Over four decades, the costume designer Colleen Atwood has enjoyed an incredible career, working on films like Chicago, Little Women (1994), The Silence of the Lambs, and Edward Scissorhands and winning four Academy Awards. Her considerable workload—in 2023, she worked on the live-action The Little Mermaid as well as Netflix’s new drama Pain Hustlers, streaming now—doesn’t allow for a whole lot of leisure travel. “I’m embarrassed,” she says of her lack of experience in this realm. “I’m a traveler, but not a vacationer.”
After a very late night on set, the style legend spoke with Condé Nast Traveler about the kind of trips she does take for work, as well as her favorite fashion cities and how she spends her flying time.
Her go-to plane outfit:
I’m old-school: I still wear a jacket or a blazer, a pair of jeans, and usually a cotton shirt, because I like wearing a cotton layer on the airplanes. Sometimes planes are hot, sometimes they're cold; I always have a big scarf in case they're freezing. Then for shoes, just because of convenience, I wear Stan Smith sneakers.
What’s in her carry-on:
My bag usually has a toothbrush, toothpaste, a set of underwear, and a few small cosmetic things. I always put in an extra shirt and a fresh pair of jeans just in case my luggage gets lost. Because I mainly travel for work, I always have my computer, my iPad, and a book. And that’s it—I like to keep it tidy.
How she packs for business trips:
I take research trips for work, and pack according to the climate, what business I have to do, and the culture. When I did Memoirs of Geisha, a long time ago, we did a cultural trip to Japan. Because I was with the director and producer, I knew I’d have to attend more formal occasions than I would normally, so I took a black tuxedo jacket and pants, and a black skirt with a scoop neck top. I have that really basic uniform if I have to go out to a nice dinner or something like that, and it’s usually in a [fabric] that travels well, a gabardine or something else durable. Then one pair of high shoes, one pair of boots, and a sneaker. And no matter where I go in the world, I always take a pair of flip-flop sandals, a decent pair that I can wear out and get wet.
How she spends these research excursions:
I’m looking for archives, and for dealers who sell period pieces and are knowledgeable about them. Also, resources for fabrics that relate to that era. I take a lot of pictures, and my iPhone is great because it’s so much faster. If you’re pulling out a camera, sometimes [dealers] don’t like you to photograph [the pieces], but the phone you can get away with a bit more.
The cities with the best fashion:
I really think London has a great style scene for menswear—the best, to me. It is really interesting. I sort of lost the beat with New York style, which is surprising because it was my inspiration for a long time. I like Tokyo for sure, and I hear Seoul is incredible but I haven’t been there. And I still think Paris has it. Paris has kind of come back in the last couple of years, especially for women.
How she spends her flight time:
I always take my script if I’m traveling for work. I’ll read it during take-off, when I’m pretty awake, then I’ll scroll through the movies and see what’s there. Because I keep up with movies, I’ve seen most of what they have, but every once in a while there’s something great that I missed. I always check to see if anything I've worked on is [available]. It’s fun to watch people enjoy a movie you've worked on, because I usually see them in screenings without an audience. And it’s also fun to see that it's still something people want to watch, even if it’s ten years old.
Her method of avoiding jet lag:
Most of the flights I take are long haul, to London or Paris, so I go to bed because a lot of times I wake up and go straight to work, not even to the hotel. I freshen up in the bathroom and put on my clean shirt and spend five or six hours working, because I find that jet lag doesn’t set in so badly if you go and get busy. Make your brain work.
What she prioritizes when traveling for leisure:
It’s a combination of interesting, beautiful sights that I haven't seen before, and relaxing. I'm not a person that gets somewhere and has a plan every day; I like to discover as I go. I travel so much for work that it's almost odd for me not to have a purpose. It takes me a minute! I tend to [extend] work trips, so if I'm in London, I’ll go to Milan or Madrid for a couple days, just to walk around.
Two design destinations she thinks are underrated:
A place I really like a lot is Turkey—not just Istanbul, but southern Turkey, which is very historically interesting, and they do a lot of textiles. India is so gigantic, and there’s parts that more people should see which are just spectacular.
The hotel amenity she cares a lot about:
For me, the bedding is really key. I love the way that Firmdale hotels do their beds. They have just like the right amount of blankets, and not just some duvet that you feel like a thousand people have slept under. It all feels clean. And I love the bathtubs.
Her favorite hotel in the world:
The Hotel de Russie in Rome. I love the aesthetics, the colors used in the rooms, and this one thing—I think a great hotel room doesn’t have too much furniture. I hate when you’re in a new environment and get out of bed and blast into some little table or something in your way. I like that there’s floor space, as opposed to decor.
Where she hopes to go next:
My favorite place I've never been is Egypt. It’s a country that is so rich. I just haven't gotten my act together to go. I need to go look at the pyramids, examine that scale and that culture.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler