Wanderlusts: Paule Ka Designer Alithia Spuri-Zampetti on Greece, Portugal, and Beyond

by Paige Reddinger

Photography: Benjamin Travade

California native Alithia Spuri-Zampetti spends much of her time in Paris, where she designs three collections a season for French label Paule Ka. But whenever possible, she escapes to the idyllic wilds of the Greek isles, coastal retreats in Portugal and Turkey, and the far-flung cities of Asia.

What is your favorite memory of summer as a child?
I was born in San Diego, and every summer my family would travel by car or by boat along the coast of Baja California. In those days, this region was totally wild and there was no tourist infrastructure; you could spot dolphins in the sea, swim in clear blue water with multicolored fish, and find shells of various types on the beach. It was heaven. My fondest memories are of playing with my sister by the enormous ocean waves on the beautiful shore of Cabo San Lucas and eating fresh seafood with my father on the beach.

When you were younger, where did you dream of vacationing? Have you made it there yet?
When I was a teenager, I always dreamed of going to Japan, because I loved Mangas. I made it there only last summer, and it was one of the most enriching trips I have ever experienced.

Have your travels inspired your collections?
My trip to Japan inspired my entire S/S 17 collection. The colorful sculptures from Niki de St. Phalle, emerging from an uncontaminated wild green site on the island of Naoshima, were the inspiration for the setting of the show, where color-soaked garments were suspended in a magical forest. The purity of the Ryue Nishizawa open gallery in the island of Teshima resulted in the white tailoring looks that opened the show. And finally, the floating Torii of the island of Miyajima inspired the setting of the S/S 17 advertising campaign, where we re-created a Japanese summer dream: a stylized bamboo forest reflected into water at sunrise with the photographer Miles Aldridge.

What is the most unforgettable vacation you have taken?
I’ve greatly enjoyed discovering deserted beaches with my Greek designer friend, Angelos Bratis. He knows all the Greek islands by heart, and with him, I have discovered the most remote islands that have yet to be invaded by tourism and that are still flourishing with wild agriculture. A true dream! We lived for two weeks like we were still in Ancient Greece—white beaches, rural accommodation, simple food…it was only us and the gods.

What destination is on your bucket list?

What is your preferred method of R&R?
I’m not a fan of the beach only type of vacation—I get bored after a few days. I prefer moving from place to place, mixing sightseeing with relaxation. I target an area of interest, and then I move around it. For example, I recently did a road-trip around Portugal: Porto, Lisbon, and Sintra for the cultural side; and then the Algarve region to discover the seaside. I did the same when I visited the Turkish coast by boat; it’s great to swim in a different bay each day and to visit the cities—and the restaurants!—in the evenings.

Have you been to the Hamptons? If so, what did you think?
I’ve never been to the Hamptons, but I would love to, especially after watching the TV series Revenge!

Are there any French equivalents to the Hamptons?
Yes, Honfleur and Trouville.

What are considered to be the chicest French escapes by locals?
The Côte-d’Azur is definitely one of the chicest coasts in France—Nice, Cannes, and St. Tropez are the most popular destinations for the international jet set.Parisians, though, prefer the Île-de-Ré or Cap Ferret on the Atlantic sea.

Which one is a well-kept secret?
On the Brittany French coast, there is a small village called Cancale. On the seaside of this village, there is an “oyster park” along the beach. This means that you can sunbathe while eating fresh oysters and tasting artisanal beers from the region.

Who do you bring with you when you travel?
My boyfriend, Filippo.

What do you bring?
I bring cotton clothes, like shirtdresses and caftans, for the beach and the heat, and pants and jackets with a lot of pockets for sightseeing. I don’t like carrying bags or heavy suitcases when I travel. I select the necessary essentials at departure—sandals, bathing suit, sunglasses, a good book, and camera—and buy the rest on the spot.

What do you like to cook in the summer?
My favorite summer dish is pasta alla checca, a cold pasta dish prepared with fresh tomato, basil, and cubes of mozzarella, with a bit of garlic olive oil.

Any crazy travel adventures you care to share?
When I was younger, my family took me on a road trip in the Gobi desert in Mongolia. The trip started in Ulaanbaatar, where we found an abandoned kitten. We adore cats and didn’t want to leave it on the street, so we decided to take it with us on the trip. It was so unexpected to travel with a kitten—it would sleep on my lap when the car was moving, and it would chase the scary insects that populated our tents at night! It was a unique holiday that I will never forget. At the end of the trip we left the kitten with Ana, our lovely guide.

What are some of your favorite discoveries on your travels?
I am particularly in love with Asia. Some of my best discoveries are the vintage kimonos at the market  in Kyoto, the painted havelis in Rajasthan, and the flower mosaics of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Favorite souvenir?
A jar of pink sand from the pink beach in Sardinia.

If you could travel the world with someone, who would it be?
A travel journalist who reviews hotels, so I would experience and enjoy all that the best hotels can offer around the world!

Who would you invite to your summer house?
My ballet instructor. I would love to practice ballet when my mind is completely free.

How do you unwind after Fashion Week?
Looking at pictures of remote places on Google probably! Unfortunately, there is no time for me to have a break between seasons because we produce three collections each season, but I look forward to the summer holiday.

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