Category Archive: Fashion & Style
Anyone who remembers how the classic car boom of the late 1980s ended in a dramatic bust might be inclined to steer clear of sinking their life savings into a collection of old automobiles. But perhaps they should think again. A cursory look at the prices being achieved for the most sought-after models shows that the market is currently at an all-time high.
A prime example of its buoyancy was seen in February of this year when French house Artcurial set a new record price in Euros for any car sold at auction by hammering down a 1957 Ferrari 335S Spider Scaglietti for €32.1 million (about $35.7 million). Two years ago, the highest price ever achieved for a car in dollars was reached at Bonhams for a 1962 Ferrari GTO: $38.1 million. The message is clear: classic cars are now officially regarded as blue-chip investments, with their value increasing at a higher rate than the stock market, property and even gold. In the 2015 passion investment index by the private wealth managers Coutts, certain classic cars showed an increase of 40 per cent in 2014 and a 400 per cent increase since 2005.
Not that the appeal of old cars is purely financial. For most buyers, the real pull lies in the fact that they are rolling works of art that not only look great and evoke a golden era but offer the potential for a huge amount of fun, too. In recent years, the number of events being staged for veteran, vintage and classic automobiles has grown exponentially. Today, instead of just polishing your pride and joy and taking it for an occasional weekend jaunt, you can actually use it for anything from an organized tour with a group of like-minded enthusiasts to a road rally, hill climb or all-out circuit race. In May, for example, the biennial Monaco Historic Grand Prix saw hundreds of vintage and classic cars racing around the legendary circuit in seven different classes catering for everything from 1930s Bugattis to the wildest Formula One cars of the 1970s. So, if you fancy owning a classic, which should you buy? The choice is, of course, myriad, but here are five that are on the wish lists of most lovers of historical cars.
Created by former aircraft designer Malcolm Sayer, Jaguar’s E-Type was the fastest production car on the market when it was unveiled in March 1961. With a top speed of 150mph, a 3.8-liter, 265-horsepower engine and jaw-dropping looks, it was declared by Enzo Ferrari to be “the most beautiful car in the world”. More than 72,000 were built during a 14-year production run. The most popular, however, are the “Series 1” models, with the best open-top “roadsters” currently commanding around $250,000, and fixed-head coupés only half as much. Jaguar recently built a series of six “continuation” cars to finally finish the Lightweight E-Type project which, 51 years ago, resulted in the creation of a series of highly-focused racing versions of the car. Only 12 of the intended 18 cars were ever made, leaving the remaining half-dozen allocated chassis numbers on file. These were used by Jaguar’s Special Operations division to build the “missing” Lightweights, which sold for more than $1.5 million each.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Said by many to be the most beautiful car ever created, a mere 39 examples of the legendary 250 GT “Omologato” were produced between 1962 and 1963, originally to contest the FIA GT World Championship series in the three-liter class – the “250” in the title referring to the 250cc capacity of each of the engine’s 12 cylinders. Although designed as a pure racing machine, the GTO is renowned for its ease of use as a road car. The most paid at auction to date is $38.1 million, although one example is rumored to have changed hands in a private deal for closer to $50 million.
Porsche 911 Carrera RS
The Carrera 2.7 RS of 1973 was intended purely for racing, but Porsche had to build 500 road-going examples to qualify the car for inclusion in the Group 4 GT category. It proved so popular as a high-performance street machine, however, that production only stopped after 1,508 had rolled off the line. Much of the appeal of the RS lies in the fact that it combines 150mph performance with reliability and surprising economy. The best examples now fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million, but beware: early 911s are notoriously dangerous in the hands of the uninitiated. When cornering, the golden rule is “slow in, fast out”, because if you lift off the throttle on the apex of a bend, there’s a good chance it will spin off the road.
“The world’s fastest lorries” is how Ettore Bugatti rather rudely described the pre-war Bentleys that dominated the Le Mans 24-Hour races during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The “blown” 4.5-liter Bentley was unveiled at the London motor show in 1929 having been privately developed by “Bentley Boy” Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin as a higher-performance version of the standard four-liter. Just 50 production cars were built, all of which could top 100mph, making them among the world’s first supercars. Examples rarely appear for sale, but those that do command sums in the region of $1.5 million. Four years ago, however, the 1932 single-seater, record-breaking Blower that originally belonged to Birkin fetched a record $7 million at Bonhams.
Made famous in the opening scenes of The Italian Job, in which a bright-red example can be seen driving along an alpine road to the strains of crooner Matt Monro’s On Days Like These before being pushed off a cliff by a Mafia bulldozer, the Miura was the first ever mid-engined, road-going supercar when it was launched in 1966. According to legend, it was designed by Lamborghini engineers in their spare time, as company boss Ferruccio Lamborghini was more interested in grand tourers. Featuring a 12-cylinder, four-liter engine, Miuras are known for their brutal power, weighty gearshift and over-light front end. But on a challenging back road with a good driver behind the wheel, thrills are guaranteed. Add to that a range of wild color options and past owners ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Shah of Iran, and you can see why values have risen from $800,000 five years ago to more than $2 million today.
