Julia Chaplin Talks Gypset Style at Phoenix Art Museum

Despite Julia Chaplin's seemingly constant globe-trotting (she's recently spent time in Uruguay and Brazil, and travels to Mexico today), the writer insists she's an interloper -- a sort of Margaret Mead when it comes to understanding and documenting gypset culture.

What's "gypset"? It's pretty simple actually. Combine the roaming lifestyle of Gypsies with the dawn of '60s jetsetting air travel. 

Think The Beatles meditating with Maharishi Maresh Yogi ... and Mia Farrow, who'd recently divorced Frank Sinatra. Think trust fund twenty-somethings buying a jalopy in western Europe and driving the hippy trail to Asia. It's a marrying of privilege with the low-end and earthy.

On a recent adventure, Chaplin encountered a male model who lives in a remote South American town in a sort of treehouse without electricity or running water. But here's what it does have: a solar panel so that said male model can charge his cell phone and receive calls from his manager. Uh-huh. That's gypset style.

Chaplin, a journalist, who's contributed to Elle, Vogue, and New York Times and specializes in alternative lifestyles and counterculture, spoke last night at Phoenix Art Museum about her research into gypset culture and how it relates to the work of fashion designer Giorgio di Sant' Angelo, the subject of a currently-on-view retrospective.

Chaplin traced Sant' Angelo's use of tribal prints, bold colors, and peasant shapes to a hitchhiking trip he took, in the vein Jack Kerouac's On The Road. That spirit of setting out to discover uncharted territory carried into his experimental designs and innovative silhouettes, which easily fit into the lifestyle of semi-nomadic creative types, like surfers, artists, and bon vivants.

Sant' Angelo captured the zeitgeist of the gypsetters, bringing together international styles to create a technicolor array of chic, moving clothes, including harem pants, Spanish lace, eastern European flowing blouses, and rope sandals.

Modern jet-setting gypsies seeking experimental luxury no longer have such a seminal designer, but Chaplin has delved into design since exploring the gypset world. The result is her own take on neither fall nor spring clothing but, as she puts it, extended vacation. That means mini dresses and brightly colored sarongs that look as exotic as the locales she jets off to. Maybe she's more of an embodiment of gypset than she thinks.

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