L&F-crop

The Double Act

Perhaps even more difficult a task than dressing a royal bride is dressing the bride’s mother. So, when a vintage Rolls-Royce Phantom swept up the Long Walk of Windsor Castle at 11:58 on the 19th May 2018 bearing Meghan Markle, it’s little wonder the hawk-like gaze of the world’s fashion media settled also on her mother, Doria Ragland.

 

Her outfit – a mint-green Oscar de la Renta two-piece – was a lesson in mother-of-the-bride-decorum; zingy but demure, accented with the same florets of white embroidery as those scattered on the kick of her daughter’s dress. That Ragland chose Oscar de la Renta for such an important and momentous occasion “was extraordinary”, says Laura Kim – one half of the creative duo behind the brand – with an air of lingering bewilderment. “We were so honored.”

 

And yet, maybe it’s not that surprising that she turned to Oscar de la Renta for the occasion, given that the Dominican-born fashion designer was unofficial outfitter to a series of First Ladies, from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama, and a peerless master of beguiling, gowns-and-gloves-style society wear. But since his passing in 2014 and the subsequent appointment in 2016 of Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia as creative directors of the fashion house that still bears his name, the brand has also evolved to appeal to a younger clientele.

 

The design duo’s latest spring/summer collection, which featured a flurry of mannish tailoring – including one memorably distressed denim two-piece and a tulle gown notable for the legend “Oscar de la Renta” spelled out with conspicuously oversized sequin embroidery – might have left some loyal followers clutching their pearls. But evolution is the key word here – and every collection is Oscar de la Renta through and through, explains Garcia.

 

“I always remember Oscar wanting the newest thing,” he says of their early mentor – for Kim had worked with de la Renta since 2003 as studio director, while Garcia clambered his way up the ranks from intern to senior designer at the house from 2009. “I think he wanted us to move forward but keep it very Oscar. He was the one pushing us, to see the newest, youngest ideas and materials.”

 

After Oscar de la Renta lost a decade-long battle with cancer, it took a little while to find a suitable successor. The British designer Peter Copping briefly took over the helm, during which time Kim and Garcia left the company to set up their own label, Monse (named after Garcia’s mother). A far cry from de la Renta’s hyper-feminine gowns, Monse is best known for shirts – but shirts transmuted into Rei Kawakubo-esque deconstructed forms.

 

“We wanted to create a brand that wasn’t extremist; not too feminine or too masculine,” says Garcia. “The market needed more clothes that made a girl look like it took her five minutes to get ready,” he explains. “We didn’t think it was going to be like Oscar, and we didn’t want it to be.”

 

Monse was more or less an instant hit, with pieces worn by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amal Clooney – the kind of glamorous, influential tastemakers young designers dream of being worn by. Then, in 2017, Alex Bolen – Oscar de la Renta’s son-in-law and the house’s CEO – re-hired the duo, this time as joint creative directors.

 

It was a happy homecoming, of course, but pulling together nine collections a year across two brands brings its challenges. When the pair aren’t at the Oscar de la Renta studio in Midtown, they’re in Tribeca, working on Monse. “It’s like being in two different movies,” says Garcia of the parallel worlds he and Kim inhabit. And surely there are moments in which the pressure becomes insurmountable, when they’d rather just be in the one movie.

 

Key to successfully juggling both labels is the pair’s mutual affection and the convergence of their design approaches; for Garcia is a University of Notre Dame architecture graduate, while Kim is a South Korea-raised fashion design alumna of the Pratt Institute, New York. That, and a canny division of labor.

 

We make “the perfect combo. I tend to be very balanced and tough, whereas Fernando goes for more of the drama and romance,” muses Kim. “Budgeting and managing is Laura’s turf,” says Garcia, “Public relations and marketing is Fernando’s,” Kim echoes, resolutely. And the rest? “We divide and conquer.”

L&F

 

 

 Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim

 

 

 

FW18DLR_NY, Derek Lam,New York

 

 Above and below: highlights from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2018 collection

 

 

FW18DLR_NY, Derek Lam,New York

St Regis Rome Caelum Bar main entrance

To Rome With Love

It’s no small task, accomplishing the makeover of an iconic hotel – and the renovation of The St. Regis Rome has taken multiple teams more than two years to complete, at a cost of €48 million (approximately $56 million). All this, as general manager Giuseppe De Martino puts it, to equip the hotel for “a new generation of luxury travelers to the Eternal City”. De Martino was the man with the daunting task of managing this Roman epic of a “refurb” job, while the creative lead came from the celebrated interior designer, Pierre-Yves Rochon. And as both men would readily concede, it is both a privilege and an added source of pressure when the property getting this, the most loving of face-lifts, is a quintessential European grand hotel of the Belle Époque, opened as “Le Grand” in 1894 by none other than César Ritz, the leading hotelier of his time.

