Style: Pulse: Interview with a Travel Accessories Designer
Interview with a Travel Accessories Designer
For the organized traveler, few things are as satisfying as well-packed luggage. No one feels more strongly about this than Stephanie Johnson, a self-dubbed “order-obsessed modernist and traveling anthropologist”, who spent years traveling with (in her opinion) sub-par bags. While her clothes, accessories, and even most of her chosen hotels were stylish and simplified, Stephanie never felt her travel accessories were as useful or chic as they could be. And so the concept of Stephanie Johnson Bags—for toiletries, cosmetics and anything else a girl needs to travel in style—was born. (www.stephaniejohnson.com)
These days, travelistas around the globe rejoice in the varying shapes, sizes, patterns and colors available in SJ bags. Indagare spoke with the chic and curious traveler about her favorite destinations, trip souvenirs and her latest endeavor, the SJ’s Style Compass, a travelogue documenting her most memorable voyages and irresistible style.
What inspired you to start the blog SJ’s Style Compass?
I started SJ’s Style Compass partly as a creative outlet and partly to share the inspirations and lifestyle behind the Stephanie Johnson brand. I have always loved travel and the SJ collections are named after destinations I’ve either visited or aspire to go. A travelogue seemed like the next logical step. (www.sjstylecompass.com)
Which destinations have you found most inspiring?
I love Cambodia. Especially at sunrise, Angkor Wat is a truly awesome sight. The entire country is glorious and considering the horrific history they have endured, I was so surprised to find that the Cambodians were among the kindest people I have ever come across. I’m a bit of an Aman Junkie and love that the small properties are committed to immersing guests in local culture. Amansara, the Siem Reap property, picks guests up from the airport in a 1962 Mercedes that was built for King Norodom Sihanook. During a recent trip, they organized excursions to temples by bike and private remork. House lectures, apsara dancing and regional Khmer cooking classes rounded out the local experience.
More locally, I loved my Outstanding in the Field (outstandinginthefield.com) meal at Earthtrine Farms in Ojai, California. Guest chef Rachel Main utilized the farm’s ingredients as well as local seafood. The owner’s ten-acre ‘garden’ included a row of fenugreek planted especially for our table to sit on, fava beans, garlic, orange groves and an acre of herbs including over one hundred varieties of basil. I particularly loved dessert: pudding cake with Meyer lemon and thyme, vanilla bean¬–whipped cream, Earthtrine Pakistani mulberries, honey and Santa Barbara pistachio nut brittle. I so loved this experience, sharing with friends and meeting new ones, and came away with a real desire to eat more ‘farm to table’.
What are your favorite hotels and resorts?
I recently discovered a desert-modernist retreat, Horizon Hotel (1050 East Palm Canyon Drive; 760-323-1858) in Palm Springs. Originally built as a private home by William Cody, it has welcomed many Hollywood guests including Marilyn Monroe. Multiple bungalows and rooms in the main residence are sleek, with white linens and outdoor showers. Kids under 21 are not allowed, so it makes a perfect couples retreat.
This past winter, I brought my three-year-old daughter to The Jalousie Plantation in St. Lucia. Its location, on a beach between the Pitons, was perfect, as was our “Sugar Mill” room. It had a private plunge pool, rooftop deck, and a garden filled with hummingbirds. The room had dark-wood floors, a huge four poster bed with mosquito netting (my daughter called this our ‘princess’ bed) and a large bathroom with luxe Lady Primrose products (a personal fave). The Spa, a tree house in the rainforest, is reachable via winding stairs and swinging bridges and its ‘Quiet Room’ hangs over a stream. All you can hear are the tree frogs and a nearby waterfall.
Where do you dream of traveling next?
I’m hoping to get to Istanbul and tour other parts of Turkey this summer. Sicily is also on my list. And although I’ve been to Africa a few times (South Africa, Malawi and Morocco) I have yet to go on a proper safari. I can think of about a hundred tented camps I’d love to explore.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Listing all of my favorite restaurants worldwide would take a very long time, but here are some highlights. Tel Aviv has some of the most inventive chefs in the world. If you travel there and don’t go to Abu Hassan (18 Shivtai Israel Street; 97 203 682 0387) for masabaha (warm whole chickpea hummus) you’ve missed the best local food experience in Israel. For more creative cuisine I love Abraxas North (40 Lilenblum; 972 035 166 660). More locally, I never tire of Gjelina in my hometown of Venice Beach, where the food is fresh and organic. They serve some of the best salads and pizza I have ever had.
Boucan (The Rabot Estate; 800-757-7132) in St. Lucia serves amazingly delicious food. True to its name, most dishes include cacao in one form or another. I had a tomato gazpacho with finely ground cacao nibs. The micro-green salad had a white chocolate dressing that had me licking the plate.
In London, I usually head to Shepherd’s Market in Mayfair for a ‘bit of Paris’ at Le Boudin Blanc (5 Trebeck Street; 44 (0) 207 499 3292). They make a sublime Coquilles St. Jacques and the atmosphere is old-world divine and cozy.
What are some of your favorite shops around the world?
I always have great luck finding fabulous things at Joyce in Hong Kong. As described by friend and Londoner Chris Connors, ‘Liberty is an eternal place for us Londoners.’ And a must see for us tourists. Each visit brings fantasies of living in London and stopping for everything from fresh cut flowers, to a favorite candle, and anything clad in the eponymous Liberty print. Also in London, Charlotte Olympia is a must for shoes. The shop is adorable and my three-year-old daughter got to place her head inside a giant porcelain cheetah.
Barbara Bui (barbarabui.com) is my Paris staple. I swear I could just order off the mannequin in the window. Head to toe, I love her designs and find them a refreshing departure from the expected. On a recent trip I splurged and bought the most stunning pair of stilettos that manage to be both sexy and classic. Also in Paris, Colette is like shopping an art installation: it is a perfectly edited collection of the season’s best along with great music and gift ideas. I always go there for inspiration. I then love to stroll through the Palais Royal and stop into Corto Moltedo (146-148 Galerie de Valois; 33 01 49 279 791) to look at the cassette laptop clutches, and into Pierre Hardy (pierrehardy.com) for shoes that could be described as art.
What do you never travel without?
I bring a Stephanie Johnson Jenny Train Case for longer trips and a Jumbo Zip in my carry-on bag.
What is your most treasured possession from abroad?
I’m an atypical foreign traveler in that I don’t ship home containers of Balinese furniture or stash Moroccan rugs in overhead bins. Memories are my favorite souvenirs: I take loads of photos and cherish my monogrammed photo albums.— Amelia Osborne 07/26/2012