Head for heights
From adventure to learning, and from creativity to self-empowerment, four high achievers in the glamorous world's of photography, fashion, lifestyle and luxury recruitment pass on the reasons why they travel, and their favourite destinations to Divia Harilela, contrasting the exotic thrill of their journeys with the comfort of coming home
JOANNE OOI IS not one to rest on her laurels. The ambitious Singaporean boasts an illustrious career that has included revamping lifestyle brand Shanghai Tang, running an art gallery, campaigning for the environment and most recently, becoming CEO of fine jewellery site Plukka.com
Despite her many commitments, travel is always a priority.
"Travel is about learning and being exposed to visual tropes I've never seen before. I choose where I go based on my ability to learn from it, not literally but subconsciously. Exotic aestheticism is also a strong reason. When I say exotic I refer to something which is intriguing, alien, different and aesthetic. That's why Norway is as exotic to me as Ethiopia," she says.
Her quest for learning has taken her to many places including Berlin, Venice, Cambodia, Madrid and her favourite city, Istanbul, which she describes as "exotic but civilised, alien but totally welcoming." One of her most educational experiences was a work trip she made as creative director with Shanghai Tang.
"I visited the Shaolin temple several years ago when the brand was asked to design and trademark their official logo. We had a private audience with the Grand Master and got an inside glimpse of the monastery including solo performances of different styles of kung fu. Amazing," she says.
Most recently she has been seeking inspiration from cultural cities like Vienna.
"The spend on culture is astronomical with huge attention and resources lavished on museums, cultural performances and restoration. That makes for a cultural smorgasbord extraordinaire. I'm constantly influenced by exposure to new forms of material culture and always sending them to our designer at Plukka. A recent example was antique aspic molds from the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna. They were perfect material for a collection of two-finger rings, believe it or not!" she says.
Because of the nature of her job, a large part of her travels usually involves collecting textiles and handmade objects that may serve as ideas for later projects.
Her favourite shopping haunts include the Porte de Clignancourt flea market in Paris and the glittering souks of Marrakesh.
And while vibrant cities seem to have dominated her itinerary of late, there are times that she craves peace and quiet.
"One of my recent most memorable jaunts was to Holkham beach in Norfolk [Southeast England]. I was dumbstruck by the sheer size and lack of people on it. It was like being on the moon almost. I could have walked on it for hours. I love places with no people," she says.
LAURENT SEGRETIER WAS instilled with a nomadic spirit from a young age - he was born in Paris, spent his teenage years in the West Indies and lived in cities including Cannes and Beijing before settling in Hong Kong in 2008.
"Since my childhood, I have always been travelling. It became a lifestyle - even when I was studying, I couldn't stay more than two years in the same city," he says.
It was a trip to Universal Studios and Sea World in Florida at 16 that got him behind the lens for the first time, as a videographer for his family holiday. Soon after he was hooked, and his chosen career as a photographer has led him to interesting places including the Song Zhuang artist village in Beijing, where he spent two months living with famous contemporary Chinese artists including Wu Zhenhuan, Zhang Donghong and Yuan Guolei, sharing their lives and learning about their philosophy.
"Travelling helps me stop thinking about my commercial work and focus on my artwork. Seeing the world more globally and taking distance from everyday struggles makes me realise how small I am and how much I have to learn from others," he says.
Although his current travel schedule is mostly dominated by work - "I choose the destination depending on where I was shooting the week before, combining work with my personal aspirations" - top of his must-visit list are the icy mountains of Iceland and Greenland.
"White has become an obsession recently and I have become more attracted to the winter. The Helsinki School of photography has been producing amazing work the last five years," he says.
His dream holiday though, is a trip to the Sankuru nature reserve in Congo where visitors can live with apes in their natural habitat.
And while he cites Paris as his favourite city for shopping and entertainment, it's his childhood haunt of Marie-Galante that draws him back year after year.