 

A great metropolitan hotel isn’t just a place for visitors to stay in, it must also be part of the surging life of the city. And, true enough, Ritz’s hotel was the stage for some extraordinary moments in the modern story of Rome – beginning with its gala opening, which was attended by the Pope, the German Kaiser and the King of Italy. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Italian royal family used the hotel as a kind of convenient and more modern extension of the nearby Quirinal Palace, hosting court occasions in its public rooms. Alfonso XIII of Spain spent his gilded exile in one of its luxurious suites, while the parents of his eventual successor, King Juan Carlos, met at a reception celebrating a family wedding held here. For a time, Mussolini had an office in the hotel, which, within days of Rome’s Liberation in June 1944, hosted the first meeting between Italy’s provisional government and the triumphant Resistance. Gianni Agnelli – Fiat boss, arbiter of style and architect of the Italian post-war boom – kept a permanent suite here for many years, and poached the head doorman when he finally bought a home in the city. And it was here that Liz Taylor, Richard Burton and other Hollywood stars stayed and partied and tapped into Rome’s glamorous La Dolce Vita era while filming at the Cinecittà film studio.

 

As you’d expect, given the hotel’s unique provenance and storied past, this Roman renovation was conducted under the watchful gaze of various eagled-eyed guardians. First there was the Accademia di Belle Arti – Rome’s fine art academy – which was involved throughout the whole process, but most especially with the restoration of the fine frescoes adorning the vaulted ceiling of the ballroom. And, as is always the case with a hotel makeover, there are also the opinions of regulars to consider: the guests who stay whenever they visit Rome, and the Romans who have been wining, dining and marking important family occasions here for years, perhaps across several generations, all of whom have a deep affection for this much-loved building.

 

“This hotel has an extraordinary, evolving legacy,” says De Martino, deftly signaling the need to embrace the future while respecting the property’s heritage, for every generation has its own notions of what constitutes luxury. When we’re staying at a grand hotel from this era, we might expect high-tech facilities – but surely not at the expense of grandeur, elegance and a slightly old-school decorum? It is telling that more than a century after César Ritz’s death, we still use the word “ritzy” to describe an environment that is plush and fancy and serviced to the hilt. Yet Ritz was just one of several brilliant innovators of this era who transformed the way the wealthy traveled, and who collectively established many of the luxury codes that we still follow today – and whose innovations provided the context for Ritz’s Le Grand Hotel.

 

Some of these luxury innovators were Europeans. Ritz himself was Swiss, rising through Paris’s restaurant scene to emerge by the 1890s as Europe’s most celebrated, sought-after hotelier. Indeed, his new hotel in Rome was in direct response to a request from Italy’s prime minister, who buttonholed Ritz in the lobby of a London hotel to ask him to build a hotel worthy of Rome’s still relatively new status as the capital of unified Italy. Ritz’s culinary partner in Rome was French – the master chef Auguste Escoffier, who modernized French haute cuisine and codified fine-dining as we still know it, with distinct courses, à la carte menus and “brigade service” in the kitchens.

 

But another popular space in Ritz’s new hotel was the American bar – a nod not just to the freshly imported cocktail culture, but also to the fact that much of the drive for the new luxury came from the US. For the wealthy scions of America’s Gilded Age were crossing the Atlantic in ever greater numbers – in search of pleasure, art, or a titled European for their heiress daughters – and these latter-day Grand Tourists were also traveling in ever greater comfort and style. Ocean liners were becoming faster and more elegant, as were the trains pulling into Rome’s Termini station, just a conveniently short carriage-ride or stroll from Ritz’s new hotel. And the entrepreneur who had transformed train travel was an American: George Pullman. Pullman invented the vestibule train – that is, one where the carriages are interconnected – and with it, the sleeper car and the dining car, while at this time the private train carriage was a must-have for kings and emperors, maharajas and plutocrats alike. Superbly appointed and way beyond the means of most train travelers, these “Pullmans” were the Belle Époque equivalent of the private jet.

 

And then of course there were the Astors, the American dynasty who for more than a century led New York high society – and led hotel-keeping in the city, with a series of hotels that introduced generations of New Yorkers and visitors to now-standard innovations such as the in-room phone, the en-suite bathroom, or that singular blessing on a humid summer’s day in Manhattan, air-conditioning. The ultimate expression of Astor opulence and savoir faire would be The St. Regis New York, opened by John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV in 1905, within a decade of Ritz’s Grand Hotel in Rome. True, the footprints of the hotels are different: Rome was modeled on a Roman palazzo, while Jack Astor’s palace on 5th Avenue was an early skyscraper, dwarfing the townhouses of “Millionaire’s Row” beside it. But they visibly share what we would now call “luxury DNA” – and all the signature qualities of the grand hotel, combining a great address with splendid interiors and superb service, which Ritz famously defined. “See all without looking,” he urged his staff. “Hear all without listening; be attentive without being servile; anticipate without being presumptuous.”

