Let The World Know Where You Vacation (Or Wish You Could)

It's the golden era of merch, and the ultimate status symbol is now...a travel souvenir.

by Adam Robb
Oct 27 2019, 9:45am

It was a bad day for a new shirt on Savile Row. This past July, Ozwald Boateng was absent from his Mayfair shop along with volumes of his most desirable fabric swatches, summoned overseas by Mohammed VI, King of Morocco. His Majesty is a demanding dandy whose command of fashion extends from his shirtsleeves to the gift shop shelves at the Royal Mansour, his nine-year-old Marrakesh resort. As the hotel's ten year anniversary approaches, it’s called on those very same tailor for collaborations.

If that request seems hardly newsworthy, it's because there's no shortage of superficial travel swag on the market right now. Once upon a time it was an organic experience: Swiping an ashtray at La Sirenuse in Positano so every breath in your poorly ventilated Manhattan apartment felt like a breeze off the Tyrrhenian Sea, packing the bathrobe from the Reg Bev Wilsh because you missed the point of Pretty Woman, or departing Lanserhof in Tyrol with Andrew Rockefeller’s underwear because housekeeping confused your monograms.

la sireneuse ashtray
You can drop your coins and your jewelry in this ceramic ashtray from La Sirenuse.

Things have changed. Birkenstock kicked off the summer with seven orthopedic interpretations of Tuscany's Hotel Il Pellicano. In September, Marc Jacobs closed out New York Fashion Week dropping a sweatshirt collab on the model doormen of the Four Seasons New York Downtown. Accordingly, the sweatshirt is only available for purchase in the hotel's rooms and suites. If your tastes run a little more fashion-forward, perhaps you'd rather stay at The Standard in London, where you can purchase Craig Green’s fabricated a bondage-comfy robe. And still to come this year are collaborations between Soho House and SSENSE, and a run of Edition Hotels tees designed by the influencers paid to pack their grand openings.

These raffia sandals are "infused with the hue of the Tuscan Sun," and are a collaboration between Birkenstock and Tuscany's Hotel II Pelicano.

The Royal Mansour knew it could tap its guestbook to do better, conceiving souvenirs deeply rooted in the surroundings that inspire them. The hotel commissioned Christian Louboutin to design his and hers slippers, like a collaged babouche which took inspiration from the hand-carved ceilings, and tiles that line the courtyard. Next up, a poolside frock from frequent guest John Galliano—what he describes as a cross between a bedouin djellaba and a bathrobe—which is being made in Morocco, and will be available in early 2020. Galliano even tracked down the nonagenarian embroiderer who once tutored Yves Saint Laurent, the first Parisian designer to immerse himself in Moroccan dress, nature, and light. The Royal Mansour’s logo-free pieces are woven with a national pride that could only have come from the source, while being subtle enough to slip past customs unnoticed.

Indulge in the robe lifestyle with this Craig Green X The Standard London double-belted robe.

Of course, cheesy tourist tat can sometimes be more meaningful than it appears. In Tokyo, a former fashion editor, Yayoi Okano, opened Shin Yoshiwara, a back alley gift shop and art gallery in the heart of the red light district where she grew up. Back in the Edo period, samurai visited the neighborhood’s bathhouses where courtesans once thrived; today it’s a neon-lit grey area of prostitutes catering to Japanese businessmen in what is known as "Soaplands," which are basically brothels where nude escorts are paid for full-contact baths (and more), and the businessmen stumble home at sunrise through trash-strewn streets.

A cheeky kimono available at Shin Yoshiwara, Yoshiwara prefacture.

Okano wanted to give her neighbors back their pride, and educate tourists about past and present, so she called on artist and designer friends to create traditional tchotkes. An opening photography exhibition shot by the artist-designer E-WAX, captured the surrounding streets at sunrise. Sasquatchfabrix designer Daisuke Yokoyama created the Okano’s breasts-and-mountain peaks logo, which appears on fans, towels, and jewelry; Megumu Kamata, the tattoo artist-designer behind streetwear label Black Weirdos is responsible Shin Yoshiwara’s cartoon graphics like a naked geisha riding a surfboard, which have gotten the brand in trouble. These have so upset the men who make money off the neighborhood's establishments, that they stalked Okano and sent her death threats. She didn’t back down however, and her souvenirs have become an unexpected act of defiance. They’ve also proven so popular the neighborhood’s slowly cleaning up around her. Naturally, a nearby hotel’s sought her collaboration.