Luxury Magazine: December
High fashion in Petra; what leading chefs think about the Michelin Guide; and why vinyl is making a major comeback
There has always been a certain snobbery about ‘the new’. As a general rule, old is inherently elegant, while new is viewed as brash. The term nouveau riche is never intended as a compliment – it connotes vulgarity, a lack of breeding, a blatant disregard for one’s position in the established order of things. That may be one reason why the British media has always been so quick to criticise Dubai; its newness somehow offends.
This snobbery extends to art, design and architecture – the old buildings of European cities will always be viewed as more worthy than the skyscrapers of Shanghai or Dubai, however dazzling these gravity-defying structures may be. There is an inherent perceived value when it comes to historic buildings, because they speak of bygone eras, cultures and civilisations. Modern feats of architectural engineering are seldom granted quite the same respect, even if they are equally important markers of our advancement as a species.
Nowhere are the old and historic more valued than in the auction business, particularly when it comes to jewellery. The provenance of a piece – whom it has been worn by, not to mention when, where and why – is often as important, if not more so, than the value of the gems it is composed from. Which is why the inclusion of a brand-new necklace in the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva last month was a noteworthy event. The Creation 1 necklace is crafted from the largest D flawless diamond in the world. It was envisaged by de Grisogono, a brand that, in itself, is rather new (25 years in the jewellery business is a mere drop in the ocean when considered against brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, which have both been in existence for well over a century).
Christie’s, meanwhile, was founded in 1766, and is the very epitome of the old guard. It has been responsible for selling works of art, manuscripts, ceramics, sculptures and pieces of jewellery of extreme historic importance, and very rarely sells new objects. As a case in point, one of the other items in the Magnificent Jewels auction was the historic Grand Mazarin diamond, named for its former owner, Cardinal Mazarin, who was France’s chief finance minister in the mid-1600s.
When compared to this, Creation 1 is something of an anomaly. We caught up with Rahul Kadakia, international head of jewellery at Christie’s, straight after the sale, to find out why the auction house made an exception in this instance: “A large part of it had to do with the fact that the stone was so important,” he said. Turn to page 26 to find out more.
Another intriguing juxtaposition of the old and the new comes in the form of this month’s fashion editorial (page 34). We had the great honour of shooting in Petra, becoming one of the few magazines in the world to have ever done so. Humbled by the sense of scale and history, the team, under the direction of Luxury’s deputy editor Sarah Maisey, set pieces from the autumn/winter and cruise 2017 collections against the rough-hewn walls, age-old temples and iconic Treasury of the ancient Nabatean city. In our eyes, the end result is an artful blending of the old and the new.
Selina Denman, editor
A cut above
Selina Denman watches on as the largest D flawless diamond in the world is sold at auction for a record amount
Even in the rough, it was clear that this stone was something special. “Normally, there are black points, or cracks, or something,” Fawaz Gruosi, founder of the Swiss jewellery brand de Grisogono, tells me. “Whereas this was flawless. I quickly realised it was going to be something that hadn’t been seen before.”
He is referring to 4 de Fevereiro, a 404.20-carat rough diamond named for the day it was discovered, February 4, 2016, in Angola’s Lulo mine. It was the largest white rough diamond to be found in Angola, and the 27th largest in the world.
The stone was acquired by de Grisogono via Dubai-based diamond trading company Nemesis International and, tellingly, this is the same word that Gruosi uses to describe it. “I thought, a year and a half ago, that I had done everything in my career,” he says. “I couldn’t see what else there was. And then came my nemesis, this chance to create a new kind of treasure. It’s a lesson that, in life, anything can happen. You never know.”
The stone was first unveiled by de Grisogono in May 2016, at the Cannes Film Festival (where, Gruosi says, he kept picking it up and holding it, “for luck”). From that point until it was sold at a Christie’s auction in Geneva last month, it became his raison d’être.Leading experts from around the world were enlisted to help retrieve the best possible cut. And after nine months of intensive analysis, scanning, mapping, cutting and polishing in New York and Antwerp, Gruosi was left with a truly exceptional gem: a 163.41-carat, D-colour, flawless, emerald-cut diamond that, on November 14, became the largest of its kind to be sold at auction.
I am presented with the stone in a private room in Geneva’s historic Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues. It is weighty, substantial, and sits snug in my palm. Like a cut-glass domino, its clarity is almost impossible for the eye to comprehend. These are sentiments shared by Tom Moses, executive vice president of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “Even though we grade and test most of the important diamonds in the world, to see something this special is truly exciting, even after decades of doing this,” he said when he first saw the gem. “I’m sure it will go down in the archives as one of the more important diamonds in history.”