Images: Getty Images, Alamy
Ferrari 250 GTO
Porsche 911 Carrera RS
Seated at the rustic boardroom table of his studio in the heart of New York’s Garment District, Jason Wu appears calm and relaxed, not at all like someone who has just shown two collections at New York fashion week: a ready-to-wear line for Hugo Boss and his eponymous line, Jason Wu. But don’t let the calm exterior deceive you. This is a man whose drive and ambition saw him designing dresses for dolls as a child in his native Taiwan, a hobby that led to the creation of the Fashion Royalty doll collection, right through to designing the dress that Michelle Obama wore to the 2009 Inauguration Ball, and to his current heady heights as one of the world’s leading designers. That inauguration dress is now in the Smithsonian Museum, which to Wu sums up the scale of his achievement. “When I moved to America to be a fashion designer, I never imagined I’d become part of American history,” he said last year.
Making clothes for dolls gave Wu a grounding not only in the creative side of fashion but also in manufacturing, marketing, intellectual property, business – the many pieces of the jigsaw that make up a successful brand. It was only a matter of time before he would graduate to full-scale frocks. In 2007, at the age of 25, the designer – who had moved to New York seven years previously to attend Parsons School of Fashion – launched his first ready-to-wear collection, instantly catching the eye of the most powerful woman in the fashion industry, U.S. Vogue editor Anna Wintour. “At the time I was starting out there was a lot of streetwear around,” he recalls. “It was a lot edgier than what I do, which is uptown and polished. But Anna and the team were very supportive. It helped me embrace my aesthetic and gain the self-confidence to be different.”
Wu’s description of his signature style as “uptown and polished” certainly hits the mark – no wonder Michelle Obama became a fan. “Having anyone in the public eye support you is instrumental to a brand,” he says, “but when it’s someone like the First Lady, it’s an incredible honor.”
Wu credits his mother, a bestselling author in Taiwan, with teaching him about style and the profound empathy he feels towards women. “I really care about the way a woman feels in my clothes,” he says. “I think that’s very important, because if a dress isn’t about the woman wearing it, what is it about?” Women, in turn, respond to the wearability and femininity of his clothes. Actresses Lupita Nyong’o, Jessica Chastain, Michelle Williams and longtime muse Diane Kruger all wear Jason Wu on the red carpet, and these relationships mean a lot to him. “The idea of red carpet dressing has become so commercialized but we are an independent brand, so for us the relationship is meaningful, not just an endorsement.”
Part of the appeal is that Wu’s clothes are not too aggressively trend-led, which gives them a more lasting appeal. He’s also a firm believer in the value of luxury, talking at length about this much-debated concept. “Luxury isn’t something that only lasts for one season,” he says. “It’s timeless and it takes time to create. I believe we should move away from trying to be the fastest or first – it should be things of substance we invest in.”
Since 2013, while creating his own line, Wu has been a creative director at Hugo Boss, overseeing the entire womenswear range. The appointment was greeted with a certain amount of surprise: after all, Wu’s gowns are all old-school glamour and femininity whereas Hugo Boss has a reputation for streamlined womenswear with a masculine edge. Yet it was that contrast that drew Wu to the project in the first place. “I like the fact that it’s not somewhere people would have placed me,” he declares.
Luxury and elegance, always interpreted with a contemporary sensibility, run through both collections, which is why Wu is drawn to show in spaces that embody these qualities. In the past, he has chosen to show his collections at The St. Regis New York, which reminds him of the 1950s: the era he would most like to return to. “I love it,” he says. “The shape, the clothes: it was a really glamorous time. Not just the fashion, but refrigerators, cars, furniture; the whole thing to me is irresistible.” In fact, after showing at the hotel in 2010 (“It’s so refined – I loved showing my collection in such a landmark”), Wu became an ambassador for the brand – a St. Regis Connoisseur – and has, to date, designed a bag and scarf for St. Regis.
His creative ambitions don’t end there: in addition to designing four collections a year for his own line and four for Hugo Boss, he wants to expand the Jason Wu line, “to really establish a lifestyle brand”. Despite his hectic schedule, Wu did recently manage to squeeze in a family reunion holiday at The St. Regis Bali Resort. “It was great,” he sighs. “The first time we’d all been together in a decade; everyone is just so busy.” Sadly, it may be some time before the next get-together. When asked about his work-life balance, he lets out a rueful laugh. “I don’t have one! But then, I’m not sure any designer would say they do. I’m not too upset about it. My work is my life, it’s my passion. So for now the work-life balance will have to wait.”
