
Composite: 2 materials become 1
Letís begin by looking at some of the features of carbon fibre that lend themselves so well to the making of luxury products like bespoke suitcases.
The carbon fibre in everything from bicycles to airplanes and Formula 1 cars is actually a composite material, so-called because it is composed of two constituent materials with very different properties: a matrix and reinforcement.
When combined, they produce a material with very different characteristics from the individual components, and these characteristics make the new material more attractive in specific applications.
The idea of composite materials is not new. For example, when our ancestors tried to make a house of straw, they no doubt soon found that it didnít have a lot of structural integrity. When they tried mud, they certainly discovered that it did not weather a rainstorm very well. †But when they put the two together, formed it into bricks and dried them in the sun, as builders in Mesopotamia did circa 7,500 BC, they got something that performs much better than the sum of its parts: a composite material.
Fast-forward to today and take a closer look at the Boeing Dreamliner or the car that Lewis Hamilton drives, and youíll find that the composite principle still applies.
If you look under the hood of these these technological wonders, youíll find carbon fibre components in many places Ė not least where they provide skeletal strength.
Today, micron-thin carbon fibres (the matrix, or straw, if you will) combined with plastic resin (the reinforcement, or mud) to form a carbon fibre reinforced polymer. The result is an extremely rigid composite with a very high strength to weight ratio: just what aeronautic and automotive engineers are looking for as tough, light skeletons for their creations. And great for luggage, too.
So why is carbon fibre so ideally suited for a suitcase? Three simple reasons: itís strong, light and relatively easy to mould into complex shapes.
Reason 1: Carbon fibre is strong
No matter how you measure it (tensile, compressive or shear strength), this stuff is strong.
Compared to other materials that provide luggage with structural strength, such as plastic, wood or metal, carbon fibre will protect your luggage and whatís inside far better.
Its stiffness also means that your suitcase will stay in shape trip after trip, year after year.
Reason 2: Carbon fibre is light
Who wants to carry a heavy suitcase?
Carbon fibreís weight-to-strength ratio is unrivalled by any other material available for commercial production. No wonder itís the go-to choice for everything from airplanes to cars and bicycles Ė all places where saving weight means saving energy.
Maybe your next out of town trip is also a good place to save energy?
Reason 3: Carbon fibre can be moulded into complex shapes
Carbon fibre can be easily moulded into different sizes and shapes, so itís ideally suited for the niche market of customised bespoke luggage.
The downside is, it isnít cheap. So donít look for carbon fibre parts in low-end luggage just yet.
Luggage thatís as light as it is luxurious
So imagine someone just like you, a discerning connoisseur of good design and quality manufacture, heading off to your favourite beach resort in a luxurious English sports car built to your specific configuration. The car is an iconic, contemporary classic. Itís fast and agile. And a lot of it is made from carbon fibre.
Take a look in the carís luggage compartment, and you might well discover bespoke luggage that fits into it like a hand into a glove with no space is wasted. Itís surprisingly light because its skeleton is made from space age carbon fibre, but it could still be made of luscious leathers.
Lighten your load. Carry carbon fibre luggage!
Michael Wilkens is Founder of†Wilkens.