Gruosi affectionately refers to the stone as a “she” and admits that once he had her in his possession, he felt a heavy weight of responsibility. His creative process is normally instinctive and spontaneous, he says (and anyone familiar with de Grisogono’s colourful, unconventional creations will know this to be true). But it was different this time around.
“Any idea that comes into my mind that I like, I implement immediately. Here, she stopped me. She was the only one that stopped me. I started to be a little nervous. The responsibility of that stone was huge. How to be really different? There are a lot of other jewellers who have had big stones, but have just paired them with a small chain or something like that, and I didn’t like that. That is not the point of being a jewellery designer.”
It is true that many other jewellers would have been so humbled by the stone that they would have introduced minimal adornment. But that has never been the de Grisogono way. Instead, Gruosi opted to dress it up further.
He came up with 50 potential designs and, in the end, settled on a necklace that pairs the diamond with a sweeping chain featuring 66 pear-cut emeralds, framed by almost 6,000 brilliant-cut emeralds, on one side, and 18 emerald-cut diamonds, set amid a further 863 brilliant-cut diamonds, on the other. “You can see the amount of work here – it’s 1,700 hours, which is totally insane,” says Gruosi proudly.
He’s right; the level of detail and intricacy is insane. And there’s a further twist: the diamond is fully detachable, and can be removed from the necklace to be placed on an oversized cuff, making “it something that can be worn every day”, says Gruosi. It speaks to the audacity that lies at the heart of the de Grisogono brand that Gruosi imagines that a 163-carat diamond can be worn casually “with jeans and a shirt”.I see him a few hours before the auction is set to begin. He looks tired – the anticipation must be weighing on him. If the sale is a success, Creation I will become Gruosi’s legacy, a culmination of his life’s work and an emblem for the brand that he has built from scratch. As it is, this ambitious undertaking is already a strong statement of intent – a way for a relatively young house (de Grisogono was founded 25 years ago, which is a mere drop in the ocean when compared to the centuries-old legacies of some of the world’s best-known jewellery brands) to finally take its place at the upper echelons of the industry.
I ask him how his stress levels are faring. “Ask me in a few hours,” he retorts with a wry smile. The brand has been tight-lipped about how much it expects Creation I to sell for and, when I look, Christie’s has not published an estimate – but Gruosi lets it slip. “Between US$30 million and $40 million [up to Dh147m],” he reveals.
Bidding begins at 9pm that day, in the ballroom at the Four Seasons. The room is full and hot under temporary spotlights that have no doubt been rigged up to ensure that Rahul Kadakia, international head of high jewellery at Christie’s and tonight’s auctioneer, can see all the action on the floor. De Grisogono’s tie-up with Christie’s is a stroke of genius. Founded in the 1700s, the auction house is as established as it gets – and offers a final layer of validity and legitimacy to Creation I’s story. Also, as Gruosi points out, it gives his brand a chance to speak to a new, much broader, audience.There are more than 200 objects in the Christie’s sale, and Gruosi’s necklace is last but one to go under the hammer. Bidding starts at a respectable 20m Swiss francs (almost Dh75m); just over three-and-a-half minutes later, Creation I has a new owner – and has set a world record for a D flawless diamond sold at auction, garnering CHF33.5m (Dh125m), including the buyer’s premium.“I think it was in line with where we thought the stone was going to go and I am happy to see that there was a bit of healthy competitive bidding in the room and on the telephones,” Kadakia says when I catch up with him straight after the auction.“It’s a very impressive piece, even for someone like me, who is in the jewellery business. When you look at Creation I, the combination of the necklace, the size of the diamond – it is perfection in terms of its colour and purity – the cut, the faceting. That in itself is very impressive; then you have the scale and the design of the piece.
“All of this combines into a great object, a work of art, almost, which is why it is aptly called Creation I,” Kadakia continues. “All in all, it was a good evening. There were healthy prices and a room full of clients; everyone was happy, so we were very happy with how things played out.”I am not entirely sure that Gruosi is happy as he heads out of the room – the expression on his face would suggest otherwise. I wonder if he is, on some level, relieved to be parting ways with his nemesis. And, in truth, even if the price is not quite what he would have liked, the gamble pays off. The next day, news sites around the world are telling the story of a one-of-a kind necklace that sold for a record amount – in the process, establishing de Grisogono as a brand that is unashamedly bold, in both its designs and its ambitions.
Handbags of the highest order
The Cartier panther first reared its elegant head in the early 20th century, and at the time mainly featured in the brand’s high-jewellery collections. The motif, in its myriad forms, from watches and jewels to perfume bottles and handbags, has since been adopted – and adored – by generations of women.
