Live from the homefront – chariot racing at Easter and other hip adventures

Susannah Grant bites into a bar of chocolate  whilst sitting at her desk in a wheelchair
Chariot racing whilst eating chocolate

I´m obviously loving this confinement so much that I´ve decided to extend it till mid-June and to restrict myself to the first floor of my house. That can be the only explanation I can give to the absurd accident I had last week whereby I fell down and managed to fracture my hip. There was me, only venturing out to the supermarket once every two weeks to avoid contamination and suddenly I find myself in an ambulance hurtling at top (excruciating) speed to a Corona virus battlefield. Funnily enough, there weren´t many people in the Emergency Dept… The following day I had surgery and increased the metal content of my limbs with 3 screws and was dispatched back to my room only to be discharged, to my great surprise and discomfort, 24 hours later to avoid risk of contamination.

Personally, I can´t recommend a hospital stay right now as an extreme measure to take a break from your kids or spouse….the staff are very stressed, over-worked and God forbid you should need a bedpan first thing in the morning. It was a very sobering experience and made me sympathise enormously for the huge numbers of elderly people in old people´s residences on a long-term basis.

I shall have plenty of time to enjoy “A Gentleman in Moscow”, the New York Times Bestseller by Amor Towles. Hailed as a book to “spark joy” I’ve been assured it´s a fascinating book that features wine and food a lot and recounts the story of a Russian count who finds himself confined to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. His musings are curiously prophetic as he advocates: “adversity presents itself in many forms, and if a man does not master his circumstances, then he is bound to be mastered by them.” Never truer than now. It´s available on Amazon or downloadable for free on

Photo Treasure hunt

It looks like this self-isolation is going to continue so here are some novel tried and tested indoor games from 2 schoolfriends you too can try at home:

Treasure hunt with close-up photos from around the house and garden –

This comprises hiding photos around the house. Except that you play the game backwards, starting with the prize. For example, a €5 note in dartboard – a small photo of a dartboard number hidden under a radio – a small photo of a radio on/off button hidden under…..and so it goes on. Suits all ages.

Film Festival – everyone makes a mobile phone film which you then show on TV, the one with the highest votes wins a chocolate bunny Oscar.

Cris Barbi, an estate agent with Remax has been crystal ball gazing and predicts that the property market should recover quite quickly once the corona virus issue eases off.  Those vendors in a hurry to sell may decrease slightly their asking price but we had already seen a levelling off of prices in the last quarter of 2019.

There has been a flurry of activity amongst INC members this week, Char has been busy making baby bassinet cars.

Titane has been busy embellishing her summer wardrobe, Barbara Scalera’s dog has been enjoying the spring flowers and Cara has been doing some much needed flute practice with Mozart flute concertos on backing tracks online. Her son has joined her for the odd duet of “Hit the Road Jack” on his saxophone – let´s hope their neighbours are still on speaking terms with the Wilsons after confinement!

Go with the flow and release the artist from within

Chocolate supplies looking critical, time to hide them away from my husband

Perhaps, like me you were somewhat surprised to wake up and see 1 cm of snow in Madrid on Tuesday, a mere two days after sunbathing in shorts. To be honest, with world events being what they are, I was fully expecting to see a herd of dinosaurs stampede past my window at breakfast.

Sarah enjoys some dog-walking time in real snow

Finding it hard to concentrate on menial tasks or reading came up as a collective issue in our Area 4/5 virtual coffee this week. We´re not the only ones feeling this way. In a now viral tweet, BBC journalist Emily Maitlis admitted she was struggling to concentrate on books, too. As we try to adapt to the “new normal” way of working, interacting, increased anxiety levels and information overload, our minds are playing catch up and trying to process situations that are constantly changing. We have become adept at shifting focus quickly and now find it harder to sustain our attention on one single thing.

