To go with the generous boutique-hotel glut represented by our recent South-East Asia hotel guide, and the joyous bounty of new Asia-Pacific destinations made Smith by our office in Melbourne, we’ve resolved to bring you more news and views from the other side of the globe (or, from your side, if you’re reading this in Bangkok, or Sydney, or similar).
So, to kick things off, we tracked down Jo Soh, the super-stylish Singapore-based fashion designer behind womenswear label Hansel (named after her Jack Russell. Not Hansel in Zoolander). Her retro-cool dress designs are a bit 40s, a bit 70s, and very feminine, and are worn by fashion fire-starters from ninja-schoolgirl-playing actress Chiaka Kuriyama (of Kill Bill fame) to MTV VJ Ruby Rose.
What first inspired you to become a designer?
I have always had a keen interest in creative, artistic pursuits and was completely absorbed in drawing, painting and crafts. I’ve always believed in exploring my natural talents and seeing where they would take me; hence it was a pretty clear decision at age 12 to choose design – specifically fashion design, because of the influence I had from my very fashionable mother. She had a large wardrobe and was always experimenting with her looks; she also showed me the significance of one’s appearance in society.
Which other designers or artists do you admire?
The designers I admire the most are the anonymous designers who created the essential things in our daily lives that we take for granted: the screws, the cups, the forks… My personal favourite artists include Mark Rothko, David Shrigley and Barry McGee.
Your A/W10 collection Lily the Lady featured soft tailoring, a retro vibe and ladylike layering (we’re loving your lace-collared blouses and kimono shirt-dresses); what’s on your mood board for S/S11?
‘The Geometric Swan’ will be gliding into Hansel’s world in February 2011! It does what it says on the tin – Hansel’s S/S11 collection will feature a whimsical swan motif (pictured right) on fabric and jewellery, along with plenty of ruffles, gathers and other fluttering feather-like shapes. February 2011 will also see the launch of a mini capsule range of our new casualwear line, Hello Hansel. Where the main line features pieces suitable for work and dressier items such as cocktail dresses, Hello Hansel will be weekend wear in bright and cheerful colours and bold prints.
If you could dress any woman, who would it be? What would you create for her?
I would love to dress Audrey Tatou: she is such a classic beauty – she comes across as being elegant yet whimsical at the same time. I think most of the pieces from Hansel would suit her quite well.
Tell us about your corner of the world: where do you live and what do you love most about it?
I live in a comfortable condominium in the west side of Singapore. At the weekend, I love my cool dips in the pool in the hot midday sun, staring up at the bright blue skies. Those are the moments when I really appreciate living in the tropics.
Describe your ideal weekend away…
At the moment, because I have been working 24/7, I dream of staying on a yacht: lying in the sun, reading a book, snorkelling, swimming around islands, eating seafood and lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and just generally doing nothing much.
You reviewed the Anantara Phuket Resort & Spa for Mr & Mrs Smiths new South-East Asia boutique hotel guide: assuming this is now your favourite new place to stay(!), what’s your second-favourite hotel?
I enjoyed my stay at The Houben on Koh Lanta: located on a quiet, less developed stretch of the island, the hotel itself is hip, cool and contemporary, yet its service was warm and personal – more like something you would get at a cosy B&B.
Where’s next on your holiday wish-list?
Mexico City: I’m planning to visit together with a Mexican friend of mine who is curating an exhibition at the Frida Kahlo Museum. I can’t wait!
Oh, you should check out our hotel picks there, Hotel Habita and Condesa DF. Speaking of hotel stays: what’s the first thing you check out when you’ve checked into a hotel?
Aha! Up until now, this is something that only my travel partner knows that I do all the time: I enter the hotel room, dump my bags at the door, run and then leap (face down, arms and legs spread out) straight into the pillows and test the soft fluffiness of the bed. Only then will I get up and do some unpacking and decide what next to do. It’s childish, I know… but what fun!
In a perfect world, who would be your ideal travel companion (aside from your Jack Russell, Hansel, of course)?
Travel-show host Ian Wright – I think he would make a fun, adventurous travel partner.
What do you never leave home without?
They are literally the things that I tick off my fingers each time I leave home: ‘Cash, cards, keys, phone, lip balm and camera.’
And where’s the most romantic place you’ve ever been with a partner?
I’d have to say Anantara Phuket was definitely the most romantic place we’ve spent time in by far!
Watch this space for Jo Soh’s secret travel address book, plus lots more insider tips and Asian destination inspiration…