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Patricia Altschul Travels With a Minimum Three Pieces of Meticulously Packed (and Checked) Luggage

Luzanne Otto, Emily Selter
Photo credit: Courtesy of Patricia Altschul

From Town & Country

Patricia Altschul, legendary grand dame and the breakout star of Bravo's Southern Charm, is the arbiter of all things chic. While she calls Charleston home (and resides in a sprawling historic mansion), she can often be found visiting New York, Los Angeles, and Europe, and you can be sure that she never sacrifices her signature style while in transit- which means she checks a minimum of three pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage, carries a Birkin, always orders a Bloody Mary-and even brings her own pillowcases. Below, all of the details to how she jetsets across the globe (it is done in fabulous style, as one could only expect) as told to Luzanne Otto and Emily Selter.

She typically flies private, but you may spot her on a commercial flight to Europe

When Patricia flies from Charleston to New York or Florida, she books her travel through JetSmarter, an application that allows users to book private jets on their phones, but she prefers to fly commercial for long-haul flights. Her airline of choice: Delta, a Southern corporation, of course. But British Airways may soon become a top pick thanks to their direct flights from Charleston to London.

When flying commercial, Patricia uses her memberships with CLEAR and TSA PreCheck to make hectic commercial terminals slightly more tolerable-and expedite the process. Much like everything in her life, Altschul's seat choice is carefully selected. She prefers the window seat and also relies on the website Seat Guru, which provides information and seat recommendations for the plane assigned to your flight.

"I prefer not to be disturbed every time the person next to me wants to get up. On most of my air travels, Michael stays home to secure the house and care for my menagerie. Since I don’t know who will be seated next to me, I take into consideration the types of people attracted to the bulkhead’s extra floor space: it’s prime real estate for those traveling with small children. Interpret that observation as you like."

Patricia brings at least three pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage on every trip

On any given trip, she brings a bare minimum of three pieces of vintage Louis Vuitton luggage with enviable patina: a train case for full-size beauty products, a Pullman 80 for clothing, and a Pegase 70 for handbags and footwear. Minimalist, she is not.

"As a general principle and best practice, one should not check designer luggage. I assume the risk of damage and theft when I check my Vuitton. I have only ever had one item stolen from a checked bag. I brought it upon myself for packing with haste and violating a cardinal rule to carry on personal electronic devices. Irrespective of the luggage brand, any passenger who checked a first generation iPad in the first week of release would have suffered the same fate."

Patricia and her staff begin packing a week before her departure

Even a mundane task like packing is approached with tact, because cobbling together a suitable wardrobe at the eleventh hour is anathema to Patricia's disciplined existence. The packing process begins one week prior to her departure, when she summons a garment rack to her boudoir. The rack serves as the sole collection station for the apparel and accessories she will be packing, as well as a space to experiment with looks.

She restrict herself to either an exclusively black or white wardrobe on each of her trips. Doing so makes it easier to create multiple looks from a highly curated selection of clothing and she is able to use the same accessories for each look (usually black flats or heels). Two days before she departs, Patricia begins to pack her suitcases with the assistance of her laundress, Carla. Together they review her travel itinerary and social calendar to ensure that an appropriate ensemble for every commitment is included in her luggage.

Patricia’s bed transforms into a staging area where every piece is laid, examined, and inventoried on a packing list. She lays out all of the necessary tools for perfectly packed luggage on a nearby chaise lounge: Regular and long poly bags (AKA dry cleaner bags), acid-free tissue paper, accessories bags, and lavender sachets by L’Occitane en Provence.

Photo credit: Luzanne Otte
Photo credit: Luzanne Otte

Patricia’s packing process is inspired by Queen Elizabeth II

Her preferred approach to packing is a variation on the method employed by Blossom and Browne’s Sycamore, the holders of HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Warrant for laundry and dry cleaning. Prior to packing, clothing items are neatly folded, then wrapped in tissue paper or placed in a poly bag to reduce friction between garments. Regular-sized poly bags are used for blouses and tunics, and the long ones are used for dresses, gowns and pants. Pashminas, scarves, sweaters, and handbags are wrapped in tissue paper, and the heels of shoes are wrapped in tissue paper before sliding into separate shoe covers. While hanging space for garment bags is available on private jets it cannot be guaranteed while flying commercial. To prepare her dresses to survive a long voyage in a suitcase, Patricia keeps her them on padded hangers, fills sleeves with crumpled tissue paper to retain their shape, and sheathes them in a poly bag. Tissue paper is additionally stuffed in collars and sleeves to preserve form, wrapped around any exposed hardware to prevent scratches and tears, placed between layers of clothing, and used to line the interiors of cases.