Last month, Cartier created two new versions of its Panthère de Cartier bag. The first gives a festive spin to last year’s classic twin rectangular clutches, which came in either black calfskin or crocodile skin, and were decorated with a gold-outlined panther head and an engraved clasp. The new edit places the hypnotic motif and gold-finished clasp against an iridescent green crocodile skin, with a green lambskin interior.
The second iteration, presents the panther – emerald eyes and all – in pixelated form. The embroidered artwork sits sleek against a satin exterior, while the interior is in peacock blue lambskin.
The clutches are but two additions to a long line of Cartier handbags that double as jewels. The first known example dates back to 1906, when the brand created a chainmail evening purse, with an owl’s head clasp crafted from rose-cut diamonds and emerald cabochons.
This was followed by the Tutti Frutti bag, with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires; and a cylindrical vanity case in gold, platinum, enamel and diamonds that was sold to the Duke of Windsor, who apparently offered it to Coco Chanel in 1924.
Jeanne Toussaint, muse to Louis Cartier and director of jewellery from 1933 to 1978, dramatically influenced the label’s designs. She is credited for reimagining the panther in its entirety, as well as for articulating Cartier’s other famous animals, birds and flowers. It was during Toussaint’s reign that Mexican actress María Félix acquired a reindeer leather bag trimmed in onyx, with coral and diamond-set chimera heads; and Barbara Hutton ordered a bag with a gem-encrusted tiger clasp to gift to her sister-in-law, Princess Nina Mdivani.
More recently, Cartier looked to the specialist maisons that it has collaborated with over the years, as well as its Cactus jewellery line, and reinterpreted these crafts and symbols as covetable arm candy. In September, for instance, the brand released three Cactus de Cartier bags, in green, tan and terracotta alligator skin, each topped with a succulent brooch clasp decorated with the cactus motif. Much like its jewellery form, the rebel flower on these shoulder bags came in emeralds, carnelians and diamonds.
In the same month, Cartier unveiled its Snake bag, which features beadwork in gold and onyx by France’s Maison Lesage, the embroidery house that designers such as Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior have long turned to for their needlework needs.
Cartier also collaborated with Maison Lognon for its Crocodile bag, which features a flap with the pleated work that the house is known for; and with feather-maker Maison Lemarié for its Peacock and Lovebirds evening bags. The styles and symbols may have evolved since that first coiffed owl’s head, but Cartier’s bejewelled bags continue to shine. www.cartier.com
Why vinyl record is back in the loop
Lengthy beards and waxed moustaches, checked shirts, tattoos, fixed-gear bicycles, Buddy Holly glasses, vintage shoes and 35mm film cameras with manual frame winders – love them or loathe them, hipsters have brought all these things, and more, back into vogue over the past few years. And no self-proclaimed non-conformist would even dream of listening to their Portishead or LCD Soundsystem albums on compact disc or – shudder – digital download. For trues hipsters, only polyvinyl chloride records will pass muster.
But a resurgence in the popularity of vinyl cannot be explained away as simply being a part of the hipster movement. There has to be more to it than being cool, otherwise we would have already seen sales of vinyl records peak and die away. By contrast, by the end of this year, the music industry expects global vinyl sales to top US$1 billion (Dh3.7 bn) for the first time since their 1980s heyday.
Vinyl records can now be picked up in super-markets, and there are more of them on the shelves of Virgin Megastores in the UAE than there are CDs (in fact, many staff in electronics stores here have no idea what a compact disc player is). Which means, anyone with a desire to experience high-quality high fidelity has to seek out specialist audio dealers where sound is treated very seriously indeed.
Before you dismiss these stores as purveyors of money-wasting devices that add very little to your listening pleasure, consider this: what you listen to your music on can be compared to a car – a Rolls-Royce or a beat-up Nissan will get you where you want to go, but the experiences they deliver couldn’t be more different. So while we might think that MP4s downloaded in seconds to our smartphones are the way forward, the quality of the audio is often very poor, compared to how artists and their producers actually want us to hear it.
That comes down to compression of digital data. A smartphone or tablet device can store thousands of songs, along with information such as titles and album artwork. But if those audio files were the size they needed to be for perfect sound, our devices wouldn’t be able to hold more than a few dozen. And that compression usually becomes apparent when we play digital sound files through our home hi-fi equipment, which tends to highlight distortion at low volumes, a lack of depth or definition, as well as murkiness that simply shouldn’t be there.
