There was a time when travel meant top hats, luxurious trains and absolutely no Wi-Fi. Despite our present-day reliance on the latter, life is still very much about the journey — and the Instagrammable destination — so it's important that our luggage is up to the task.
Up until recently, inexpensive chic suitcases were sartorial myths; and the frugal mom-approved, bulky Samsonites that we purchased at Marshalls stood out like sore thumbs on our perfectly curated millennial feeds, where even toothbrushes have to be social media-ready. This, coupled with the growth of the experience economy — consumers craving memories they can share over stuff — and the travel accessories market was ripe for disruption.
Indré Rockefeller, co-founder of Paravel, a covetable line of retro vacation-friendly bags and accessories, refers to the travel goods space a few years ago as "unsexy," because it was lacking in beautiful, affordable products. It also completely overlooked the female traveler. "A lot of times when we were first doing market research, we'd go to department stores, and so often you'd find that the travel goods section was in the men's department, and you'd find all these hyper masculine products there," Rockefeller explains over the phone. "This legacy of the male corporate traveler needed to be re-thought and refreshed, and we needed to start thinking of travel goods not as a means to an end, but as part of your travel experience."
With her professional background that spanned both the creative and business sides of fashion, Rockefeller took on the challenge of disrupting this largely ignored industry.
Rockefeller's résumé reads like someone who would have "Rockefeller" as a last name. She earned an Art History degree from Princeton, and then spent a few years dancing ballet professionally at companies all over the world, until a herniated disk forced her into early retirement. Instead of teaching adolescents perfect pirouette technique, Rockefeller decided to pursue a career in fashion — a path that she felt would be as creative and stimulating as dance.
"I was lucky enough to start my fashion career as Anna Wintour's first assistant, which was the best foundational education I could have asked for," says Rockefeller. "I saw that there was someone like Anna, who had an eye for design, but a head for business. I knew that there were a lot of jobs that required both those skill sets." So, Rockefeller left her gig as the real-life Emily Blunt and went to Stanford University to get her MBA.
Following graduation, Rockefeller became the general merchandising manager and creative director of trunk shows at Moda Operandi. "It was a wonderful time when the company was growing rapidly," she says, before adding that it allowed her to be exposed to a lot of designers. One of those labels was the Spanish heritage house Delpozo, which later recruited Rockefeller to serve as its U.S. president.
While at Delpozo, Rockefeller worked closely with Andy Krantz, who oversaw finance and operations for the Americas, including the brand's U.S.-based retail presence. The two left Delpozo in 2015 to launch Paravel as a direct-to-consumer brand to fill a very real hole in the market — and their commutes.
"I was traveling all the time for work, living out of suitcases, and I kept finding myself wondering why there wasn't a go-to travel brand that could really address the whole system of travel," says Rockefeller, who wanted to find a duffle bag, packing solutions and a tote all in one place. She also struggled to find products that were designed around the needs for travel, but were versatile enough to be something that you would want to carry as an everyday accessory. So, with Paravel, Rockefeller wanted to a create holistic packing solution, as well as provide high-quality, stylish travel bags at an accessible price point.
After 18 months of development, Paravel officially launched in November 2016. It was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, and an immediate demand after being featured in a plethora of gift guides in several major publications. "We hadn't projected in terms of inventory how much we should have in stock," explains Rockefeller of launching during the holiday season. "We were selling out of products overnight, and in certain cases, there were products that sold out before they even arrived in our warehouse. That sounds like a good problem to have, but we never want to disappoint our customers who want something to gift for the holidays."
The ability to project and manage their inventory has become one of the company's top priorities. "As a wholesale brand, you produce the amount of product that has been requested of you, but in this case, your customer is the one you're dealing with directly," says Rockefeller. "If they come flocking to you — which is a wonderful thing — we should have enough inventory to support that."
Though they have run into some very common challenges that many direct-to-consumer labels face, this model has allowed them to work with the world's top mills and factories to create elevated products at approachable prices: There's a large duffel that can hold a week's worth of clothes for $285; a full-size fold-up nylon backpack for $65; a trunk-style weekender for $325; and a trio of packing cubes for $55.
"We have very high production standards," she says, "We do a lot of quality testing. We source our materials from all over the world as well." Every piece is crafted from Tuscan leather and a soft, lightweight, waterproof and stainproof canvas, which was specially developed with a family-owned factory just outside of Florence.
Even though, Paravel is primarily sold online, it's of utmost importance to Rockefeller that her customers always receive product that looks impeccable. "We're product-obsessed people," she says. "We pore over every detail, whether it's stitching or raw materials or weight and functionality or finishes."
The result is a resilient line of multi-use bags that are hand constructed from heritage fabrics, such as sailcloth and the aforementioned cotton canvas, then trimmed with high-grade colored leathers. Most of the overnight bags offer a monogram option, while its smaller day bags do not, but are statement pieces in their own right: Highlights in its current lineup include a retro train travel-inspired structured tote that looks like a mini vintage trunk and its early standout, the Crossbody Capsule, which is a fashion-y iteration of a camera lens bag. There's also a feather-light nylon range, which consists of a foldable duffle, backpack, cosmetics case, wash kit and organizational packing cubes.
"We're always adding to the system as we go, based off of our customer responses and feedback," says Rockefeller of Paravel's growing offerings, which are expanding alongside the booming experience economy. "In the long-term, we want to be a go-to brand for all your travel needs. So when someone is thinking about an upcoming trip, it's a no brainer to come to us and get everything you need for the travel experience."
We can't predict what handy packing solution or cleverly designed weekender Rockefeller will think up next, but we can bet that Paravel's designs will always be redolent of old-world elegance that are perfectly suited to the modern traveler.
"I don't want to build or design product that's trend based or reactionary," Rockefeller says. "The goal is to build timeless product that you don't feel like you need to replace."