What transpires next is best described as the real-world manifestation of Tetris. Contents cannot be positioned too tightly or too loosely, but just right. Each item is packed from heaviest to lightest: the heavier items are placed along the spine of the suitcase to balance the weight at the bottom, while the lightest items are placed on top. While one of her Louis Vuitton suitcases is earmarked for handbags and footwear (the Pegase 70), the other is used for clothing. However, exceptions can be made. When a gossamer evening bag is on the packing list, it may be relocated to the top of the less rough and tumble clothing suitcase. Once everything is arranged, gaps are filled with tissue paper to limit movement in handling. Immediately upon arrival, Patricia unpacks and hangs all of her clothing. Should a garment emerge slightly rumpled, she will hang it in the bathroom during a shower to allow hot steam to smooth out any wrinkles.

Upon her return home, Carla empties her luggage and inspects each piece to see if professional repair is needed. Then Carla proceeds to vacuum the interior compartments of each suitcase. Next, a microfiber cloth is dampened in slightly soapy water to wipe the interior and exterior clean, taking care not to saturate the material. Louis Vuitton’s untreated leather handles are particularly susceptible to darkening and discoloration from the absorption of hand oils and contact with liquids. Absent a pressing need to clean the handles, they are treated once a year with a non-petroleum-based leather cleaner. The clean luggage is then returned to its closet, where hanging, hand-poured, wax tablets from one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, Santa Maria Novella, emit the fresh scent of melograno.

Photo credit: Luzanne Otte
Photo credit: Luzanne Otte

Air Travel Doesn't Cramp Her Style

Patricia's travel uniform consists of loose-fitting and monochromatic apparel, typically a cashmere sweater by The Row, pants from Dolce & Gabbana, a Libertine jacket, and either Chanel ballet flats during the spring and summer or Chanel boots during the fall and winter. She accessorizes with a 40cm Hermes Birkin bag and a stack of chic bangles by Ashley Pittman. She also ties a limited edition scarf by Patricia’s Couture around the handle of her bag for a pop of color.

The contents of her carry-on include the requisite travel documents, her passport (which is encased in a Smythson passport holder), a Chopard ballpoint pen, a D.Porthault boudoir pillow, and an oversized pashmina which also serves as a blanket. She carries monogrammed cosmetic bag which contains a jar of Crème de la Mer and a bubble-wrapped bottle of Altschul’s signature fragrance, Muguet Millésime by Guerlain (a shattered perfume bottle is always undesirable, all the more so when one’s signature fragrance is produced in limited quantities).

She ensures that her iPhone and iPad are always fully charged in advance and she has coordinating chargers at the ready just in case. She spends the majority of her flight time reading a preloaded eBook from her iPad, but should she opt for a movie, she dons Bose noise cancelling headphones gifted by her son, Whitney Sudler-Smith. A Louis Vuitton Poche Monte Carlo 22 jewelry case, medications, Purell sanitizing wipes and gel, and a host of other creature comforts fill her Birkin to the brim.

Photo credit: Luzanne Otte
Photo credit: Luzanne Otte

She obsessively cleans her airplane seat prior to sitting down (and you should, too!)

Patricia is vigilant about maintaining good health amidst the petri dishes of airport and airplane germs. She even cites a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study regarding disease contagion in US airports:

The three airports I travel to the most-JFK, LAX and ATL-are in the top ten worst offenders. Under no circumstances should you permit your bare hands to touch self-check kiosk, armrests at gates, or water fountains. One of the more practical reasons for my campaign to resurrect gloves as accessories.”

Upon boarding an aircraft, Patricia removes a to-go pack of Lysol disinfecting wipes to douse the seating area, seatbelt buckle, and air vent.

Satisfied the surfaces are clean(er) and having relocated the airplane pillow/blanket to the overhead compartment, Altschul visits the lavatory to wash her hands before touching anything in her carry on and settling in for the flight.