 

As a gifted amateur inventor and the author of a bizarre but oddly prescient science fiction novel which predicted, among other things, the era of mass air travel, Jack Astor would certainly have understood the need to update a hotel, as would César Ritz. Pierre-Yves Rochon and his team began the process by spending time in the Roman property – and looking at the blueprints, which is surely the interior designer’s equivalent of fashion’s “mining the archive”. And in two of the largest public spaces – the ballroom and the grand foyer – Rochon’s aim has been to return the building to something much closer to the hotel that Ritz and his architect Giulio Podesti created.

 

In the ballroom, the restorer Patrizia Cevoli and her team set about cleaning the frescoes commissioned by Ritz from the Roman artist Mario Spinetti – and removing the work of previous, less authentic restorations. The process took Cevoli and her team of 12 specialists some six months of “intense and painstaking” work. “I develop a special bond with an artwork when I’m restoring it,” explains Cevoli. “Once it is finished it is a very emotional moment, seeing the original work of art come back to life.” And today Spinetti’s mythological scenes once again possess the vivid hues in which he painted them more than a century ago.

 

Color had a major role to play in Pierre-Yves Rochon’s re-imagining of the other public rooms, in which he used what the designer describes as an “aristocratic Roman palette” of white, dove gray, yellow and powder blue, “enriched with noble shimmers of gold and silver”. The aim, he explains, was to celebrate the light of Rome in all of its forms. The effect of this is especially striking in the grand foyer, which Rochon returned to its original concept as a kind of winter garden, once again on a single level as Podesti had designed – in the process rediscovering an airy, piazza-like space which truly bursts with light from the glass cupola above.

 

Also put into play was the keen eye of Parisian gallerist Françoise Durst, who sourced works of art that adorn the public spaces and the 100-plus rooms and suites that have been renovated. Meanwhile, Rochon’s team oversaw a kind of aesthetic audit of the hotel’s collection of furniture – in Louis XV, empire and art deco styles – to assess what needed to be restored, replaced or else redeployed. These included some exceptional pieces from a previous refurbishment in the 1960s by the celebrated Maison Jansen studio, which also worked on Jackie Kennedy’s redecoration of the White House. And the team commissioned some spectacular new decorative highlights to add a contemporary feel, such as the blue Murano glass chandelier in grand foyer. It’s one of Rochon’s many contemporary touches that chimes elegantly with the hotel’s fine proportions and those traditional Roman materials of travertine, mosaic and Italian marble. For this is, after all, a grand hotel in the Eternal City.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Rome; The St. Regis New York 

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A 1930 gala evening

(© Archivio Luce)

 

GEG 1784968

A postcard from the Grand Hotel

(© Historic Hotels Photo Archive)

 

Party at Grand Hotel

Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor, 1961

(© Getty Images)

 

Vittorio De Sica and Sophia Loren at the Silver Ribbons award ceremony

Vittorio de Sica and Sofia Loren at the Grand Hotel in 1955

(© Bridgeman Images)

 

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A postcard from the Grand Hotel showing Rome’s Piazza della Repubblica

(© Historic Hotels Photo Archive)

 

Gabriele Ferzetti buckling a necklace around Brigitte Bardot's neck, Italy, 1956 (b/w photo)

Brigitte Bardot attends a cinema awards ceremony in 1956

(© Historic Hotels Photo Archive)

GlennSpiro_032flat

All That Glitters

“I like things that shine,” jokes Glenn Spiro – fittingly for a man who makes exceptionally fine jewelry. One of Spiro’s shiny things was recently donated to the prestigious permanent collection of important jewelry at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum by none other than Beyoncé, who is both a friend and a client of Spiro’s. It’s a spectacular piece, a “Papillon”, or butterfly ring, with wings – which flap as the wearer moves her finger – crafted from titanium, diamonds and green tsavorites. This is an undoubted coup for Spiro, 55, long recognized by his peers as a superb craftsman and designer of high jewelry, but who until recently operated largely under the radar, as many of his pieces were made for older, more famous houses.

 

But as well as making things that shine, Spiro also collects them, especially shiny things by Cartier – from the gilt silver model of a Model T Ford made for Henry Ford in the 1970s in the lobby of his atelier to the framed gouaches on the walls behind Spiro’s desk. A shelf houses a good 100 or so presentation boxes containing anything from a silver and crystal caviar service to a cigarette case, while on Spiro’s desk are two silver frames containing signed portraits of George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother.

