Elisabeth Easther talks to Sonja Batt about her life in fashion and travel.
I grew up in Croatia, in a little village on the island of Hvar. When I was young, Yugoslavia was still communist, and we didn't really have holidays. We just went to school and helped around the house. We had no electricity, no running water, no toys, life was incredibly basic. There were no shops, so we made our own bread and lived off the land. We grew grapes and almonds and fished for food. We had three sheep we'd take out to feed, a goat and chickens. We had a pig in the backyard which we'd feed all year then make prosciutto. Things were preserved, or shared with the other villagers and not everyone killed their pig at the same time.
We came to New Zealand in 1962, when I was 11. We left our village and took a boat to Split, then a bus to Rijeka, where we stayed with family friends. The ship left from Trieste in Italy and took six weeks to get to New Zealand. We went through the Suez Canal, I'd love to do that again. We stopped in Port Said, and Aden and took a bus to Cairo. We stopped in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, then changed ships for New Zealand. It was a long, slow journey and we didn't speak a word of English. I think we went to classes on the ship. As a child you just accept change.
When I met my husband he was living in London, so we lived there in the 70s. I worked in a boutique called Fiorucci. They were the first to stock Valentino and Issey Miyake - those kinds of labels. Rod Stewart would come in, sometimes royalty and after I returned to New Zealand, Marilyn Sainty and I opened Scottie's in 1979.
Working in fashion, I've been lucky to go to Paris for the shows for 27 years. I never tire of Paris. When I land I think, 'God I love this place'. We've seen some incredibly over-the-top runway shows there. I remember one show, Dries van Noten emptied out a huge swimming pool and filled it with beach chairs for us to sit on. At another, he created an amazing dinner, 500 people at one long table in a disused train station, as 250 waiters simultaneously served a three-course dinner. The table was lit by antique Belgian chandeliers, which were lifted at the end of the meal and the models used the table as a runway. It was extraordinary and of course, we were trying not to look like country bumpkins from New Zealand.
Ten years ago I was on holiday with friends in Croatia, staying with my cousin. We were sitting around talking about what we'd do next and someone said, "Let's go to India next year". It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. One of us had a friend who organised tours there and four of us went. It was so exotic and mad but, because we were on a private tour with a guide and a driver, and staying at the best places, sometimes palaces, we didn't have to deal with anything difficult. We went to Jaipur and New Delhi, Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal. The colours were incredible, everything painted so brightly. It was crazy, but in the most beautiful way. If I could, I'd go back tomorrow.
The Balinese project was born when our son moved to Singapore. I was coming back from Paris and my husband, said, "Let's all meet in Bali". We stayed in Seminyak and because we didn't have a beach house in New Zealand, we thought, "Why don't we get a place in Bali". It's a good meeting place, our son can use it for weekends, and we can use it coming back from Europe. At first we imagined a simple Balinese shack, but we couldn't find anything. When my husband had his 60th birthday there, we found a section and ended up building. It wasn't as difficult as you'd think, the builder was amazing, his architect drew up our ideas, and the house was finished in one year. And because we can't be there all the time, we rent it out.
The house is in Seminyak just five minutes from the beach. It has lovely grounds, a swimming pool and is so serene. The Balinese have the most beautiful nature and family comes before anything else. Religion is very important and they have amazing festivals, including Nyepi where there's no talking, no TV, no electricity, so the whole of Bali closes down. No planes land or take off. It's a day of total silence. On other days there'll be a procession of a thousand people all dressed in white and they'll walk to the temple to pray. It's hard to find the right words to express how gorgeous it is.
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It's funny how you take things for granted. I look back on my life from the very beginning to this day - this extraordinary journey I've been on and I sometimes think, "how did I get here?"
Sonja Batt operates Villa Adasa, Bali. villaadasa.com