Will’s recent experience with air travel reminded me that for a long time I’d wanted to write a piece on travelling not in style, but with a minimum of the suffering inherent in modern air travel. Times are far advanced from Cecil Beaton’s lament, included in his “unexpurgated” 1960s diaries edited by Hugo Vickers, whose name on a book is a promise of a guiltily bitchy good time:
The inconvenience of travel in the past was a somewhat long drawn-out affair that could easily be borne. There were not the appalling moments of panic, despair and physical discomfort that we put up with today.
And that was before DB Cooper and hijackings to Entebbe and underpants bombers and mouthwash terrorists, backscattering and random searches of toddlers, airline deregulation and SkyMall, inflight charges for Au Bon Pain sandwiches, the suicide-inducing sameness of Marriott Courtyards and Hotels Ibis, the ghastliness of “business” chain hotels with concierge levels (but they pronounce it “kawn-see-ay”) and obligatory chocolates on the pillow, the corporatizing and Disneyfication of the creaky old palaces that had become bywords for bygone luxury and service…
Travel is still a luxury, but luxury has become elusive in travel. However, this is not going to become a Tyler Brûlé-style column lamenting how international first class in certain carriers means a freezer-burned Ben & Jerry’s sundae bar. Suffice it to say that now as with then, even the most luxurious surroundings are no substitute for the intangible comforts of one’s home and the solace of one’s loved ones.
There have been many attempts to invent the ultimate travel accessory: something that either minimizes the torment of travel or that brings back what one misses about home. I give high marks to the Handpresso, a little device that allows one to brew a cup of strong coffee with nothing more than some hot water, elbow grease and some ground espresso. A few high-profile designers always mention bringing a favorite travel candle with them to burn in their hotel rooms, but that brings back unfortunate memories of a wax-dripping candle on a spike in my room at the Royalton years ago.
More than inflatable neck pillows or noise-cancelling headphones, the frame pictured brings me solace. Simple and small enough for snapshots, easily portable. Travel frames ought to be more available than they are – in contrast to today’s omnipresent electronic accessories, there is a pleasing low-tech permanence to something I can simply take out, unfold, and gaze at whenever I wish to be reminded of those I care most about, regardless of voltage, charge or WiFi connection. This particular frame was made to order for me by Aubercy, the family-owned French shoemakers whose shop has been near the Paris stock exchange since the 1930s. The third generation of the family, the genial and passionate Xavier Aubercy, has kept the Aubercy brand relevant with a variety of creative shoe designs, executed to a very high standard by Enzo Bonafe in Italy. However, in addition to their ready-to-wear and made-to-order shoes, Aubercy also offers excellent custom leathergoods handmade in France and in Italy. Some may carp that Aubercy simply subcontracts to (talented) external craftsmen. However, with a little experience I’ve learned to value a few addresses like Aubercy that can reliably supply the best, whether made in-house or not, rather than engage in expensive trial and error.
This is especially the case with shagreen (in French galuchat, named for the artisan who first realized that stingray skins were useful for other purposes besides sanding furniture). Shagreen is generally a very stiff material that is hard to work, which is why many makers refuse to, while others who try may not be able to deliver on their promise. Aubercy also offers shoes in it, but even I wouldn’t dare. Mme Aubercy was happy to have this frame made for me in shagreen (stingray) from Roggwiller, a leading exotic leather supplier now controlled by Hermès. (The stingray that shagreen is made from is not listed in CITES.) The result is exquisitely well done, a momentary material pleasure in contemplating my personal loves.
This has travelled with me for the last five years wherever I’ve gone, a succession of longitudes and latitudes in shelters of varying degrees of quirkiness and pretension. The photo is of a little hellion, an eager little monster, a barking breath of home.