Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Weekend FT: Traveling light

Layering is the travel trick
February 18 2006

February in New York. Grey skies, snow and wind so fierce it snaps your umbrella like kindling. Last week I saw a squirrel blown out of a tree by a freezing gust. No wonder, when a friend's invitation to a wedding in Sydney arrived in October, I pulled out my suitcase without thinking twice. Never mind the 24-hour flight, warmth was all that mattered. It took a while for the other flip-flop to drop.

Everyone in New York or London wants to go somewhere sunny in February, but what you don't want to deal with is the issue of what to wear. Sure, packing for a resort is a breeze - you just don a bikini and a sarong. But if you are travelling to a country with opposite seasons and have an itinerary that includes a wedding, work and visiting family and friends, what to pack? Especially if the destination, like Sydney, is having such a heatwave that even residents won't venture to the beach?

Although I flee the Manhattan winter each year for Australia, packing the right wardrobe never gets easier. It seems simple but is not. Beyond the idea of light clothing, I am at a loss. Would my silk chiffon pale grey dress work for the wedding? Would it look less "goddess" and more gritty in Sydney than in New York? I was unsure so I weighed up an eye-catching, floral Pucci dress. Then, I recalled a friend who went to a wedding in London wearing a turquoise halter, gold taffeta skirt, turquoise, gold shawl and strappy, gold Jimmy Choos.

"My New York autumn get-up, which would have been perfect at the Pierre, was not in sync with very simple suits and plain hats at awedding at a Regent's Park church," she said. Nor did she fare well walking on cobbled, wet and rainy streets in stiletto heels. Still, some hemisphere-traveller, somewhere, must know what they are doing.

Someone, for example, such as Gail Elliott, the New York-based British designer and former model who splits her time between New York and Sydney, not to mention Costa Rica, Hawaii and Malibu.

"I pack lightly and travel with the staples," Elliott says. "Jeans, boots and then layer." She favours tailored clothes, such as a smart jacket for meetings or events such as New York and London fashion week, and easy silk separates. Her 2006 spring collection will featurea pure silk "gypsy peasant dress" designed with travel in mind: rollit up, pack and, on arrival, steam when showering to freshen up the silk.

Layering is also a pet trick of Vera Wang, the designer best known for bridal wear. "You can create multiple looks depending on your mood and the weather," she says. Wang says leggings can do triple duty: on the plane, sightseeing and under a coat at night. And "a black shift dress or a fabulous skirt can transform any look from day to evening. Pack tissue-thin layers of cashmere and silk separates and accessorise with a gold bracelet."

When travelling to the European fashion shows, Kate Lanphear, a stylist in New York, wears silk-look thermals under pretty dresses. "Accessories weigh you down so I pack only the best of the best - an amazing pair of boots that can look gorgeous with skirts, dresses and jeans," she says. She also likes to buy clothes overseas to take home to New York. In Sydney, she buys select Australian designers including Scanlan & Theodore, Marnie Skillings and Josh Goot.

"If you can't get it into a nice Goyard bag overhead, then forget it," says Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York. He says that even if it is snowing when he departs New York, he will leave his coat at home and wear just a woolly hat and scarf to the airport.

But wouldn't this overhead-only rule be a problem for those, for instance, attending a wedding overseas? "Wear the wedding outfit on the plane and take an extra pair of undies," says Doonan. "It's nice to see people glamorously attired on planes. Jeans topped with a glamorous Zandra Rhodes chiffon top or a Balenciaga jacket could work." It certainly could get you an upgrade. And isn't arriving in high style half the battle?