 

These have a particular resonance, as these rooms were formerly the atelier of Norman Hartnell, for several decades couturier of choice to British high society and royalty, especially Queen Elizabeth and her daughters, the present Queen, Elizabeth II, and Princess Margaret. The Queen Mother was a close friend of Hartnell’s – he made her laugh – while it was in these rooms that Elizabeth II was fitted for her wedding and coronation dresses. “It has a very special atmosphere,” says Spiro, who first visited the atelier as a teenage apprentice to Cartier, when he was asked to accompany an important client to a fashion show. He was struck by the “incredible elegance of the place”, and decades later, when he was looking for an atelier and showroom of his own, “I kept going past and seeing that there were no lights on – and when I heard it was empty, I took it right away, without seeing it again.”

 

He takes a similar approach to buying both gemstones for his jewelry and to his collecting habit. “You have to buy what you like,” he explains, and follow gut feeling, even if that leads to the occasional mistake. “Or you buy too much... I sometimes buy too much,” he laughs. As a collector, Spiro has always been drawn to mid-century “furniture, photography, jewelry, also fashion. I like that era – it was clean, it was cool. The Forties, the Fifties, the Sixties… actually not the Sixties. I think they tried too hard in the Sixties.”

 

Given that the mid-century was precisely Norman Hartnell’s heyday, there’s something entirely appropriate that Glenn Spiro should be the custodian of the stunning art deco interiors that Hartnell commissioned for these rooms. And in another pleasing piece of symmetry, his old boss from Cartier, Arnaud Bamberger, is now honorary chairman of Spiro’s jewelry house. He has just two other sales points: London’s Harrods and New York’s Bergdorf Goodman. But the splendid atelier on Bruton Street is surely the heart of the house. And here, once again, just like the couturier, Spiro entertains a clientele that might be small numerically (he has spoken in the past of only needing 30 or so good customers) but wealthy and demanding in their quest for jewelry as stunning as Beyoncé’s butterfly.

 

glennspiro.com

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Glenn Spiro in his London atelier 

 

 

a-little-slice

A Little Slice of Heaven

Many conventional investments nowadays offer poor financial returns and zero excitement. So it’s no surprise that many of us dream of putting cash into something that sets the pulse racing – diamonds, a classic car, fine wines or contemporary art, perhaps. But what if what you desire is simply too rare, too precious, unless you have unfathomably deep pockets?

 

One answer is to share ownership with other investors. This spreads the risk and puts possessing a slice of a coveted trophy asset like a winning racehorse, top winery or prestigious property tantalizingly within a broader reach – not just the preserve of billionaires. Shared ownership is especially common in the world of executive jets, horse racing and property. Indeed NetJets, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway since 1998, built its business on offering quarter shares of aircraft – hence QS is emblazoned on the tails of the US-registered fleet.

 

In the case of a jet, part ownership may confer some bragging rights but there is little sense of fun; co-owning a costly asset otherwise likely to be idle simply makes practical sense. Many private investors are looking for something different, something that combines investment with their personal passions and lifestyle choices. Own a part-share in a vineyard, for example, and you may perhaps be invited to relaxed private tastings or even to make suggestions about the style of wines and – come harvest time – you can always make yourself handy with a pair of secateurs amid the vines.

 

The good news is that there are myriad investments out there, with new opportunities presenting themselves all the time. But squaring the circle is not easy: the unsentimental approach of the hard-nosed professional investor is far removed from the hobbyist’s enthusiasm. So a good starting point for anyone interested in dipping their toe into a shared investment is to be clear from the start what your goals are. What financial returns do you expect? Do you want to contribute more broadly to the venture and maybe see your advice or expertise heeded? Above all, do you expect to have occasional access to the asset or draw some valuable perks?

 

Shared ownership of course involves building relationships – and that’s complicated. One salutary tale comes from a lawyer, now retired, who agreed back in the Eighties to buy a quarter share of a horse from a close friend; the friend’s three family members held the remaining share. The horse was a winner and ultimately became a household name in fence-jumping races; there were joyous moments as the four owners gathered around the victorious horse after races – and innumerable trips to the winners’ enclosure. The glorious winnings became almost secondary.

 

He then joined a formal syndicate where 40 people took stakes in a new mount. This horse was also a success on the racetrack, yet disenchantment set in swiftly. “It was a dismal experience,” he admits. “There was no emotional bond at all with the animal, which is what I realized I had come to value. You had to book paddock visits in advance and the crush after races was awful. To try to get access to the winners’ enclosure you had to draw lots with the other stakeholders.”

 

One would imagine that sharing is less of a problem in the wine world. Although older vintages can command stratospheric prices, a single bottle of most current vintages should be affordable to a connoisseur at least on an occasional basis. But what if an enthusiast sets his or her sights not on a lone bottle but on ownership of the winery itself? France’s most esteemed vineyards may be beyond reach. But in many parts of the world, shared ownership of wineries is pretty common – and to some investors, the idea of a wine label of one’s own is irresistible. In the new wine-making region of Ningxia in the north east of China, up-and-coming winemakers have set about meeting this need. Twenty years ago, there was scarcely a vine under cultivation here. But a tourist wine route to rival Burgundy’s is being developed while one of the grandest plans is at the spectacular Ho-Lan Soul winery. Here there is to be one central château surrounded by 200 smaller private châteaux. Buyers will be able to acquire a plot, bottle their own wine and place their name (or whatever they choose) on the label.