Images: Getty Images, Dan Lecca
Jason Wu (above) says that wearability is key to his collections – women love the femininity and glamour of his designs
“What you have to understand is that, for me, map collecting isn’t a casual hobby,” says Nicolò Rubelli, with a laugh. “It’s a disease, an addiction. If I see a map shop, there is no way I can pass it by. I have to go in.”
Rubelli, the fifth generation to run the eponymous textiles company founded by his great-grandfather in 1889, is not only a proud Italian but a proud Venetian. Even as a boy, he says, he appreciated the “incredible privilege” of being one of only about 60,000 permanent residents able to explore Venice’s streets and its bridges, its domes and its bell towers whenever he liked. When, at the age of 17, his father gave him an antique map of the north of Italy, he was hooked. “I loved the idea that, although the map was created in 1648, so much of the city and the area around it still looked the same,” he says. “It gave me a new way of looking at my home.”
For the aspiring architect, who went on to become an engineer, maps were not only a means by which to examine the make-up of the city but to understand the artistic sensibility of that period. “If you look at certain German maps of Venice, for instance,” he explains, “all the bell towers have pointed spires, because the map-makers had reinterpreted the city according to what they thought was beautiful at the time. Most of the publishers in Nuremberg had never been outside Germany, so often the maps they printed were embellished or fictitious – and that’s fascinating.”
Since he was given his first map three decades ago, the company CEO, whose fabrics adorn interiors including Buckingham Palace in London, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Vanderbilt mansion in New York and St. Regis hotels in Rome and Florence, has amassed around 180 maps, printed between 1500 and the late 19th century.
Unlike many collectors, Rubelli doesn’t believe in hiding his printed treasures in drawers or darkened rooms. Each is mounted on white paper so its edge can be seen, then framed simply in wood, and hung “in a giant jigsaw puzzle” in rooms shaded from bright light during the week and opened up for his enjoyment on weekends. One of his most precious maps is also one of the earliest ever printed – in 1500, by Jacopo de’ Barbari. “He went from bell tower to bell tower above the city to draw it, so it’s a perspective view. What’s incredible is that it’s obviously Venice. Certain things aren’t there, like the [Santa Maria della] Salute church, which is beside my house and whose dome I can see from my window. But so much of what we see hasn’t changed at all.”
Today, having run out of wall space, Rubelli tries to buy books of maps (“which are pretty much the same price as single maps”); he has also bought a single terracotta globe, designed by Giò Ponti for porcelain maker Richard Ginori in 1929. “It’s the one exception to my rule, this globe: normally I don’t collect them because they don’t usually feature Venice, they’re overpriced, and I don’t collect 20th-century maps. But I love Giò Ponti’s work, and we have many of his drawings in textiles in our collection. So when I found this at a market in Padua, I just had to have it.”
Images: Contour by Getty
In a visionary body of work, rich in symbolism and pathos, California-based artist Hung Liu connects history to the present, East to West, mundanity to beauty. Dripping with immediacy, as if the artist has just put down the brush, her paintings of anonymous figures adapted from historical photographs are timeless, yet paradoxically anchored to the past, infused with a nuanced narrative and layers of psychological insight.
Born in China in 1948, Liu came of age during the Cultural Revolution. After high school, she was sent to the countryside where she spent four years working in the fields. There, she photographed and drew workers and their families. This was a formative experience for the young artist, who went on to portray ordinary people as the subjects of much of her work.
Following her early studies as a mural painter at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, one of China’s leading art schools, in 1984 Liu emigrated to America to pursue a graduate program in visual arts at the University of California San Diego. Today, from her hometown of Oakland in California, she re-contextualizes snippets of history that may not be lost, but have perhaps been forgotten. “I’ve come to think of these subjects as ghosts I ‘summon’ from the grainy, chemical surfaces of the photographic past,” she says. “That’s kind of going backwards technologically, from a newer medium to an older one, but mineral pigments on canvas can be very physical, bringing the image forward into the present in a vivid, present-tense way. There’s some kind of alchemy here, although I think of myself less as an advocate or guardian, more as a witch.”
On a visit to China in 1991, Liu found a treasure trove of studio photographs of 19th-century Chinese prostitutes, which became references for a series of riveting multimedia works. A series called Dandelions, meanwhile, is based on photographs she took on a road trip, the flowers often blown up to the size of the human figure. And the subjects of American Exodus, on show this fall at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City, are based on images of migrants from America’s Depression era that she found in the Dorothea Lange archive at the Oakland Museum of California.
In a Wall Street Journal review of her 2013 Oakland Museum of California retrospective, Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, critic David Littlejohn referred to Hung Liu as “the greatest Chinese painter in the U.S.”. Her art, which is represented in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, not only mirrors the unique duality of her extraordinary life experience, straddling two cultures, but transcends the boundaries of time.
