With a sleek, Louise Brooks-style bob and clothes that would make any ’60s or ’70s movie siren swoon, fashion designer Trina Turk embodies the retro-chic luxury of her lifestyle brand.
Famous for her use of colors and prints, Turk has created a signature look that is classic but entirely au courant. Her growing empire includes women’s ready-to-wear, a menswear line called Mr. Turk—designed by her husband, Jonathan Skow—and a home-decor collection. Here, Turk gives us her take on travel and her tricks for looking fabulous on the road.
What is your idea of the perfect travel outfit?
The perfect travel outfit is very chic and streamlined, but at the same time comfortable, especially if it’s one of the long-haul flights. I actually have a uniform. I wear skinny pants, usually black, a striped T-shirt and either my trusty safari jacket that has been around the world with me, or a short raincoat, depending upon where I’m going or what time of year it is. And I always carry a cardigan or wrap in my carry-on.
What would we find if we opened your suitcase?
Depending on what the trip was for, you would usually find a mixture of Trina Turk, vintage, and you would find a lot of jewelry. I think that’s one of the best ways to change things up when you’re traveling, and I usually bring a lot—not precious jewelry, just costume stuff.
You’re packing for a three-day business trip using only a carry-on. What is your strategy?
For a three-day business trip, I’d have a skinny black pant, blouses in different─and probably really bright─colors, and maybe a sweater and a jacket, and then I’d mix that around.
When choosing shoes for travel, how do you bridge the gap between style and comfort?
That’s the hardest thing for me to edit because if I’m going out at night, I want to wear a heel and I want to wear something cool. I go to New York a lot for work, and so during the day, running around from appointment to appointment, a flat shoe is a great thing, but I’m one of those people who might carry shoes around in my bag with me, and slip them off and on. Having a tote bag or a handbag that’s big enough to carry an extra pair of shoes is worth it.
Adaptability is an important part of travel. Do you have any tips on taking an outfit from day to night?
It’s all about jewelry. You could be wearing a simple dress that is totally work-appropriate, and then if you just change your shoe and pile on a bunch of jewelry, it’s going to work in the evening. Jewelry is very important, which is why I bring a lot with me when I travel.
What do you most enjoy about arriving in a new destination?
As old-fashioned as it may be, I love to get a map from the concierge—an old-fashioned paper map─and actually figure out where I am in the city, check out the lay of the land, and plot out what I’d like to do on there and how I’m going to accomplish that. If it’s a work trip, I’m a little less organized about it, but if it’s a trip for pleasure, I always do that.
What do you shop for when you’re on the road?
I actually shop a lot when I travel. I will buy anything, anywhere. I’ve shipped many things home from different places. One of my favorite things is—in Paris, once, we bought this really amazing hand-worked dining room table and chairs. It actually had four chairs and a bench, and we had it shipped. I think it’s gorgeous. I love that table.
Of course, jewelry is always at the top of my list. And that’s something that’s great to buy anywhere because it’s small and you don’t have to worry about figuring out how to ship it home. Definitely when you’re in places like Greece, Morocco or India—places that have more of a jewelry culture—you can find things that really represent the essence of the place that you’re visiting.
Like everybody else who goes to Morocco, I’ve bought rugs there. Before I started my company I was traveling a lot as a designer, working for another company. I bought a portrait painting of a woman at a flea market in Amsterdam. Amsterdam happened to be the first stop on our trip, and from there we went to Paris, Milan, Bombay, Bangalore and Hong Kong. And I’d been carrying this painting with me on all these different flights and people were really nice and let me slide it behind the seats, like in the last row of business class, so I carried this painting around the entire world and it got home safely.
Where is that painting now?
It’s actually in storage now. It’s not hanging on a wall, I’m sorry to say. I don’t know if I can ever get rid of if after schlepping it around the world!
Where and how do you find creative inspiration when you travel?
I can find creative inspiration anywhere. I think all you have to do is open your eyes and observe what’s going on around you. It can be something literal like a great look that you see somebody wearing on the street, but color combinations, architecture, museum. Anything can be inspiring.
Describe your dream vacation. What will you wear there?
My dream vacation would be equal parts of relaxation, catching up on reading and exploration of sites I’ve never seen before. I’m not the kind of person that can really go and lie on a beach for a week. I get very restless. And so, for me, the ideal vacation is half and half.
In terms of what I would wear, I guess things that I love and things that I look great in. I have a huge collection of vintage caftan-y things that are always fun to take on a beach vacation, but they’re not good for sightseeing in. My trusty safari jacket that I referred to before has literally gone so many places with me, and it’s a vintage Army-issue jacket. It has a lot of pockets and I just love that jacket. That’s my favorite thing to wear while sightseeing.
I got it at the Rose Bowl Flea Market [in Pasadena, Ca.] and I’ve literally had it for 20 years. It recently started to fall apart in the collar and the cuffs, and I found another one which wasn’t my size, but it was exactly the same jacket, and so I had my sample makers take the collar and cuffs off the one and put them on the one that actually fit me. It’s been refreshed! It has a label inside that says it’s a standard U.S. Army issue. It’s probably from the ’60s and I’m sure that there were many of them made, and I’ve always been on the lookout for them, but I just have never been able to find another one in the right size.
How much room do you leave for new purchases?
I have started to carry an extra bag with me. I try not to check luggage, ever. But if I’m in a particular situation where there’s something fabulous that I must have, I have a nylon American Apparel bag that folds up really small, and I bring that with me. So if there is something I must have, then I might have to break down and check it on the way back. I’ve never checked anything on the out-going flight though!
If you could impart one piece of fashion wisdom to travelers, what would it be?
Don’t take as much as you think you need to take. Packing light is a bit of a cliché, but it’s kind of true. I feel I’m a pretty experienced traveler at this point, but I’ll still bring a thing or two that I never wear the entire time that I’m at a particular destination. The whole thing of laying out every single thing that you’re planning on putting in the suitcase before you actually start putting it in the suitcase is worth doing because then it leaves you room for something that you buy at your destination.