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16 Meaningful Holiday Gifts With Great Backstories

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16 Meaningful Holiday Gifts With Great Backstories
The travel lover in your life will treasure these designer finds—as well as their unique backgrounds.
By Aislyn Greene, AFAR Staff
Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The French Boots With an Alpine Soul
    The very first mountaineering boots were made entirely of leather, down to their not-so-waterproof soles, which were studded with blunt hobnails for traction. Hermès nods to that pioneering footwear with its new calfskin-leather hiking boot, which has lace hooks finished with palladium, a precious metal. The sturdy (and waterproof) rubber lug sole, however, is completely suitable for 21st-century wandering, whether you’re blazing trails on the mountains of Kazakhstan or rambling the streets of New York. Men’s Pyrénées boots in black, $1,650. hermes.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Coolest Wine Keeper of Them All
    Think of this marble cooler as an Italian wine cave for your table. Each piece is made by hand in Italy: The white layers are carved from chunks of a Tuscan marble called arabescato—it’s better known as a type of Carrara marble and often used for countertops—and the black stripes from marquina, a Spanish marble extracted from the Basque town of Markina. The layers are sealed and the cooler fitted with a brass interior and a heavy lid. The end result? A cooler that maintains the chill of a bottle of wine without ice—and acts as a conversation piece as you sip. Coolers D, $650. editionsmilano.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Ski Jacket That Doubles as a Winter Mural
    Moncler, the outdoor apparel company named after an alpine village in France, teamed up with French fashion illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme for a fresh-as-new-snow take on the ski jacket. Using digital printers, Delhomme printed the illustrations on high-tech nylon. But his inspiration was as classic as it gets: He looked to iconic ski destinations, such as St. Moritz in Switzerland and Grenoble in France, and covered the down-filled jacket with pictures of winter goings-on, including the annual nighttime downhill procession by torchlight in Villars-Gryon. $1,695. moncler.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Suitcase That Rolls Like a Ferrari
    Give the gift of airport ease. Tumi’s International Carry-on is an ultralight (11 pounds), hard-case suitcase that meets the carry-on standards of every single major airline. (It’s a perfectly targeted 22 by 14 inches.) But that’s only the beginning. The rippled shell, made from ultra-durable aluminum, was designed to catch the light as you move, without blinding you or your fellow passengers. For frequent travelers, the fully rotating wheels, telescoping handle, and protective bumpers on suitcase soft spots means it travels smart too. Pop the two TSA-friendly locks, and inside you’ll find two mesh pockets (picture built-in packing cubes) and a hanger for suits or other delicate clothing. And that new blue hue? It’s a nod to the skies of New York and tranquil landscapes of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. 19 Degree Aluminum International Carry-On. $995. tumi.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Bookend With a Story to Tell
    Designer Ini Archibong is like a Russian nesting doll of design influence. Born to Nigerian immigrants and raised in Pasadena, California—both elements that contributed to his bold, unconventional style—Archibong worked and lived in Singapore before moving to Basel, Switzerland, in 2016. His ceramic Carlo bookends have an additional layer: They reference art deco and the brutalist aesthetic of Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, whose work was influenced by Japanese design. And while the six-inch-tall bookends look uni-functional, they actually double as pen holders and paperweights. Carlo Bookend, $280 per piece. othr.com

    Books from left to right: Lisbon: Recipes from the Heart of Portugal by Rebecca Seal; Naples and the Amalfi Coast, The Silver Spoon; What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons; The Mountain by Paul Yoon.
