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A Little Place I Know

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The recycled fashion shop in Rome by Livia Firth

RE(f)USE , 40 Via della Fontanella di Borghese,

I always enjoy wandering along the magical street of Via della Fontanella di Borghese, in the historical heart of Rome. Not just for its history and culture. I go primarily to see Ilaria Venturini Fendi’s magical shop, RE(f)USE. Ilaria launched her ethical fashion brand Carmina Campus a few years ago because she wanted to make her business more sustainable and to find a way of extending the life of objects.

It is the only store I know of whose fashion and design objects are all made exclusively with recycled materials. They use all sorts of things – remnants from factories, discarded fabric, end-of-line stock, vintage snippets – which are then all assembled and reused to create something with a totally new shape and function. When you enter RE(f)USE, you feel like Alice in Wonderland: the selections of jewelry, accessories, tables, chairs, sofas, lamps, chandeliers and other pieces of design are all unique. There are all sorts of incredible works by some of the most unconventional designers from all over the world, including the Berlin-based Stuart Haygarth and the Belgian Charles Kaisin.

The first floor is the place that reflects Ilaria’s real passion. It’s all paneled with mirrors and stocked with dozens of handbags, each of them different styles, sizes and colours and upcycled by artisans from Italy and Africa. What makes them extra-special is that each piece carries a tag, telling its story, listing the materials that have been used to make it and the number of hours spent to produce it by hand. To me, this place is temple of design. It’s somewhere I love going into and never regret buying anything from.

Livia Firth is a film producer and campaigner for ethical fashion
Your address: The St. Regis Rome

The California chocolatier by Sally Perrin

Christopher Michael Chocolatier, 2346 Newport Blvd, Costa Mesa,

This is really a hidden gem, because it’s in an unassuming shopping center on the Newport Peninsula where you’d never expect to find something quite as incredible. It is total chocolate heaven. To the right, as you walk in, there’s a counter featuring all the truffles, ganaches and confections of the day, and to the left, ready-made packages which make easy-to-grab gifts, including the store’s famous chocolate bars with unique flavors.

The chef-owner, Christopher Michael Wood, discovered a chocolatier in SoHo in New York, and in 2006 decided to try to bring the same level of craft and detail to his native California. Every time I go to the Dana Point area, I have to go and get something: a bar, truffles, bonbons, chocolate-covered nuts... current favorites are his balsamic-caramel and chocolate-covered strawberries, his unusual bars, like the spicy pomegranate and lime and his lavender-infused caramels. My husband absolutely loves the Sizzling Bacon Bar, which is Venezuelan chocolate flavored with sea salt, smoked bacon and popping candy.

What’s great is that they take classics and twist them; they take a risk, which is what I like to do. I like the unusual, the untried, the unexpected. And I like the fact that it’s small and artisanal. Christopher takes care of every little detail, whether that’s the painstaking airbrushing of designs on his chocolates or the unique flavors he creates on the premises. I am not sure whether to thank the friend who brought a box to a dinner party we had at our home a few years ago. I had three pieces and have been hooked ever since! 

Sally Perrin is a designer of handbags and leather accessories

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The homewares store in Mexico City by Kiyan Foroughi

Common People, Emilio Castelar 149, Colonia Polanco,

This store, in a beautiful four-story 1940s colonial mansion, is on an upmarket street in the characterful area of Polanco, which is known for its architecture, restaurants and hotels. From the outside there is no hint of what is within and even when you step through the door, it seems more like a gallery than a store. Nothing’s straightforward-looking. All the merchandise looks as though it’s been caught on a strong breeze: there are bags, plates, cushions of all sorts, piled high and hanging from walls and roofs.

The idea of the owners, Monika Biringer and Max Feldman, was to create “a place filled with uncommon things for common people.” And that’s what it is. There’s something to contemplate wherever you look and nothing is the same. There are all sorts of names, from independent local artists to international figures. So you’ll get local companies such as TOSCA, which produces big, chunky jewelry, alongside Commes des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood, clothing piled alongside homewares, and high-tech gadgets next to projects by artists and musicians. It’s a bit like Colette in Paris. One minute you’ll be looking at books from Assouline, the next furniture from Vitra and then vintage pieces from the forager Emmanuel Picault.

