Story: Lisa Elin Craighead
Photography Credits: Lisa Elin Craighead & Deborah Burch
Until Hot As Hell was created, I was unaware Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll could be woven into lace and gossamer fabrics the equivalent of sexy comfort food. Hello HAHtties and fellow stars in the ridiculously delicious HAH universe. I’m your guest contributor, Lisa Elin Craighead from Planet Cheetah.
You may see a bit of me for a minute. I have some stories to spin about the evolution of this brand and the badass broad(s) who created a feminine movement. One that reveres all bodies, not just the ones based on an obsolete view of perceived perfection. HAH women aren’t told what to do. We tell our own stories. I'm kicking off my enduring, evolving love story with Hot As Hell with a fashionable feast. A trip to Vietnam. Fashion, food and travel. Mostly in that order.
Expect nothing, gain everything.
I never expected a woman named Sharleen Ernster to enter my life with a singular line of clothing to provoke, spur, kindle, spark and generally set that life on fire. Sharleen created the unicorn, put a glittering saddle on her rump and handed me the reins.
For the last year Hot As Hell is what I live, wear and swear by. The clothing soundtrack to my life. I’ve worn much of the collection in disparate situations that would make lesser fashion editors heads go full exorcist. I’ve embraced a brazenly sexy, deeply wearable approach for the clothes in any circumstance. And I mean any. Would you really wear the sheer, Queen For a Day dress to a memorial? If so, you’re my new best friend and we should meet immediately. Here’s my email: email@example.com Lets grab some micheladas, por favor.
Propriety doesn't have to mean sexless. With a slip underneath, dark hosiery, hat and fur cape I was a lady all the way. A super hot lady. I’ve also worn it bra-less with jeweled panties and bare legs. Making it as provocative or demure as I want. These clothes possess stardust energy sewn into environmentally conscious seams. Boundless creations because they’re designed for us to self-style. The level of freedom the clothes bequeaths you is unprecedented.
Because more than anything, we dig freedom. Options. Our own sense of style without limits.
The year progressed, I started playing around with the clothes more and more. The leopard surfers rash guard was an explosion on the Utah ski slopes. I can still see the faces of the other skiers when I unzipped my jacket and cracked a beer during aprés. People literally skied over to ask me about it. The Queen For a Day Dress was the only thing keeping me fierce and upright at my husbands memorial in Venice Beach, (+ a huge-hearted, gorgeous best friend, pictured #colinegglesfied).
I decadently dragged the Yoko Big mouth kimono through the boiling, salty waters and sands of the South China Sea while slugging overpriced Sauvignon Blanc with a tattooed, drop-dead gorgeous bestie. And at the behest of our Goddess and creator Sharleen Ernester, I strutted the Hot As Hell catwalk in Miami a few weeks ago. At 40+ years old. Variety, much?
It was mid-April. I was still trying to eke out the last of Utah’s powder spring skiing. But I had recently received a summery, dazzling gift from the HAH women. Bathing suits bedecked with butterflies, bees, and ethereal flowers. Lace-up body suits that make men bend to one knee, bow their head and give thanks. (True story. I’ll save it for later). Gauzy, pellucid dresses that grazed upper thighs and well past my ankles. A snake print kimono ready to board one of Onassis’ yachts. The clothes that would lead me to Vietnam.
I believe her exact words were, which I also have in writing should I ever need to prove this in a court of law, “You Plan, I Pay.” Other than, “I love you,” being whispered in my ear by a beautiful, galactic soul mate with a very big you-know-what, there aren't too many phrases that turn my brown eyes gold quite like, ‘You Plan, I Pay.” And Deborah has taste. The lady likes luxury, food, adventure, and relaxation. Oh, Deborah….marry me? If only I were into women. I currently reside in Utah so at least she can alway be my sister wife. Trust me when I say those Mormon ladies have it dialed. Respect.
Of course, as timing would have it, we had less than zero. Miss uber producer was producing a global photography campaign for a giant brand I can't name or I'll be the next Jimmy Hoffa. Her globe spanning shoots would already have her in China around that time with two weeks off. We had been batting around a trip since we first met nine years ago working with the animals of the UFC. The first time we met I got her very, very drunk over sushi in Vegas and she's been an angel babe ever since. She said, “I’ll fly your ass. Figure it out.”
