Fiona Leahy : « I believe in the art of travel and the powerful pleasure of the journey.”

July 2021

Dream / Fantasize

The British designer, queen of tableware and decorative arts, organizer of fabulous dinners and elegant evenings, and expert in “matchimalism” – or the art of delightfully matching decors – loves to travel. From memorable trips aboard the Orient-Express to unexpected encounters, Fiona Leahy also shares her vision of the art of fine dining aboard trains.

By Alexis Chenu.

High Life: What bothers you when travelling?


Fiona Leahy: Packing and unpacking, I am not a natural packer. If someone were to give packing classes, I’d take them. I have some friends who are master packers and I envy them. Packing well is an underrated art


HL: A sound of travel that you love?


Fiona Leahy: The sound of a train horn. I’ll never forget the sound of the train horn when we were arriving into Venice on the Orient express. I cried it was so romantic


HL: Do you prefer plane or train?


Fiona Leahy: Train definitely, I find looking at the passing view so mesmerising. I also love the aesthetics of trains more than planes and the ease and comfort.


HL: Are you talkative during a trip?


Fiona Leahy:  It all depends on the situation. When I was on the Orient Express in Peru for example, I noticed I was reading the same book as another passenger. The trip literally turned into our own book club. But for the most part, I am quite shy and tend to keep to myself.


HL: Who is your best travel companion ?


Fiona Leahy: Dita von Teese, she was my companion on the Venice Orient express but we have also travelled to many many places together. Mexico, Thailand, Italy, Ibiza… It’s a real art finding someone to travel with. You have to have a sense of humour when you travel especially when you’re on your way to a wedding and you miss one flight and the next one is cancelled (true story).

HL: If you could design your dream train car, which people – dead or alive- would you invite on board?


Fiona Leahy: I would choose comedians Chelsea Handler and Larry David and I’d bring back Oscar Wilde and 1920s actress Mae West.


HL: What would you talk about?


Fiona Leahy: Gosh I don’t know, the best conversations are the unexpected ones. I would Imagine there would be a lot of dry humour and laughter. We would avoid politics.


HL: How would you imagine the art of the table?


Fiona Leahy: I would make bespoke napkins with each guests initials monogrammed , I would also do a watercolour menu  and placemat a map of where we were journeying through , I love the little table lamps that are on the orient express so I would keep those and maybe add some candle light too.


HL: What is the object that never leaves you during travel?


Fiona Leahy : My iPhone. It is one of those things we have got more and more dependent on. Saying that I love going on digital detoxes when I travel and training myself to rise with the sun and have no alarms and no dependence on technology BUT for the most part my iPhone is glued to my side.


HL: Have you ever slept on a train? How was it?


Fiona Leahy: Yes, on the Orient-Express. There is something about the motion of a train and the sounds of going over tracks that puts me in a complete trance.


HL : Where do you save your souvenirs when you travel?


Fiona Leahy: The main souvenirs I collect on holidays are ephemera. I love collecting menus, welcome notes, even beautifully designed receipts and business cards. So these go into my Smythson notebook along with polaroid’s, notes and memories, sometimes even recipes and interesting local places. Looking back on these travel diaries brings me so much joy. There is nothing like looking at a red wine stained menu from Positano to transport me back to a lovely time.


HL: Your best travel song?


Fiona Leahy: The Eagles hotel California it always makes me think of being on the road.


HL: In 2869, how will you imagine the way people travel?


Fiona Leahy: Well, I would imagine Space travel maybe a thing but I’m a traditionalist and I actually hope things go down a notch and don’t become too fast and furious. I believe in the art of travel and that the journey is as important as the destination, so I hope there’s a lot more comfort and joy in travel.


HL: Your last “great journey” will look like?


Fiona Leahy: It will be the student gap year I never had, an epic year first class with a gold card. It will have to include Japan during cherry blossom season a week in Venice and a sojourn on a South African vineyard oh also Cuixmala in Mexico … maybe I need two years for ease!

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