The owners are involved in the creative scene in the area – fashion, design, art, music, everything – and incorporate that into the store wherever possible, which gives it a lovely creative edge. What’s great, too, is that although the assistants are incredibly cool, they’re not at all snobby and will know all about the makers: who they are, where they’re from and how they’ve made things. So every time you go in, you learn. A friend who recommended it to me suggested that I didn’t go in if I was in a hurry, and he was right. If you’re not shopping, then there’s a café and a beautiful ornate staircase to go up, to discover a whole other floor, then another, then another…

Kiyan Foroughi is CEO of the online jewelry and accessories store
Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City

The haberdasher in New York by Collette Dinnigan

Tinsel Trading Company, 828 Lexington Avenue,

This shop is so tiny that it would be easy to miss. Its previous address, on West 38th Street in the Garment District, was even smaller. But wherever its location, it has always been packed from ceiling to floor with treasures. Four generations of the same family have worked in the business since the current owner’s grandfather, Arch J. Bergoffen, took it on in 1933, specialising in French tinsel and metal threads, and it has much of the same charm, if not as much clutter or dust, as the original.

It’s the ultimate shop for treasure seekers: full of shiny, beautiful ornamentation that has been collected by its owners for decades, from all over the world. There are antique trims and beading from the 1930s and 1940s, metal fringing, tassels, vintage cards from 1900, old labels, waxed flowers. The things I most love are the buttons. In the old shop, you had to go through hundreds of boxes and jars to find the ones that were really special: those that were hand-painted, glass, covered in silk and velvet, collected from old military jackets. Sometimes they might only have enough for ten dresses; other times for whole collections.

Now the shop is much more organized. The buttons are all in boxes with a button sewn on to the front, so you know what’s inside. The rolls of fabric are also now merchandised according to colour, with a flower at the end of each roll, so the whole wall looks like a spring field.

What’s great fun is that you never know what you might find. Once I came out with a collection of big letters from the 1930s covered with real, old-fashioned glass glitter. Another time I found beautiful old tags and some quaint pieces of original embroidery and lace.

Today, it has been brought much more up-to-date; they now even have a website, which is handy if you can’t get there in person. Also, if you let them know what you want, they can often help you find it from one of their many contacts all over the world. It’s one of those quirky, quite peculiar places that is a real one-off. Just talking about it makes me long to go and rummage around in it.

Collette Dinnigan is a fashion designer based in Sydney
Your address: The St. Regis New York
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The sushi bar in Osaka by Maria McElroy

Yamane, 1-3-1 Doujima Kitaku (+81 6 6348 1460)

The exclusive Kitashinchi neighborhood is the beating heart of Osaka at night, and this sushi restaurant is right in the center of it. Above the narrow streets are a tangle of neon signs and boards inviting people inside, to secret little places where geishas once delighted customers. Because the area has such a lovely feeling, it’s where the cream of Osaka society goes. There are half a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants around, but for me and my Kyoto-born husband, Yamane is by far the best.

You’d never know from the outside that it was so special. It’s in an unassuming building and behind the sliding door is an intimate space, with a delicate blond-wood latticed sushi bar, behind which the master sushi chef Mr Yamane and his staff work.

There is nothing quite like sitting there, watching the action. Like most old traditional establishments, the fish from that morning’s catch at Sakai fish market is not on display, but kept in boxes of ice and taken out when the chefs need to slice it with their precision knives. Some of them have been sushi chefs for decades and are masters in local specialities: mehari, a heady combination of rice with fatty tuna and salmon caviar wrapped in pickled mustard or square hakozushi, topped with marinated mackerel and kelp. Although I always have their tuna, octopus and flounder sushi, I love their dashimaki tamago, a thick, warm rolled omelet, much softer and more pliable than those you find in Tokyo.