Fantastic. Honored. Wow.
But let's be real: this was some seriously last minute shit with an overflowing steamer trunk of high-class hassles. Vietnam isn’t exactly around the corner. The language barrier is a beast. Intense research was needed stat, expedited visas, reservations…and most importantly: what the hell am I packing for the rainy season, hotter-than-Hades Asia in May? I needed to look incredible. This wasn't the occasion for Teva's and a Carlos n' Charlie's, "I drank Cancun!" t-shirt.Something kept knocking around my head. HAH. Sharleen. Writing and photos... this trip had some intuitive heft attached. It was more than an upscale adventure with Deborah. This trip felt like I had to bring it big time. And fashion is always the foundation. I wrote Sharleen a love letter about my ideas of dripping Indochine, Catherine Deneueve beauty swirled with plain ol' good, Hot As Hell packing sense. Shar' being Shar', encouraged me to be a HAH muse.
'Write. Please write about ALL of it." -Sharleen Ernster
I tend to create on my trips. I always say my life is my art, so I set goals to get culturally invested and immerse myself with the locals. Learning, while finding ways to incorporate my own saviour faire. Deep, foreign travel can be a gnarley taskmaster but coupled with my slightly masochistic desire to consistently challenge myself, the lessons are multi-layered and rich. I felt with every ounce of my self-styled soul I wanted to write about the clothes, capture the images of them in the mise en scene. Unicorn self-styling aside, there is a certain level of gory pragmatism that comes with dealing with the logistics of travel. Because packing is the bitch mistress that plagues us all.
I was standing in my dining room. Thinking. "Can I really pull this off? It’s a hassle. How can I leave my three-legged cat for 16 days? Hell no I'm not putting my passport in an envelope to send to some sloppy, stoned, embassy employee." My Cro-Magnon mind grunted, "Home good! Hassle bad!". The excuses started piling up in my mind.
Then the angel Sharleen alighted on my shoulder. Her blond hair and skin sparkled like that fairy in Legend. She smiled beatifically. She normally has a really sweet demeanor... and smacked me across the face. Then she gently turned it towards the recently ravished HAH box and its gaping, cardboard smile. My apartment disintegrated and I was already in Saigon. I smirked. I actually smirked at the Universe.
I will forever marvel how a wisp of curve-hugging lace, or an ethereal, yet tough-as-nails dress can inspire your life in a millisecond. And I thought... what if all one really needed for a trip of a lifetime was to pack HAH for the unbeatable colonial chic of the Park Hyatt Saigon. A glamorous, storied hotel that I had dreamt about for countless years. Or cruising down the Mekong delta, shopping markets with chefs, and loafing at a villa on the island of Phu Quoc? I scoured my box. HAH U Turn Reversible Bathing suit, HAH Kimono, Spinster Body Suit, I Dream Of Genie Pants.
I was already halfway packed. Excitement bubbled. That one revelatory moment where it all falls into place. HAH in verdant situations. Like smoking verdant weed with some billionaire's we met in the streaky neon lights of the Park Hyatt bar or smoking skinny Vietnamese cigarettes and chugging Sapporo’s at the Phu Quoc market, guzzling fish sauce and dodging about 1000 mopeds per cubic foot.
And if you were wondering: Yes. Billionaire's weed is incredible.
So I stuffed my bags with HAH. I hustled upgrades. Drenched my parched visage during the 24 hours of flights with my beloved Alkim Me Rose and Neroli Mists and oil elixirs http://www.alkimme.com And went full-exotic in on one of the most ravishingly fabled countries on the planet. Alongside my Little Debbie Snack Cake, one of the wildest and most generous friends alive, Hot As Hell hugging and fluttering around my bahn mi stuffed body. I ate. A lot. Luckily HAH is also very forgiving of travel gluttony. And I wore it all. With heels. Jean shorts. Flip flops. I dreamt of an empty suitcase and all the treasures I could bring back, because of HAH’s singular, treasure pleasures.
I flirted, swam, shelled, smoked, chugged, cooked, flew, and had my ass handed to me trying to communicate.