Hung Liu: American Exodus is showing at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City until October 22, 2016
Your address: The St. Regis New York
Crane Dance, 2011
The delicate cloud of circling cranes in this work has a profound underlying significance. “In China, cranes are considered auspicious, and are associated with the imperial palace and heaven,” says Hung Liu (below). “This woman is from a photo, circa 1865, by the American John Thompson. The juxtaposition of her hand with the cranes suggests the vast space between the imperial court and working peasants.”
Dandelion 11, 2015
“The woman and the flower are both ornamental, but the dandelion is mostly blown away. It suggests to me the unpredictable course of one’s life, no matter how ornamented one is,” says Liu.
Every day, from when he was 20 years old, Vincent Astor slipped into his pocket the most valuable thing he owned: the watch used by his father, John Jacob Astor IV.
While personal heirlooms are normally of sentimental value to bereaved children, this watch was particularly precious. John Jacob had been one of the nation’s wealthiest men, and one of New York’s most keenly chronicled social figures, and the watch was in his pocket when he boarded the Titanic in Southampton with his young (second) wife, Madeleine, in 1912. Although Madeleine survived, John Jacob perished, and when his body was retrieved from the freezing waters and taken back to New York, the gold watch that had been in his pocket beneath his life jacket was presented to his son. It was never recorded whether the pocket watch still kept the time or if its hands were stilled, or even whether its numerals were still readable, having been immersed in water for days. But it remained in Vincent’s pocket for the rest of his life.
The two men had been extremely close. As the biographer Justin Kaplan writes in his book When the Astors Owned New York, “Vincent adored him and was adored in return”, obliquely referencing Vincent’s mother, Ava, who was unadoring, if not hostile, to both men. “Jack spent much of his time away from Ava in the company of their son... he was happiest sailing with Vincent on board Nourmahal, the steel-hulled steam yacht he had inherited from his pleasure-loving father.”
With the sinking of the Titanic, everything changed in Vincent Astor’s life. Having been a carefree undergraduate at Harvard, he suddenly became “the richest young man in the world”, with enormous responsibilities – and an empire to run. Alongside his father’s precious timepiece, $87 million cash and vast swathes of New York real estate, one of the most valuable items Vincent inherited was the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. An elaborately wrought and technically advanced building opened by John Jacob in 1904, it was, according to Frances Kiernan, an Astor biographer, “one of his proudest assets”.
There was much about the St. Regis Hotel to be proud. Architecturally, the Beaux Arts–style edifice was celebrated as much for its expertly articulated ornamentation as it was for the state-of-the-art engineering. As Robert A.M. Stern describes it in his book New York 1900: “The St. Regis [was] an accomplished design that used a vocabulary of ornamental details based on contemporary French practice to set a new standard for the luxury hotel.” The hotel’s general manager Rudolf M. Haan, wrote at the time of the opening of the 18-story hotel at Fifth Avenue and East 55th Street: “My hotel is not a place for billionaires only, but a hostelry for people of good taste who have the means to live as comfortably as they choose.” And the critic Arthur C. David said in a 1904 issue of Architectural Record that the elegance, grandeur, and domestic feel of the city’s finest townhouses “have been transferred to a hotel, and have in some respects been transcended”. He added that those who gravitated to the hotel were taken with the fact that it was “somewhat quieter and more exclusive” than other fashionable hotels.
Vincent Astor in 1910, the year he graduated from St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island
Brooke Astor, photographed by Horst P. Horst
When the hotel was first built, it was situated in what was then a decidedly upscale residential neighborhood, but was, as Arthur David put it, “plainly withdrawn from the ordinary places of popular resort”. By the time Vincent had inherited the hotel, however, it was a locus of New York society life, and its very existence had transformed the surrounding neighborhood into the city’s premier shopping area. Nevertheless, for reasons that remain unclear, Vincent sold the hotel to industrialist Benjamin N. Duke, who added the famous St. Regis Roof, with its elegant, frescoed dining room, and the Salle Cathay, both of which played host to some of the era’s most prestigious parties. By the early 1930s, however, Duke had allowed the hotel to lose its sparkle. In 1935, Vincent Astor regained control of the property through a mortgage default and immediately set about returning the St. Regis to its former glory. He modernized it, hiring the highly respected Anne Tiffany to redecorate, and made it financially profitable within just two years by placing his brother-in-law, Prince Serge Obolensky, on the executive board. La Maisonette Russe (formerly known as The Seaglades) became one of the most popular supper-nightclubs in New York. The Roof was turned into The Viennese Roof. The Iridium Room replaced the Salle Cathay and swiftly became one of the city’s hottest spots, complete with an ice-skating platform that rolled out from beneath the orchestra floor.
