Leiti Hsu is a food-obsessed, globetrotting, “robe-bopping” (more on that later) powerhouse. She’s a co-founder and now advisor, of the modern-day travel agency Journy. She also started the food media company Word of Mouth, which tells stories of life through the lens of food. We caught up at one of her new favorite haunts, Last Light at Sister City to talk about dressing for maximum fun—and, of course, to eat and drink.
HOW DO YOU STYLE YOUR INDUSTRY STANDARD PIECES?
I was a late bloomer style-wise. Growing up I was a nerd. I didn’t have as much courage in terms of dressing to make a statement. When I started working I was in investment banking, there weren’t a lot of role models for young women like me in the workplace. It was a lot of Brooks Brothers shirts at office golf tournament types of scenarios. At a certain point in my career, I was able to go “F— it!” and go for maximum fun. When I wear IS I’m using it as a base for a statement—a clean palette of sorts. For example, I’ll take the Odette white jeans and the white Maxime tee for a monochrome base and add an ethereal emerald organza duster jacket and my chartreuse Manolos.
WHAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED?
I honestly can't remember. Even if I did I’d be ashamed because I love to watch rom-coms on the plane with a plastic cup of below-average red wine and bawl my eyes out alone. I fly a lot for work so it's a good release.
WHAT IS SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I'm far more introverted than you might expect. I dive into big events, on-camera and/or interviewing people, so when I show up I might already be in the hosting and entertaining flow. Still, before, during and after, I take deep breaths and really harness my extrovert reserves. Always remember to breathe.
IF YOU COULD STEAL ANYONE'S HOME TO LIVE IN, WHOSE WOULD IT BE?
I would combine Oprah, Gweneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen’s homes and then bring in my own designers to create a kind of female badass mogul paradise.
DESIGN YOUR IDEAL DINNER PARTY WITH ANY 3 GUESTS OF YOUR CHOOSING:
I’d be in Japan because Japanese food is the best—well, tied with Taiwanese—I’m Taiwanese. The location would be an epic ryokan [traditional Japanese inn with room service]—that way after eating I’d just roll myself to my room afterwards—or better, into bed. The restaurant would have flowers, like Gramercy Tavern level of floral arrangements. Food would be a procession of omakase, as biodiverse as possible. There would be uni, uni everywhere. To drink there would be red and white Burgundy served in impossibly thin glassware. Three guests. Well, I’d invite the posthumous Anthony Bourdain, Awkwafina and Oprah (because I’m taking her house). Actually I’d invite more people, even though you only said three, it’s a party! There are always extra folding chairs. Dress code is bring the most drama(!) renditions of yourself...colors, sparkles, feathers, leather, see-through and so on.
WHO'S YOUR TV ALTER EGO?
There aren't enough Asian women in entertainment, first of all, but if I had to pick someone I'd say Ellen DeGeneres. We both dance on command.
WHOSE STYLE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
Amal Clooney. She’s elegant with flair. Love that over-the-top drama executed by a brainy woman.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
My coach, Lauren Zander’s book, Maybe it’s You. It’s a distillation of her coaching philosophy: telling the truth, keeping promises and being accountable. Getting coached is expensive; I understand it’s a privilege. That said, it’s the way I learned how to build an epic life professionally, personally, even romantically. My dating life is fun, now! It’s also helped me to navigate my mother's death. My coaching helped me get serious about keeping promises to others and, just as importantly, to myself. Promises to ourselves are the first ones to go. And if you can’t keep a promise to yourself, to hold yourself accountable, how are you going to really keep promises to anyone else?
WHAT IS YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE?
I travel a lot for work. After traveling and a long work day I love baths. I’ll call ahead to make sure there’s a tub, I’ll change rooms if possible. After the bath I like a very, very large bed. The best are those as wide as it is long. As important as the size of the bed are the sheets. For me it’s not about thread count, it’s about how crisp they are. I want crispy-ass percale cotton sheets on my bed. I get into it, and go ahhhh. Then I make time to dance in robe wherever I am in the world à la Robe Bop.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, YOU WOULD GO TO:
I wouldn't want to go back to any other era because they would all be less comfy and delightful in terms of travel, food and drink, oh my! Plus, all those little things in life—toilets, electricity and running water—are not to be taken for granted. If I had to go back in time, I would go back to an earlier time in my life and apply what I know now. I would have had more fun...and sooner.
WHAT DON’T YOU DO?
I avoid complaining out loud how expensive food and drink are. Both personally and professionally that really bothers me. Professionally, good food costs money. I understand people struggle to put a square meal on the table, I’m talking the fortunate people who can afford to choose to go out to eat. A lot of bad (farming, production and processing of ingredients not to mention labor practices) has to happen for cheap food to happen. My Asian parents said “I love you” via food, not words. So any limits on food makes me sad. It’s a scarcity mentality that reminds me of starting out an immigrant kid, when ordering a soft drink was once a splurge. I knew I’d have to work hard for the experiences I wanted to have.
WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU GOOGLED?
How to say veal milanese in Italian. I was in Milan for work, and they had this classic milanese dish that’s essentially a breaded meat cutlet. But the difference was, it was the size of my head! I don’t speak Italian and I wanted to get it right, so Google to the rescue: “Cotoletta alla Milanese” with the addition of “Gigantessa.”