In the art of packing, as so often in life, you learn through your mistakes. And I have made a few. My career to date has been an extended, fully immersive practical and rigorous examination in the art of the suitcase. I’m talking high-stakes, PhD-level packing. The kind of packing that will see you right when New York fashion week outfits need to contend with blizzards (par for the course in February) or hurricanes (commonplace in September). The kind that won’t let you down when you get an unexpected call in your Milan hotel room to say that Donatella Versace is hosting Jennifer Lopez’s wedding, and do you want to come to Lake Como, like, now? In the course of a decade and a half in fashion, the two practical life skills I have notched up are, first, being able to assemble a filling and balanced meal representative of all the major food groups from a tray of canapes, even while that tray is moving; second, how to pack.
Rule 1: forget about packing light
I don’t trust people who pack light. They are smug gits, and selfish with it. Those hand luggage-only types, who look on patronisingly while you check in your case, only to get through security and insist on spending the time that you had earmarked for cava looking for sandals in Accessorize when it occurs to them that they might actually be hot in trainers after all. Then, once you have arrived at your destination, they realise they have forgotten to charge their Kindle, and swipe your new Arundhati Roy. However, this is not carte blanche to stuff a suitcase. I consider my packing a failure if, on returning home, I unpack anything that I didn’t wear (except the in-case-of-bad-weather waterproof). I am hardcore about this, mainly because I hate ironing with an absolute passion, so clothes that haven’t been worn but need ironing again fill me with horror. Don’t pack light – pack clever.
Rule 2: the most important part of your holiday wardrobe is your suitcase
Let’s face it: most luggage is inexplicably ugly. Pulling your suitcase out from under the bed is as potent a moment in the holiday ritual as putting your out of office on, so I don’t get why the aesthetic ambition of most would make a chest freezer look streamlined. The new Away brand is not as glam as Goyard (sometimes I walk past the label’s Mount Street store and contemplate giving it my house in part exchange for a suitcase), but it is chic and streamlined. And at £225 for a case, it’s about a hundredth of the price. Plus, the built-in battery and USB cable for charging your phone is actual genius, allowing you to hit the ground Instagramming.
Rule 3: pack two days in advance
Although I have no intention of ceding the moral high ground to the toothbrush-and-sarong brigade, I acknowledge the ignominy – not to mention the expense – of a case that gets slapped with the HEAVY sticker at check-in. As a recovering over-packer, I have found that the best preventative technique is a cool-down period. Instead of packing the night before you leave, let the edit percolate, revisit it after 24 hours and you will realise that the bandeau dress you bought in a sale the year before last but have never worn needs to go to the charity shop, not the beach.
Rule 4: wire hangers and dry-cleaner bags are your friend
We ironing-phobes are expert at transporting clothes uncreased. Jeans, sweatshirts, running leggings can be folded. T-shirts, knitwear can be rolled. Anything in danger of creasing up – dresses, shirts – goes on wire hangers. Pull one of those plastic bags from the dry cleaners over the top of the bundle. Do not pack this the night before. Leave it hanging up somewhere you definitely won’t forget it – I go with behind the front door – until you are ready to leave. Then fold in half or in three as necessary for the size of the case, and pack. Take it out the minute you arrive, shake and hang up.
Rule 5: think about what you will want to wear
Sounds obvious, but this is where many people go wrong. We have a drawer of “holiday clothes”, which are there because they are colours that work with a tan, or because there is no other opportunity to wear that mini kaftan with the pom-pom trim. Forget that drawer. Instead, think about waking up on holiday, and what you will most want to wear, and pack that. So if you are going on a villa holiday with friends and you have small children who get up early, it might be that you need nice pyjama bottoms and T-shirts for the dawn shift, swimwear and denim cutoffs for the beach, and then a couple of really nice maxi dresses that make you feel glamorous and protect your ankles from unglamorous mosquito bites, for the post-tea bath/bed bit. So pack four of each of those outfits.
Rule 6: don’t be too sensible
There is no such thing as overdressed on holiday. Who says you can’t wear a party dress as a beach cover up if you want to? Take your absolute favourite clothes, the ones that bring you maximum happiness – whether that’s beaten-up old shorts or sequinned finery.
Rule 7: avoid the high-heel trap
Packing gets really boring, what with finding the right adaptors and debating whether to take the hairdryer and counting out knickers and remembering to screw the top on the shampoo bottle properly. So at some point you start lobbing in any old tat, telling yourself that you can always dress it up with a pair of shoes. Do not do this. One pair of mid-height block or wedge heels – three inches max – is all you should take. If an outfit won’t look great with these shoes, it’s not coming on holiday. Add one pair of flat sandals and one pair of loafers or trainers.
Rule 8: ignore other people’s packing rules
For instance: every “my suitcase” feature I have ever read talks about packing scented candles. What is with that? It baffles me. Why would you sit inside sniffing a candle when you could be outside with the scent of barbecue? Other people’s rules make no sense. Make your own.
My five suitcase essentials
A black kaftan
Black looks great on holiday. The pull-on-over-your-bikini garment is crucial. It should cover your shoulders, and not be too short. Mine is ancient and the brand I bought it from doesn’t seem to exist any more. If I were to lose it, I would buy this one from Seafolly.
I have worn these shoes at least three days a week since I got them in the spring. They go with everything and are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. I will be wearing them to the airport.
The perfect swimsuit
Expensive, yes. But I actually think this swimsuit, ideally worn with a pair of large diamond stud earrings, might be the most elegant outfit it would be possible to wear.
2017 is a vintage year for the holiday earring. A swishy, gelato-coloured silky chandelier is the only elevator-item your suitcase needs.
On holiday, my after-dark dress code revolves around my ankles not becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet for the local mosquitoes. These trousers have a “Gwyneth Paltrow at a clam bake” thing going on, which adds an aspirational gloss to what is effectively an insect repellent.