The hotel was a source of immense pride for Vincent. Although he was never a handsome man – who dressed in rather unimaginative suits, and was described by his mother as “stupid” as well as “clumsy and lumpish looking, with big feet” – he certainly understood the beauty of impressive buildings. He owned exquisite homes in Bermuda, Phoenix, Rhinebeck in upstate New York and Northeast Harbor, Maine – many of them considered among the finest houses in America. In the city, the building at 120 East End Avenue in which he lived with two of his three wives in the 23-room penthouse was considered one of the most luxurious apartment blocks of its day. But the most coveted of all of the homes he owned was a Manhattan townhouse he’d commissioned in 1927. The Regency-style townhouse on East 80th Street (now the headquarters of the New York Junior League) was so deep that it ran the full length of the lot to 79th Street and incorporated both a sunken garden and garage. It was, according to Robert A. M. Stern in his book New York 1930, a masterpiece, whose plan was “exceptionally gracious” and whose individual rooms were “delicately scaled”.
Real estate was in Vincent’s blood, and as well as creating beautiful homes for himself, he created vast housing projects across New York. Recognizing the increasing demand for upscale residences in Manhattan, he began to transform entire neighborhoods with new buildings, many of which still exist today. On East End Avenue, for instance, at the corner of East 86th Street, he erected fashionable and handsomely appointed Georgian-style apartment houses that still remain stolid fixtures in the neighborhood. Working together with Obolensky, he converted a row of Victorian-era brownstones between 88th and 89th streets into something he fondly referred to as “Poverty Row” (a reference to the fact that he envisioned young artists and professionals moving in who hadn’t yet made their fortunes in life, but would).
Not all of his life, though, was taken up with business – or mixing in high society. In fact, in marked contrast to his grandmother, who had established “The Four Hundred”, a collection of 400 members of American high society, Vincent was drawn to charitable rather than social causes. Despite the fact that John Jacob Astor, Vincent’s great-great-grandfather, had been one of the founders of the New York Public Library, the Astors were not especially famed for their civic or social generosity. In fact, prior to Vincent’s involvement, many of the apartments controlled by the family had devolved into slums – something the young man set about trying to put right.
By 1935, he had become instrumental in establishing America’s first managed housing project. Having sold a significant parcel of the Lower East Side to the New York City Housing Authority for less than half its market value, he built eight five-story walk-up apartments, meant to house poor and working families, many of them immigrants. On East 79th Street, he constructed housing for working people that, for the first time says David Patrick Columbia, co-founder of the New York Social Diary, took into consideration their health, “being constructed near water, with fresh air and ample space around them. He was sensitive in that way, very involved.”
Alongside housing projects, he funded youth projects at the New York Hospital and the American Red Cross, set up playgrounds and youth centers around the city, and built the Astor Home for Children in Rhinebeck, N.Y. “During his own childhood he was mistreated by his mother,” Columbia says. “So, as an adult he became extremely sensitive to the needs of children who were mistreated and needed love and attention.”
Given his relationship with his mother – and the fact his father’s second wife was only a year older than Vincent – it is hardly surprising that his private life was less successful than his business life. A man not known for natural bonhomie, nor interested in the activities required of his class, Vincent preferred to spend time sailing on the yacht he commissioned in 1927, a new Nourmahal, named after the vessel on which he and his father had passed such happy times. The 264-foot yacht, which he later donated to the U.S. Navy during World War II, boasted eleven staterooms, a dining room for 18 and a crew of 42. With its cruising range of 20,000 miles, the yacht allowed Vincent to travel the world for months at a time, even bringing home tortoises and other exotic specimens he found during his trips to the Galapagos and donating them to the Bronx Zoo. Back on dry land, while his successive wives continued to socialize at galas and fashionable functions, the biographer Kiernan notes that “Vincent went to the office every day. And when night came, he was a virtual recluse, wanting nothing more than to enjoy his dinner and relax by the fire.”
Of his three marriages, his last, to Brooke Astor in 1953, was perhaps the most successful. Unconventionally, the match had been set up by his second wife, Minnie. Vincent and Minnie’s marriage had long been over, but she agreed to divorce him only when she could find him a suitable wife. When Brooke’s previous husband died in 1952, Minnie arranged a dinner party, seating the widow opposite Vincent. Within weeks he had proposed.
By then, so astute was Vincent as a businessman, he had already doubled the family assets and initiated several notable ventures. One of these included providing the funds to merge Today magazine with a then defunct publication called Newsweek, to create a more politically progressive foil to rival Time. He became the famous magazine’s chairman from 1937 to his death in 1959. But perhaps his most dramatic and lingering financial undertaking was his establishment of the Vincent Astor Foundation in 1948, the goal of which was simply “the alleviation of human misery”. It was a big motto to uphold, but if any charity has come close to realizing that goal, it has been this foundation.
