Courtesy of Derek Lam

Here, how travel inspires four fashion designers, from Amy Smilovic of Tibi to Derek Lam.

August 10, 2011

Monique Péan, Jewelry Designer

Destination: Cartagena, Colombia

Local Color: “I was struck by all the vibrantly painted Spanish-colonial buildings along Cartagena’s winding streets. It is an enchanting city.”

Travel Ethos: “My father worked with the United Nations, so I’m fortunate enough to have visited more than forty countries as a child. Meanwhile, my mother was an artist and would take my sister and me to the local markets. This spurred my interest in indigenous crafts and culture. Today, when I visit a new destination, I immerse myself in everything from the arts scene to the nightlife.”

Favorite Hotel: “In Cartagena we stayed at the Tcherassi Hotel & Spa (doubles from $355), owned by Colombian fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi. Each of the seven rooms reflects her uniquely modern sensibility.”

The Dish: “The Tcherassi Hotel’s restaurant, Vera (57-5/664-4445; dinner for two $100), does an excellent penne arrabbiata with fresh mozzarella. If you’re more in the mood for freshly caught seafood and live Cuban music, go to La Vitrola (Centro Calle Baloco 2-01; 57-5/664-8243; dinner for two $85).”

Island Gem: “We took a trip to Isla Barú, off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and stayed at the eco-friendly Hotel Agua (doubles from $560). On the beach I sketched earrings and necklaces incorporating a naturally shed buffalo horn that I’d discovered through a Bogotá artisans’ cooperative.”

Billy Reid, Fashion Designer

Destination: Florence, Alabama

Vintage Finds:Ye Ole General Store (219 N. Seminary St.; 256/764-0601) is the place to find overalls, hats, and other stock that’s no longer available from old American brands like Carhartt, Pointer, and Duck Head—stuff that my father [pictured with the designer] would wear. He’s a huge source of inspiration for my work.”

Sweet Home Alabama: “The Muscle Shoals area, nearby, is a music mecca. Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, the Stones, and Bob Dylan all cut records here. You can tour the renowned FAME Recording Studios (603 E. Avalon Ave.; 256/381-0801), where so many greats cranked out albums.”

Travel Ethos: “I like to unplug completely but I am always seeking inspiration for my clothing. Florence is filled with ordinary people who exude Southern hospitality and style.”

Luncheonette:Trowbridge’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Bar (lunch for two $9) has been a local favorite since it opened in 1918. I always order the Babysitter: hot dogs with chili and mustard on white-bread toast.”

Favorite Hotel: “The Marriott Shoals (10 Hightower Place; doubles from $157) has a great Tennessee River vista and the best pool in town.”

Amy Smilovic, Owner and Creative Director, TIBI

Destination: Tokyo

Inspiration: “Japanese street fashion is so experimental. The Harajuku girls aren’t afraid of anything—they wear the wildest outfits with confidence. Color is a must. I used a lot of neon accents in my spring collection.”

Top Hotel: “I am such a die-hard Mandarin Oriental (doubles from $485) guest—the service is exceptional. The views of the city from the rooms of the Tokyo tower are incredible.”

Backstory: “I decided to pursue fashion in 1997 when my husband was promoted and we moved to Hong Kong. We lived there for four years, during which I visited Tokyo, too. That’s when I created Tibi.”

Asian Fusion: “The locals love their sushi, but they also love Italian food. At Pasta House AWkitchen (Shin-Marunouchi Bldg., 5F, 1-5-1 Marunouchi; 81-3/5224-8071; dinner for two $135) we had a mint-chip gelato—made tableside with liquid nitrogen—for dessert.”

Bring It Back:“My two boys, Gabe and Charlie, insist that I bring them the latest toys not available in the U.S. Last time it was figurines from a Japanese video game.”

Derek Lam, Fashion Designer

Destination: Bhutan

Travel Ethos: “Spend time in the sacred spots and be open to magical moments.”

Native Charm: “You become aware of the essence of Bhutan the minute you are ushered through immigration. You are treated with kindness and patience by these quiet, dignified people.”

A Place to Rest: “I didn’t exactly rough it the last time I went. I stayed at the Amankora (doubles from $1,400), near Gangtey—one of five rustic-luxe lodges spread out across the central and western valleys. It was one of the only places in the area with electricity. Looking out onto the vast, dark landscape at night was amazing.”

Inspiration: “I stumbled upon a co-op in Thimphu, the capital, where women weave these really unique fabrics using ancient looms. I collect textiles as souvenirs. This time I brought home a very old, embroidered cloth. It became the inspiration for my 2012 resort collection.”

Local Custom: “One must always go around a religious site clockwise. It’s a sign of respect. There are Buddhist shrines everywhere—even along a footpath in the middle of the fields—so stay alert.”

Trowbridge’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Bar

Trowbridge's isn't retro in that faux-Mayberry sort of way. The eight-stool lunch counter where, in 1918, Paul Trowbridge began churning and scooping orange-pineapple ice cream is the real deal. Ask for their trademark egg-and-olive sandwich, and someone will toast it for you in a stainless-steel press. If you order a white-bread banana sandwich, you get a choice of mayo or peanut butter — or both.

Hotel Agua

Stay in this small, stylish, and private hotel complete with frescoed-ceilings. The rooms are filled with dark antiques and soft white bedding. Here you spend most of your time outdoors, either in sitting rooms that open onto the courtyard, or on the rooftop terrace, where the pool has a view of the cathedral tower. A favorite of the fashion set, each of the six bedrooms is decorated with art and Colombian furnishings from the collection of the owners; one has a painting by Botero.

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Located near Tokyo Station in the Mitsui Tower, the Mandarin Oriental rises above the historical merchant district of Nihonbashi—and enjoys unprecedented city views. Inside lies a sophisticated and modern oasis of calm. Hushed public areas complement its 178 understated rooms (including 21 suites), which feature the latest and greatest technology amenities—massive television screens will make you feel like you have your own private theater. The hotel’s exceptional restaurants include authentic Cantonese at Sense and French-inspired food at Signature. But for a unique dining experience, reserve one of the eight seats at the intimate, Tapas Molecular Bar, headed by Jeff Ramsey. In additional to standard treatments, the award-winning on-site spa, with its sauna, steam room, and pools, offers more unusual rituals, including Japanese kiatsu—a technique involving acupressure and energy work, performed in rooms with outstanding vistas. Plan extra spa time for a soak in the power-jet “vitality and tonic” pools after your treatment.

Amankora

A collection of 5 stylish eco-lodges in western and central Bhutan. Guests are provided with a full-time guide and driver. 

Room to Book: You'll stay in five different rooms on your Amankora journey; each is magical in its own way. 

Doubles from $1,400, all-inclusive.

World's Best Service, 95.31, 2010

Tcherassi Hotel & Spa

Colombian designer Silvia Tcherassi converted a Spanish-colonial mansion in the Old City of this walled colonial hot spot into a cool, white-on-white urban escape. The place pops with funky decorative accents (“chandeliers” of interlocking plastic rings; tasseled bedspreads) reminiscent of the texture-intensive accessories from her collections, and inspiration is eclectic and international: the seven rooms and suites are named after fabrics, reflecting Tcherassi’s background in fashion; the 30 spa treatments are based in South American traditions, from the Colombian Coffee Wrap to the warm bamboo massage; and the cuisine at Vera, the in-house restaurant, is haute Italian. Like Tcherassi’s detailed handiwork, service at the hotel is subtle and impeccable.

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