Fortunately for Carrie, her kids don´t have attention issues in front of Cosmic Yoga

Experts advise us to accept the new thoughts and feelings we´re experiencing. During times of uncertainty, it´s important to take charge of the things we can control ourselves. Now is the time to indulge in restorative activities to suppress feelings such as uncertainty or loneliness which put pressure on our immune system. Our new “normal” day could include a two-minute mindfulness exercise* to focus on our own wellbeing and to establish a routine which includes healthy habits like quality sleep, exercise, self-care and some fun to look forward to at the end of the day…spoiling treat of Easter eggs or a phone call with a favourite friend.  I didn´t find any reliable scientific research on the emotional advantages of sharing one´s chocolate eggs……

Titane takes a trip down memory lane and archives family memories in handcrafted albums

Once we´ve addressed our physical and emotional wellbeing we can consider what daily activities, new or old, will whisk us away into a place where time is immaterial and flies by productively. This is where we enter into a state of flow. Experienced marathon runners enter this frame of mind where each step inevitably follows the previous one, without regard for tiredness, time or anxiety. As do those writers who hole up in the attic for hours on end, bashing out manuscripts that pour out seamlessly onto the screen from the author´s imagination. At least that´s what happens in a normal world…less so, when irritating kids are constantly interrupting you asking for yet another snack or help with their schoolwork.

Loreto gets lost in the beautiful brushwork of her imagination

Engaging in activities that produce flow, are often very rewarding, such as fashioning copious homemade masks or researching Corona charity projects, as our own unique skills are often aligned with the purpose and we experience a sense of control over the positive outcome of our achievement. Painting, knitting, board games, journaling, dancing, cooking, reading, learning a new skill are all examples of activities that can trigger a state of flow at home.  These will productively shorten your day and cocoon your mind away from the daily battle being fought on our doorsteps or that other one in your living room.

Adding a sense of purpose heightens concentration

Other INC members round Madrid have spent some special moments connecting with others “face to face”, making traditional Easter Torrijas and even homemade tortillas.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter, at home, in touch with all your Easter bunnies whoever and wherever they are.


Quiet contemplation and colourful cooking – indulge your mind, body and soul

I know which zinc source I´m opting for

It´s heartening to know that dark chocolate boosts the immune system with its zinc content. I reckon that I´m one chocolate bar away from turning into an AA battery at this rate.

While we´re hibernating at home in limited space the need to pamper our mind, body and soul is more acute than ever. Cooking at home allows you to retract within your cocoon away from the stress of your household, your anxious mind and world events outside your window.

Shrimp and pepper skillet

You can really get into the flow of your recipe and let your imagination drift to a fun, safe place. Choose colourful and vibrant food rich in antioxidants that you can arrange artistically on the plate. When you´re feeling like company you can cook with other family members or follow an online cookery class if you´re by yourself. Food brings us together and is wonderful for boosting morale. Napoleon famously said that an army marches on its stomach. His own military was instructed to transport loads of heavy wine. They also had to forage for food which I rather suspect was a euphemism for looting. Send me photos of any of the culinary creations that have fed your body and soul during these times.

7 bars of dark chocolate to keep author sane
Vital food for sanity – spot new flavour: Blueberry and dark

Last Tuesday I had a wonderful time singing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds with over 500 other Sofa Singers from Argentina to Australia. This was very much food for my soul because music accesses more parts of the brain than almost any other activity. As humans, we have evolved to be a species that actually wants to be in communication with people and right now we are seeing that music is the perfect vehicle for connecting and pop-up choirs are forming on balconies all over the world. The next session is at 8.30 pm on Tuesday 31st March. Registration opens at 7.30 pm on Monday 30th and sells out almost immediately.

Spanish flag at the ready with the Sofa Singers

My brain is usually on overdrive (fixated on my next chocolate remedy) at the best of times but this week I discovered how to quieten it for 15 minutes with online yoga sensation, Adriene, who offers this wonderful free meditation to provide relief from stress. Perfect for beginners, I was truly floating following her Meditation for Anxiety on an imaginary flying carpet and woke up right in front of the chocolate cupboard. This is a must for meditation cynics in these disconcerting times.

Area 2/3 enjoy a some chat in the zoom room

This week Area 2/3 enjoyed their first virtual coffee. First prize goes to our President, Eleanor for showing off the most alluring background. Soon we will all be wearing hats as we all start to show our true (hair) colours. Humans are expert at adapting to our environments and INC is no exception.