After his death in 1959, Brooke inherited $67 million to give to charitable causes: half the value of the estate. Until it was all spent in 1997, funding was given to countless institutions small and large: to dance troupes, the New York Public Library, neighborhood literacy programs, the Bronx Zoo (which built its monorail, among other features, with the grant money), the restoration of Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Corporation, and the installation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Astor Court, a full-scale replica of a traditional Chinese garden and house.
Today, Vincent Astor’s legacy is present in so many aspects of New York life that the city would be unrecognizable without his munificence. Not only did he build neighborhoods that are mainstays of Manhattan and fund many of the city’s key cultural institutions, he also helped children gain access to good housing, recreation and education.
It is more than ironic that one of Vincent’s first heart attacks occurred as he was entering a theater in Poughkeepsie, New York, to attend a screening of A Night to Remember, a feature film that depicted the Titanic disaster. The story of his extraordinary life had come full circle.
Your address: The St. Regis New York
Images: Getty Images, Pars International/Newsweek, Rex Pictures, Mary Evans Picture Library, Alamy
Skaters take part in an ice show on the rink in The Iridium Room at The St. Regis Hotel
The St. Regis Hotel in the early 1930s
The New York Public Library, funded by the Vincent Astor Foundation
It was the late brilliant retailer Joseph Ettedgui who opened our eyes to the charms of interspersing some arresting, avant-garde furniture in among the fashion at his eponymous shop in London’s Fulham Road. The sight of one of André Dubreuil’s whimsical chairs lurking right next to the ball gowns seemed at the time to be shockingly adventurous, but it had the interesting effect of each enhancing the allure of the other.
These days, combinations of this sort are everywhere – from Carla Sozzani’s 10 Corso Como in Milan to fashion designer Margaret Howell’s collection of mid-century furniture, which she dots between her signature shirts and gymslips. But many of the big fashion brands have taken the notion even further and have diversified into designing their own ranges of chairs and sofas, tableware and fragrance, as well as applying their imprint to such things as hotels, yachts and almost anything else that seems to take their fancy. Brand extension is what they call it – and most of them are at it. The cynical explanation for why it has become so ubiquitous is that it seems the logical way to sell more things to more people. If he/she likes the clothes, chances are they’ll like the sofa, the lamp, the cushion, even the chess set. Many of the great brands, run by some of the canniest businessmen and women in the world, have further observed that the word “lifestyle” is on an awful lot of lips. The woman who buys, for example, an Armani dress is tapping into a very precise aesthetic and – so the thinking goes – if she is sympathetic to the Armani world she is more than likely to want to surround herself with everything else the great man designs.
Key to the success of this approach is what industry observers refer to as “authenticity”. It’s not enough to slap a name on a product; it should encapsulate the essential DNA of the brand. For example, when St. Regis decided to create a Bentley Suite on the 15th floor of the hotel, they went to enormous lengths to make sure it wasn’t just a name that was added but the craftsmanship for which the legendary carmaker is renowned. The seductive lines of the Bentley Continental are echoed in the curved, veneered walls of the living room; the mirrored ceiling and marble floors remind visitors of the interior of a car wheel, and a light installation subtly recalls the car’s headlights. Further Bentley Suites have followed at The St. Regis Dubai and The St. Regis Istanbul, while The St. Regis New York now also boasts an exquisite Tiffany Suite.
Here we see a brand extension with a shared aesthetic and most importantly, a genuine connection between the name and the end product. Bentley has extended this careful attention to the core values of its motor cars to a whole range of luxury products, from soft leather driving gloves to cashmere throws and leather weekend bags, all of which reflect what it calls “the design language of our cars”.
On the whole, though, the designers who have been keenest to extend their brand into home furniture and accessories have been the fashion designers. At this year’s Salone del Mobile furniture show in Milan, many of the big names displayed their home collections with the same enthusiasm and panache as their annual fashion shows. For instance, Hermès produces a small collection of finely honed pieces usually using exquisite leather, often combined with wood, from a calfskin-topped desk made from walnut to its vast range of fine china, many patterned with the equestrian themes that lie at the heart of the Hermès heritage.
At Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier has carefully managed the brand’s extraordinary expansion based on what he calls “the four cornerstones: fine-quality materials, extraordinary craftsmanship, contemporary functionality, and timeless design”. His venture into furniture started in 2006 with a solitary bench. Today, in the splendid surroundings of Palazzo Gallarati Scotti, an 18th-century palazzo in the heart of Milan, there is a complete and very haute collection of everything from sofas to accessories, which he has sourced from an extensive range of ateliers and factories: glass artists in Murano, the fine porcelain manufacturer Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, and Poltrona Frau for seating. He, too, has created an affinity with St. Regis Hotels: in Rome and Florence guests can check into one-of-a-kind Bottega Veneta suites and enjoy the charms of both brands simultaneously.