Many of us are eager to spend huge sums of money making sure the visual aspect of our home entertainment is as good as it can get, with ultra-high-definition televisions and Blu-Ray players, but when it comes to sound, we’re generally happy to accept lower standards. Yet, the beauty of vinyl records is in the way they sound and, if you want to really hear what the musicians, performers, and their engineers and producers intended you to, there really is only one option – at least according to brothers Amir and Adil Anwar, owners of Dubai Audio, and Sound & Design in Abu Dhabi.
Having set up the business 23 years ago, they have carved a reputation in the region as leading experts in all things audio, but their hearts remain defiantly analogue. Enter either of their two main stores (they also operate a number of satellite outlets within some of the bigger malls), and prepare to change the way you appreciate not only music, but your sense of hearing, too. As dealers and distributors of the world’s highest quality audio systems, for the Anwar brothers, the return of vinyl is to be celebrated – but, they caution, these recordings must be played through decent sound systems in order to be truly appreciated.
Like almost any luxury product, there are sound- and home-theatre systems that can cost more than the average house but, as Adil points out, you “don’t need to go crazy to own an exceptionally good set-up.” A Linn Sondek LP12 turntable is awaiting delivery to a client, having been adjusted to its new owner’s requirements. “Look,” says Adil, as he pushes down on the circular surface. “It’s perfectly sprung and weighted. Everything is engineered to enable the most perfect sound reproduction. This is the most successful turntable in history and is, for many audiophiles, the absolute benchmark.”
Amir adds: “The external design hasn’t changed much over the decades, but the mechanical and electrical parts under the surface have gradually evolved as the technology has allowed. An owner of an LP12 that’s 20 years old could have theirs upgraded if they so wished – this is equipment that can and should last a lifetime.”
The brothers say that, for people serious about their music, vinyl never went away – it just became more difficult and more expensive to source. “When CDs were introduced,” recalls Adil, “there were lots of untruths stated by audio companies that wanted everyone to buy into that new technology. Reports that vinyl records wear out after a few plays, and statements about CDs offering perfect sound quality, were nonsense. True hi-fi enthusiasts never bought into that, but obviously recent services like Spotify and iTunes offer a convenience that you don’t get with 12-inch records.”
In a listening room in the brothers’ flagship showroom in Dubai, a reasonably priced system has been set up – the turntable, a Clearaudio Concept, would retail at about Dh5,000. We take a seat and Adil pulls Steely Dan’s classic 1977 album, Aja, from its sleeve, placing it onto the exposed platter, while reminiscing about how bands such as these put their hearts and souls into a sonic excellence that most of us have been missing out on for decades.
As the music starts, all else vanishes from the mind as warm, crystal clear sounds wash through the small room. Each instrument shines through the mix with a clarity that defies description. The bass punches through with force, but isn’t overpowering, while the vocals, drums, cymbals and jazz guitar layer over each other without crowding the overall sound. We’re left mesmerised by the production quality of an album that’s nearly as old as the UAE itself.
“Albums such as this were made to be played on vinyl,” enthuses Adil, “and it’s the only way for us to experience the true beauty of their art, even today.” We pick up the gatefold sleeve – the tactical joy of holding a physical record, of reading the lyrics and production notes, while admiring the large-format art of the cover, cannot be overstated. There’s a feel, a smell to vinyl records, that’s utterly unique.
The vinyl revival may well plateau before long and, admittedly, sales will never come close to the various digital platforms most of us enjoy. But as millennials and their succeeding generations grow older and come to appreciate true quality more, they are bound to embrace the unique pleasures that are afforded by the vinyl long-player. It never really went away, and hopefully it never will.
“Steve Jobs might have sold the MP3 to the world,” smiles Adil, “but when he went home, he listened to his music on a Linn turntable.” Enough said.
