Behind The Scenes: Chatting With Chief Trunk

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.

We Heart You NYC

I just got back from a whirlwind five days in NYC, hosting a four day trunk show at Henri Bendel in their jewelry department and also working on a new project that I think you guys are going to LOVE. It was great to see so many familiar faces at the trunk show and of course, great to be hosted by one of my favorite stores in New York:

Here’s a photo of our table.  Our name was a bit abbreviated on our table’s sign but nevertheless we got lots of compliments on our “Candy Shop”:

And in addition to jewelry, we were in good company with the book that inspired THIS New York style dinner party:

I tried to take a few breaks here and there to enjoy the city and catch up with friends, this guy being one of them:

And these girls with whom I attended my 15th(!!!) high school reunion:

But it all flew by way too quickly and the next thing I knew I was on the plane back to Charleston:

Check back on our blog next week to learn more about this fabulous striped luggage inspired by a vintage travel collection from the Oshkosh Trunk Company. Until next time NYC!

Trunk Show at Henri Bendel This Week

I am thrilled to be hosting my first Trunk Show for Henri Bendel New York this week (beginning tomorrow, September 26th) in their Flagship store at 712 5th Avenue:

I landed in New York extremely early this AM (7:30) on the equivalent of the red-eye from Charleston, but it is nice to have a full day in New York, especially in this beautiful fall weather!  My best friend met me for a quick coffee in Grand Central and snapped this photo of me at the big clock, our meeting point, which brings back lots of memories from my days in NY:

I’ll be debuting some of our brand new fall colors so stop by and see us for your Candy Shop Vintage fix!

– Deirdre Zahl (owner & designer)

Headed to Henri Bendel This September!

About six months ago, this past March, I did something that almost no New Yorker ever wants to do.  I voluntarily waited in line.  Not just any line, and not just any time of day – a loooong line outside in the freezing cold starting at 5:30AM in the middle of New York City, one that wrapped around outside of the Henri Bendel Flagship Store on 5th Avenue.  It was actually dark, or dusk – as captured by the photo below – when I arrived. And, in spite of the hour and the fact is was bitterly cold out, I was still not the first there.  So what crazy thing did we all have in common?  We were all part of the Open See, a designer casting call that Henri Bendel holds twice annually for new and up-and-coming designers.

It is actually a very Democratic process in the sense that (unlike other things in New York where you often have to have to be connected in some way) any designer can attend the Open See.  The trick is to get in line early and by 9AM they start letting the line of designers thaw out by coming inside to meet with their buyers, all hoping for an opportunity to come sell their goods in the incredible 5th Avenue Flagship Store via a trunk show, or even better, have the line picked up by the Henri Bendel.

If you are not familiar with Henri Bendel – get familiar here.  Their iconic Flagship Boutique on 5th Avenue is one big, sparkling mecca of accessories.  They sell pretty much anything a girl could think to put on her body or carry – from jewelry to sunglasses, to purses and hats and other unique gifts. They are known for supporting and scouting out new design talent. Here is a photo of me, trying to stay warm, holding my egg full of jewelry and wearing a vintage fox fur:

My meeting with their buyers, who were very friendly, was an extremely fast, as is everyone’s – they are trying to see hundreds of people in a short amount of time. I had about three to five mintes to lay out my samples, tell my story and answer any questions they had. At the end of it I was thrilled to be offered a trunk show with them – which is happening this September 26th – 29th, a Thursday – Sunday (see dates and hours at right). Candy Shop Vintage was named one of just five “Casting Call Favorites” by the Henri Bendel  team.  So, come Thursday, September 26th you can find me, the designer behind the Candy Shop Collection, selling my treats for four days in their Flagship store!

If you are a designer and want more info. on the Open See, go here – the next one is coming up this October 25th!  If I could offer a few pieces of advice, I would suggest getting there as early as you can, dressing warmly, and come very prepared to sell – i.e. with plenty of inventory (they are not looking for one off designs) and with a clear sense of your brand and its story, compressed into a minute or two.  And, have fun – hopefully you’ll only get to do this once!

– Deirdre Zahl, designer & owner, Candy Shop Vintage


I Heart New York (A Dinner Party)

It’s always fun to try a new cookbook, especially one that is an intimidating 500 pages!  I Love NY, Ingredients and Recipes by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara is an anthology of regional NY food organized alphabetically by ingredient.  Oddly enough, I recently acquired this book at a Southern BBQ in Charleston, which is another story. At first I thought “Oh OK, it will be all hot dogs, pizza and black and white cookies.”  But this book is as much a showcase as it is a cookbook. Think Corn Pudding Pizza, Pan Roasted Lobster and Walnut Tart with Caramel & Sea Salt .  It’s pretty divine if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and buying a few (try 5) pounds of duck fat. So being a transplanted New Yorker living in Charleston, also one of the great food cities, I couldn’t resist the urge to promote some good old NY cuisine down here for a change.

And the menu:

I actually did not make everything myself, I farmed out several of the dishes to guests.  I did mix the signature cocktail of the evening (A “New Your Sour” with homemade apple shrub), baked the Bacon Potato Bread (SO good), made the Squash Steaks, and roasted  the lobster, with lots of help with the dismemberment (still, yikes!).  I am by no means prolific in the kitchen so halfway through making my apple shrub for the New York Sour many, many days in advance I wanted to quit while peeling my fourth apple.  But we New Yorkers are tougher than that and of course we persevered!  Here are the photos to prove it. Oh, and it was a lot of fun setting the table:

Perfectly orchestrated Walnut Tart with Caramel and Sea Salt by our sweetest guests, the owners of Sugar bakeshop:

Maybe I will start a weird reverse trend of Southern dinners NY style.  I did make homemade marshmallows with bee pollen after all!

And we had the ideal way to cap off the evening – a round of the New Yorker Caption Game, played while wearing Statue of Liberty crowns…

So did it taste like home?  I ONLY  wish I’d eaten that well growing up! up but there were distinctly Northeast undercurrents that were wonderfully familiar, apples being just one of them.  And with 6 out of eight guests being transplanted New Yorkers there was a hearty Yankee spirit at the table and even if the South has softened us, if not taught us how to be good hosts and hostesses. Now, back to something much easier, like designing jewelry!