 

Another approach to “democratizing the exclusive” is currently underway at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen. The owners, Elevated Returns LLP, are planning to sell a 20 per cent stake in the Colorado property they acquired eight years ago. The first round of the offering is going to investors deemed by the Securities and Exchange Commission to be well-informed “accredited” investors.

 

A new departure is that it will use the blockchain technology often employed in cryptocurrencies to “tokenize” the assets. This would in effect transform the tranche that has been sold off into coin-like units that could be split into ever smaller parts. The company ultimately hopes that in the near future the SEC will then give the go-ahead for allowing non-accredited investors to buy the tokens. Once that happens, the company would either embark on a second round or simply enable the tokens to be purchased and sold without restriction.

 

Stephane De Baets, president of Elevated Returns, comments, “The St. Regis Aspen is a remarkable hotel – even if you haven’t stayed there, you will have heard about it. The opportunity to own a part of it appeals to everyone from our most regular guests to moms and pops. We are democratizing real estate investment by making it possible to trade in much smaller amounts in our hotel.”

 

According to the owners, the St. Regis Aspen investment will display many of the advantages we associate with cryptocurrencies, but unlike them, it will be backed by a tangible asset: the hotel. And it’s hoped the tokenization will increase the ease of buying and selling, thereby pushing up values. However, there will be no perks: the owners have ruled out room discounts or other incentives, in part because of the complications this would introduce to smaller trades in the tokens.

 

A final option for investors trying to align their hearts and their heads could be diamonds – more particularly, fancy colored diamonds. Diamonds are precious, but colored diamonds are rarer and can be still more precious. Naturally tinted from the presence of elements such as nitrogen and boron deep in the earth when the diamonds were first formed, fancy diamonds come in a range of hues. Among the most highly prized are certain “intense” and “vivid” reds which can sell for more than a staggering $3 million a carat.

 

Normally, such exotic stones would be the preserve of ultra-high-net-worth individuals. But funds now allow others to buy into the market. Philip Baldwin, managing director of Sciens Coloured Diamond Fund, comments, ”These stones are extremely rare and hard to find. Few people will have the expertise to buy or sell them. We do that, plus take on all the other responsibilities such as insurance and ensuring individual members of the fund are treated equitably. And we have created a liquid market.” Those sharing in the ownership can legitimately claim to own what, by mass, is just about the most expensive natural thing on earth. Alas, shared ownership does not extend to invitations to wear the diamonds personally – even for an evening.

 

Needless to say, it’s worth ensuring that the satisfaction in prospect with any of these is enough to offset matters if the financial returns disappoint – since the value of any investment, shared or otherwise, can of course go down as well as up.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Aspen Resort

 

Images: Alamy; Getty Images; John Bishop for St. Regis

a-little-slice

Abby Ross

It’s a Wonderful Life

A conversation with Jon Batiste is like drinking a tall glass of liquid optimism. Even on an oppressively humid afternoon in New York, the dapper 31-year-old still manages to exude a joyful enthusiasm. His outlook reminds me of the famous Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World. It’s extremely refreshing.

 

Batiste’s effervescent brand of charm – quick-witted yet cynicism-free – will be familiar to viewers of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, for which Batiste has been bandleader since 2015, and also to St. Regis guests (he has played live at a number of St. Regis events, including the fifth anniversary of The St. Regis Deer Valley and the grand opening of The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort). A jazz prodigy and graduate of New York’s prestigious Juilliard School for the performing arts, Batiste is as comfortable behind the piano as he is bantering on air with Colbert or goofing around in the sketches. His gift for improvisation, both comedic and musical, has made him a star. (His résumé also includes a position as artistic director-at-large at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and acting roles in the HBO series Treme and two Spike Lee films, Red Hook Summer and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.)

 

He first became friends with Colbert after twice appearing as a guest on The Colbert Report, which finished in 2014, the year before its host succeeded David Letterman on The Late Show. “Stephen is a genius,” says Batiste. “He can talk to people about politics on the highest level, but he’s also a thespian with a theatre background, who understands comedy and improv. After The Colbert Report ended he gave me a call and said he had a new show — and the rest is history.”

 

Did Batiste have much comedy experience before The Late Show? “Not really,” he says. “I’d had roles that were semi-comedic in Spike Lee films, but that was about it. As a kid I was always the second-fiddle class clown. I was quiet but I’d always have a friend who was really rambunctious, and who would get into trouble. I would always be the one who got away with it. So with comedy I was open to experimenting. I really loved the idea of trying something and failing, because that’s how you learn.” True, though most of us don’t learn the ropes in front of an audience of millions on national television. Batiste picks things up fast.