* Kevin Hackett
A flair for fragrance
The flamboyant Roja Dove chats to Panna Munyal about scents and sensibilities at the Dubai launch of his latest creation
Roja Dove is, above all, a master storyteller. Lauded with the moniker “professor of perfume” by the Guerlain family, whom he worked with for two decades, the British-born Dove is a leading expert in his field, an acclaimed bespoke perfume maker and founder of the most commercially successful brand ever to be retailed at Harrods in London. And yet, he says that becoming creative ambassador for Great Britain in 2013 remains the greatest honour of his working career.He tells the tale of how this came about in trademark Dove style: a manner that’s eloquent, absorbing and interjected with whoops of mirth, his eyes twinkling to match the multiple diamonds that sit on his fingers. “Imagine you’re sitting at your desk on a regular day at work, and you’re told there’s a call for you from 10 Downing Street. So you pick up the phone and, if you’re me, you say: ‘Hello, Roja Dove here.’ And they say: ‘We’re calling from Downing Street and we’d like you to come along. Oh, and you need to bring your passport.’ Lovely. So we fixed the time and I went there, got past security and, suddenly, I found myself walking up to this very famous door that I’ve seen all my life on the television. And all that was going on in my mind was: do you ring, or do you knock?”What ensued, says Dove, was surreal. Not only was he declared creative ambassador, but invitations to the upcoming launch of one of his perfumes in New York were sent out on royal stationary, with the then consul general to the Queen playing host at the event. “That was the first time that the honour of the title became a reality. The fact that the work you do makes a difference to your country is really fantastic,” he says.The work he is talking about involves formulating between four and 12 one-of-a-kind perfumes a year; conducting courses to train and guide emerging perfumers; as well as creating more standard, but no less special, scents under the Roja Dove label that he founded in 2011. The latest of these, Elysium, launched in the UAE last month.The sparkling glass bottle may say “pour homme”, but Dove is quick to align himself with the unisex trend that is infiltrating the world of modern perfumery. “More of my perfumes are unisex than not. I make no products that say ‘for women’ because, generally, for women around the world, if they like something, they are confident enough to use it. I’ve always loved that women are much more self-assured. Many men need to see ‘for men’ on the bottle, otherwise they don’t feel quite so secure.”As astute declaration indeed, which Dove backs up with more of his delightful insights. “Having gender on perfume is a Victorian concept, a time when women were not supposed to have opinions or, indeed, sensual desires; they were considered delicate. This might explain why they were named after flowers, Rose, Lily, Violet, Marigold, and that decided what their perfumes should smell of. The idea of what makes a masculine scent – woods, mosses and spices – comes from the idea of men being earthy, the whole woodland-predator thing,” Dove maintains.
“But one of the great things about modern perfumery is that we go back to this idea of scents being genderless, and more about what suits your personality. Interestingly, in the Middle East, most men don’t care about what they wear. If they like a smell, they put it on, which I think is fabulous.”
Dove’s ties with the region stretch far beyond his admiration for its “progressive people”. He credits the UAE for introducing him to oud, an ingredient he has since used in almost a dozen perfumes; and he opened the first-ever stand-alone Roja Dove boutique in Oman. “When I am introduced to clients from here, they often ask me: ‘How do you know our smell?’ And that’s a very interesting turn of phrase, and a great compliment, I think. I tell them it’s because I used to spend two weeks every three months of the year in the region, and that I got very, very close.”
In fact, he has even created a series of perfumes dedicated to the Gulf, including one that is called the United Arab Emirates, which is a rich and sophisticated scent that mixes oud with vibrant notes of rose and saffron. Many of Dove’s bespoke clients, too, hail from the Middle East. “Creating a scent for someone is a very intimate process, because perfumes have the power to both bring back memories and to create new ones.” He says that clients often compare a session with him with to going to a shrink, because of all the questions about their personal preferences and childhood references.
Dove also comes up with scents for people’s homes, offices and even their boats, based on the ingredients contained in the perfumes they wear. For instance, you can isolate specific notes in the perfumes you favour, in-store, and then burn these in your home, to sublimate, or dilute, the scent. This means your spaces will not smell exactly the same as you do, but will still carry the key notes that you respond to.
“Think of it like having a beautiful ring. You are the precious stone at the centre, and it is the job of the scented candle to work like the jewel’s setting; you don’t want it to shine more than you. A lot of people don’t stop to consider the effect of a smell, which is where I come in,” Dove explains.
That effect is greatly influenced by the quality of the ingredients, an area that Dove is actively involved in. The freshness of Elysium, for example, comes from a rare lime that exudes a woody aroma. He also included a special musk – a note that usually sits at the base of a perfume, but this is the only one in the world that works as a top note, he says. In addition, Elysium contains the elusive Rose de Mai. “It’s my signature material,” he explains. “It comes from Grasse in the south of France, and only blooms in May. An entire year’s production of this rose is less than a day’s production of the Bulgarian rose. And it’s in every single perfume I make.”
Details, then, are what drives Dove forward. Each perfume, bespoke or otherwise, is contained in a hand-polished bottle in a hand-made box. And each scent tells a story. “With the Gulf range, it was the concept of a mirage – the idea that these beautiful buildings [the Burj Khalifa on the United Arab Emirates perfume bottle] emerged from what was, until recently, nothing but desert. With Elysium, I imagined a star burst, one that both radiates light and draws you in. And every time you spray it on, I want you to imagine a supernova and go ‘ta-da’,” Dove concludes, with an exuberant flourish of his sparkling hands.
The trend: Circular motifs
Here, circles serve to soften the look, while boxy squares in a two-toned print bring this outfit bang up to date. (pictured left)
Unconventional, dramatic and designed to flow, a cream sequinned apron is worn underneath a tailored black jacket.
