At Smythson, we are always hunting for the essential travel recommendations – and who better to speak to than the global publishing duo Angela Hill and David Owen? The incredibly well-travelled founders of IDEA: a company that mixes independent publishing with the sourcing of rare books, the likes of which have been inspiring creatives in film, fashion and everything in between since they started at Colette in the late 90s. Today the couple stock the shelves in Dover Street Market, their by-appointment-only office in Soho, and many more besides.
IDEA have a presence in over twenty different countries, and they’re are always on the move. “We travel a lot,” says David Owen, “Our main relationship is with Dover Street Market and we missed their store opening in Singapore, but will visit later this year.” Singapore will join an agenda that includes the KM20 store in Moscow, ‘Mini’ in Madrid, “then of course we also travel to find books. That means Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Amsterdam. They are the best places for us to discover new, rare editions.”
Here the couple share their definitive list of the most inspiring and covetable publications, alongside their own travel recommendations, tips, and the destination that have influenced them — and their business – the most.
Do you enjoy travelling?
DAVID: I love everything about it once I have arrived. I can’t say I am crazy about airports or Eurostar terminals.
What’s your favourite thing about it?
D: Walking. We walk whenever possible. In truth, I am working on my phone while walking, but that’s just Instagram and email. I have walked from Manhattan into Brooklyn for a meeting; walked six miles between bookshops in Tokyo led by the directions on my Apple Watch. Angela and I walked from the Chateau Marmont to the Arcana bookstore in Culver City. Our friends thought we were crazy – not because of the obvious ‘no one walks in LA’ – but because they thought the route was so dull. We were stopping to take photos! We have walked the other way, up from the Chateau through Laurel Canyon, stopping at the local store there and then up again through Wonderland Avenue to Mulholland Drive. I like seeing how people live. Walking is the best thing for that.
ANGELA: I would agree with that – walking – but add swimming. I love pools, or rather I love large hotel pools; I particularly dislike small, insubstantial kidney shaped spa pools. Salt water pools are an added bonus. Budapest has some great ones; the Hotel du Cap saltwater pool is wonderful, and the best city for walking is Tokyo.
What would you never travel without?
A: Very high quality Japanese Sencha tea.
D: Sunglasses. I have forgotten pretty much everything at one time or another including laptop chargers, swimming shorts, even a suit once for a wedding at which I was best man, but the absence of sunglasses makes me most uncomfortable.
How does travel influence your business?
D: We work very hard and take very little holiday so we try and turn travelling for business into the most rewarding experience possible. I am very much in aspirational mode and we stay in the best hotels possible. They tend to be older hotels with a history: The Bristol in Paris, Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Chateau in LA, The Carlyle in New York, Four Seasons in Florence, Raffles when we visit Singapore and always Hotel Okura in Tokyo –even though there is only half of it left!
For the most part, these hotels have been experimenting and innovating and perfecting their design and service for decades. Now the changes they make may be so infrequent as to be unnoticeable. I take great inspiration from systems and set ups that run well. There is a breakfast bar in the covered market at Biarritz that is a perfect working system. The owner and his wife have probably worked in the same few square feet all their lives and their operation is flawless. That is what I like to observe.
What are you reading right now?
A: I am reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt (a bit late to the party, I know) and have just finished Ted Hughes Birthday Letters and, non-fiction wise, Patsy Rodenburg’s Positive Presence – she is a voice coach who writes about a lot more than the voice and it’s fascinating.
D: I am mainly watching films again. One a night in a makeshift home cinema. These are largely Hollywood films from the forties or seventies. Hundreds of them. As a consequence, the book I am reading is The Big Screen by David Thompson. He is a great writer on cinema and this a complete history from Méliès to… well I am currently just past Jean Renoir and Vigo. A long way to go yet, quite happily.
Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
D: I don’t think I have ever successfully read more than one book at a time. I am happy to quit on a book that’s not working for me, but when something is good I will do nothing but finish it.
What do you currently have checked-out from the library?
D: Hopefully nothing. I am not sure I have a valid library card. Our daughter used to go to the library at the Barbican, which has a brilliant dedicated music section and do her piano practice there. They have Yamaha pianos with headphones – even the music library is silent! It would be her, aged 12, and a homeless man who spent his days in the warmth of the library playing show tunes noiselessly on the piano.
What’s the best book you’ve ever stolen from the library?
D: Nothing ever, of course. I once found a first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It was worth about half a million pounds but unfortunately, the overdue fees from the British Library were slightly more than that. This is not true of course.
What’s the one book you’ve sold that you wish you’d kept?
D: Generally, I am very good at letting go. We also have a means of recording the most amazing finds via our ‘superbook’ pages. There was a half-made maquette of a book that was never published. The title was Polanski Images. It was a thematic approach to Polanski’s films up to around 1974. There were about 40 pages complete in this handmade book. We sold it to a customer in Australia who kept missing out on superbooks due to the time difference. The next morning, we had so many people wanting it. Turns out it was priceless!