The food, as you’d expect from someone with such a precise eye, is presented in an extremely elegant way, on ceramic plates made by the famous ceramicist Ippento Nakagawa. And the smells that waft through the air, of warm soy sauce, incense and the freshness of the sea, are as enjoyable as the sounds of the chefs chatting and laughing. The people in this area of Japan are known to be very funny and full of life, and although everyone is hugely respectful of Mr Yamane, his restaurant is full of warmth and humor.

Maria McElroy is the founder of aroma M perfumes
Your address: The St. Regis Osaka

The stationery shop in Washington, D.C. by Fareed Zakaria

Thornwillow, The St. Regis D.C., 923 16th Street,

Entering Thornwillow is like entering a library or a gentleman’s club. It even has a “librarian” to look after you, who encourages you to have a cup of tea or a whiskey while you sit and browse books. It’s an extraordinary publishing house: a place where you can buy books, or get them printed, and walk out with incredibly beautiful stationery. My wife and I had our New Year cards printed there and as usual, the owner, Luke Ives Pontifell, came up with a wonderfully whimsical design: a flying pig!

He is one of those people who is extraordinarily wise although still pretty young. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and three-piece suits with a pocket square so you feel a bit like you’re talking to someone from another era.

We’ve also visited the place in which the books are made, an old coat factory in Newburgh, New York. There, we realized what a craft bookmaking is: they have lots of men, I think from Eastern Europe, who obviously make each book as a labor of love. They are expensive, but each one is fashioned by hand, their handmade paper covered in beautiful leather and each special for a different reason, whether it’s President Obama’s inaugural speech or a famous old novel they have reprinted.

I am lucky enough to have a set of simple notecards and matching envelopes printed with nothing but my name and a charming little vellum-based desk calendar that sits on a little gold easel. It’s a lovely old design and, in a world in which almost everything is on our phones, it is nice to have something on your desk that reminds you quickly about the passing of time. You don’t have to fiddle around to find the calendar app.

Thornwillow offers a reminder of the efficiency of paper and the beauty of the printed word. Whenever I visit, I am hit by not just the intellectual power of the printed word but the emotional power of seeing something beautiful written on paper. It always makes me feel great.

Fareed Zakaria presents CNN’s flagship international affairs program
Your address: The St. Regis Washington, D.C.
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A Little Place I Know

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Rong Bao Zhai, calligraphy gallery in Beijing by Bao Bao Wan

19 Liulichang West Street, Xuanwu District,

Along one particular street in the historic area of Beijing close to the Forbidden City are dozens of tiny old shops, mostly selling antiques and classic Chinese pieces. My favorite is this gallery which is more than 300 years old and built in a traditional Chinese architectural style from back in the Qing Dynasty. Inside, though, it’s not fancy at all, but more like an old Chinese market that specializes in traditional china, vases, sculptures and artifacts: in particular pens and bamboo paper for calligraphy and block printing. The artisans who run it are real specialists: if you want to know about calligraphy and Chinese ink art, this is where you come. I used to visit with my mother and, when I was very young, my grandfather, both of whom love ink painting and calligraphy. Even now my mother still sends me to get paper for her. There are very specific types of varying thicknesses and styles: some bamboo, some rice, some layered, some that make the ink spread. You can find things here that cost very little or a Qing dynasty vase for hundreds of thousands. Not everything is displayed; real treasures only come out if the stallholders know that you understand what you’re going to see, once they’ve ascertained how much you know about old art forms.
I just love seeing these ancient crafts being kept alive, and people enjoying and appreciating them.

