Sophie Lee: from here to there ...

in her latest column, THE ACTRESS, author AND mother of three considers Packing for the family holiday to be an art: It requires discipline and boundless creativity, writes sophie lee

Photographs by Carine Thevenau | Makeup by Jaclyn Hnitko 

You would think I’d have family travel down pat by now, having flown Sydney to London with babies and toddlers in tow more times than I care to count, but there’s always room for improvement. Now that my brood are a bit more independent – they have their own backpacks, for which they are solely responsible, and can fasten their own seat belts – I can focus on sharpening my own travel style and packing skills. This includes pondering what the weather may have in store, anticipating what the dress codes might dictate, knowing how to make a silk shirt work five ways and always, always expecting the unexpected.

Traveller's check: above, Lee, in her bedroom, wearing a Zimmermann silk jumpsuit and Céline sandals, with a Louis Vuitton Keepall Bandoulière, Prada tote and her beloved cashmere hat. Bon voyage: main picture top, Lee pictured at home in her library, wears a Rag & Bone shirt with J Brand jeans.

  1. They may not be babies anymore but I find it always helps to have a few items packed in carry-on luggage for emergencies, such as the one that befell us the last time we were travelling throughout the US. We stumbled through two long days of multiple flight cancellations and road closures, ending up starving hungry at a truck stop in the Midwest at midnight. Someone tell me what road-diner-chic is supposed to look like because I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass muster?  I was grateful, however, for the spare underwear and thermals I’d placed in the kids’ backpacks and in my tote before we departed 18 hours prior, so there was at least something fresh the morning we checked out. It sure wasn’t the orange juice or the nicotine-y bedspreads. And as we sucked in the crisp mountain air I found myself grateful, once again, that I’d stowed a giant black scarf in my carry-all.

Do you possess an indispensable wardrobe item you can never travel without? One that is achingly missed if you forget it at home? In my case, it's the aforementioned cashmere scarf that I have had since I was pregnant with baby number one. Yes, I realise these scarfs can be considered naff, and mine is holey too, but I simply don’t care. I feel something like intense loyalty towards this particular hard-working accessory – it's been of such service to our family, it deserves a retirement package and holiday all its own.


Let's get packing: above, Lee's chic travel inventory may include, but will by no means be limited to, a Zimmermann scarf-print dress and bikini, Martin Margiela Untitled fragrance, a Louis Vuitton cosmetic pouch and black envelope clutch, an Astier De Villatte travel journal and green Smythson notebook, Prada earrings and crystal sunglasses, a Nikon camera, a Miu Miu handbag, an assortment of Chanel beauty and an old classic to read aloud: Gerald Durrell's My Family And Other Animals.

It is, in fact, the scarf of a million possibilities. Over the years it has served as a baby wrap on longhaul flights when all others had been puked upon, a modesty cloak while feeding babies in airport lounges during work trips, a sun visor over prams when suffering endless plane changes to get to far-flung destinations, a hood for the stroller, a turban when things turned unexpectedly fabulous and a blanket for my knees when the ones provided by the airline just wouldn’t do. It has also enabled doll picnics and been known to morph into a cape when a pint-sized super hero finds himself wanting in the wardrobe department. Over the years this somewhat unfashionable thing has been left behind in cinemas, parks and cafes but I have always managed to find it – I fear the world would stop turning if this piece of fabric that has swaddled my babies and cheered up motel rooms was misplaced or God forbid, put out with the rubbish.

So the ragged pashmina gets dry-cleaned before every long-haul flight. I won’t repair the holes because they mark it’s character- and hey, don’t the Olsen twins do the same? A trip wouldn’t feel right without it packed in my super-light Rimowa carry-on, along with an iPad (uploaded with magazines), my flattened and folded Céline two-tone tote, my Urban Ears headphones, adaptor, phone charger, white Nikon camera and my book – old fashioned I know, but I like to have something in my hands distracting me during the all-electronic-devices-should-now-be-switched-off phase of the journey. I’m desperately hoping J.K. Rowling a.k.a Robert Galbraith’s next crime installment will hit the shelves of my local bookstore in time.

For inflight, I’m thinking Stella McCartney silk tracksuit pants and my ubiquitous layers of T-shirts with Dries Van Noten v-necks for warmth. My sons both wear J.Crew tracksuit pants and hoodies on board, while my daughter is lucky enough to be the right age to fit into Isabel Marant for H&M; I covet her Smile sweater. I'm also envying her black and white Hershel backpack which will contain her Loom Band kit, a pale grey cashmere beanie, navy J.Crew blazer and her favourite new wardrobe addition, a pair of pink Adidas hightops. My boys are never without their flatcaps, brightly coloured trainers, denim by Finger In The Nose and a stack of comics.

When it comes to packing clothes, I no longer travel as my fashion designer friend does, with loads of luggage and tons of outfits thought out in advance and matched to the events on her crowded itinerary. Rather, I’m an indulgent minimalist, one who's considered whether a particular item will work equally well in a hotel lobby, museum or on a crowded flight, otherwise it's out. (As much as I adore it, my full-length fringed skirt is staying home. Whilst I'd love to have it at my destination, I can't visualise it in an Easy Jet queue.) What fits the bill? Items like my tomboy denim shirt, a faded beauty I snapped up in a London sale and have worn hundreds of times since; on the beach as a cover up, to take me from pool to lunch at the hotel, paired with cut-offs or jeans for the double denim look or with a long white Zimmermann skirt I intend to take this trip and wear in the Italian resort town we will visit.

My The Row leather pencil skirt is a go-to piece, buttery soft and fab with heels or Birkenstocks, ditto my two lace shirts which look great dressed down and layered with Alexander Wang tees, or dressed up with the Venessa Arizaga necklace my boys recently gave me for Mother’s Day. I’m also a jeans fanatic, so I’ll take a pair in every shade – white, black, blue and grey and some leather for good measure. I favour J Brand and Rag & Bone teamed with my worn-to-death Martin Margiela trainers or my Isabel Marant wedges which can easily take me from the London Underground to a West End theatre in comfort and style. 

I’ve liberated a skinny belt, too, from an old Prada ensemble I uncovered in my dusty archives which works well with the oversized Margiela cardigan I’ve also liberated from my husband’s closet. The Helmut Lang boyfriend blazer with leather detail I bought in last year’s Christmas sale will be great if London’s weather turns unpredictable, as it predictably will. And for the beach segment of our vacation I have my basic black Eres one-piece which resembles a Parisian leotard, plus a multitude of my favourite Zimmermann swimsuits and cover-ups which are a riot of colour and print and put a smile on my face every time I spy them in my suitcase. Even though I stress my vacation wardrobe must be hardworking and versatile, every trip’s manifest should have a little piece of whimsy – this time mine is a pretty Missoni tunic which I bought for a family wedding in Europe seven years ago. You just never know when it might come in handy again.

When it comes to travelling with my family some things are a certainty, however: my husband will always laugh at me when I board the plane in Sydney wearing a hat. “It’ll crush in my luggage!” I’ll protest weakly, feeling slightly ridiculous, to which he’ll shake his head and smirk: “So you’re going to find overhead compartment space for that hat where it won’t crush, then carry it on and off three planes for the next twenty-four hours with a bunch of screaming kids in tow?”


“Why not just buy a cap when you get there?”

Because a cap is not as essential as a camel Fedora I’ve had for years and love to death, now is it?