Is Your Luggage ‘Naff’? Stick a Mirror on the Fridge!

Travel is not much fun. One is obliged to get one’s kicks where one can.

Baggage carousels, believe it or not, can be quite a gas. The next time you’re pacing up and down with your knickers in a twist trying to spot your bag, stop! Relax, and let the magical conveyer belt afford you the opportunity to silently and ruthlessly critique other people’s luggage choices. It’s a tragic yet mesmerizing runway where Samsonite “three-suiters” and Lark “overnighters” are the supermodels and you, with your front-row seat, get to be Anna Wintour. My bête noire? Those tapestry floral Pullman monsters favored by genteel seniors. Very Golden Girls –very naff.

F.Y.I.: I recently found out the origin of the word naff . Now widely used in the U.K. to mean “a depressing lack of style,” naff was originally a gay slang acronym for “Not Available For Fucking,” i.e., “straight” (i.e., “dreary”). Naff is a great word with no American translation. Remember, tacky means “cheap or glitzy,” whereas naff is about stylistic shortcomings which are horrifyingly average and pathetically un-groovy. Use the word naff and become a connoisseur of naff. After all, it is a vanishing commodity.

Which brings me back to that tapestry luggage. Recently, whenever I’m at a luggage carousel, I find myself actively looking for those frightening floral fantasies, the increasingly rare sightings of which now elicit not disdain but excited approval. Why? Because the nation’s luggage carousels have become a polluted river of black, zippered Tumi and fake Tumi, and those naff tapestry florals have become quite recherché . Isn’t this a metaphor for what’s happening with fashion in general? Hip minimalism has proliferated and lost its resonance, making naff the new hip. There, I’ve said it.

The good news is that luggage, like vacuum cleaners, is always in a style-lag. If you are shopping for travel bags, you are in luck: There is still plenty of so-naff-it’s-good baggagerie available for purchase, including florals. French Luggage (“the luggage of choice for many celebrities, dignitaries and royalty,” or so the brochure claims) offers two florals: Grey Rose and Paradise. The Grey Rose was prominently featured on Dallas , giving it a high naff factor; but the Paradise collection is, according to the good people at French Luggage, carried by naffazons Jane Pauley and Julie Andrews, plus it’s a much nicer print. I recommend the 29-inch Paradise Pullman ($660); team it with a matching hat box ($535) and shoe case ($570), all available from Crouch & Fitzgerald (400 Madison Avenue, 755-5888). Nobody will rip them off because they are so naff. Plus, you will be ahead of the curve.

For guys who aren’t butch enough to pull off floral luggage but are tired of being asked if they came to fix the Xerox machine–i.e., they have a Tumi wheely–barrel over to Ambassador Luggage (371 Madison Avenue, 972-0965) and pick up a 26-inch International Tweed and Belting Leather woodbox Pullman by Hartmann ($645). Toted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, this “intelligent, handsome and ultra-durable” collection (a brochure again) was designed in 1972 and has that gorgeously dorky Prada aesthetic, but at half the price. Hartmann creative director John Truex was, in the course of the recent company image overhaul, tempted to expunge the Tweed and Belting Leather Collection from the Hartmann repertoire. “We are introducing tons of new stuff, and I was on the verge of ditching it. Then one day I realized it was totally Burt Reynolds,” said Mr. Truex.

Other patterned luggage you may wish to consider:

Angela Amiri’s Palace Birds Collection. I wonder if Miss Amiri tore down Doris Duke’s living-room curtains in a fit of pique and made travel bags out of them. It sure looks as if she had. This up-market naff is very poofy Palm Beach decorator circa 1973. It’s available at Bloomingdale’s (1000 Third Avenue). Prices range from $335 for a flight satchel to $510 for a large suitcase.

If you are post-irony and just want something inordinately trendy and fabulous, Stephen Sprouse, at Marc Jacobs’ invitation, has defaced the classic Louis Vuitton monogram collection with his 80’s mirror writing. The Graffiti Collection will hit Vuitton stores in April. Fevered fashion freaks are already putting their dibs on the best pieces: the large keepall with silver graffiti ($765) and the hat box with khaki graffiti ($1,730). Carry your airline tickets in the pink-graffitied pochette accessoire ($290; 116 Greene Street, 274-9090).

Less overtly trendy, but trendy nonetheless, is their Capri collection. Richard Lambertson and John Truex (yes, he’s also design director for Hartmann) are two of the most anal-retentive people in fashion, and their Italian-made, detailed-to-buggery luggage and bag collection is a great favorite with the poorly potty-trained (you know who you are). Their Capri collection, however, is uncharacteristically oral. A symphony of Franco/Gallic aesthetics–Gina Lollobrigida meets Hermès–Capri bags are made from water and fade-resistant umbrella fabric ($350 and up at Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Avenue). Celeb schleppers: Sharon Stone, Julianne Moore and Benicio Del Toro, all of whom can be a bit naff sometimes.

During the winter, the steam heat of your apartment can turn your regular moisturizer into a cheesy bacteria ranch. Switch to oils. A massage therapist recently told me that “essential oils will release neuro-receptors through olfaction.” This kind of pseudo-scientific babble is now as common in the massage rooms of New York as an Enya Greatest Hits cassette. Don’t bother refuting it; instead, encourage your masseur to slather on more oil, especially if it’s Weleda.

Founded in 1921 by Rudolf Steiner (that educator and visionary who hated corners on furniture), Weleda is named after “the ancient tradition of Celtic women healers.” (Don’t you love a brochure?) During the winter, I use gallons of the Iris face oil (two ounces for $15) and the Rosemary hair oil (two ounces for $12 at Bigelow Chemists, Calypso, Prema Nolita and the Heaven Day Spa at the Manning Institute, 47 West Street, ninth floor, 422-7604, where Weleda treatments are available exclusively).

Thanks to Weleda, my skin is no longer as dry as a blank’s blank. E-mail a simile to me at sdoonan@aol.com. If yours is the winner, you’ll receive a gift box of Weleda products. The winning simile may or may not be published, contingent on offensiveness.

Speaking of naff, here’s a great tip from Barbi Benton. During the holidays, I was lucky enough to catch an HGTV-featured tour of the ex-bunny and former Hee Haw honey’s inexplicably massive Aspen home. Apart from the sheer size of Barbi’s flashy crib (25,000 square feet, including a muraled disco) the main feature of note is that Barbi has installed mirrored panels on the fronts of all her refrigerators. And Heff’s former ceiling inspector (an Australianism meaning “lover”) had a damn good reason. By confronting herself, mid-lunge, with her own reflection, the mirrors give Barbi that critical opportunity to decide whether she “really needs that snack.” Who says bunnies are dumb?

Barbi’s Yuletide tour brought to mind a scene I once witnessed involving the great–and totally un-naff–Shelley Winters. It was 1983, and the well-upholstered Ms. Winters was perusing the racks of a small store on Melrose. She openly, and with much hilarity, bought herself a size-12 pair of leather pants to “hang on the refrigerator door.”

Though Barbi’s method is clearly the more successful of the two, Shelley’s is infinitely less naff. And she has two Academy Awards on her coffee table and Barbi doesn’t. So there!