Live from the homefront – Caviar and choirs will see us through

Ooops – four bars fewer than last week

Chocolate is still plentiful so morale is bearing up nicely. Apparently, we are now only allowed to shop in our area which may put perturbing pressure on my Lindt addiction as Aldi doesn´t stock it. Rationing one´s supermarket groceries so that they last two weeks has generated much creativity in our kitchen as I am sure it has in yours.  One single portion of minced meat can now feed my whole family when mixed with black beans and frozen spinach, wrapped up snuggly in flour tortillas and submerged under tinned tomatoes with sautéed carrot and onion. Adding a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkling of chipotle flakes makes for some deliciously nutritious burritos.

Resourcefulness on a plate

Frustration and loneliness trigger stress responses in our body which put pressure on our immune system. So, over the coming weeks I shall be providing some tips on how best to boost our body´s defenses. One simple way is to eat plenty of foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies which can be all found in tins. Other sources include chia seeds, hemp and flax seeds. I love inflating chia seeds in water or milk flavoured with banana or orange blossom water (agua de azahar) which is so common in Spanish puddings and readily available in all supermarkets. Should you be wanting to treat yourself to an immune bolstering Saturday night you´ll have the perfect excuse to order some Omega 3-rich salmon, oysters and caviar online. If anyone at home baulks at the 25,000USD per kilo price tag of Alma´s White Beluga you can merely reply “But honey, I´m just trying to keep us all healthy” ………..or alternatively plump for salty fish roe.  

Champion your inner voice during self-isolation

Adversity often gives rise to positivity and here is one such free initiative which I am sure will continue well after the Corona virus is over. The Sofa Singers brings hundreds of people from around the world to “spark joy and human connection”. Every week you can tune in to sing a well-known song followed by a virtual collective tea break. Now, as some of you will know, in Spain there´s a saying that says “si cantas mal va a llover” (If you sing badly it´ll start raining), which is an allusion to frogs who croak before rainfall. Fortunately, as a Sofa Singer, no one will hear your individual “melody” so you can warble away anxiety and monsoon-free. The next session is at 8.30 pm (Spanish time) on Tuesday 24th March. Registration opens 8.30 pm on Monday 23rd March. Details at the end of the article on how to download zoom. They are hoping to livestream on YouTube too.

Starting the day with a smile

In the meantime, here is Area 5 member, Cris Barbi´s cheery suggestion for breakfast. Send me your ideas to uplift the spirit and let´s remember to contact those in our Areas who are in confinement by themselves at this time.

A fridge printout – let me know how you are getting on

Editor’s Note:

The video conference platform zoom downloads automatically by clicking here:

Life in Madrid – live from the homefront

Recent world events have given me plenty of food for thought so I shall be sharing a few musings from my own perspective on life this week.

Determined to keep up morale

People react to Government announcements in a myriad different ways. The day before the schools were closed saw thousands of Madrid residents clearing the shelves of toilet paper. This caused much amusement in my daughter´s school as I was at the school gates early requesting the key to the school library to thereby divest the shelves of books for my children. Whilst most people were concerned about food and toiletry shortages, my primary objective was to combat boredom and family cabin fever by ensuring everyone had plenty of books. As opposed to glueing ourselves to a virtual tour of the Uffizi or the Prado, our selection of reading material will transport us to the nether regions of our imaginations where there is endless fun to be had on tap.

Massachusetts Avenue One political thriller set in the British Embassy in Washington DC

Don´t get me wrong….I will still be keeping up with my British TV drama series of an evening but we’ll also be listening to varied podcasts where we can visualise the adventures for ourselves rather than have a screen to do all that for us. I recommend these dramas from BBB Radio 4 where you can listen for free to dramatised broadcasts ranging from James Bond to political thrillers:

I am officially defective when it comes to manual dexterity but fortunately I persuaded my 7 year old daughter to exercise some artistic talent of her own and make her very own diary to document events. Thus granting Mummy some peace and quiet for a two hours.