That written, Rosetta stone is on my next major travel agenda. Language barriers rival packing on the claw-your-eyes-out index. Also, my expedited visa didn't arrive until the day before I left. I was sweating bullets and there was still snow on the Wasatch mountains. There is something to be said for advance planning. Just saying'.
Just sayin' being English for C'est la vie."
Footnote: Please do not deprive your limbs of the relatively affordable, and available, hand applied spray tan. Consider this before slipping your ghastly white skin into a bathing suit after a winter of skiing under10 layers of gear. Whatever tiny bits actually had sun on them had zinc smeared on them. Basically my nostrils..I am pale as pasteurized milk in these photos. Yeesh.
Life keeps expanding. Benevolent dragons light our paths if we let them. Endless adventures ahead that need Hot As Hell involved. I’ve had many, many and I mean many love affairs in my life. The one I’m having with HAH is fueling even more seriously sexy stories and exploits.
I can't wait to tell you about them
Vietnam is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beauty, nature, fashion, food, history and culture. But it's CHEAP to do all those things. Even your chi-chi shizz will cost less.
HO CHI MINH CITY
The gorgeous and gritty heart of Vietnam. The Park Hyatt Saigon is squarely placed in the middle of all actions be it street food, dripping architecture, museums, galleries, ultra lush shopping and killer deals mixed into the steaming Pho that is Saigon.
Park Hyatt Saigon
Glamour, exquisite service, architecture, food, pool, and patrons. Colonial French perfection at its finest. This is the place to be seen, meet weed smoking billionaires, all kinds of professionals (cough, cough) and watch the international set swan in and out. The pool food is freaking delicious. The buffet has more jeweled colors than a Tiffany lamp. And the concierge, Thanh Ngo, is brilliantly sweet and your number one resource for getting shit handled and any adventures or travel figured out.
Lam Son Square, District 1 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam Tel: +84 28 3824 1234 https://saigon.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html
My Bahn Mi
The only place I found with super clean ingredients. Street meat and me are buddies. Nothing better than a warm shack of germs. But sometimes New Zealand grass fed beef and organic greens give you some peace of mind. It's the low-key, approachable brainchild of celebrity chef, Bobby Chin. Frank Chin is the owner's father and a riot. We met him at the Hyatt pool in his tiny speedo. All ripped, 80+ years of him. We ate there once a day every time we were in Saigon. Succulent bahn mi's, delicate yet meaty greens piled high and delicately dressed with powerful sauces. Icy Sapporos all being consumed by locals, ex-pats, and tourists.
57 Nguyen Du Street, Ben Nghe Ward District 1, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, 70000 (08) 3827 2145 https://www.mybanhmivietnam.com
oil and bread are what you'd expect: solid. Right across the street from the Hyatt. Sexy staff. Filled with cool ex-pats, travelers, and a decent wine list. Sometimes you just need a goddamn pizza.
74/6 Hai Ba Trung, D.1, HCMC
Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf
What can I say. Sue me. It's across the circle from the Hyatt and nothing tastes better than a Green tea blended after a night of drinking. #TheCure
97 Hai Ba rung
Groan. I loved this place. It's just FUN. The best, most eclectic range of gifts. I bought a glass frog that's really meant for smoking weed. When you turn it over it looks like it's glass animal art. When customs went through my bag I'm sure they weren't fooled. But they have bigger fish to fry. Books, bags, Vietnamese lighters from the war, jewelry, posters, mugs, glassware, traditional figurines...it goes on and on. They are dotted throughout the country. But the one in Saigon is the mother ship.
158ED Dong Khoi, dist .1 | 46 le Loi, Dist. 1, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam +84 8 3827 9745 http://artbook.com.vn
I love Zara. They don't have them in Utah and I couldn't help myself. The sunnies I bought there have received roughly 1,289 compliments since April. The sku is different so that alone makes it a worthy addition to my usual L.A. Zara pilgrimages. #FashionGirlsSecret #SoNOTaSecret
Anywhere. For the love of all that is Asian and holy: EAT. I gorged on so many banh mi's and fried foods in filthy alleyways that I should've contracted Ebola, dysentery, and zika. I pointed, semi-prayed and shoved it all in. Never had so much as one stomachache.
