City in a Suitcase: Harry Allen Shares a Slice of NYC’s Culture

Our City in a Suitcase series takes a closer look at the art, design and architecture through the eyes of four international cities and creatives who live and work in them. Each will pack a TUMI 19 degree suitcase full of items that they feel best represent their city’s culture. Take a look:

11.17.16 | By
City in a Suitcase: Harry Allen Shares a Slice of NYC’s Culture


New York City might just be 305 square miles, but with well over 8.5 million people, it packs a really big punch with the most diverse offerings one could ever imagine. From art, finance, fashion, media, education, culture, and design, the metropolitan hub is where many people imagine finding their dreams, and one of those people is Harry Allen. The New Jersey native landed in NYC after graduating from college to attend Pratt Institute, where he earned a Masters in Industrial Design. He set up shop in the city in 1993 and has been calling the East Village home since buying a building there in 1998. While the neighborhood is vastly different from its earlier days, it’s still home to an eclectic, dynamic, and occasionally gritty vibe that is a constant source of inspiration. Over the years, Harry has been designing an extensive roster of modern interiors, products, lighting, and furniture, all while the businesses and the people have been growing and expanding around him.




We visited Harry in his East Village studio to to talk about how the city, and particularly his neighborhood, has changed throughout the years and how that evolution has affected his design:

Since not all of us can live and be submerged with all that NYC has to offer, Harry gives us a visual tour of NYC through an eclectic mix of goods he chose to pack in his TUMI suitcase. His picks show the bond that carries through the city’s design community where they all feel the importance of sticking together and supporting one another. While there’s an overwhelming (in a good way!) amount of creative selections that Harry could have included, he curated a tiny fraction of what’s actually available to purchase locally, along with a couple of his own designs:


Here is Harry’s packing list and a little bit about why he chose them:

“New Yorkers for Hilary” T Shirt by Original Champions of Design
I love the simple graphics and san-serif typeface. Take note of the “left justification” — not sure if it is an intentional commentary on the Democratic platform or just nice to look at. OCD did all of the graphics for the Hillary Clinton Campaign and I think they are genius — not what you normally see on the campaign trail. I like the clear message and of course I am behind the candidate 100%.

Babel Blocks by husband and wife duo, Boym Partners
A souvenir of NYC designed by the duo who brought you the Buildings of Disaster series. Their play on the concept of a souvenir is fun and functional — how many other products make you remember a time and place. In this series they depict some of the ethnic and religious groups that make up NYC — and that is what makes NYC great, not the Empire State building or Statue of Liberty (although they are fun to go see).


Bang Bottle by Harry Allen
I designed this bottle for Marc Jacobs in 2010. Conceived in NYC, the collaboration with the Marc Jacobs brand is signature NYC, but it was a much bigger hit in Europe. Just the other day a friend for London exclaimed, “You designed that bottle? It’s in all my friends’ bathrooms!”

Balance Pipe
Designed by Jamie Wolfond for Tetra and bought at Coming Soon – All based here in NYC. I love its form and the simplicity of material — borosilicate glass. Tetra is an amazing new retailer aimed at “elevating the smoking” experience,” and New Yorkers are certainly smoking again as one can tell by the smell on every side street.

Meg Franklin Still Life
Meg Franklin is one of my favorite young painters in NYC. She paints things that catch her eye — artfully arranged and abstracted — so they are familiar, yet unrecognizable. Like memories.


Turtle Box
After my success with the “Bank in the Form of a Pig” Areaware asked for more animals and the Turtle Box was born. Cast from an Eastern box turtle, it reminds me of my childhood in nearby NJ. I was obsessed with turtles and a box turtle was a rare and exciting find in the woods. Before the Dutch came, Box turtles probably roamed Manhattan Island. In any event, it was conceived in NYC and it fit nicely in the new TUMI bag!

Brooklyn Bridge T Shirt
My search for locally made clothing led me to Brooklyn Industries. Everything has a NYC vibe and I fell in love with this t shirt with a hand drawn image of the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought, “I’d wear that.”

Dog Mask
They have a great selection of well-designed impulse buys at Project No. 8, the gift store at the Ace Hotel. I bought this dog mask for my niece, Alba, for her 8th birthday. It looks like her dog, Lemmy, and I loved the low-tech, high-impact blue stitched eyes. Nice on the wall or for Halloween!

ICO Bottle Opener
Designed by NYC designers, Fort Standard, and digitally printed LOCALLY! Cool concept — manufactured on demand by OTHR.

Design The Life You Love by Ayse Birsel
This book was written by my schoolmate and NYC based industrial designer, Ayse Birsel. She took her design thinking and applied it to life. Design thinking can help solve many problems, so why not apply it to personal goals. The book is beautifully designed and illustrated with Ayse’s signature sketches.


Hamilton Playbill
Hamilton is a cultural phenomenon in New York City. I saw it twice. I wish I could design something that was as complex a mash-up as this musical.

Taylor Mac at St Ann’s Warehouse
Another amazing cultural hybrid, I saw three installments of Mr. Mac’s “A 24 Decade History of Popular Music.” Nine decades in total, and they were all at one time or another thought-provoking, hilarious, insane, ironic, beautiful, ugly, etc etc. He is extremely talented and the consummate New Yorker.

Calvin Klein Underwear
I included Calvin Klein underwear in my bag for a few reasons. First of all because Calvin Klein is a NYC icon, and although his design influence extended to many areas, the reinvention of underwear for men has to be one of his greatest accomplishments (and biggest moneymakers). I can only dream of designing something that makes people feel so sexy!

Manus x Machina Exhibition Catalogue
The greatest show of the summer this year was a review of fashion that focused on fashion in the age of technology. It was mind expanding. The catalogue is a beautiful document also.

Where are some of your favorite places to shop for local art and design in NYC?

This post is in partnership with TUMI. Our partners are hand-picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.

Caroline Williamson is Editorial Director of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.