Even though the design is more of a pear drop than a dot, this fluid chiffon dress is an upbeat way to wear an all-over repeating pattern.
A combination of block colour, netting and a woven circle pattern make for a dynamic look. The top’s gathered cut stops it from being overwhelming.
Shooting for the stars
As rumours that the Michelin Guide is coming to the UAE continue to swirl, Panna Munyal asks leading chefs about the challenges of maintaining the illustrious ranking, and if the country’s restaurants are ready to be rated
“Burj Khalifa partners with chef Sergio Herman for a two-night dining experience”; “Nobu Matsuhisa and Giorgio Locatelli cook together in a culinary first”; “Galvin brothers open their second restaurant in the UAE”; “Paco Pérez creates menu for Ritz-Carlton Dubai.” In the past six months alone, the UAE has welcomed at least a dozen chefs – all men, incidentally – who head or work at Michelin-starred restaurants in their home countries. This is not counting the chefs who already operate glamorous eateries in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in addition to other international venues that have earned them pride of place in the Michelin Guide. These are people who lead teams of talented cooks to create, innovate and delight on an hourly basis, and adhere to the Guide’s exacting criteria to maintain delicious perfection.
Chef Seiji Yamamoto, for example, oversees proceedings at Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo, where he seeks to “plate the prodigality of Japanese cuisine”.
Accordingly, diners can enjoy creatively put-together dishes such as the Summer Duck, which has succulent strips of medium-rare meat laid out on hot stones, topped with a poached egg and served with sizzling hot duck broth and pickled fruit with ginger. Yamamoto’s famous Message from the Coast of Japan, meanwhile, is a seven-plate dish that includes distinctive seasonal flavours such as skipjack tuna with eggplant, flounder with yuzu paste, aji horse mackerel with sesame paste, and jellyfish with okra. However, so compulsive is the chef about the dining experience that he insists guests avoid wearing strong-smelling perfumes, lest they interfere with the aromas of the food. He also once famously sent an eel for a CT scan to better familiarise himself with its anatomy.
Stateside, chef Grant Achatz and restaurateur Nick Kokonas run the show at Alinea, one of only two-starred restaurants in Chicago, which is known for its innovative dishes – floating green apple helium balloons; fried sweetbread with ginko nuts eaten with cinnamon slivers that double as chopsticks; and rare Japanese icefish in a tart, fermented kumquat sauce. These creations are served by an army of stealthy staff, on exquisite bowls and platters in an elegant two-storey house in Lincoln Park, with alabaster walls, ceiling-hung artworks and a dramatic spiral staircase. Patrons typically need to plan a meal at both these venues weeks in advance, with Alinea boasting a minimum three-month waiting period.Meanwhile, people flock by the dozen to Jean Georges in New York, which serves a more casual Taste of Spring lunch menu that will set you back a mere US$38 (Dh140) – a far cry from RyuGin and Alinea’s astronomical prices. And yet, all three restaurants have been honoured by the highest Michelin accolade: three stars, awarded to restaurants helmed by “chefs who are at the peak of their profession”, where cooking is akin to an art form and dishes are destined to become classics.“It’s all about the food and what’s on the plate, fundamentally and most importantly. The rest can then follow as you like,” says British chef Tom Aikens, who recently opened Pots, Pans and Boards in Dubai. This might explain why Yat Lok, a hole-in-the-wall eatery that serves a lone goose dish with drumstick and noodles (Dh60) in a seedy alley in Hong Kong, and Liao Fan, an open-air stall in Singapore that does a mean soya sauce chicken and rice (Dh6), share their stellar status with Geneva’s Le Chat Botté, The Jane by Sergio Herman in Antwerp, and Imàgo at Hotel Hassler in Rome.
