Jo Hambro was creative fashion director at GQ for 24 years before leaving to pursue a solo career as a fashion editor, art director and stylist. Among her current clients is Sir Elton John, who during her time at GQ became a close friend. She recently published a book, The Power of the Polaroid, for which Sir Elton and his husband David Furnish wrote the foreword.
It documents her creative journey over three decades through her sketchbooks and the Polaroids that she kept from her many shoots around the world. A Globe-Trotter user from her youth, we caught up with Jo to talk travel, fashion and photography.
When did you first discover Globe-Trotter?
It was in my very first job as a ‘rover’ on Vogue. Rover is the term they used because you were required to rove around. Today you’d call it an intern. I used to spend a lot of time in the fashion room taping over the soles of shoes so they wouldn’t get ruined on shoots and packing clothes into cases. Those cases were Globe-Trotters. Vogue had a sea of blue ones, which I loved.
"I thought it was so chic seeing Grace Coddington coming back from a shoot with a whole train of Globe-Trotters."
Why were they the go-to cases for the Vogue fashion team?
They were light, manageable and practical. They were all the same size, so you could stack them up easily to pack them away when you weren’t using them. And crucially, they were big enough to lie the clothes flat inside them, which kept them in good condition for the shoots. In those days, I thought it was so chic seeing Grace Coddington coming back from a shoot with a whole train of Globe-Trotters. I thought, ‘One day, when I have the money, I will buy one’.
So when did you get your first Globe-Trotter?
When I was fashion assistant on Country Life, my first job after I’d done my time roving for Vogue. I loved the idea of a smaller case, which I thought would be perfect for country weekends when I used to go and stay with friends. I probably saved my first six month’s salary to buy my Globe-Trotter. It was my first piece of luxury. And, of course, it carried memories of Vogue.
And have you bought others since?
Yes I have. I am very loyal. Even when a while back there was a fashion for everyone to have soft cases, I stayed loyal; my love affair with Globe-Trotter started a very long time ago and is still going strong. Originally, I liked the famous blue colour and would just buy that, but then I fell in love with another colour. I was walking along the street one day when I saw a Globe-Trotter in this orangey red. It is a 1950s colour, very Palm Beach. It made me happy – I could imagine myself as Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn with that case. It had tan leather straps and gold fastenings. There was something wonderful about the warm gold next to the coral red and tan leather. It is a timeless combination. When I spotted it, I thought ‘I have to get it!’ So I treated myself to two of the big ones and a small one. The little one carries my shoes. I love them. That was about 20 years ago, and I still use them all the time.
What is it that you like about Globe-Trotter specifically?
Apart from the look of the cases, the key is that they are so light. Often you buy cases and they’re heavy before you put a thing in them. Some even have structures that take up a lot of space inside. I am very pernickety when I pack: I like to pack everything flat with tissue paper between things, which was how my mother taught me, and it works. A Globe-Trotter is just a simple rectangle and lends itself to that timeless way of packing. It’s like using old-fashioned trunks, which I suppose is where they come from. For work, I use large blue ones, and they are so easy to stack, and to sit on if you need to. There’s also something fantastic about how they wear and age – with time the colour becomes slightly battered and used and worn, like a good leather jacket. They get character.
"Wherever I go – every airport and hotel lobby – I get compliments on my luggage; people are drawn to it."
Do people notice your luggage?
Indeed. And I have to admit that I do like the attention it attracts. I can’t tell you how much everybody admires them. Wherever I go – every airport and hotel lobby – I get compliments on my luggage; people are drawn to it. And when I get off a plane and am waiting at the luggage carousel, it’s so nice to see that coral red winking at me in a sea of black. Every time I travel I get people staring at my Globe-Trotters, or coming up to me saying ‘I love your luggage’.
Your job as a fashion editor has taken you all over the world. Where’s the furthest you have travelled with your Globe-Trotters?
They’ve really been to the four corners of the Earth with me. Many times it was to the States, as we would often work there because it was convenient for the stars we were featuring. My cases came with me to Boston to photograph Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, packed full of Cavalli. They journeyed to LA to shoot Benicio del Toro in crumpled linen suits (which I kept intentionally crumpled so they would look worn and match his ”lived-in” look). In New York, I shot Keith Richards with Peter Lindbergh and packed my Globe-Trotters with Gucci, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana coats. But they’ve been further afield too – Hawaii, Jakarta in Indonesia, Africa, and India, where I did a Bollywood shoot with Hanspeter Schneider. And Nepal, Bali, Cuba, Argentina… I’ve been pretty much everywhere.
What's the most adventurous place you’ve visited for work?