 

After three years, The Late Show has become, he says, “like my cool day job, where I get to hang out with famous people.” Famous people such as Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder, with whom he duetted on the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration, giving a poignant rendition of the African-American National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. “He was a joy to perform with, an endless source of inspiration and light,” Batiste says of Wonder. “When I make music I try to create a lot of different emotions, but joy is one of the primary emotions I try to tap into: for myself and for other people. I feel we’re kindred spirits in that way.”

 

Batiste and Wonder first met backstage at a concert in Central Park where they bonded discussing hip hop with Will.i.am (“a friend of mine”) before Wonder asked if he could play Batiste’s “harmoni-board”, a cross between a harmonica and a small keyboard. Next to the piano, it’s Batiste’s favorite instrument and he often carries one. Wonder deadpanned that he used to play one too but stopped because it kept clogging up with spit. “Oh, you’ve got jokes!” Batiste replied.

 

Born near New Orleans, in Kenner, Louisiana, Batiste belongs to a sprawling musical dynasty that stretches back at least four generations. He grew up immersed in melody and rhythm. His relatives include the arranger Harold Battiste, who worked with Sam Cooke and Sonny and Cher; and the free-jazz saxophonist Alvin Batiste, who taught “every New Orleans musician that’s come up in the last 40 years”, including Harry Connick Jr and Terence Blanchard. Batiste’s father, a professional bass player, and his uncles had a band together. Batiste himself was playing percussion in a junior band by the age of seven. He later switched to piano, aged 11, on his mother’s advice, teaching himself to transcribe music by copying video-game soundtracks. He may well be the only international jazz superstar for whom Sonic the Hedgehog was a formative influence.

 

He moved to New York, where he still lives, aged 17, after winning a place to study jazz and classical piano at Juilliard School, where only 6 per cent of applicants are accepted. Was it as intense as Whiplash, the movie about the young jazz prodigy pushed to the brink by his teacher at an exclusive New York music school? “That film was heavily dramatized but it did depict the kind of devoted study you need to learn how to play,” he says. “People think you just make jazz up as you go along – you just figure out what you want to play and don’t listen to anybody else. But it takes so much discipline, and so much focus, to be able to play at the highest level.”

 

What does live jazz have to offer a young audience? “You’ve got to experience it in the right context – and that isn’t necessarily a concert hall or even most jazz clubs today, which don’t really do the music justice. Jazz is very interactive, very immediate and all about crafting a unique experience for the audience.” For Batiste’s part, such unique experiences come in the form of “love riots” – guerrilla gigs on the streets or Subway cars with his band, Stay Human. His concerts can also be anarchic – leading his band from club to bar to restaurant, or popping up unexpectedly in the middle of the audience to begin a show from the seats, as he has done at Carnegie Hall. It’s all part of an approach he calls “social music”, which is about “bringing people together, and music without borders, and finding a way to connect people through that experience of a live performance.”

 

That sounds almost political. “Absolutely. One hundred per cent. In times of uncertainty, we depend on a philosophy or truth that can come off as political.” Not that he’s given to proselytizing. He prefers to let his creativity do the talking, whatever the format: music, acting, comedy – or fashion. His signature look is a bold-colored zoot suit, simple T-shirt, custom sneakers and a big hat. He designs and makes some of his stage outfits himself. He once joked on The Late Show that “clothes are the music of the body and you hear them with your eyes”, but he meant it, too. “When a performer walks out on stage you should be able to hear it before they’ve even raised their instrument or their mic,” he says.

 

With a new album this autumn, and a tour, he’ll soon be walking out on stages – and less conventional spaces too, no doubt – all over the world. This time it’ll be a solo record, produced by the great T Bone Burnett, with no band, “just me playing the piano and singing: no autotune, no effects, just the realness of the performance.” All of the songs are original compositions except one, a version of What a Wonderful World. And right now, there’s nobody better equipped to make us believe it.

 

Jon Batiste’s album, Hollywood Africans, is out September 28 (Verve Records)

 

Your address: The St. Regis Deer Valley; The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort

Abby Ross

 

 © Abby Ross

 

Jonathan Batiste

 

© Peter Lueders

 

Josh Cheuse1

 

© Josh Cheuse

St. Regis Connoisseur Photoshoot 3 - China Suite with Afternoon tea

“The problem with being a woman jeweler is that you fall in love with the pieces you’ve made”

Bao Bao Wan is one of China’s most successful jewelers, with her own line of haute joaillerie as well as a more accessible range. Although she is successful in her own right, with collections stocked worldwide in stores such as Harrods in London and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, the designer and socialite was born into power. Her grandfather was Wan Li, a vice-premier of China in the 1980s and a high-ranking member of the National People’s Congress, and she grew up within the confines of Zhongnanhai, the government compound in the former Imperial Gardens. Today, when Bao Bao (which, very aptly for a jeweler, means “treasure”) isn’t jetting between fashion shows in Paris, where she often takes her front-row place beside fashion giants like Bernard Arnault, and events such as the Met Gala in New York, she lives between Hong Kong, where her business is based, and Beijing. In 2016 she became the first St. Regis Connoisseur in China.