A single star indicates a very good restaurant in its category, while two stars represent excellent cooking. Given that Michelin is, originally, a tyre company, the stars were originally used to indicate the value of the food served at a restaurant vis-à-vis the distance one needed to travel to get to it. Two stars indicate an eatery is worth the detour, while three stars warrant a special journey.While pristine linens and polished crystal may not be determining factors when it comes to impressing the anonymous Michelin inspectors, top-notch ingredients are a must. Points are also awarded for quality, creativity, consistency and even pricing. A handful of reasonable restaurants aside, the majority of Michelin-starred eateries are expensive. It is the job of the food inspectors to gauge both the taste of a dish and whether it justifies its price tag, based on top-quality produce. “The standard and quality of the food need to be very high. You cannot buy cheap things or poor products and then sell them as expensive dishes,” says Antonio Mellino, who heads the dual Michelin-starred Quattro Passi on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.“People understand good food now. They know what a Michelin star means and they come with expectations. You need to make a difference to their experience and keep innovating so your customers will not be bored,” adds the chef, who opened a branch of his restaurant in Dubai last month.That the culinary offerings in the UAE – and the chefs who whip them up – are evolving to superlative standards has not gone unnoticed by the Michelin body, it seems. In April last year, Michael Ellis, the international director of the Michelin Guide, said at the Global Restaurant Investment Forum: “Dubai is an emerging market. It is arguably one of the most exciting and dynamic restaurant cities in the world… it’s only a matter of time before the Michelin Guide comes to Dubai. It would be easy to do here because it’s a relatively small city and English-speaking. So my guess is that it will be sooner rather than later. We could even do it next year, but that would be speculation at the moment.”The prospect of Michelin inspectors descending on Dubai has both supporters and opponents. While many think the Guide should have graced the UAE’s shores years ago, others believe that the country is not yet ready, arguing that international cuisines aside, the city needs to be better represented in terms of food from the Arab world. “We just don’t have the pool of talent nor the ingredients to reach the standards qualifiable for a Michelin Guide. Also, people here are too transient, so it’s hard to build the consistency that, needless to say, is an absolute requisite in qualifying for a Michelin star,” says Jarek Wysmyk, executive head chef at Dubai’s Society Café and Lounge, who has worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Rustic Stone in Dublin. Some chefs speculate that the body is waiting on authorities in the UAE to give their final approval and the requisite financial support.
Chris Galvin, who opened Demoiselle and Galvin Dubai in City Walk along with his brother Jeff, sums up the argument in his no-nonsense way. “The Michelin body and its inspectors are thorough professionals. The fact that they’re not yet here is not an oversight; they do everything for and with a reason. If and when they come to Dubai, it will mean that they are ready for the city – and the city is ready for them.”Galvin is also one of the few chefs who openly admits that the pressure of running a Michelin-starred restaurant can be overwhelming. Earlier this year, French chef Sébastien Bras asked that his Le Suquet restaurant be stripped of its three stars, because of the anxiety of living up to Michelin standards.“Be careful what you ask for,” is Galvin’s take on the issue. “The pressure that the staff of a Michelin-starred restaurant are under is immense. To achieve that level of perfection day after day, plate after plate, can take its toll. And to not know whether the person you’re serving is or isn’t an anonymous Michelin inspector, come for one of their routine checks, means that the pressure is constant. I almost miss the simpler days before our restaurants were awarded the stars,” the chef says.
While Galvin is not alone in his candour, there are many who will categorically say that the honour more than makes up for the stress involved. “This pressure, of course it is there and it is very high. It is also very necessary. It drives you as a chef,” says Mellino. “If you don’t feel the pressure or don’t find it stressful, there is something wrong. You wake up every morning, and you have no idea what your day will be like, if you will have missing ingredients or staff, or unexpected guests. But it should be hard. It needs to be like that, so you are challenged and you do your best.”
Another “controversy” that often rears its head is the legitimacy of the “Michelin-starred chef” tag. Technically, there is no such title, because the Guide awards restaurants, not individuals. Spanish chef Paco Pérez says: “If a chef starts a new restaurant, he needs to try and get to the required standard or level. You can’t carry forward the star just because you worked for a restaurant that has been awarded one. Same goes for the restaurants, they can only retain the star if the quality is maintained under the new chef and staff.”
Mellino, on the other hand, is of the opinion that the title should depend on whether the owner of a restaurant is also its chef. “If I am the owner of the restaurant and I am its chef too, I take everything when I leave to go and do a restaurant anywhere else – the reputation, the recognition and the Michelin stars, of course. I am the one who earned the star. If you are the owner of the restaurant, the star stays with you.”
It’s an interesting debate, but going by official Michelin protocol, the non-transferable stars means that not only does the UAE not have any Michelin-starred restaurants (yet), but none of the gourmands who operate their restaurants here can technically call themselves Michelin-starred chefs, either. And yet, a big draw of the eateries and events that these talented men are in charge of is their illustrious backgrounds.
We pay Dh1,900 for a Peking duck at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi in Emirates Palace because of the reputed chain’s multiple Michelin stars worldwide. We get excited when Nobu and Locatelli prepare a meal together because of their extensive award-winning expertise. And Thomas Keller’s seven Michelin stars (although such a figure is not technically possible) are likely to draw diners to his newly opened Bouchon Bakery in Dubai.
