- Associated Press - Monday, July 9, 2012

The coveted look for vacationers this summer is sleek and chic — with an emphasis on sleek.

Many travelers, especially air travelers, are aiming to get up and go with as few accouterments as they can without sacrificing style. People are thinking about packing light at all stages of the traveling process: from what suitcases they’ll use to the souvenirs they’ll buy.

Stylist Amanda Ross, fashion director for travel-themed Departures magazine, said she thinks about packing when she’s doing her initial shopping. “It really comes down to how you shop and what your wardrobe is about.”

Even more basic is the bag it will go in.

There are more FedEx boxes of clothes and accessories coming into the lobby of Manhattan’s upscale Mondrian SoHo than one might imagine —and fewer luxury-brand suitcases that would complement the handbags its typical, fashion-savvy guests carry, hotel General Manager Gary Thomas said.

He personally uses that send-ahead system. “You don’t have to carry anything then or worry about an extra pound or two, and it’s even more reliable than taking it with you.”

There are also fewer last-minute items, the ones you rarely “need,” tossed in, he said.

“The weight issue has become huge, especially in the past year,” agreed Dan Tarala, vice president of product design and strategy for Victorinox Travel Gear. “It’s the No. 1 thing we hear.”

The complaints started in Europe, he said, but have moved west and east, north and south. When he started with Victorinox almost 10 years ago, the goal was to make a suitcase that could be used for two weeks down to 17 pounds; now it’s 5 pounds.

Of course, consumers want to shed weight without losing any of the features they have come to like or looks they want to wear.

In the world of suitcases, that means wheels still rule. They’ve just changed to smaller, more nimble ones, Mr. Tarala said.

Hard-side suitcases made of polycarbonate, as opposed to soft leather or nylon bags, are gaining wider acceptance, he said. The hard bags need less framing inside. They offer durability comparable to nylon, and the modern design can rival the luxury of leather.

“The shift is not just looking at the main-body material,” Mr. Tarala said. “We are looking at the overall frame: switching to honeycombs and laminated foam instead of solid pieces, less-dense nylons versus metal for hardware and connection points. We don’t want to take anything away from the customer.”

He recommends using a 50-50 split case — the middle divider is the difference between everything inside the bag shifting “all over the place,” Mr. Tarala said — and starting packing by filling the voids near the handles and the wheel casings.

Ms. Ross puts the heaviest item in first: her shoes. She said she tries to restrict herself to one pair of flat daytime shoes and a dressier pair of evening heels. They have to go with everything, she said, but she won’t skimp with shoes that are flimsy, even if they are lighter. That would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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