 

Given that you come from a political family, how did you become a jeweler?
My family were very supportive of whatever I wanted to do, which as a young woman was art and photography. Having studied French literature in Paris, then photography in New York, I went on to study gemology [at the Hong Kong branch of the Gemological Institute of America]. My studies rounded off my education, as I understand historical references as well as aesthetic ones when I’m making jewelry – and my Chinese background gives it soul.

 

Is there some jewelry that you never take off?
When I was younger, I used to wear small diamond earrings that my mother gave me. I left China at the age of 16 to go to New York and didn’t know anyone, and didn’t speak the language, so it was very difficult and very lonely. Wearing my mother’s earrings reminded me that I belonged somewhere. I stopped wearing them about a year ago, although they are still very precious – as is my mother. She is also creative, and is a great painter and calligrapher, and keeps me grounded. She comes from a very humble family, and reminds me of who I am, who my family are, and my roots, which are very important.

 

You’ve designed cufflinks for Dior, a car for Mercedes, a make-up line for MAC. Do you regard yourself as a designer or a jeweler?A jeweler, for sure. I love doing collaborations because it’s creative. So I didn’t just choose the color for the lipsticks, but the names. One MAC lipstick, which is a violet color, I called Lavender Jade; another I named Burmese Kiss. Doing projects like that is fun.

 

How would you describe your own style?
It depends what I’m doing and where I am. If I go to New York now it’s for some red-carpet event, like the Met Gala, so I’ll pack something fabulous. If I’m in London, I’ll go a bit more “elegant lady” and intellectual-looking. In China, with friends and family, I’ll be casual and sporty. In Hong Kong, it’s usually for business, so I’ll have a professional look. And when I go to Australia or Sydney it will be for a holiday, so I’ll take flip flops and shorts.

 

You once said that, as a girl, you thought of being a bus conductor “because they had extremely beautiful bags”! Do you remember your first handbag?
Yes, it was a Lady Dior, which I still use. I always go for classic bags, rather than the latest fashions. It’s the same with fashion: I still have some old dresses by [Maison] Margiela that I bought when I was studying in Paris. I’ll still take them out to admire them, even if I don’t wear them that often. A lot of great designs today are copies of yesterday’s, which is why I don’t follow trends. You realize after a while that you’ve seen it all before.

 

Any labels you love more than others?
Clothes made by the Chinese designer, and my friend, Huishan Zhang. He made the last dress I wore to the Met Gala: it was covered in 10,000 Swarovski crystals, and sequins and pearls.

 

Specific destinations in Beijing that you would recommend?
For fashion, a boutique called Joy, which has a mixture of western designers and local labels. For food, Temple Restaurant [TRB Hutong], which is in an old temple that’s hundreds of years old. And for a drink, the bar at The Georg [the restaurant at the showroom of Danish silversmith Georg Jensen], which is in a house in an old area of Beijing that has a beautiful courtyard, with a pretty fishpond planted with lotus flowers. It’s very soothing.

 

Do you have a strict beauty regime?
I do a lot of walking and biking and stretching, as well as Pilates, to keep in shape. When it comes to nutrition, I don’t eat many carbs. I like Asian food, which doesn’t have much dairy in it, or potatoes or cheese, so it’s light and healthy. In Beijing, I go jogging and biking quite a lot around the lakes in the royal parks. I don’t know what it is about water – it calms me down and is therapeutic.

 

You’re often featured on the covers of magazines. Do young women in China still read magazines? Or is technology changing that?
I won’t ever stop reading magazines, and I hope other people don’t either. I really love the feel of print. And I don’t want to have to look at a screen all the time.

 

Do you travel yourself to find stones for your jewelry?
Always. Stones are my real love. The problem with being a woman jeweler is that you fall in love with the stones and the pieces you make and get emotionally attached to them. I have quite a big collection of stones I can’t bear to let go. I’m very picky about what I buy – about the colors, the shapes, the brilliance – and if something is perfect, it’s pretty hard to sell. I love sapphires, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, but particularly alexandrite. It’s a stone that sometimes looks yellow, and sometimes white, depending on the light. It reflects different rays in different ways, which is so beautiful.

 

You’ve said: “I don’t want to put on jewelry so people just look at that – it has to be part of my life”. Could you explain what kind of jewelry you like now?
There are two types: red-carpet pieces, and effortless pieces that you can wear in the shower, to sleep in, when you’re jogging. A lot of actresses wear my jewelry whether they’re on the red carpet or working out. Our famous Chinese tennis player, Li Na [who won both the French Open and the Australian Open] was wearing my Gardens of Victory necklace when she won her biggest tournament.

