Ask the Expert – Sarah Miller
For our spring edition, Ultimate Library had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Miller who is currently Luxury Brand Ambassador of The Wall Street Journal. She was the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Traveller UK, which she ran for 15 years before launching Condé Nast Traveller in India and China. Upon leaving Condé Nast she was appointed European Editor of Travel + Leisure. She is well connected in the sectors of visual arts, film, fashion, architecture, and design as well as hotels, restaurants, and the world of luxury in general. Sarah is a trustee of the Whitechapel Gallery. She was a governor of the Royal College of Arts for 15 years and is now an Honorary Fellow.
She has had a career in journalism which spans helping to found Blueprint, the leading architecture and design magazine; editing arts and design for Elle, being Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times (launching Style magazine) and Associate Editor and Arts Editor of The Daily Telegraph. Based in London, she has worked extensively with opinion-formers from around the globe and has an extremely influential and pertinent network of contacts. She has won Editor of the Year seven times.
She now runs Sarah Miller and Partners, an independent agency that creates brand strategies and content (digital and print) for a range of luxury and lifestyle brands. She is married to Deyan Sudjic, Director Emeritus of London’s Design Museum. They have one daughter, who is a novelist.
1. What prompted you to write Where Architects Sleep?
My parents are both architects and I grew up surrounded by their group of architectural friends, as well as their students which clearly sparked an early interest in the subject. My husband is also an architectural critic and, as a consequence, today many of our friends are also architects, so as you can probably tell, architecture has been a real theme in my life since I was born. In terms of the interest in hotels, my grandparents were hoteliers, so I used to go to the family hotel after school and help at the reception or back of house which also taught me a great deal about the world of hospitality from a young age.
Being Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Traveller for 17 years was also clearly a huge influence as I got to see some of the world’s best hotels, and meet the architects who designed them, so it felt like a great idea to ask some of the world’s best architects and designers to nominate their favourite hotels and create this book for Phaidon out of our shared expertise.
2. What are your three favourite countries to travel in, and why?
I love so many countries, so it’s very hard to narrow down to only three and my choices also depend on mood and purpose. But assuming it’s all leisure travel, as opposed to business, I’d have to plump for places you can really explore deeply because they offer so much choice and variation for any traveller. For me, this means that it has to be Australia, Italy and, cheating a little, I’d say the continent of South America, especially Chile, Peru and Brazil.
Australia – because of the fantastic people I always encounter there who have a real “no problem, can do” attitude. I also love the amazing pan-Asian inventive cuisine. The rainforest in the Daintree in northern Queensland is where there are most extraordinary species of plants and animals which have thrived for millennia and the beautiful beaches just off the Barrier Reef. Finally, the desert with Uluru, and the neighbouring Olgas, which is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever seen.
Italy. Also because of the people and, of course, the food. But mostly the significant presence of culture throughout the country, which makes it so special, from historic churches and cathedrals to galleries and museums, opera to theatre. It is everywhere from Venice, where we lived for a while, right down to Lecce in Puglia in the South.
And finally, on to South America, which I adore. Visiting Machu Picchu in 1979, and being one of the only people at sunrise in that specular site, was one of the highlights of my whole life. I would also say Chilean Patagonia, which I visited recently, for the sheer magnificence and beauty of the wilderness and the feeling of being in the elements. Plus, we also stayed in some stunning hotels which added to the whole experience. Finally, Brazil for its diversity and incredible beauty from rainforest right down to beach. Along with the amazing people and incredible food, it’s a country brimming with some of the richest culture and heritage that I have encountered.
Of course, I have now started mentally conjuring up more of my favourite places from Mexico to Cambodia…Tokyo to New York – there are so many incredible countries and cities to visit!
3. When travelling, what do you think reading adds to your experiences of a place or location?
I think it’s totally essential and complementary to any travel experience – from reading travel guidebooks and architectural guides, to learning through novels, histories and biographies, books can really help to enliven a traveller’s experience of any place. Some of my favourites include The Fatal Shore and Barcelona by Robert Hughes, Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, Venice by Jan Morris and more recently The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts which is a truly brilliant read. And, of course I am re-reading Gabriel Garcia Marques Love in the Time of Cholera which I love.
While I used to lug a bag of books with me, now I can download and read on my laptop as well as listening to audiobooks. Or, even better, if there’s a well-stocked library at my destination, I can borrow a title from the collection without having to bring anything along!
4. How do you think the need for sustainability will affect luxury travel in the next five to ten years?
I believe that it’s going to be the dominant issue for every traveller and for every form of travel for the foreseeable future. The recent satellite pictures showing the dramatic drop in pollution over cities and the images of wildlife reclaiming streets in these times of Covid-19 are truly remarkable. “Zoom” has now proved to business owners that you don’t need to jet halfway around the world to have a meeting and the internet means that you can stay connected to colleagues easily from home.
When we come out of the health pandemic we will clearly have to deal with the economic crisis as we will see prices go up in every part of the tourism industry. Costs of staying in hotels and resorts will go up as companies try to recoup losses, same for booking airlines which will implement social distancing on planes.
The real question for the tourism and hospitality industry, one of the world’s biggest sectors, is what this “new normal” will look like. It’s clear to me that better sustainable audits of businesses will have to take place and that all travellers will have to be much more acutely aware of their carbon footprint when they take a boat, plane or train. I can see virtual travel, as once suggested by David Bellamy as an alternative to real travel, actually happening.
5. Which books would you say have had the most profound impact on your career?
That’s a really hard question because my career as an Editor has spanned a huge number of publications, from Blueprint architecture magazine to The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and Condé Nast Traveller. And today there’s the Wall Street Journal which I contribute to while I run the Creative Brand Agency I set up five years ago! So, I really do “read” for a living.
Influential books to me are also all those written by my contributors over the years and they cover an incredibly diverse cross section, from On Military History by John Keegan, to Lindsey Hilsum’s biography of my friend Marie Colvin. Little gems by A.A Gill are also up there and, of course, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diaries – as she was a contributing editor while I was at Conde Nast Traveller. During my time as Editor-in-chief there, I read everything by my other contributing editors, Colin Thubron, Redmond O’Hanlon and The Hon Raymond Seitz, former American Ambassador to the court of St James…as well as all the many writers, novelists and journalists who wrote for us.
Patrick Leigh Fermor was a favourite and he wrote for me about swimming across the Dardanelles and sent me a hand-drawn map of his route which I still have to this day. But there are also the books by contributors Philip Marsden, Stanley Stewart, Jan Morris and Michael Palin – plus so many more – probably Ultimate Library’s entire travel section – certainly most of Daunt’s which is a favourite weekend pitstop for me. We have reams of shelves of books at home – one recent one I love is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall – another contributor.
A completely different book that was very helpful for my brand agency and is a real insight for anyone looking to start their own creative business was John Hegarty’s Hegarty on Creativity.
And then of course there’s The Edifice Complex, The Language of Things and Cult Objects; three books written by my husband Deyan Sudjic, which were all proofread by me. Finally, both Sympathy (fiction) and Exposure (non-fiction) – two books written by my daughter, because the pleasure of reading something that has nothing to do with work or my career is the best pleasure there can be.
Ultimate Library would like to say a huge thank you to Sarah for offering to be our expert this month. If you would like more information on Sarah Miller and Partners then please visit her website. You can purchase her book, Where Architects Sleep at Phaidon.