A: For me it’s a magazine: LIPSTICK by Perry Ogden, published while he was at Eton. He wrote to Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol and David Bailey to ask if he could interview them for his school project and, amazingly, they all said yes! Even more amazingly Perry flew to the States and carried out the interviews. The layout and content are astonishingly good, and its incredible scarcity just make me want it more!
What’s the one book you haven’t been able to get your hands on?
D: There aren’t many. The last time I saw a copy of Ryan McGinley’s The Kids Are Alright it was $10,000 and we didn’t have that money then. Now we have, but we haven’t seen the book since. A lot of books I desperately wanted to find; Bruce Weber Men / Women, or the Comme des Garçons 1975-1982 book we have found and found a few times over now. The truth is it will be a book we didn’t know existed that we will really be excited to find – but of course, I can’t say now what that would be.
What has been the number one book of the last year?
D: An old book. The Art of Flower Arranging by Shozo Sato. It is a 1960 book Angela rediscovered. We are in contact with Mr Sato and have a range of IDEA Ikebana shirts.
D: Probably a joint tie between the two Vetements books we published in 2016. The first one was an edition of 500, the second came six months later in an edition of 5000. Both completely sold out. A phenomenon.
A: Our Suzanne Koller book was very good too. Suzanne Koller is a genius.
D: The best book we found in the last five years might be an album of photographs of David Bowie in the seventies. They were live shots from the front of the stage. It was remarkable. I think AnOther Magazine wrote about it and after we sold it we still exhibited it at Dover Street Market (with the new owner’s permission).
D: I have absolutely no idea. 2007-2017 feels like a very uninteresting period of time right now. I am sure that will change.
And, the number one book of all time?
D: For me – within the world of what we do –Allen Jones’s 1973 book Waitress is a Contender. It features photographs of his then-wife Janet in a leather catsuit with the bum cut out waitressing in London restaurants like Rules and diners like Wimpy. It’s hard to describe in a few lines why it is so good but it is on our website for a more considered view.
A: So difficult, I cannot choose one, but certainly the 1975 Comme des Garçons book is sublime. Paris, Texas – the book of the film. Sally Mann’s Immediate Family is beautiful.
What are the top five books that inspire you to travel?
D: Books which describe very well the places in which they are set do make me want to visit. And make me confident to explore – as if I already know something about it. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is great as an introduction to Japan. You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again by Julia Philips is great for Hollywood. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion for California. There are astonishing Ibiza books that we have rediscovered, The Playboy Guia Ibiza and Ibiza by Ku – but they may make you want to travel back in time as well as place.
Who are the top five photographers you feel capture travel better than anyone else?
D: Helmut Newton is brilliant on hotel rooms; Wim Wenders is excellent on the American west and Texas of course; Tina Barney for Rhode Island / The Hamptons.
A: I would totally agree with Tina Barney and Wim Wenders of course but add Stephen Shore, Justine Kurland and Juergen Teller (if only for his Austrian clinic series!).
What is the number one book in fashion?
D: Comme des Garçons 1975-1982.
A: That would have to be my choice too, although Mark Borthwick Synthetic Voices comes close, and a Japanese book called GIRLS FASHIONS which is fantastic and very hard to find.
D: Tina Barney Theatre of Manners.
A: As she is one of my all-time favourites I would have to agree.
BOTH: Wolfgang Tillman’s WAKO series
D: David Hockney. Photographs of China.
A: Paris, Texas – the book of the Wim Wenders film.
D: Bow Wow Wow by Mike West. 1983.
A: A set of Talking Heads fanzines we once had.
D: Paris, Texas.
A: Totally agree but, would add The Book of MASH (the TV series not the film – so good: Alan Alda and Hot Lips are mega style inspiration).
D: Jansen Decoration (1971).
A: Best of Case Vogue is also brilliant and Interior Book I and II – Japanese interiors at their most stunning.
D: Site. Architecture As Art.
A: Or the original POMPIDOU colour brochure (the Centre Georges Pompidou Beaubourg is my number one building of all time). Can I have another? Anything Shiro Kuramata but especially his shop/bar interiors.
What’s the one thing you would recommend to read at the beach?
D: Always a day out of date British or American newspaper, surely?
A: Failing that The New Yorker, T Mag, TIME (the only time I read TIME).
Stuck at the airport?
D: Alex Bellos. Alex’s Adventures in Numberland.
A: James Rhodes, Instrumental.
To get off to sleep?
D: The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
A: The Daily Telegraph Cryptic Crossword (I attempt every day). I actually have several books of crossword puzzles. They always have to be from The Daily Telegraph and sadly it gives me a thrill every time I open a new fresh book and optimistically start filling the answers in. I have never completed one fully but have done a few with one or two answers still to be found.
When redesigning a home?
D: Japan Interior Living 1980-1985.
A: Tadao Ando or Shiro Kuramata
To cheer up?
D: We have just bought and sold a number of original Seinfeld scripts. The Fix Up, where Kramer sells George the knock off condoms that turn out to be subject to a product recall, was hilarious and I only read a page.