Thank goodness British package holiday airlines have been turned back mid-air and the Spanish health system on the costas can focus on looking after the sick as opposed to my drunken compatriots roving the streets in search of cheap beer.

Too much cerveza for this Brit

Whilst we hunker down en famille, let us remember to keep in contact with those who live alone…especially our single or widowed friends and other INC members who maybe feeling the lonely effects of self-isolation more acutely than ourselves.

Let me know how you´re getting on. Till next time……

Barbara Scalera – Success Hypno Coach

Barbara Scalera Success Hypno Coach

Barbara Scalera, The Success Hypno Coach talks to us about what it takes to override our subconscious to achieve our own personal or business goals.

What is it exactly that you do?

I am a fully accredited hypnotherapist and practitioner who helps people overcome their limiting beliefs, doubts and fears and then I coach them through the pathway to success in their business and personal lives so that they can have or achieve what they want.

Why do people have hang-ups about money and earning it?

Our beliefs about money and our ability to earn it, grow it, save it and enjoy it are formed in our subconscious by the time we are 10 years old. We then tend to live according to those beliefs as adults. So if you were taught “money doesn’t bring happiness” or that “money is limited” your subconscious will rule your actions to prevent you from acquiring the wealth you consciously would like to have. If you do end up having access to significant wealth through your partner or your own salary you may still overspend it, horde it or sabotage it unless you use tools like hypnosis that work at the subconscious level to rewrite your belief system.

One of Barbara´s positive mantras

Do you see any nationality stereotypes emerging in your field?

In the US having a ‘shrink’ can actually be seen as a status symbol and is universally accepted. In Britain and Ireland the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture prevails so people talk less openly about feelings. As one of my good friends from Dublin said to me at the start of my coaching career, ‘but Barbara, that’s what the pub is for!’

In Spain other cultural factors come into play and I´ve noticed that Spanish men are sometimes reticent to express emotion and tears in front of a woman.

Tell us about some of the funniest reactions clients have had to hypnosis.

I always have to laugh when I tell someone what I do and they immediately stop making eye contact as if I’m going to turn them into a chicken on the spot! People often ask if I can make them levitate – as a Harry Potter fan I have been tempted to get a wand to pull out and confidently exclaim ‘Wingardium Leviosa!’ but I don’t think it would be good for business.

Barbara takes the stage

What sort of challenges does the overseas experience present for your expat clients?

The expat experience can really trigger underlying negative beliefs as newcomers navigate through the challenges of fitting in socially, linguistically and culturally to their new environment. Every day can feel like the first day of school all over again. In addition, overseas entrepreneurs can often struggle to promote their services boldly and charge their worth abroad.  Lack of inner confidence is a recurring theme in many expat scenarios and it´s wonderful to see clients shift from conflicted to comfortable, not just in their new home but in their own skin, regardless of where life takes them. 

What characteristics would you say are helpful in your field?

A balance of empathy and no-nonsense honesty. As opposed to sympathy, which is available on tap for free from your friends, I teach my clients that  whilst they are responsible for creating their reality, they are not ‘to blame’ for their situation – their subconscious mind is simply acting exactly how it’s designed to act, to protect them from what the subconscious thinks is unsafe based on their childhood experiences and beliefs.

Where do you see you and your business in 10 years?

 I will be creating additional online programmes, taking advantage of virtual reality to bring to life clients´ aspirations and implementing hypnosis techniques in the workplace to increase morale and performance.

Email to arrange a free call to discuss whether hypno-coaching is right for you and to find out about any offers for INC members.

Panic & Pizza – Susannah tries out some of Madrid´s best dough

Front of Panic Bakery with steamed up window.

Any trip to the Centro Cultural Conde Duque should be synonymous with Panic. As featured in Gywneth Paltrow´s website, Goop, Panic is one of Madrid´s best artisanal bakeries.

