Travel News

Karen Walker: how I travel

The fashion designer on the allure of big old cities, and the power of negative space.

By Harriet Davidson
Fashion designer Karen Walker (Photo: Aaron Burgess)
Just back from…
Four weeks, possibly the longest trip I've ever done, in the US and Canada, launching our collaboration with Madewell in NYC, then holidaying with family in the Hudson Valley, Toronto
and LA.
Next up…
Lots of domestic travel around New Zealand, to great spots I don't normally get to, and then to Shanghai for the first time.
Growing up in Auckland spoilt me in terms of harbours. I set the bar very high. I only really feel comfortable in a city by the sea and feel most at home in cities with a harbour. Auckland is small and relatively young, so when I travel I want to go to cities that are big or have a strong history of architecture, art and culture. London, Paris, Rome, New York – they tick all the boxes.
When I was a child our family travelled once a year, at a time when travel wasn't as accessible as it is now. My father was an early player in the travel industry, opening one of the first travel agencies in New Zealand in the 1950s. I grew up with that love of getting on a plane. Our family trips were never overly intrepid – Australia, the Pacific islands, LA – but they opened my eyes.
My first independent trip was to New York. I was 18 or 19, and it opened up the world in a whole new way. I saw a big city for the first time. It really lit the flame for me – I thought, "wow, I have to do more of this".
As the founder and designer of a fashion label, travelling is a big part of what I enjoy about my job. Media trips, store visits, design meetings and collaborations – I've designed my business, job and career in such a way that I get to travel to places I love and places I've never been.
I always make sure I have a certain amount of dead space during the day when I travel. I like to have two hours built into my itinerary that might be for doing yoga or going to an art gallery. I tire of frantic, non-stop travel so I make sure, for my well-being, that there's time to just breathe.
I'm extremely organised. I like to be comfortable. I'm not intrepid in any way. I'm not a thrillseeker. I'll never go backpacking or stay in hostels. I like to have someone waiting for me at the arrival hall. It's just how I roll.
Good skincare products are something I always pack. It's important when you're in air-conditioning on planes and moving between climates; I use Osmosis Skincare. I also always pack my own little black umbrella – it means I don't have to schlep around an umbrella with the hotel logo on it. That's the best way to stand out, right?
Travel frees my mind. It gives it a bit of elasticity and allows me to think openly. It gives me negative space – sitting in the Koru club lounge, you can gaze into the sky and allow your brain to go into neutral. Or in the back of a car from Heathrow into the city just looking at the landscape. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
The most important thing, especially if you're going to a place again and again, is to stay curious. Curiosity is part of my nature and a very important part of my job. You need to retain that curiosity to find what's new in a city you might have been to a thousand times.
My ideal trip is going to a large, old city with family and catching up with a few good friends along the way – surrounded by culture, beauty and food, and having time to explore without any agenda.
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