Christian Lacroix has transferred his fascination with the rich imagery of the Camargue (the famous salt marshes that lie just south of Arles in the south of France) and his interest in ancient cultures and folklore that infused his fashion line onto a range of homeware that bears the distinctive Lacroix imprint. At Dolce & Gabbana the designers teamed up with Smeg, the celebrated Italian manufacturer of upmarket appliances, to come up with some extraordinary limited-edition fridges with historical medieval scenes hand-painted by local Sicilian artists, each of which took around 200 hours to complete and cost upwards of $40,000. And Swarovski, that maker of brilliant crystals, has corralled some of the biggest names in the world of design and architecture – Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, Ron Arad, Fredrikson Stallard to name just a few – to launch what it calls Atelier Swarovski Home.
The Italian house of Missoni was one of the earliest to see that the Missoni aesthetic could be happily transferred from fashion into home accessories. Anybody who knows anything about the brand can’t fail to see the deep and genuine connection between its fashion and the home line that Rosita Missoni, wife of the late Tai with whom she founded the brand way back in the 1960s, developed. She took the patterns she always loved – the stripes and zigzags, the waves, squares and tartans – and put them on to sheets and rugs, plates and towels. The home line is infused with the same joyousness, warmth and love of color that was the basis of their success in fashion.
The Dior Suite at The St. Regis New York, where hospitality and fashion merge
After a fashion
Cushions by fashion house Christian Lacroix, which has created products for the home
Fendi is a more recent player in the game and it turned to that iconic Paris-based designer Maria Pergay to come up with seriously original and often quite challenging limited-edition pieces. The notion behind the collection, as Silvia Fendi put it, was to “highlight the bond between leather and fur workmanship, iconic Fendi materials, and Pergay’s steel design”. This translated into some extraordinary pieces such as her Cabinet Pétales, a polychrome stainless steel and lacquered wood cabinet finished with embossed leather that resembles a giant exploded flower, as well as a chair made from stainless steel with gold-plated bronze and leopard-pattern marquetry: all very Fendi.
Roberto Cavalli, another of Italy’s best-known fashion designers, also very recently decided that those who liked his frocks might like to surround themselves with a whole Cavalli look. Today, he offers a whole world of opulence: of gold-rimmed serving platters, of faux leopard-skin throws, of richly patterned linens, of sumptuous padded upholstery and highly decorated tableware.
Jonathan Anderson, Loewe’s creative director, has just launched some 15 pieces of furniture all linked to the Loewe world by the craft that goes into their making. His approach might perhaps be considered more curatorial than original design, in that he took a series of vintage 1930s pieces and then he applied leather marquetry to refresh or revive their forms. And finally, the latest to announce a foray into expanding its universe is one of the grandest of all names in fashion. The house of Dior, no less, opened its first Dior Homme Boutique in London, designed by superstar architect Peter Marino, with a collection of home objects made by 11 different designers ranging from Lucie de la Falaise and Yann Debelle de Montby to Michaël Cailloux and Marino himself. The great M. Dior himself was fond of saying that “living in a house that doesn’t reflect who you are is akin to wearing someone else’s clothes”.
While clearly at the core of all this activity there is a very simple and straightforward commercial aim – that of expanding the brand’s customer base and persuading more of those customers to buy more things – it seems that something more profound lies behind this thinking. Creating a whole world around a brand seems not only to be a powerful way to create new energy around the name but to subtly change the way the brand is viewed. It gives far greater depth to the company’s narrative and it helps explain why they are busy devising ever more enterprising ways to get their story across to that modern phenomenon: the affluent, sophisticated and super-served global customer.
Pink glass by Giberto Arrivabene for Dior Home
Magazine rack from the Equilibre d’Hermès collection.
A pair of “Fireworks” chaises longues from iconic Italian brand Missoni, one of the first of the major fashion houses to extend its range into textiles, furniture and homewares
The classic honeymoon
It seemed to Franz and Samantha that all their friends went to The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort on honeymoon. Thus, they reasoned, The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort in the French Polynesian Islands would be something different to Instagram home about. They’re not disappointed. From the moment Sam’s Bottega Veneta-shod feet alight from the hotel boat on to the private jetty, the couple are equally charmed and seduced. They’ve decided to do it in style, booking the Royal Overwater Villa with its plunge pool and steps down to the ocean, from which Franz, who needs to recover from his 12-hour-a-day job as an Asian currency trader, launches himself daily on a three-mile swim. Sam really doesn’t mind. She’s already thinking about ordering her first Bora Mary of the day (the St. Regis hotel first created the Bloody Mary, aka the Red Snapper, in 1934, so they know what they’re doing) and wondering which sushi to eat for her lunch on the Taki Terrace. She slips into her flimsiest Marysia bikini and heads for her private cabana at the Oasis pool. “No children allowed”, reads the sign. Just how she likes it, thinks Sam – for the moment.