A: Yes, and Sein Language by Jerry Seinfeld is laugh-out-loud brilliance.
To inspire wanderlust?
D: I read a book about imaginary numbers: the square root of -1 being the starting point. That presented an entire new reality to explore. Same with anything quantum.
A: Anything involving Japanese gardens.
On the plane?
D: Apart from checking that they still sell models of the aeroplane on a display stand on the last page of the in-flight magazine I think planes are best for watching films that ordinarily you would never let yourself watch.
A: Always magazines and newspapers for me.
D: Because people sitting next to you love a broadsheet newspaper!
Where is the best place to buy books in London?
D: The book room at our office. You need an appointment, but there is no use pretending there is anywhere better – the whole reason we do what we do is to be the best.
D: In Paris just walk anywhere and you will find books. You don’t need us to spoil the fun by saying where to go. You will just chance upon them.
D: Strand until midnight is hard to beat.
D: Daikanyama T-Site. 8am to 2am, and vast like a university campus.
D: All pretty moody to be honest.
D: Probably our Instagram, in all fairness to everyone else.
What’s your desert island book?
D: There is a book of math problems from the fifties that I found. Half I could do, and most I could probably do after a year on the island. One of the problems I don’t understand even after I saw the solution and had it explained to me. I could live with that for a long time. It was a problem involving congruence, in case you are interested.
A: Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli or Poems by Harold Pinter chosen by Antonia Fraser or The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.
Where is your favourite place for finding books?
D: Tokyo, because we find the best books there. In the seventies and eighties, the Japanese economy was strong and they bought all the best European and American art and fashion and photography books. They are still there but that generation is selling them now.
Which fictional character would you like to be stuck next to on a plane?
D: Peter Falk. Columbo.
A: Cathy, Wuthering Heights.
What are the three best coffee table books to impress guests?
D: Photorealism. 1980 – a heavyweight book; Stile in Progress, The 30 Years of L’Uomo Vogue book, and any Superstudio catalogue assuming you have a Superstudio Quaderna coffee table to put it on.
A: Legendary Parties; 20 Anni di Vogue (even if you only bought it for the Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber sections… everything about this book is beautiful and perfect from the layout and art direction to the wonderful directory with images at the back of fashion editors and attaches de presse working at that time); Photographs by David Hockney.
What literary pilgrimages have you been on?
D: Walking up Wonderland Avenue having read the book of the same name by The Doors’ manager Danny Sugarman.
A: I have not been but very much want to go to the Brontë house in Yorkshire.
What was the last book that made you cry?
D: Sadly, I now can’t remember. I have avoided Ring of Bright Water because I figured it would be uber sad (and I don’t like otters).
A: My answer was Ring of Bright Water! Aged ten.
Have you ever had readers block?
D: Oh yes, for more the whole of my 30s. Kind of deliberately. I was in output mode.
A: Yes, for a period in the late 90s I couldn’t read fiction at all – I read a lot of Elizabeth I biographies and Tudor history.
Who are the people you look to for inspiration?
D: Lev and Gareth at Palace. Demna and Guram at Vetements.
A: Always Demna, Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, Joe McKenna, Camilla Nickerson, Amanda Harlech, and Sophie Hicks.
Who do you trust to give you good travel recommendations?
D: I suspect Adrian Joffe would be pretty good. He does nothing but travel.
A: Kim Jones, and David Dewaele of 2ManyDJs – he’s in pretty much a different country every day, 365 days a year. Also, Alexia Niedzielski once told me of a wonderful Ryokan in Kyoto and I wish I had written it down – I have to ask her again!
If you could tell your younger self to read a certain book, what would it be?
D: Conversations With My Agent by the Cheers writer Rob Long. Not sure it had been written when I would have needed to read it though. So maybe that fails.
A: Anything and everything about meditation.
If you like to travel, what are the important magazines to subscribe to?
D: Probably just local magazines that you can pick up on arrival. Newspapers work better though. It is always good to get LA and pick up reading the LA Times. Even the ads are fascinating.
A: T Mag for sure. I have not read National Geographic for a long time but in the 70s and 80s they were amazing and Conde Nast Traveller used to be great too.
Which books have you never finished but pretend you have?
D: I did not finish Ulysses but I did read the first 200 pages about five times. I don’t pretend to have finished it though. Didn’t get too far through Gravity’s Rainbow either.
A: Not sure if I ever finished The Bell Jar.
Which hotel, restaurant or shop has the best reading material?
D: Any Japanese restaurant menu reads wildly well via the Google Translate app on the iPhone.
A: Chiltern Firehouse reception area has some great PHOTO magazines from the 70s.
What’s your favourite under-appreciated book?
D: All and every Miss Marple.
A: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.
What’s the most overrated ‘classic’?
D: I don’t think there should be such a thing as an overrated classic. I read Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady to check if it was a classic and it really was!
A: On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
What’s the book that, if you saw someone reading it on the tube, would make you talk to them?
D: Alex’s Adventures in Numberland.