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    A New Way to Make American Vinyl Great Again
    It’s no surprise that Shinola’s first audio product, the Runwell Turntable, is a tribute to American manufacturing. To make it happen, the Detroit-based company known for its stylized, neo-retro products reached out to one of the best turntable designers in the country: a father-son duo from New Jersey. The team spent years designing the player, sourcing most of the top-of-the-line components from the United States, including the wood skirt (made from Minnesota white oak) and the player arm (made in Brooklyn). Every turntable is assembled in the new Shinola Audio factory, a 5,100-square-foot space within Shinola’s headquarters, in full view of shoppers. Stay tuned for equally well-crafted headphones, slated for release this winter. Runwell Rose Gold Turntable, $2,500. shinola.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Swiss Watch With Timeless Appeal
    In 1735, in the Swiss watchmaking village of Villeret, a schoolteacher named Jehan-Jacques Blancpain built a small watchmaking studio on the second floor of his farmhouse. Nearly three centuries later, his farmhouse studio has become the world’s oldest outfit of its kind, crafting hundreds of elegant, finely tuned timepieces. But the company’s new Villeret watch echoes the simplicity of the Swiss village for which it’s named. Just shy of a diameter of an Oreo and half as thick, the streamlined timepiece has a black alligator strap and a power reserve of 72 hours (meaning that it can sit on your bedside stand for three days—the watch automatically winds as your arm moves). And no, it won’t tweet for you or measure your heart rate, but the new timepiece indicates the date and day, a precise reminder to stay in the present. Villeret watch, $10,900. blancpain.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Ultimate Bear for the Design Aware
    There’s probably some Maharam hiding in your home, even if you’ve never heard the name. The New York City–based textile behemoth makes high-quality materials that are used in everything from sofa cushions to Nike sneakers. To celebrate its new leather collection, the first in the company’s 115-year history, Maharam partnered with the architectural and design magazine PIN-UP to create a line of teddy bears. Made from loam—cowhide that’s rubbed until it looks matte and feels like velvet—the bears aren’t for the kid in your life but rather for the design-minded grown-up who’s young at heart. Bears available in five different shades (terra-cotta shown here), $385. maharam.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Best Reason to Leave Your Smartphone at Home
    Leica cameras, handcrafted in Wetzlar, Germany, allow obsessive photographers nearly complete control and produce rich, apple-crisp images, but they’re also known to be wildly expensive and not very user friendly. Which is why the new Leica TL2, an all-touch-screen camera, hits a sweet spot. Carved from a single block of aluminum, the camera fits most hands, and there’s not a single button on the back, just an LCD screen roughly the same size as the one on an iPhone 6. Like a phone, the TL2 is chargeable via USB and outfitted with Wi-Fi so you can quickly share images. But the images (and HD video) you can capture with the 24-megapixel camera are far superior to those from any phone—and the price point makes it worth a shot. Leica TL2 camera, $1,950; 18-56mm lens, $1,650. leicacamerausa.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Travel Game Fit for a Queen
    Frank Smythson, creator of the eponymous British accessories brand, loved three things: travel, innovation, and craftsmanship. In 1887, he combined his passions in a shop on London’s Bond Street, where he sold leather travel bags, elegant stationery, and whimsical silver pieces. His wares soon caught the eye of the Royal Household—it ordered stationery for all of the royal residences, including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle—and the brand has maintained imperial ties ever since. Smythson created private stationery with a personal cypher for Princess Diana and is believed to maintain ties to the royal family. This year, the company adds a set of travel dominoes handcrafted from resin, with the pips (black dots) painted by hand, and a brass pin (known as a spinner) at the center of each domino, in a nod to tradition. Once zipped into the slim, wallet-size leather case, the 28-tile set takes up minimal space when tucked into a suitcase. We’re sure Frank Smythson—and the queen—would approve. Mara travel dominoes, $775. smythson.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Clock That’s More Than Just a Pretty Face
    Playful, affordable, and stripped-down but functional, this clock from the Danish interior company Normann Copenhagen perfectly captures the Scandinavian design ethos. Its creator, Sweden-based designer Jonas Wagell, drew on his years in graphic design and his obsession with typography. The clock’s name, Bold, is a reference to bold type that stands out on the page. The steel clock is powder-coated with matte blue paint; its hour and minute hands are painted pastel for a pop of color—an eye-catching way to follow the march of time. Bold Wall Clock in petrol, $75. aplusrstore.com
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    The Best New Way to Get Lit
    From his perch in the Jing’an neighborhood in Shanghai, Paris-born designer Thomas Dariel dreams up ideas for some of China’s best restaurants and clubs. You’d have to go there to see, say, Lady Bund, a fusion restaurant with chandeliers that look like cracked eggshells, created in 2014 by his interior design firm, Dariel Studio. But with the click of a mouse you can deliver an artifact of his East-meets-West style to the design-loving traveler on your list. For his new blue candleholders, made of laminated metal and nearly two feet in height, Dariel drew partial inspiration from the Memphis Group, the Milan-based design organization credited with launching the wacky, Crayola-hued look of the 1980s. Blue candleholders, $755. cappellini.it
    Photo by Amanda Ringstad
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    What’s Next . . .
    Courtesy of Yayoi Kusama. Photo by Tomoaki Makino