 

Do you still get a thrill from fashion shows?
I prefer going to gemstone shows in places like Hong Kong and Basel and Thailand and Paris, and traveling to different countries to buy stones: Sri Lanka for sapphires or Burma for rubies. Some places are safer than others.

 

Do you like watches?
I’m not really into the mechanics of them. I wear a watch like I wear jewelry: for aesthetic reasons. All the ones I own are extravagant: for instance, one from Bulgari called the Serpenti 7 Coils, which looks like a long snake, and another from Chopard that’s set with emeralds. That’s unique: it’s the only one in the world, so it’s pretty precious.

 

Do you ever use a personal shopper or stylists?
No. I know exactly what I want, so I don’t need help. Although I don’t like shopping, so a personal shopper might save me time, so I could put more of myself into my work and my passions.

 

Many of the international brands today now have their bags and shoes and clothes made in China. Do you think the label “Made in China” no longer has connotations of being cheap?
For sure. If you look at labels like Huishan Zhang; his clothes are sold around the world alongside greats like Alaïa. My jewelry is sold at Harrods alongside Dior. So it’s changing quickly.

 

Tell me about the piece of jewelry you made for St. Regis.
The pin that I designed for butlers to wear on their lapel was inspired by the St. Regis hotel in New York. To me, it’s a very special place, not only because it’s unique and filled with American history but because it’s glamorous – even the cashier’s desk is beautiful. The swirl of gold on the edges of the pins reminded me of the gold you see on the elaborate door handles and on the arms of the chandeliers in the hotel; and the pearly white interior reminds me of the softness of the carpets and towels, which I love whenever I stay there.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Beijing

St. Regis Connoisseur Photoshoot 3 - China Suite with Afternoon tea

 

Bao Bao Wan photographed at The St. Regis Beijing

 

IMG_2899_quick cutoutEarrings from Bao Bao Wan's "Jade" Collection

 

IMG_5969._quick cutout Pendant from Bao Bao Wan's "Jade" Collection

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I Love Rock ’n’ Roll

If John Varvatos had been a better musician he might never have become a fashion designer. “I was in a band as a teenager, but I just wasn’t good enough,” he says with disarming honesty. Thankfully, music’s loss was fashion’s gain. After stints at Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, the designer set up his eponymous label in 2000, and quickly found a way to merge his two passions. Today, he is not just a leading name in menswear, but also one of the world’s foremost collectors of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia.

 

Varvatos grew up in Detroit, home of the Motown record label, yet it wasn’t just home-grown sounds that influenced him, but bands he heard on the radio, particularly the “British Invasion” – the Kinks, the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, all of whom have played an enduring role in his musical life. “I just got the Led Zeppelin Platinum record award for Led Zeppelin IV,” he says of the latest addition to his collection. “I also have a guitar signed by Led Zeppelin and gold albums given to me by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. If my office was on fire, those would be the first things I’d grab.”

 

Like all the best collectors, Varvatos never aspired to collecting for collecting’s sake. “I just started buying music I loved,” he shrugs. He now owns around 20,000 records. So many, in fact, that they’re everywhere – in his stores, in a dedicated storage unit, and taking pride of place at his newly built house in upstate New York. But it’s not just vinyl he covets; his real foray into serious collecting began with photography: notably a black-and-white shot of Jimi Hendrix on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival, taken by Jim Marshall. Hendrix is still a huge draw for Varvatos. “He’s my guy,”

 

Although Varvatos doesn’t like to think of himself as a collector – “I’m just a fan,” – he’s always on the lookout for the next thing. Recently he tried, and failed, to get “the jacket that Jimi Hendrix wore at the Fillmore East [the rock venue where the artist’s famous live album was recorded]”. That late-1960s, early ’70s influence – skinny trousers, tailored suits with tight fitted jackets, and plenty of black – is still part of the Varvatos style today and what first inspired his love of fashion. “I think it’s timeless,” he says. “A leather jacket, slim-fit jeans or trousers – it really could belong to any era.”

 

His advertising campaigns are also often fronted by musicians, the most recent featuring LA band Vintage Trouble. And he even has his own record label, John Varvatos Records, launched in 2014. “I still love discovering new music,” he says. “And sharing these discoveries with other music lovers.” His West 17th Street office (pictured), a large-windowed warehouse space that sits alongside his fashion showroom, is testament to this passion. It’s a room that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum or rock ’n’ roll hall of fame, given the panoply of gold and platinum records that line the walls, not to mention the guitars and music memorabilia that fill every available space.

 

With his collection spread across the globe, it would be easy to lose track of it all, something Varvatos admits can happen. But he doesn’t mind, he says, because then “you rediscover things”. He adds: “Even when I think I’ve seen and heard it all, there’s always so much more to discover, the deeper I dig.”

 

Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

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John Varvatos in his Manhattan office