Two years ago I stumbled across a huge queue of people enveloped in steam emanating from the ovens of a bakery known as Panic on Calle Conde Duque, off Calle Alberto Aguilera. Always on the look out for good quality bread I decided to join the line and 15 minutes later I got to the front and a flustered lady brandishing a large notebook was asking me my name. Rather non-plussed I explained that I´d come to buy bread, not to attend an interview. Confusion shortly gave way to panic as she explained that loaves had to be pre-ordered in advance. By this stage my gastric juices were close to causing a terminal ulcer in my stomach after spending so long inhaling tantalising aromas of freshly baked bread in the queue. Much coaxing ensued and I was issued with a few leftovers from the morning batch. Therein the panic gave way to today´s addiction.

Reserve your loaf in advance to avoid panic

This week, having been thwarted by the opening times of the Mats Staub video installation I end up fortuitously in “Emigrantes Invisibles” in the same Centro Cultural Conde Duque. This is a small boutique exhibition of photographs from the tens of thousands of Spaniards who emigrated to the US between 1890 and 1945. Many ended up in factories such as steel and tobacco in Ohio and Florida. Whilst Andalucían agricultural workers were granted free passage to Hawaii to continue their expertise in the sugar cane plantations. Once the railroads were built many moved again within the US and reputedly one of the first bars on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after Prohibition was opened by a Spaniard.

Spanish-owned bar on Lower East Side, Manhattan

Owing to the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939, many immigrants realised that the US offered a more stable future and many first generation Spaniards resolved to integrate seamlessly in their new habitat, hence the adjective “invisible” in the exhibition´s title. However, the Spanish continued to observe and re-enact their traditional customs, fiestas and sports from the mother country including La Fiesta de San Roque, putting together frontón teams, participating proudly in annual Spanish parades in places such as Canton, Ohio, setting up numerous active Spanish Societies around the country and the organisation of countless annual Spanish picnic celebrations.

You can take the Spanish man out of Spain but not the Spanish out of the man

All those photographs of Spaniards enjoying their culinary fare round the States ignited a monstruous appetite so I turned my attentions to exploring the myriad authentic tabernas in maze of streets and squares around Calle Limón, San Vicente Ferrer up to Malasaña where I clocked Casa Macareno, 44 for a future visit. Ten minutes` stroll later, on Calle Dos de Mayo, I found myself in front of a hole in the wall emitting giant wafer-thin 2€ pizza slices loaded with toppings ranging from a simple Margarita to BBQ sauce and pepperoni. Ever faithful to my culinary conviction that less is more (regrettably that rule doesn´t apply to money…) I order rocket and mushroom from the female pizzaiolo who is deftly stretching and kneading the next order. The symphony of springy dough with just the right ratio of tomato and cheese inspires me to inquire if the owners are Italian. “No,” she replies with a wry grin, “Not at all, This is New York style pizza! ” 2€ is a definitely a recommendable bargain if you´re looking to be teleported to NYC any time soon. You´ll get there a lot faster than the emigrantes invisibles.

The dough has it

Panadería Panic – Calle Conde Duque, 13. Tel +34.910.86.22.01 Mon-Sat: 9:30am-9pm

Antonia Pizza – Calle Dos de Mayo. The cat is usually too busy to answer the phone.

Pizza hole in the wall
A slice of New York in Madrid

Julia Diéguez – Life in the Move

Julia Diéguez skiing in Andorra

Julia Diéguez, founder of the relocation company and e-guide: Life in the Move talks to us about trotting the globe, dealing with noisy bears and demanding clients

How did you come up with the idea of creating a relocation company?

I was inspired by our experience with relocation agents in 1995 when we moved to Buenos Aires with our two small sons. They provided invaluable support during our transfer and 5 years later when we returned to Madrid I wanted to put my expat experience to good use by helping those relocating to Madrid to settle in smoothly.

After working in Madrid for a relocation company for 15 years we moved to China where I seized the opportunity to take the next step and started Live in the Move.

What was your previous profession?

I was a lawyer in a software company in Madrid with responsibility for public contracts.


Where have you lived and why have you relocated 6 times?

Due to my husband´s job we have lived in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), L’Aldosa (Andorra), Macau (China) and Kuwait. In addition, in 1988 I moved by myself to Boston to study Certificate of Special Studies in Administration and Management at Harvard.

How is your relocation company different from others and who are your target clients?

