A life away from the conventional


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2016)

They might very well be modern hippies, beatnik heirs or following the footsteps of Lost Generation artists, Victorian explorers and romantic poets. Just like all those distinct groups from the past, so-called gypsetters let go of the limitations that social conventions impose on them and search for places where blue waters run deep, the land is untouched and the beaches are still deserted. They rather base their lives upon creativity and art than upon money and luxury. You will not find members of this breed lounging in pompous five-star hotels, but you may see them on a surfboard of the coast of Montauk, in a small village on the cliffs of Cornwall or in a tipi in Ibiza.

Gypsetters are a growing group of bon vivants leading semi-nomadic unconventional lives. Often artists, musicians, fashion designers, surfers and models, they live and work around the globe, driven by wanderlust searching for meaning and fulfillment. They are people who have found a new way of life, cherishing the free and nomadic existence of gypsies in a combination with the cleverness and global reach of the international jet set.

Julia Chaplin is an author and a journalist who has worked for the New York Times, Vogue, Elle and Wallpaper. On her many travels, she visited a lot of typical jet set hangouts which were, overall, pretty much the same. She started to look a little bit farther, around the next corner or simply by strolling along the bay a little longer. There she discovered another type of similar people who every time seemed to have arrived just before she did – and not entirely accidentally so. They were artists and surfers who had deliberately avoided St. Tropez as they were searching for another kind of life than the attention-seeking glamour of the rich and famous. And Julia did not observe this to be just a national or a local phenomenon. She recognised it as a global movement and got to know many of its most famous representatives: Jade Jagger, Damien Hirst, Nicolas Malleville and Alice Temperly. For them she coined the word gypset – a portmanteau of gypsy and jet set.

In the meantime, Chaplin has published three books which provide an insight into the unconventional lives of the gypsetters. In “Gypset Style” she reports that she got to know this particular life practically in her cradle, as her parents were constantly traveling. So she traces it back to the late 1960s, when traveling on the Hippie Trail - the so-called route overland between Europe and Asia – as it had become increasingly popular among backpackers and rich kids who wanted to follow the spiritual call of India and Southeast Asia. Her stories depict encounters with typical gypsetters and describe how the early hippie style of the ’60s influenced the fashion. “Gypset Travel” covers the favourite destinations off the beaten track, and “Gypset Living” leads into their homes and creative residences. We want to know from Julia what exactly this lifestyle entails.

Julia, how and where have you discovered the gypset movement?

I was a journalist and started traveling around the world. Bored with all the jet set places and events like Cannes or the Oscars, I began looking further afield. Soon I noticed a pattern of people looking for added soul and meaning into their lives – and I made up the word gypset and called them as such ever since.

Where do gypsetters come from? 

They come from all over the world. They are typically from the US, the UK, France, Germany, Brazil and Australia. 

What are their main characteristics?

Those are people who are spontaneous, adventureous, stylish and above all lead highly conscious lives. 

Which celebrities are typical representatives of the breed?

I would say in any case Kate Moss, Kate Hudson and David de Rothschild.  

Who was the first gypsetter you ever met?

Myself! I was brought up by hippie parents who were traveling the world in a VW van.

Is gypset becoming a trend or do you believe it more of an individual approach to life?

I think gypset has become very trendy as it has become highly linked to festival culture as can be found in Coachella, Burningman and others. Under this banner you can probably also find yoga, mindfulness, environmentalism and the popularity of sustainable clothing – all things which are popular and that people consider as adds to their lives.

Would you say these people are generally better educated and more open-minded than others?

In any case I would say they are very open-minded.

This lifestyle almost sounds like a lifetime vacation: traveling the world, living the free life of a nomad, mostly no social constraints. However, not everyone may afford such. How do gypsetters earn money? What jobs do they have? I presume no 9-to-5 office work for them! 

Gypsetters are mainly freelancers and entrepreneurs making their own schedules. Many work very hard while they are traveling, be they fashion designers or graphic designers, photographers, tech innovators, artists or surfers. They do not have vacations, they simply live wherever they happen to be. 

How does it all combine with social obligations, friends and family? Bringing the children to school? 

Simply take the children with you! For example: every winter I travel to Mexico and bring my 6-year-old daughter to a bilingual school there. 

Typical jet set hide-outs are often international film festivals, biennales and destinations like St. Tropez in summer or St. Barths in winter. Why aren’t those of interest to the gypset?

For the very simple reason that they are too commercial. Gypsetters are looking for more than seeing and being seen and avoid these destinations and events which are developed with too obvious commercial motives and which literally become inundated with crowds. They are looking for more original places, which still have a soul that one can connect with. 

What are typical gypset destinations in Europe?

These would be for example Cornwall in the far southwest of England, Guéthary in Aquitaine and around the Bay of Biscay. The Balearic Islands are a gypset destination, especially Ibiza. Other typical gypset islands are the Aeolians in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. Wonderful, original regions in all, a far cry from over-crowded mass tourism destinations.

As a Gypsette, what is your favourite destination?

In any case José Ignacio. A very small place in Uruguay, a few kilometres along the coast from where Punta del Este runs into Atlantic. Another is Lamu, an island of about six to ten kilometres, off the Kenian coast. It’s a world heritage site and motorised vehicles are not allowed. All transport is done by donkeys. 

Not only the lifestyle and the destinations of the gypset are special, also their appearance and clothes are specific. What do I wear, should I wish to copy their style?

Visible designer logos are an absolute no-go. Typical gypset fashion is a combination of simple, pleasant-to-wear items with ethnic pieces. Hippie jewellery, tunics and caftans locally sourced and manufactured may be added to these. And whenever possible: gypsetters travel barefooted.

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