Her cardinal rules for staying healthy while flying are as follow:

Tray tables may contain staph, norovirus, cold virus, human feces, superbug. The seatback pocket is almost as filthy. Using the tray table is unavoidable on most flights. You can always avoid using or accessing anything in the seat-back pocket. Use a hand towel to flush and open/close the lavatory door. Sanitize your hands throughout the flight and keep your hands off of your face.”

When pressed for her secret to remaining lovely at 35,000 feet, she reveals that she eschews sheet masks and liters of water, and instead orders a Bloody Mary.

Patricia loves The Ritz Paris

"On my annual trips to Los Angeles, New York and Palm Beach, I stay with close friends. I could stay with friends in Paris, but a week at the Ritz is one of the few luxuries I afford myself. I spent Christmas with the Honorable, Georgette Mosbacher, United States Ambassador to Poland in the American Embassy. I am going to meet Georgette in Europe this summer for two weeks. She wants to buy a second home in Italy or in the South of France, so we will spend two weeks looking at properties."

When she must stay in a hotel, she makes it feel her own

Essential to Patricia’s comfort is ensuring the space she occupies is clean. When she arrives at a hotel, she sanitizes everything in sight to eliminate the vast array of potential pathogens. Surfaces, handles, knobs, telephones, and curtain pulls all get sanitized.

"The remote control is a bacterial scourge. Disinfectant alone is insufficient, so I drop the remote in a plastic bag as an additional prophylactic measure. I recommend buying an inexpensive pair of slippers to wear around the room as a barrier between yourself and the carpet. If leaving the pair behind is infeasible, then wrap in a hermetically sealed bag and wash in the sanitize cycle…twice! Since the microbes that plague hotels are largely invisible, my best advice is to limit direct surface contact and to regularly wash hands. After hanging up my clothes, I relocate the comforter, decorative pillows, all but one sleeping pillow and its case from the bed. I leave a request with housekeeping not to remake the bed. I wash my hands before replacing with a SLIP silk pillowcase (aside from feeling luxurious, I truly believe a silk pillowcase helps to prevent wrinkles. I know it preserves my hairstyle). Surrounding myself with objects that summon thoughts of home aid in my getting a good night’s sleep. To that end, I always pack a votive of my favorite fragrance, Bamboo by Nest. It serves a dual purpose of neutralizing any lingering disinfectant scent."

It is safe to say that she foregoes her ritual bath while staying at a hotel.

Her trips are not always all smooth-sailing

"Waring Hopkins, a Charlestonian by birth and the proprietor of Galerie Hopkins in Paris, invited my husband Arthur and myself to an American Thanksgiving in Paris. At the time, it took 3.5 hours to get from New York to Paris aboard the Concorde. The Concorde had a digital screen that showed its speed to track the plane’s ascension. When you hit the speed of sound at Mach 1, then supersonic speed, so on and so forth. When we hit Mach 2, there was an explosion and the plane shuddered violently. Bread, napkins, eggs, sausage, bacon flew through the air. Arthur was seated in front of me, and as I watched the screen display our rapid descent to subsonic speed his attendant call button illuminated. Since I was behind him, I couldn’t see what was going on. I leaned forward and asked, ‘Arthur, are you okay?’ I was afraid he was having a heart attack. Arthur answered, ‘No, my roll is on the floor.’Soon thereafter, the pilot announced, “We blew an engine.” The rest of the flight was at subsonic speed so it took over 8 hours. We missed Waring’s American Thanksgiving in Paris."

She's roughed it before-including when she toured Australia in a WWII-Era plane

"My mother and I spent a month in Australia during the 1970’s because she had been invited to the opening of the Sydney Opera House and afterwards we spent a month traveling around the country. My mother was very adventurous and she chartered a Fokker place from the Second World War that had collapsible wings. I remember it well because I was absolutely petrified. The pilot was wearing khaki Bermuda Shorts with long knee socks, and the stewardess looked like she was wearing a nightgown. During the long flight to Ayres Rock I asked if there was anything to drink, and she kicked a cooler down the aisle."

For more Patricia, tune in to Southern Charm every Wednesday at 9pm on Bravo.

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