We provide the full spectrum of relocation services online ie all the information required, arranging any appointments etc without physically accompanying our clients in person.

This online service is aimed at freelance professionals and business owners, digital nomads etc who struggle with the wealth of unreliable and disjointed information they find on the internet.

In addition, we also continue to provide the more “traditional” relocation services for companies and their expat employees.

What is your e-relocation guide?

The guide (The secret of relocating to Madrid) is an ebook that is updated twice a year and available from our website and on Amazon. It´s a one-stop shop that contains all the info that I would like to have found about any of the cities I moved to prior to actually arriving there. This means clients can start planning their move well before they actually relocate.

How has the relocation industry changed over the last few years?

During the last financial crisis the industry saw a lot of repatriations and the rate of new expatriations slowed down, plus expat conditions became less favourable.

Nowadays a lot of the expats are digital nomads and independent professionals who are used to doing everything by themselves

What is the strangest request you´ve ever received from a relocation client?

Truth be told, most people are pretty reasonable but I’ll always remember that one family who wanted to move with what I thought was a farm! They had lots of pets including a donkey.


Tell us a funny anecdote about yourself moving to Macau

We ended up renting a flat with a lovely view over a huge park in what seemed like the perfect quiet spot in the middle of noisy Macau. Little did I know that at 5 am I would be woken up on a daily basis by a family of Panda Bears doing their morning rituals!

Lesson learned: always expect the unexpected in relocation! What seems completely normal to the locals can seem must unusual to most foreigners!

Do you have any funny anecdotes about helping a particular client to relocate to Madrid?

A young Far Eastern professional lady who wanted a silver hair dryer included with the rest of the household appliances…

What is the key to a successful relocation agent?

Being able to empathise and remain open-minded. It´s not strictly essential to have had one´s own expat experience but it certainly helps one to gain a full understanding of the task in hand.


Which nationalities are the most and least demanding clients?

The Chinese are the most demanding whereas Europeans on the whole, in my experience anyway, are the least.

What´s next for Life in the Move?

I’d like to start a new business line adding a boutique real estate brokerage.

What trends do you see in relocation in general?

I see big companies tend to hire international companies that provide a worldwide relocation service and, on the other hand, many freelancers moving around by themselves.


Life in the Move:


Spotlight on Monica Voicu Denniston

Monica stands with her US air force husband and 2 small children next to a plane

California-bred, former lawyer, pie baker on a mission with a flair for writing, Monica Voicu Denniston takes the spotlight and talks to us about her Romanian heritage and the new hobbies sparking joy in her life. 

What brought you to Madrid a year and a half ago?

My husband is a US Air Force pilot on a NATO staff assignment at Torrejón Air Base.

How would you define that connection that bonds trailing spouses of military or civilian expat spouses?

I feel an almost-immediate connection with them as they truly empathize with the experience of having to transport your life from A to B. With military spouses, there´s the added kinship of having experienced deployments and separation that civilians can´t understand. Both types of spouses are worthy of huge respect and admiration.

You emigrated to California from Romania when you were 8, how has that experience shaped your life?

It has deeply affected multiple aspects of my life. It has made me more resilient and comfortable tackling new situations; even more open-minded and inclusive of others. I have found learning foreign languages easier, having already had to master English at a young age. Conversely, it’s made me feel like a little bit of an outsider and long for a lasting community.

Home is where the heart is

Has anything surprised you about Spain and its people? Do you think they have some similarities with Romanian people?

I have been pleasantly surprised about how at home I am in Spain. I truly feel I could live here forever. There is a warmth to the Spanish people that reminds me of Romanian people. I love the focus on family, slowing down, and enjoying life.

How did Marie Kondo, the world-famous queen of decluttering, inspire you to quit as a litigation lawyer?

During a trip to Australia I read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” in which Kondo advises letting go of anything that doesn’t spark joy. At that moment, it hit me that my job as a litigation associate for a big law firm had never truly excited me and that all I really wanted to do was stay home with my toddler daughter. I quit my job the day after we got back from vacation.

Monica´s children get ready for San Isidro

You’re really enjoying the INC E-news Editor role, tell us about your interest in writing.