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, that Samantha and Franz considered for their honeymoon: The St. Regis Mauritius Resort, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
With the final months of pregnancy approaching, Dylan and Sacha have taken time out to enjoy a pre-baby celebration in Mallorca. For a couple who adore art and worship the tennis racket, the Spanish island is ideal. Their hotel, The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, happens to be located near Rafael Nadal’s home town – not that Dylan or Sacha ever spot the handsome Spanish tennis god. But knowing he’s around is enough. Luckily for Dylan, there’s plenty for his pregnant wife to do, including massages at the Arabella spa and viewing the art galleries in Deià. Because, alongside tennis coaching, which the hotel organizes for him, he has rediscovered another passion: cycling. “I’d forgotten how much I love it,” he says, as Sacha eyes his Lycra shorts dubiously. “Enjoy it,” she says, “because once the baby comes, there won’t be time for long bike rides.” Dylan, like all advertising types, can read between the lines. “I won’t be too long,” he says. “Excellent,” says Sacha, with a triumphant smile. “Because I’ve booked a table at Simply Fosh for an early supper, then I thought we could talk nursery colors.” As he pedals away, Dylan sees his life flashing before him.
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, that Dylan and Sacha considered for their baby-moon: The St. Regis San Francisco and The St. Regis Bali Resort
Jed and Susan had been just too busy for a proper honeymoon with all the stress of launching their digital startup. But, six months into their marriage, tempers are frayed. “We’ve just gotta get away,” Jed says to Susan. Well, he doesn’t actually say it. During the day, he and Susan communicate via SMS from consecutive floors of the tiny office building they rent. Susan’s response is as effusive as one might expect from a woman running a website: “OK.” And then, as an afterthought: “X.” San Francisco is the natural choice: confirmed urbanites, they’ve long cast themselves as Silicon Valley-philes, and now they’re going to party like them. Strolling out from The St. Regis San Francisco, they launch themselves into the hip Mission district for tacos at La Taqueria, ogle art at SFMOMA, and in Haight-Ashbury, discover a shop, The Booksmith, that sells ancient artefacts from days gone by: books. “Remember this?” says Jed, picking up a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Susan fishes her iPhone from her Céline Trio bag to Instagram her husband holding the book. “Honey,” Jed says, “Yosemite is only a drive away. Maybe we need to get back to nature?”
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis San Francisco, that Jed and Susan considered for their mini-moon: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, The St. Regis Dubai and The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur
Lisa can’t really call herself a Buddhist because, well, she’s not 100 per cent sure about reincarnation and she likes a good rare steak. But ever since she saw the Dalai Lama speak at Radio City Music Hall, she’s felt a deep connection. She and her partner Ronald are what they like to call “Big Travelers”. They’ve done the Rajasthan “triangle”, the cherry blossom in Kyoto and salmon spawning in Alaska. But to reaffirm their vows they really want to do something Spiritual with a big S – and what could be more spiritual than visiting the DL’s hometown of Lhasa? That is, if they venture out of The St. Regis Lhasa Resort, with its Gold Energy Spa Pool, its view of the DL’s former home and its fabulous Si Zi Kang restaurant. Dressed in their travel uniform of Banana Republic khaki combats, crisp white Ralph Lauren shirts and Tod’s loafers, the couple take in the sights – a trip to the Rongbuk Monastery at the foot of Everest and the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple – before bartering for Buddha statues, joss sticks and prayer beads in Barkhor Street market nearby. Almost as good for the soul as the full-body massage at the hotel spa. “Now, that,” they murmur, post-massage, as they float dreamily in the Golden Energy Pool, “was truly spiritual.”
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Lhasa Resort that Lisa and Ronald considered for their adventure-moon: The St. Regis Princeville Resort and The St. Regis Cairo
James and Sunita first honeymooned 20 years ago in Los Angeles – and remember it well. Both film buffs, they toured Hollywood studios, trekked up to The Sign, and even strolled together on The Walk of Fame. When, two (adult) children later, the couple want to “do it over” and celebrate the fact they’ve made it this far (unlike most of their friends), they want somewhere with a similar feel, but more exotic – like Bollywood. If in Hollywood they felt energetic, in Mumbai they’re positively on fire. This really is a city that never sleeps, and at The St. Regis Mumbai the couple really feel in the thick of it. Having toured the Bollywood film studios and taken a trip out to the 5th-century caves on Elephanta Island, they feel entitled just to hang out in their Gucci outfits in the hotel’s 40th-floor Asilo bar, sipping Aperol spritzes and gazing appreciatively out at the view. Tomorrow they’ll visit the famous Spice Market in the morning, with a synchronized full-body massage at the Four Senses spa in the afternoon. If this isn’t utter New India-style luxury, then they don’t know what is.
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Mumbai, that James and Sunita considered for their second moon: The St. Regis Langkawi and The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
The classic honeymoon