- Buyer's Guide
The Mergence of Luxury and Performance: Troubadour
When you’re looking to invest in a bag for the next decade of your life, some of the more ambitious among us look to the world of “luxury.” You probably want a brand with goods made from the finest materials, stitched together by expert hands. In the pursuit of plushness, however, luxury brands too often neglect a vital piece of the carry equation: performance.
Why is it that high-end goods and functionality need to be mutually exclusive? As it turns out, they’re not. Cue Troubadour Goods.
Founded and based in London, luxury brand Troubadour has been redressing the imbalance between high-grade materials and functional performance since 2013. Their bags, from weekenders to backpacks, are built by some of the finest craftspeople in the world, and are nothing short of beautiful. But it’s their take on ‘refined performance’ – a long overdue mergence of luxury and functionality – that really sets them apart.
Initially drawn to the UK to study, Troubadour co-founders, Bostonian Abel Samet and Toronto-born Samuel Bail met each other working for Lazard in London. Over daily runs through the Royal Parks of London, the pair would discuss their mutual passion for great design.
The finance gig meant travel – lots of it – which in turn demanded a decent and reliable kit. Yet the perfect weekender bag appeared to be a unicorn: highly desirable, tough to locate, perhaps even mythic – a leather bag that could transition seamlessly between business travel and casual getaways. The pair became obsessed with what they called ‘The Search’, as the existing offerings fell short of their expectations.
“Too often, the bags that we found were too flashy, covered in logos or just generally inappropriate for the workplace,” says Samet. “Alternatively, some bags were very formal, structured, and heavy in a way that seemed out of step with the twenty-first century.”
“It’s their take on ‘refined performance’ – a long overdue mergence of luxury and functionality – that really sets them apart.”
In DIY spirit, the pair set about building their own ideal leather weekender, embarking without realizing on the journey that would eventually lead to Troubadour Goods. They immersed themselves in the world of European leather craftsmanship, seeking knowledge from experts in fabrics, thread, zippers and design from artisans and experts all over the continent. They attuned themselves to every component that would lead to their desired level of quality, craftsmanship, and performance. The extended, yet thrilling process involved meeting with over 100 tanneries and 30 leather manufacturers throughout Europe, and after 18 months they settled on the passion, craftsmanship, and quality of Italy.
Named after the roving minstrels of the Middle Ages – artists who thrived on performance and impression – Troubadour has, in just five short years, gained almost regal status in the carry world. Its combination of highly functional performance design, modern aesthetics and an incredible level of craftsmanship continues to draw the applause of its core market and beyond. No one, it seemed, had seen anything so easy on the eye paired with such thoughtful functionality.
Troubadour harnesses elements you’d ordinarily expect to find on outdoor bags: cutting-edge, lightweight, waterproof materials (they’re the first brand to develop a fully waterproof vegetable-tanned leather); so too, molded back panels, magnetic closures and practical internal pockets. Using curved memory foam, they offer ergonomic straps that fit snug and protect the suits of their wearers; by using as little stitching as possible, they maintain clean lines and reduce points for water ingress.
These are bags built for dapper execs (and minimalists): folks who care about fabric innovation, comfort and ergonomics, clean aesthetics, and how well a bag works outside the boardroom.
Design: influences, inspiration and style
Drawing on the simplicity and purpose of design inspirations like Georg Jensen, Josef Albers, Apple’s Jonathan Ive, and architects like John Pawson, Troubadour’s consistent, clean and minimalist aesthetic extends throughout its entire line.
Whether or not ‘refined performance’ was always the prime M.O for the Troubadour duo, commitment to functionality was, from word go, an essential element.
“From the very beginning, we have always believed that function is incredibly important,” says Samet. “In good design, form should follow function, (and) the performance elements of each product we create have evolved from this focus.”
“We spend a lot of time as a team discussing how we want each of our products to perform, and then design each piece to meet those needs,” he adds.
“Once this is clear, we move on to three-dimensional product development. This is a really hands-on approach that our team connects with – we find it helps us better evolve the design and performance of whatever piece we’re working on. Then we test, test, and test a bit more. The testing really never stops for us and we are always looking for ways to make additional improvements even after we launch the first and second generations of a given style.”