I’ve always been passionate about writing, though I’ve only recently started to realize that about myself! From writing my own “newspapers” and books as a child, to blogging all about my wedding and life in Spain, to legal writing during my law career. I have even written a children’s picture book manuscript and am trying to get that published.

Monica is on a mission to cook every pie in her new cookbook!

You also have several artistic and culinary hobbies that are key in your life.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve found it important for my mental health to continue to have creative outlets and hobbies. To that end, I have taken various art classes, including ceramics, oil painting, and children’s book illustration. I also love cooking and have recently made it a goal to bake every pie in a pie cookbook I picked up in Copenhagen over the summer.

If you could wave a magic wand where would you go next?

That’s a tough question, because I love it here so much that it’s hard to think of somewhere else I’d rather be. It would be fun to live somewhere tropical, like Hawaii, for a few years. I also would love to end up in Northern California again…I will always be a California girl at heart.

Face to Face with Laura Fontán of Chula Fashion

Diego and Laura in the Grand Canyon

Today we talk to Laura Fontán, who together with her husband Diego Cortiza, founded an unusual slow fashion brand in Hanoi known as Chula and are revolutionising the textile industry worldwide with their visionary, responsible approach to global brand building.

How did Chula start?

Well, quite by chance. We arrived in Vietnam in 2004 and immediately fell in love with the people, the exotic food and the traditional culture. I loved having clothes made there and soon asked Diego to apply his artistic skills as a trained architect to designing outfits for me.  People started to inquire about my clothes and comment “how chula (cool) and can I have one too…?” So before we knew it we were producing a small collection of clothes on a tiny scale and selling them in other outlets before opening our own workshop and flagship store in Hanoi. We now have branches in Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok and Pop ups round the world.

Each garment is handmade

Is it true that 80% of your workforce have a disability?

Yes! Having found it difficult to find skilled seamstresses to make our clothes we were directed to a local charity-funded school that trained deaf people in three to five-year dressmaking courses. Ironically, disability is often partly compensated by significant talent in other non-related areas. In addition to being highly skilled, our workforce are extremely loyal, hardworking and as such they truly form the backbone of the Chula community and are very much part of our extended family. Our corporate language is sign language! Due to our own positive experience we also try to persuade other businesses to hire employees with some disability.

Chula´s Bull dress

Are the Vietnamese at all similar in any way to Spaniards?

Very much so. Vietnamese society revolves around family, food and being out and about in the street – just like in Spain! They also place a huge value on education and are a very proud nation. As foreigners it’s important to come armed with a certain degree of respect, which you can earn little by little, a bit like in Northern Spain or else they won’t take any notice of you. Vietnam reminds me of the Spain of my childhood in Galicia.

You make clothes for men as well but how would you define the “Chula woman”?

A lot of our clothes are custom made which is why our customers are so diverse both in terms of body shape, colour and age. We’ve had customers ranging from grandmothers to teens! However, they are all women who value clothes with a heritage and story behind them. The typical Chula woman is more interested original clothes than the latest fashion trends. Chula is about handmade sustainable slow fashion than up to the minute designs you throw away after one season.

Hemp dress

What´s the running theme in your Chula collections?

For Diego, clothes are like a blank canvas on which you project your own areas of interest such as culture, food and art. Chula clothes are literally wearable art. Our collections are inspired by Vietnamese heritage such as the 54 ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam with their own prints and techniques.. We have about 40 collections ranging from animal prints to brightly coloured geometric patterns – above all they are fun and reflect the local culture whether that be through prints inspired by Hanoi railings, a pizza print dress we launched in Rome or a silk bull dress in Spain! 

What is wearable happiness?

We inject colour and humour into our collections which lift the spirits both of the wearer and the admirer. Our clothes are a magnet for comment, they’re real conversation pieces whenever they’re seen and instantly recognisable no matter where you are.

Peacock dress

You have Pop Ups all over the world, from Geneva to Jakarta, what´s next for Chula Fashion?

Our aim is to continue have different Chula shops all over the world and transform it into a global brand that emphasises our social commitment and values and pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the host countries. See for details of a Pop Up near you.