Select versatile garments in simple styles.” Seek out “compact, easily maintained fabrics,” and take advantage of “the new breed of wrinkle-resistant, quick-dry materials.”
Packing tips for the savvy traveler circa 1960? Au contraire. That simplistic advice hails from The Packing Book: Secrets of the Carry-on Traveler by Judith Gilford, the fourth edition of which was published in 2006. Yet Gilford’s advice may not be as anachronistic and obvious as it sounds. In fashion today, it seems that everyone is hopping on the comfort-first, packability-minded bandwagon.
To travel at ease, women accustomed to designer clothes have often traded down while flying and returned to their usual wardrobes upon arrival, either breaking out the steamer or succumbing to a four-star hotel’s extortionate laundry services. Such measures were necessary because although clothes designed for in-transit comfort and carefree packing have long been available at outlets like Chico’s and TravelSmith, there have been few, if any, options at the designer level. In fact, the concept of playing to something as mundane as packability was thought to be a pedestrian concern worthy of mockery. Certainly when that early arbiter of the businesswoman’s wardrobe, St. John designer Marie Gray, put forth her “sueded French terry” sweatsuit 13 years ago, it was seen as yet another example of the label’s camp populism.
Terry sweats aside, it seems that Gray was ahead of the fashion curve by airborne miles: These days a number of designers suddenly care desperately not only about how you look—and more important, how you feel—on the plane, but also that once you arrive, you are able to maintain appearances without excessive dewrinkling activity.
Leading the pack: Yves Saint Laurent’s Stefano Pilati and Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz. “I realized the YSL wardrobe was lacking viable options for a modern woman’s travel needs,” says Pilati. His Edition 24 collection, introduced last year, consists of 24 looks designed specifically for the high-flying traveler, with nary a sweatsuit in sight. “Whether it’s a washed cotton safari jacket or silk tunic, the garment must be at once uncomplicated, accessible and luxurious,” Pilati notes. “It should also be adaptable, taking a woman from a boardroom to a cocktail party.”
Of course, it’s improbable that one would choose to venture from jet to fete in the same outfit, even if it were Saint Laurent. Nevertheless, nostalgia for the days when boarding a plane—even if herded into economy—was synonymous with a certain casual glamour is another motivation for creating such clothes. Last year Elbaz, distressed by the precipitous downward slide in style among fellow fliers, was inspired to create a capsule collection of knit travel clothes for Lanvin. (Perhaps Gray’s long-ago promotion of the sweatsuit isn’t so far-fetched, since Elbaz threw a few sleek jogging numbers into his lineup.) “I remember when people used to travel and look amazing; now there are times when I see people who are going onto an airplane, and they look like they are going to a football game,” he says with a sigh. “I try to think about what kind of clothes you can wear on different continents, with different weather, at different times of the day. I always have a lightness in mind. There is really a need now to create clothes that are beautiful, but that are still very, very comfortable.”