A wide open-door policy to customer feedback fuels this testing process, allowing the brand to constantly refine its offerings.
“We are flooded with requests for many new product ideas and we do explore a lot of these,” adds Samet. “We’re always pushing the performance of our designs further and further.”
Growth and change
Suffice it to say, much has gone down since the brand’s launch in spring 2013.
While the duo’s ‘Search’ might have been satiated, their friends, colleagues and the broader public had other things in mind for them. Everyone wanted a piece of the Troubadour action.
With day jobs well and truly in the rear-view, Abel and Samuel today oversee a tight London-based crew, covering product design, materials sourcing, production, logistics and distribution. An extended cast of Italian artisans, fabric weavers, tanners and zip makers help bring the innovations to life: a zip maker outside Milan who helped create the perfect glide, with each tooth cut and polished individually; a family factory in Tuscany who helped develop the world’s first naturally waterproof leather.
“We are always looking for ways to make additional improvements even after we launch the first and second generations of a given style.”
This year, all the brand’s leather bags will be constructed using their innovative waterproof DryFibre leather. Since all of the premium fabrics Troubadour uses are already waterproof, this now means that ever bag they sell is constructed in lightweight, waterproof materials.
The product: build, standards and highlights
While the original leather Weekender might be the holy grail of Troubadour flagships, products like the Ziptop Rucksack and Tote have also become some of their most popular offerings. Like the Weekender, they’re built to last (with a five-year guarantee), and they perform; they epitomise a sense of sleek minimalism. They’re made by some of the world’s most innovative artisans and craftspeople and the small details you come to appreciate more and more with time are the proof of that.
“We are designing for people who believe the quality and performance of a product are inherently more important than any bells and whistles adorning it,” says Samet. “We think the people who choose Troubadour care about quality, and value a better product over more marketing. Our customers want to invest in fewer, better products for the long term.”
“Our customers want to invest in fewer, better products for the long term.”
While it’s obvious that local crowds in the UK have been lapping up the British-designed goods, Troubadour’s aesthetic has attracted substantial and growing favor all over the world.
“Our business in the rest of Europe has grown quite a bit in the past couple of years with Germany, France, and the Scandinavian countries as particular bright spots,” says Samet. “Outside Europe, our business has more than tripled in the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan in the past two years alone.”
Some of their primary retailers include:
Liberty (UK): Whether online or at their iconic store in London’s West End, Liberty remains one of the UK’s most favored historic high-end retailers.
Harvey Nichols (UK): Founded in 1831, a luxury British department store chain with a flagship store in Knightsbridge, London.
Barneys (US): A New York-based chain of luxury department stores, with 24 flagship, boutique, and warehouse stores across the American seaboard.
Hunt (Australia): Since 1975, Sydney’s go-to for the finest handbags, luggage, accessories and leather goods.
Harry Rosen (Canada): One of Canada’s most sought-after luxury retail chains, with over 15 stores across the country.
The customer perspective
Customer feedback is further case in point that Troubadour has hit the sweet spot:
“The bag has arrived as expected and I am absolutely over the moon with it. It is perfect.”
“I bought my first Troubadour bag about two years ago. The quality is so much better than anything else at a similar price. I have bought two more Troubadour bags since as well as one for my wife.”
“The materials are great and the attention to detail is amazing. This is the future!”
“Honestly, the most useful and versatile bag that I have ever owned.”
As the original ‘Search’ continues to evolve, innovation, refinement and passion appear to be driving this engine as far as it’ll go.
“We are always hard at work creating new products and the next iteration of our existing ones,” adds Samet. “We constantly seek out new innovative materials and construction techniques to make refined products that will perform fantastically in all conditions.”
As well as the shift to all lightweight and waterproof leathers and fabrics, the brand has also begun to use electro-moulded back panels for greater comfort and breathability in their rucksack line. They’re promising two more major releases for 2018 too, though they’re not quite ready to spill the beans on those just yet.
Akin to their namesake, this brand’s creations can’t help but perform on every level: luxury bags well and truly worth the price tag.