PHU QUOC ISLAND
Off the coasts of both Vietnam and Cambodia, this south China Sea island runneth over with sparkly warm waters. Sunrises and sets' ripped straight from Hollywood movies with heart-wrenching endings. It has some gnarly, serious history that you can take in, or forgo it and take cooking classes, loaf on the beach, get wet with water sports and dives, or luxury spa in the Vietnamese tradition until you're a pile of sweet, mashed, relaxation.
SEA Chen Sea Resort
An airy, air conditioned, two-floor villa with private pool can be yours for not too much Dong. 15 minutes to the main town of Duong Dong for the insane markets, the worlds best-selling fish sauce with mouth puckering tastings, and psychedelic adventures if you're in the mood.
Bai Xep – Ong Lang Hamlet, Cua Duong Village, Phu Quoc District, Kien Giang Province, Vietnam +84 297 3 995 895 https://www.chensea-resort.com
Chen Sea Resort
The breakfast buffet is included...a spectacularly decadent mix of Vietnamese, European continental with a dash of Americana'. Juices are all fresh squeezed, many you've never heard of. Endless dishes in rustic wooden bowls and platters covered by delicate netting to protect them from flying friends. That along with made to order morning pho or eggs, rich Vietnams coffees, 30 teas...and a view overlooking the rising sun over the sea.
Lunch and dinners are hearty and refined. Seafood pizza when you have your American craving. Dinners were so tasty we'd order doubles of the grilled calamari appetizers. The head chef is Italian and his influence is heavily mixed in.
The Crab House Restaurant
I met a local from Dallas who helped save my ass in finding the right connector for my camera to dl photos. Remember I wrote about the heinous language barrier? I was in the midst of pure hell with the astoundingly useless Google translator, (seriously Google you're the worst) when I heard a Texas twang, "looks like ya' need some help there?" I turned and looked down into a round Vietnamese face with a wide smile. Johnny helped me out of the crush of 6 jabbering associates and lead me and my driver to the right store. Without a doubt, my husband sent an angel. He took Deborah and I here for dinner and it was crustaceans on crack served in overflowing, gigantic aluminum bowls. Icy Sauvignon Blanc. I wanted to move in.
21 Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam +84 2973845067 https://www.facebook.com/Nha-Ghe-Phu-QuocNha-Hang-Crab-House-1106507659364186/
The Pearl Farm
Trinkets are our small treasure go-to. But for something a little fancier for special (and snobby) loved ones like my Mom. Jane doesn't need a vintage lighter from Nam' circa 1968, the finest gifts are the iridescent South Sea pearls that Phu Quoc is known for. A few sets will keep both the snobs and your Dong, happy. They are also TINY. Deborah and I thought we were in the children's section. I bought a few sets to distribute in glowing hues of pink, champagne, and ivory. There are a lot of fakes, so patronize The Pearl Farm Trần Hưng Đạo, Dương Tơ, Tp. Phú Quốc, tỉnh Kiên Giang, Vietnam. They have their own pearl farm. You can take a tour and farm your own. Or get dropped at their store and peruse in a.c. and comfort. We did the store. We wimped out in the heat and I regret it.
Duong Dong Market and Open Air Cooking Lessons
We took a cooking lesson with their Vietnamese chef and shopped the Duong Dong morning market with him to choose our ingredients. This is a photographer's wet dream. The market is a molten mash with more seafood, vegetables, fruits, sauces, housewares, and meat than I've ever seen. And I mean ALL of the meat. Hanging from hooks, etc. Not for the squeamish or righteous vegetarians. Seriously. Stay away. I will eat raw ground hamburger by the handful, but I adore animals and it was rough for me to take some of it in. Veganism is on the menu in my future. But not that day my HAHtties! Sea Chen sets up open air cooking lessons and no exaggeration, we made enough food to feed the resort. We gave a bunch away to chic, lightly blasted Australians. An inimitable way to combine authentic local adventure with immersive, cultural lessons. I can also now load and wrap a spring roll into a piece of artwork. Go back in the evenings when the bars and restaurants are open, weird foods, souvenirs, and clothes are being sold, and everyone is drinking and wandering in the sparkly lights of Duong Dong.