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12/6/23: Where the Travel-Minded Shop

The ultimate Southern hostess shares her list of to-die-for holiday spots; a fashion editor opens a secret source for handmade drops; and our favorite hotel gift shops.

December 6, 2023 By MAURA EGAN
Melissa Ventosa Martin of Old Stone Trade. Photo: Sebastian Kim

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Jumby Bay Island. Photo: Courtesy Oetker Collection

A Few of my Favorite Things (and People and Places)
Unless you are going big—say Africa, Chile’s Atacama Desert, or India (Ahilya Fort in the central town, Maheshwar, is on my list of epic places to ring in the new year)—I’m not one to travel between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s criminally expensive; flight delays and customs lines kill my yuletide spirit; and it makes acclimating to the mid-January blahs that much harder. For me it’s a great time to be in New York City. I can visit museums (the Brooklyn Museum has an excellent old-school art zine show up until March) and book a dinner at that cool kid pop-up in Bed-Stuy that I can never get into. It’s also a great time for noodling around town. I like to avoid Fifth Avenue and stroll the Lower East Side. I try to make my yearly pilgrimage to John Derian’s holiday extravaganza in the East Village, but I will also check out some newer design shops nearby like Fredericks & Mae or Common Things for some last-minute stocking stuffers. Yes, it’s the season of gift guides, so instead of flooding our dear readers with another long list of “must-haves” and “perfect hostess gift” ideas, I asked two experts in taste and whimsy about their favorite things and go-to destinations: Rebecca Gardner, the Southern event planner with a devilish sense of humor and the genius behind Houses & Parties, an events and interior design company; and Melissa Ventosa Martin, my former colleague at T Magazine and Departures, who launched Old Stone Trade in 2021, a platform for handmade clothing and objects from around the world. I wanted to find out their favorite spots, shops, and other covetable items.

Houses & Parties’ Rebecca Gardner. Photo: Courtesy Houses & Parties

A Southern Hostess with Surrealist Twist on Travel and Treasures
Rebecca Gardner was born in Southern Texas, but today splits her time between New York and Savannah and is famous for staging stylish fêtes. She creates these magical settings with “necessaries for memorable occasions” from her online shop Houses & Parties, where you’ll find everything from antique Limoges fruit boxes, surrealist party hats (including a bonsai tree hat, part of her new For Goodness SakE Japanese collection), and colorful glass cake stands for your next over-the-top tablescape.

What’s one of your favorite holiday destinations?
I bought several La Vie caftans in the spring, so I’m going to Jumby Bay in Antigua this year to celebrate my new clothes. You can always count on any Oetker property to be excellent and glamorous.

Where do you like to go back again and again?
I love Venice so much it makes me cry. I go every year in the winter, away from the maddening crowds. It’s very romantic when it’s cold and steam curls off of the canals at night. I’ve only ever stayed at The Gritti Palace, which has the most beautiful rooms, the splashiest bar, and a very elegant staff. Just avoid the jarring modernity of the Riva-branded lounge and you’ll feel as if you’re in a dream.

What is a place you would love to visit some day?
I’m excited to stay at the new Gardiner House in Newport this summer. It’s small and well decorated and in the middle of the action. I’ll sit on the waterfront lawn and think of the Gilded Age.

What is your favorite hotel and why?
La Mirande in Avignon is really the most attractive hotel. It looks and feels like a well-decorated and grand house. The concierge would rather die than text you “good morning,” and there are white tablecloths in the dining room. In this “at home” spirit, I’ve also jumped on the fast train to the Passalacqua Hotel Como.

Do you have a favorite hotel shop?
While you won’t catch me sleeping in a yurt, El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas has the best hotel shop full of local and handmade treasures—everything from a beaded loincloth to handmade wax tapers.

What are your favorite hidden spots in Texas?
I’m charmed by Texas Hill Country. Fredericksburg, in particular, is becoming a lively destination for a weekend getaway at the Trueheart Hotel. I also like the King Ranch Saddle Shop in Kingsville. You can buy a custom saddle, a stamped canvas tote, or a silk scarf with Bobwhite quills. Anything, really.

