When sizing up a suitcase, the first thing that usually comes to mind is durability, then perhaps the visibility of your case on the baggage carousel. Anything else is a bonus. At least, until now.

American luxury case and travel- accessories label Tumi wants to shake things up. Still lugging around that heavy plastic mould that just adds to your check-in weight? Ever the innovators, Tumi has a solution: ballistic nylon. Originally developed for use in flak jackets in World War II, it is a lighter, hardier way forward.

And to show how military-grade materials need not necessarily be staid and serious, the brand is staging a collaborative exhibition in Hong Kong that showcases the myriad ways in which a suitcase can be fun, colourful and still functional.

The idea was to invite 18 regional artists to interpret Tumi’s use of ballistic nylon and its best-selling Alpha Lightweight Case, working around the theme, Makes Life Beautiful Work. The results are intriguing.

For instance, Millicent Lai, former chief home-wear designer for Shanghai Tang, created a series of striking lotus lanterns using ballistic nylon.
Hong Kong fashion designer Barney Cheng wowed with a pair of edgy, conceptual outfits made from the material.

Hong Kong designer Barney Cheng made edgy, conceptual outfits with ballistic nylon.
Hong Kong designer Barney Cheng made edgy, conceptual outfits with ballistic nylon.

Celebrity photographer Sean Lee Davies used the material as a canvas for his travel photos; Denise Ho, owner of children’s clothing line A For Apple, came up with a vintage steamer trunk in ballistic nylon to display her latest kids’ collection; and Hong Kong-based advertising and creative agency M+L came up with a whimsical art installation in which the suitcase is suspended in the air to mimic a flying kite.

Deciding who got the honour of reinventing (and occasionally destroying) the pricey bag was not left to chance.

“We chose the artists with great care. They had to have the same vision as Tumi. As with the Anna Sui collaboration we did previously, it’s a gut feel,” said Tom Nelson, managing director of Tumi Asia Pacific.

Quirky collaborative efforts aside, what wins Tumi international recognition is what Nelson calls the “Tumi difference”, which encompasses design, technical innovation, quality, user functionality and a level of customer service not found in any other travel- accessory brand.

It’s almost a mantra – and one that the exhibition will echo as it travels through Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.