Photographed by Julien Capmeil
Julia Chaplin is penned at the top of the list of people we wanted to feature in our Conversations series since collecting the three-part Gypset tomes she authored a few years ago. The journalist, world traveler, and modern-day anthropologist is known for coining the now-ubiquitous term “Gypset.” By Julia’s definition, Gypset is a movement driven by an emerging group of artists, musicians, fashion designers, surfers, and bon vivants who lead semi-nomadic, unconventional lives. They are people who have perfected a high-low approach to life that fuses the nomadic wile of a gypsy with the sophistication of the jet-set.
In the Assouline-published Gypset series, Julia documents an alternative way of traveling and living that’s based more on creativity then money. Instead of a luxury hotel, you might find a Gypsetter surfing in Montauk or in a teepee in Ibiza. From Jade Jagger to Damien Hirst, Ubud to Byron Bay, these are all documented in her books Gypset Style, Gypset Travel, and Gypset Living.
Julia herself is the embodiment of the Gypset: With a nose for discovery and a taste for the uncharted, she reminds us of the many ways in which travel – and the off-beaten track – is food for the soul. Here, we chat with the New York-based adventurer.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get your start as a journalist?
I’ve been a journalist for a while. My father is a writer and was a journalist for the Washington Post when I was a kid. I’ve lived in many places when I was a kid. I’ve lived in Key West, Florida, the Bahamas, Mexico, California but we’re from the East Coast – Boston, Philadelphia. So kind of a preppy family but my parents were hippies and decided they wanted to do some exploration.
I was influenced by my father to be a journalist. It seemed like a job in which you can explore. You don’t have to do one thing, you can just kind of explore any one thing you’re interested in so that’s why I liked the idea of being a journalist.
How did you come to create the Gypset anthology?
When I moved to New York as an adult after college, I started working in magazines. Harper’s Bazaar was my first job. I worked at Spin magazine, a music magazine, Elle magazine – different magazines. Then I started becoming more of a writer than an editor and I started writing for The New York Times, doing a lot of stuff for the Style section. Then I just got kind of bored. You know I was doing a lot of, how do you say, kind of these glamorous things like fashion shows, going to Cannes Film Festival, the Oscars. And I thought: All these things I was told as a kid that were what you should try to do was what would be the best thing to do – suddenly I got there and I’m not having much fun, so I’m going to try to do something else. It was really an identity search, you know, fusing my kind of hippie upbringing with this kind of glamorous life that I’ve fallen into in New York. I was bored of New York and I just started traveling around the world. I did it for a few years and noticed that there was an emerging movement of a type of people and I came up with the word “Gypset” to describe them.
Since then, I’ve done three books. The first one was in 2009 and then the most recent one was two or three years ago, and actually the [Gypset] movement just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I think the economic collapse in 2008 helped, it turned everybody to independent thinkers. They realized they had to depend on themselves and not a corporate economy to get by. Also the Internet has given everyone [a platform to be an] entrepreneur. So the Internet coupled with the economic collapse helped my cause because it made everyone independent thinkers.
Also, what’s interesting when I first started Gypset was that it was a reaction to the jet-set. This was meant to be a better alternative but now I find that a lot of the jet-set things have become more gypset. You know, if you go to Jose Ignacio in Uruguay, it’s like jet-set people but nobody’s wearing shoes and everyone’s doing yoga and sitting around the fire and singing – you would never have seen that in the early ‘90s. It was more like St. Tropez, it was more logos. Suddenly everyone’s moving in this direction which is great. I’m happy it’s getting bigger and bigger. And the festival culture, the rise of the wellness movement – all these things are good news for the Gypset. It’s all part of the same thing. It’s becoming a lot more mainstream.
“The [Gypset] movement just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I think the economic collapse in 2008 helped, it turned everybody to independent thinkers. They realized they had to depend on themselves and not a corporate economy to get by.”
How do you think the wellness movement has informed the growth of the Gypset?
I’m working on another book right now. It’s not part of the Gypset series although gypsets are included in the book. It’s a ‘bohemian handbook’ – it’s the working title – so it’s looking at the entire broader spectrum of the bohemian culture and I have a chapter on food and farming, on wellness, on neo-entrepreneurialism. What I’ve been finding interesting is when you’re looking at this from a travel perspective or even a style perspective, that within the leisure realm or hospitality, the kind of information towards living better lives or life hacks, as well as information on organic farming, is seeping into leisure activities, be it music festivals or hotels or hospitality-type weekends.
I just went to a kind of secret hotel in upstate New York. [The proprietor] bought this farm, kind of equestrian hotel-slash-horse farm and you go there for the weekend and you meet people in that community but you’re also learning about organic farming. There’s this cool farmer that’s teaching everybody and planting seeds and these amazing cooks make dinner and explain the origins and properties of various spices like turmeric. I guess I’m saying that it’s all kind of mushing into one thing – it’s no longer food over here, and yoga over there. It’s all melding together.
“When I first started Gypset, it was a reaction to the jet-set. This was meant to be a better alternative but now I find that a lot of the jet-set things have become more gypset… If you go to Jose Ignacio in Uruguay, it’s like jet-set people but nobody’s wearing shoes and everyone’s doing yoga… Suddenly everyone’s moving in this direction which is great.”
Do you have your own wellness ritual?
I meditate but I only meditate for 12 minutes a day because I’m impatient. I exercise – I do yoga or there’s this in New York City called The Class by Taryn Toomey. It’s cardio using yoga principles – Taryn was a yoga instructor. I think we’re seeing a lot of this now in New York. People want more movement that are kind of healing. In the beginning, when yoga was super popular, [the approach to exercise] was really slow and introspective. Now with exercise, it’s moving where people want to be more assertive and proactive and kind of cardio. It’s maybe partly related to the activist movement we’re experiencing now in the United States. We’re all becoming activists so there’s a sense of fire. People want to be effectual so it’s reflected in their exercise.
How often do you travel?
I travel a fair amount. I’m sort of a seasonal traveler, I travel a lot in the summer and a lot in the winter. I have a seven-year-old daughter who goes to school so I’m sort of landlocked with her schedule but we spent the winter in Mexico. I travel slightly less in the fall than all the other seasons. In the fall, it’s a great time to be here in New York, there’s a lot of things happening in the art world, in fashion. It’s an exciting marketplace of ideas so I kind of like it here in the fall.
Do you have new Gypset destinations that you haven’t covered in your books yet?
I spent this summer in Panarea, Italy. I really like the little island there. Ojai in California – it’s not in my books but I would certainly put it in now. There’s a really interesting movement of art and crafts and food in Ojai. There’s certain places that keep growing. I think Tangier, Morocco is really interesting. There’s a little island off of Sicily – Favignana. Havana is fantastic. Santa Teresa in Costa Rica is great – I haven’t put that in my book but I would now. It’s kind of evolved. So yeah, there’s tons of places!