Old Stone Trade’s Melissa Ventosa Martin. Photo: Walter Martin

A Wonder of Workshops
In 2021, Melissa Ventosa Martin started Old Stone Trade (OST) as a platform to showcase handmade apparel and housewares from around the world. Ventosa Martin has an almost romantic approach to fashion. She’s a longtime believer in creating a beautifully designed uniform that one builds on over time. With OST, she’s been able to find the best artisans and designers around the world to create her own drops (if you will), mini collections of timeless basics, whether it’s a thick cashmere sweater with Nordic-inspired motifs made by Miki Zanini, a Milan-based designer, or whimsical, Staffordshire-like ceramic candlesticks, courtesy of the Hunchback Society, an artist collective out of Lisbon. What’s so special about OST is that there’s a genuinely interesting story behind every exquisite piece.

This month she launched her evening edition, a collection of elegant made-to-order pieces including an opera cape and a tuxedo shirt which was partially inspired by her great-aunt Marion, an intrepid traveler and classically trained pianist who took Ventosa Martin as a young girl to the Met to see the ballet and opera.

Here are some of Ventosa Martin’s favorite artisans and ateliers: Seseña This cape maker was established in 1901 and is still run by the same family. They’ve made capes for everyone from Pablo Picasso to Jeff Bezos. Capes always seem to be a thing in fashion, so why not go directly to the source? Príncipe Real Enxovais I love the linens— especially the embroidered tablecloths by Isilda Parente—at this family-run atelier in Lisbon. Massimo Maria Melis They hand make jewelry from antique coins at this atelier in Rome. I’m obsessed with their earrings. Emma Mooney Pettwa is a quilter at Gee’s Bend in Alabama and we’ve worked together on bespoke offerings for OST. Her love of quilting and her enthusiasm for her work is very inspiring. You can send her vintage fabrics and she’ll hand make them into a quilt—it’s such a meaningful gift. Acme Atelier Andrea Chappell was one of the first artisans I worked with at OST. She’s based in Moray, Scotland and makes kilts to order. We’ve added a beautiful evening kilt that pairs with our tuxedo. Thistle Hill Weavers Rabbit Goody is a textile historian and runs a small weaving studio in Cherry Valley,  New York. She is a treasure and I’ve learned a lot from her about working locally. We’re working on a fabric for OST for 2024.

The shop at Wildflower Farms. Photo: Courtesy Auberge Resorts Collection

Exit Through the Hotel Gift Shop
Most hotel gift shops are lame, in my opinion. There are too many branded candles that smell perfumey. (Although Chateau Marmont’s Alessandra candle and Laila Gohar’s dessert one for the Luxury Collection are two exceptions.) And those monogrammed terry cloth towels and robes are all the same. Still, I regret not buying that green-and-white block print cotton kimono from the Park Hyatt in Tokyo years ago. Below are a few of my favorite hotel boutiques that truly offer a sense of place. —Maura Egan

El Fenn in Marrakech
Vanessa Branson’s riad is a riot of color and craft, and the in-house boutique (strange but true: it was originally spearheaded by Paul Rowland, Kate Moss’s former agent) is filled with kilim blankets, vintage jewelry, and well-cut caftans and djellabas. It’s a nice alternative when you tire of the souks.

Gardenheir at Wildflower Farms
This is a sprawling outpost of the nearby cult shop in Windham, New York. Guests can satisfy their inner gentleman farmers with Italian garden clogs, brass watering cans, and handmade rose geranium soap from Saipua.

Tourists Hotel
The small shop at this woodsy Berkshires resort features knit wool hats, scarves, and socks from the Japanese brand Kapital, Wonder Valley Hinoki Oil, and mini lanterns from Barebones—ideal for your next haute camping expedition (you’ll never actually do).

The Fife Arms
Hauser & Wirth’s passion project in the heart of Braemar, Scotland is a haven of sumptuous fabrics, curiosities, and world-class art. Their shop offers hyper-local goods like Fife Arms–blended malt whiskies, hand-knitted highland hare egg cozies, and capes made with house tartans and plaids by British designer Giles Deacon.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Passalacqua
Lake Como’s two most storied hotels recently launched  Sense of Lake, an e-commerce site for all things La Dolce Vita— from jaunty striped swimming trunks to Murano glass vases.

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