"It's a small island near Guadeloupe where my parents were born. I love going back to my roots, and taking my fiancée with me. It's like time has stopped with the deserted beaches and delicious organic food. It's a welcome break from a city like Hong Kong that never sleeps," he says.
Founder, The Luxe Nomad
FORMER MODEL STEPHANIE Chai loved travelling so much that she decided to make a career out of it by launching luxury travel website, The Luxe Nomad, last year.
"It was really for my friends and me. We are always thinking of where to travel next so the idea of a website with luxe hotels at up to 70 per cent off ... well, what could be better?
"I love travelling because of the possibility of the unknown - new places, new people, new you. I count my blessings that I can hop on a plane every month, because there's no better education than seeing the world," she says.
Naturally, part of her job includes sampling many of the exclusive resorts she features on the site, giving her the opportunity to visit places including Paris, Bali, Phuket, Samui, Bangkok and The Maldives, which remains a favourite because of its "turquoise pool-like water, endless ocean ... exactly as the postcards suggest," she says.
Even though work dictates much of her travel schedule and absorbs most of her time, she is compiling her own must-visit list. It includes Japan, Florence, Bhutan and exotic destinations like Bora Bora and the Seychelles. Personal trips are often her most memorable vacations. In fact her best travel experience to date was not at a five-star resort, but on the plane between Singapore and New Zealand.
"When I was 16, I was heading to Singapore during my summer break and was upgraded to business class where I was sat next to [American rapper] Snoop Doggy Dog! It was a 12-hour flight and in that time we managed to cover his life story. I also hummed one of his songs that turned out wasn't even his! Needless to say I learned never to hum in front of a celebrity again," she says.
And while the Eurasian beauty has lived in many places across the globe - she spent her childhood in Kuching, Sarawak, went to New Zealand for schooling, and flitted around Southeast Asia as a model until she landed in Singapore - it's New York City where she feels most at home.
"Being Eurasian and having split my time between living in the East and West, it's only in New York that I feel like there's no divide between races. Don't get me wrong - cities like Hong Kong and Singapore are very international, but in New York I don't feel like I'm flicked into any specific category. It's light years ahead," she says.
ROBERT WYNNE PARRY has one of the world's most glamorous jobs. The New York-based Welshman is the CEO and founder of Society Staffing, a luxury recruitment and concierge agency that specialises in elite corporate and domestic positions around the world. He has built a celebrity clientele that includes pop and movie stars as well as members of the Forbes 400 list.
"My business has offices in New York, London and Hong Kong. I've lived in all of these cities and I know them well. I regularly visit to find out what's going on. I also travel all over the world visiting clients' properties through my companies. I'm a free spirit, so I love adventure and stepping into the unknown," he says.
Working with the rich and famous has led Parry to some of the world's most exclusive destinations in Capri, St Barths, Saint Tropez, Venice and Harbour Island (a private island off the coast of Connecticut). While luxury yachts and private jets are second nature, there have been hairy moments along the way.
"We once stayed in a huge luxury villa in Bali filled with beautiful antiques and art but it had some open walls with just blinds separating us from the outside. At night, wild dogs and cats drifted through the bedrooms. One evening, a swarm of mating flies congregated in the villa! We were too close to nature," he laughs.
When not taking off to exotic locales on one of his client's Gulfstream jets, he prefers to head home to Wales. This summer he spent a week travelling around in style in the luxe Airstream motorhome which he bought a few years ago.
"I've had so many adventures including glamping [camping in luxurious tents] in Santa Barbara, staying in a teepee on an Indian reservation in Montana and a lighthouse on the Eastern Seaboard. Saying that, I prefer adventures and the Airstream always delivers. This summer I visited the beautiful coastline of the lleyn Peninsula [Wales] in the Airstream," he says.
A Welshman through and through, he reveals his dream destination lies in the depths of Patagonia, where there is a large settlement of Welsh people. "Y Wladfa Gymreig [in the Chubut valley] has always been of interest to me. They speak Welsh and hold fast to Welsh traditions. Besides this, it's a stunning place." Photo: Gwynn Jones