Nepal, for sure. We we went to a place called Tiger Tops to photograph the men who look after the elephants there. I rode an elephant at dawn. I was with photographer Dana Lixenberg and she was using a large plate camera. Funnily enough, you were normally meant to stay up in a tree, but because of all my Globe-Trotters they put me in the Royal Lodge, because they thought there was no way that they would get all my cases up there. It was a lodge made out of straw though, so still pretty wild.
"I’ve never done straightforward fashion shoots, it’s always been about creating a story..."
What's the most memorable shoot you have been involved in?
That’s really difficult, you’re talking about 30 years of photography. It’s been a great privilege with my job to travel the globe and be invited into all these different worlds. Each time is memorable. And I’ve never done straightforward fashion shoots, it’s always been about creating a story – whether with snowboarders in Alaska, or motocross guys in the California desert, or cowboys… I stayed in a bunkhouse on a ranch; I became a cowgirl! Every time I pick up my Globe-Trotter, I know I am about to experience an adventure.
What do you wear when travelling long haul?
I always like to be elegant when I am at the airport, and then I have a ritual so I will be comfortable on the plane. I change into my James Perse drawstring joggers and a loose top, flight socks and a pair of slippers I have that fold up in a little bag. I always have some kind of shawl, and a lovely, scented spray like rose or lavender. I always fly business, put on some face cream and hand cream and relax and go into this zone. In my handbag I’ll pack a bar of dark chocolate and plenty of water. And my secret is some Italian Polase sachets. It’s a powdered supplement with minerals that make a citrus drink with water. It’s a wonderful thing and makes you feel so much better. If I’m flying to California I’ll take two on the flight and one when I land. Every Italian has it in their office drawer. I buy it by the truckload.
Can you share some tips on efficient packing?
For personal travel, I used to pack very efficiently and try to think of seven ways to wear one skirt. But that all changed because of some advice I was given by my friend Elton [John]. He would say ‘Don’t be crazy – you need seven skirts!’ Now I like to pack to be prepared, because you never know where you may be invited out to. It’s very important and if you have great luggage it’s easy. It’s fun to have a choice of things to wear when you’re abroad. So I’m not an efficient packer, I take all the things that I like that are going to make me happy, and I’m ready for any occasion. And I don’t jam everything in. I take more luggage.
What's the best hotel you have ever stayed in?
I do love traditional old-school hotels like the Beverly Hills Hotel, or the Bel Air. I love grand old hotels. But I also like unusual places. There’s a great place in Big Sur in California, for example, called the Post Ranch Inn, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s all wood and glass and designed by local architect Mickey Muennig. But my all-time favourite is where I went on my honeymoon, the Il San Pietro in Positano in Italy. It’s literally like stepping into a 1950s postcard or being in a film by Visconti. It’s so me. The hotel is family run and seems like it hasn’t changed for years – which is funny as it is where my husband’s parents also used to holiday. It’s built into the rocks and you take a lift down to the beach. I believe it was the owner’s dream to build this place around an old chapel, and it really is magical
What do you never leave the house without when travelling?
My Globe-Trotter, obviously. My camera – I still like to use it to take pictures instead of my phone – a good book, sketch pad, pencils. Also a candle. I like to light a candle, it relaxes you. A bar of dark chocolate, Nairn’s oatcakes and almonds. I’ll never forget when we flew into Argentina for a shoot and I was held up for three to four hours at customs and there were two things that saved me – I sat on my Globe-Trotter and thank goodness for my oatcakes. If you’ve got supplies, you’ll be fine.
Who are the most interesting people you meet on your travels?
I’m interested and curious so I love meeting all sorts of people. Some are famous, most are not. I remember getting off the plane for a shoot in Mauritius with hundreds of Globe Trotter suitcases full of clothes for the job. I was met by a local guide and he invited me into his home to meet his family. These are the things that stay with you. Most people travel as tourists, but I have been in the lucky position that my work has taken me to places where I see the country through the eyes of the people who live there. I once travelled to Hawaii, where my guide started to show me the usual tourist sights. I asked him instead to show me his Hawaii, and that’s how I found the surfing community there. Often, I’ll shoot people who aren’t models – polo players and artists and writers in Argentina, or the elephant handlers in Nepal, or the behind-the scenes crews in Bollywood like the scene painters and cameramen. I was invited to Pakistan by the government there because they had seen my pictures of India and said: ‘We want you to show our country.’
Many of these trips are commemorated in your book The Power of the Polaroid: Instantly Forever.
They are. It’s all about how the Polaroid is a tool for photographers, and how different photographers used to use the Polaroid in a variety of ways to construct their shots. This was pre-digital, of course, when you would use a Polaroid to see what the final picture would look like. I collected the Polaroids from my shoots, and here they are, in a book. It’s not really a coffee table publication, more a working manual, with conversations between me and the photographers about how we worked together and their methods.
The Power of the Polaroid by Jo Hambro is published by Clearview Books