Last time I was in New York I traveled with this new and rather sophisticated duffel bag – The Weekender from Chief Trunk. Normally, I’m pushing around my beat up rolling suitcase from our wedding registry over six years ago. This is a real upgrade and I could sense the luggage envy projected at me while passing through airport security.
My new bag also got lots of love on instagram so I thought I’d feature a bit more about “The Chief,” as it was once called, on our blog. The founder, Konrad Duchek, is a friend of mine. We actually met in Charleston about three years ago where we worked together for a time. He had just come from CHANEL and with luxury on the mind he shared his vision with me of a project he hoped to launch one day – reviving a defunct line of American luxury travel bags. Just a few weeks ago, I sat down with him again, this time in Chief Trunk’s new New York headquarters, surrounded by samples and his first complete collection– Chief Trunk has arrived. From the moment I saw the reimagined designs and the vintage inspiration they sprang from, I was in love with the signature burgundy and yellow stripe. Konrad and his business partner Michael Sambrano’s bags have already been featured on Vogue, Esquire, end even spotted in the well curated collections of bloggers like the Man Repeller and The Editorialist. Where to go from here? All over, it turns out. Konrad shared his thoughts with me on “the American good life” the history of Chief Trunk and some of his own travel tips.
Konrad and the new Chief Trunk Weekender, the signature striped canvas
Where did you first come across one of the original Oshkosh trunks with the signature stripes (above) from The Chief line?
My parents picked up two of the early suitcases in the early 60’s not knowing the history exactly but probably just because they liked the design. By the time my sister and I came along in the 70’s we had a lake house on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and when the suitcases came out it was a sign that the family road trip was commencing. A five, sometimes nine hour trip to the lake (if the traffic was bad) as a little kid is an eternity, so I became very familiar with the two suitcases. Later on, working at CHANEL I was at one of the Parisian flea markets, perusing one of the luxury vintage luggage dealers and in the corner I spotted one of the Oshkosh Chief steamer trunks with the signature yellow and red stripes. I kind of went “Wait, I know what that is…” I didn’t know much about the brand or that they’d even carried trunks, but having had this personal connection to it, a bit of a research project commenced. I turned out that Oshkosh was essentially the American Louis Vuitton in the sense that it was a true luxury travel line. Oskosh trunks and luggage were sold around the world and the brand (Oshkosh) died out in 1962 and was sort of forgotten about. Well, until now.
an original Oshkosh advertisement
And the significance of the stripe?
The area where Oskosh manufactured was about three hours north of Chicago. This canvas (with the stripes) was old stock used for diplomatic pouches in the territories that Spain controlled in the US going back to the 1800’s – these are the colors of the Spanish flag. After they lost the Spanish American war, the Spanish were effectively kicked out of the US and the mill the canvas was produced in, also a few hours North of Chicago, sold off the extra yardage to the Oshkosh Trunk Company. Oshkosh used it on their luggage but painted over it with solid black, grey, green, what have you… But then, one of the buyers from Marshall Fields came who was on a factory visit spotted the raw, unpainted striped canvas and specifically requested that Oshkosh send him trunks with that design because he liked it so much. It was a total accident but it went on to become their best selling line. Oskosh is actually named after Chief Oshkosh, one of the areas Indian tribes and the the line striped line was dubbed simply “The Chief.” It’s what the company became known for – it’s a distinctive pattern and color combination– one that you don’t see a lot. Except for in the Spanish flag of course.
So you’re obviously not working out of their old factory since that closed down in the 60s. Where is this new generation of Chief Trunk bags being made?
We are manufacturing out of the Brooklyn Naval Yard. I mean there’s no way to be an American Heritage brand and be making it in Southeast Asia, right?
What does the Chief Trunk lifestyle embody today?
We like to look at ourselves as American luxury – that is the lifestlyle that evolves from the American good life. Something to be used, enjoyed and experienced. Something to get dirty on journeys, jaunts and gatherings. Going to your vacation home in Charleston, South Carolina for example, Litchfield, Connecticut or Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. We want to what the brand would be today if Oskkosh had existed for the last 50 years. That is to say, a sophisticated travel companion, one that represents adventure and the anticipation of things to come.
Along those lines, who is the “ideal” Chief client (fictional or not, alive or otherwise!)
The entire Ocean’s 11 cast – either one really… the orignal or the remake. They don’t take themselves too seriously but everyone just looks so nice all the time. That classic, fun glamour.
What are your favorite travel destinations – international, within the US and a weekend getaway (being that you live in New York City)?
The international would have to be Jamaica. Some of my wife’s (now my) family is from there. Jamaica’s awesome. We got married in Half Moon, the sort of old school colonial British area. We’ve been down to Jake’s in Treasure Beach which is sort of a luxurious Jamaica camp. The food is fantastic, it all feels very old school and it was done so well. Of course I love Scotchy’s which has two locations, does all the food with the classic jerk sauce… so good.
Within the US, I do have an affinity for my old home, Charleston which has both the on-the-beach and city, old world/new world all going on. It is kind of the antithesis of New York but also that’s why it’s so great.
Locally, a weekend getaway there is of course Wolfeboro New Hampshire – the lake I grew up going to – as well as the Washington Depot area of Connecticut – anywhere Litchfield county. Even being just two hours outside the city, you feel like you are in a different world.
What are three things you can’t travel without throwing into your weekender?
Probably my ipad. And some Bourbon for when the ipad gets boring. And my Hickey Sweater. Hickey is a defunct brand – it used to be the younger version of Hickey Freeman – very classic Americana but with a slim cut. US men’s brands tend to be cut terribly – like you definitely don’t need a suit that’s purposely cut to look like a sack.
Best and worst travel experiences?
The quick joke would be Vegas. For both. All the same trip. But really, actually Chicago is another great city I’ve loved visiting. It gets overlooked but the architecture’s fantastic, the food’s great and there is a nice transition from downtown to suburbia without the sprawl, the art world is great and it’s very user friendly.
We all have a vegas story…
Konrad heading out on a day trip into the wilds of NYC, his vintage Jamaica travel poster
(I can attest to the fact that the Chief Trunk weekender is also very user friendly, having put it to the test with about 40 lbs. of jewelry flown to and from New York.) I love the details, the sturdiness and most of all, the look of the stripes. Follow along with the new generation of Chief Trunk bags
– as more styles and designs evolve from a well-loved American Classic – you can never have too much glamour or too much adventure.