Bao Bao Wan is a designer of fine jewelry based between Beijing and Hong Kong
Your address: The St. Regis Beijing

Frank Smythson Ltd
stationery shop in London
by Katharina Flohr

40 New Bond Street,

I love the refined and sophisticated smell of leather you get when you walk on to the lush carpets of this beautiful stationery and accessories shop on New Bond Street, a stone’s throw from where Frank Smythson opened his original store in 1887. It hits you the minute you walk in, as do the bright colors. Although the Smythson boutique sells practical things – diaries and notebooks, travel accessories and handbags, jewelery boxes and stationery – it doesn’t feel in any way practical; it feels fun. There’s a wonderful “notebook wall”, for instance, of leather-bound notebooks in a kaleidoscope of different shades, which I love because they bring such glamour and femininity into a woman’s working wardrobe. In my handbag you will find a Smythson iPad cover, glasses case, diary, make-up bag and address book. My favorite notebook right now is covered in gorgeous emerald-green croc leather with enamelled clasps. It’s also fun that you can have initials, witty messages and titles embossed on to books and gifts, such as “Blue sky thinking”, “Live, love, laugh”, “Queen bee” and “Make it happen”; they make everything feel more personal. I bought my daughter a red leather notebook when she was 12 years old and, on a trip to India, she filled it with wonderful memories, photographs and souvenirs and kept it as a treasured travel book. In our digital world, I think there’s something special about writing on old-fashioned paper; it’s the main reason I like the products so much.

Katharina Flohr is the creative director of Fabergé

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Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, the traditional bakery in Florence
by Carolina Bucci

Via dei Tavolini, Florence,

This old-fashioned bakery is right in the middle of Florence, but in 
a street so tiny that most people have no idea it’s there. It’s narrow and cobbled, off one of the main shopping streets, and hidden among the newspaper shops, the coffee shops, the ice-cream parlors. The only sign is one saying “Forno” over its stone and glass exterior. It belongs to the owners of a castle, the Castello di Verrazzano, in Chianti, which was once owned by Giovanni da Verrazzano, the explorer who discovered the bay of New York even before Christopher Columbus planted his flag there. It’s very simple and practical, but very charming, with lovely old photographs of the castle on the walls, and the original wood-burning oven in a corner. Some people come for the wine – they have a surprisingly good wine list. Others come for honey or olive oil, which is produced locally. I love their iced tea. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, with my father, and recognize most of the staff: the male waiters, and the women behind the counter, including a very feisty lady at the till, with whom you place your order and pay. The bread and pastries here are like nowhere else: very Florentine, home-made, and made with the best produce. My husband and I often take our children for lunch, and order pizza and focaccia cut into little squares. Sometimes the waiter will bring a board with Italian charcuterie – salami, prosciutto – and sweet bread made since the Middle Ages, which he drizzles with honey and then shaves orange peel on to. The combination is delicious: sweet, savory, bitter, and so Italian and ancient. It’s all simple, but true, which is how I like my food to be.

Carolina Bucci’s latest collection can be viewed at
Your address: The St. Regis Florence

The River Café, waterside restaurant in Brooklyn
by Emily Mortimer

1 Water Street, Brooklyn,

I love The River Café because it is like restaurants I was taken to by my father when I was a child. It’s one of those really proper, old-fashioned places where men have to wear a tie; where the waiters are career waiters, who wear proper suits and there’s a professional maître d’ and a piano player. It’s feels like part of another era, which is particularly refreshing in Brooklyn, where you now can’t move for artisanal restaurants, and places pretending to be old-fashioned, with wooden floors covered in sawdust and men with handlebar moustaches wearing butcher’s aprons. This is the antidote. It’s right on the waterfront, under the Brooklyn Bridge, in a kind of houseboat attached to the land. You have to go over a little bridge to get to it. Once you’re inside, you can look out over the water, and get the most incredible views of the Manhattan skyline. You can take a ferry or water taxi to get here from Wall Street. And because the waterfront near here has now been done up, and there is 
a beautiful park and a carousel, and playgrounds, if you’re with children, coming here becomes a real day out. The food’s not trendy: you can have good steak, or fresh fish, or delicious pasta with lobster, or really good brunch. And my children almost always order a chocolate dessert with a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on it, which they then want to take home, because they don’t want to ruin it by eating it. My father [the English dramatist, screenwriter and author John Mortimer] used to say that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by a glass of champagne in a restaurant with a nice linen cloth. This is that sort of place.

Actress Emily Mortimer’s latest film is Ladygrey, with Peter Sarsgaard
Your address: The St. Regis New York
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