A chef with Michelin-standard experience is undeniably alluring to the region’s well-heeled foodies. As to whether this will still hold true when the Guide makes its way to the UAE – and chooses its deserving restaurants, irrespective of the backgrounds of those who run them – remains to be seen.
My Luxury Life: David Coulthard
Former F1 driver David Coulthard made his name winning karting championships in his early teens. After Ayrton Senna’sdeath in 1994, the Williams team offered Coulthard a seat and his Formulapartment lifestyle. He went on to drive with McLaren for nine years, winning 12 grands prix. Having retired in 2008, Coulthard now serves as a commentator, guI real leaker, development driver and ambassador for brands such as Hugo Boss and IWC Schaffhausen. He currently lives in Monte Carlo
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?I’d be at home, cuddled up beside my wife, and my son would be coming through the door, sleepy-eyed, hair sticking up, saying he’d like his breakfast.
You’re sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, whom are you with and what are you eating?
Because I’m a man of convenience, I really like things to be spontaneous. The benefit of living in a place likeMonte Carlo is that restaurants and entertainment are readily available. Youcan say, mid-afternoon: “Is anyone around tonight? Do you fancy popping round to the Italian or the Indian?” There’s a great little Italian restaurant very close to our apartment, called Michelangelo, and the owner is a flamboyant Italian man in his 70s. I’d have a few friends from Monaco there. Nothing set –essentially just getting people around the table, at a restaurant where you are looked after.
What does your dream home look like?
I’m lucky that Monaco has an apartment lifestyle, but I can take advantage of the Mediterranean by having a boat. We like to do a bit of skiing, so we have a little place in the mountains in Switzerland. We also have a place in town in London, because I do business there. So actually, the dream home is a combination of each of those, because they all facilitate different lifestyles.
Are you a collector?
I wouldn’t consider myself a collector, but then I have ended up acquiring all of my racing cars from my career and I’ve got a little museum in Scotland that has all my race cars, trophies, helmets and things like that.
What’s the greatest car ever?
My favourite car from the past is the gullwing Mercedes, but I have a Mercedes 280SL from 1971, which I bought in 1995. It’s not as exotic as the Gullwing, or as expensive, but it’s the one I could afford at the time. There are Gullwings available now– and I could probably go and get one, but then that dream would be over. So, I’m saving that particular moment up for some point in the future, when I am not quite so busy.
Where’s your next holiday destination?
Our next holiday will be the Maldives in January; we like going there because it’s that Robinson Crusoe-style experience. We’re creatures of habits in that respect.
Is there anywhere you haven’t travelled to yet, but would like to?
My wife would like to go on safari, but I am reluctant to put myself in the back of a Range Rover and go off down a dusty road. But she will win out eventually, though.
What do you never leave home without?
I have a bag with my passport, electrical devices, money and cards, so I can always make a quick exit.
What’s the most overrated luxury?
Luxury can be overdone. When you get things that are about form, rather than functionality, I’m very critical. Maybe because my career was about having a vehicle built around me, which had absolute performance and functionality. Visually they looked great, butinternally they were absolutely usable. Often something will look great, but be impractical. That, for me, is overrated luxury.
What is life’s greatest luxury?
There’s time, which is all about management. I fill my time with a lot of things because I enjoy the challenge and the opportunity. If I think from a material point of view, luxury is having the funds available to live a comfortable life. But, of course, anyone who has been lucky enough to live quite a full and opportunity-filled life will know that, actually, the greatest luxury isn’t really material things. It involves family and friends and good times. I’m a social animal and I like to be surrounded by people who are not judging you for anything other than who you are and how you are.
* Selina Denman
A palatial stay
Palazzo Versace Dubai presents a new way to experience the artful opulence that the fashion brand is best known for, says Selina Denman
Versace’s iconic Medusa head logo is a constant companion at the Palazzo Versace Dubai hotel. Her face is printed onto key cards, embroidered onto pillowcases and bathrobes, etched into shower doors, and picked out in mosaics on the swimming pool floor. The mythological character was chosen by Gianni Versace because whoever set eyes on her was subsequently unable to escape; he hoped consumers would respond to his creations in much the same way. In the hotel, the emblem becomes a clear statement of intent – the property is an extension of the Versace lifestyle proposition, and intended to be every bit as opulent and appealing as the brand's clothing and accessories.
“For me, Palazzo Versace is the most incredible vision of the Versace world that we have yet to create. It is everything that I adore – craftsmanship, sophistication, energy and a passion for total luxury in life,” Donatella Versace told us when the property was officially opened just over a year ago, with a lavish party that welcomed the likes of Helena Christensen, Natasha Poly and Alessandra Ambrosio.
Modelled on a 16th-century Italian palace and interspersed with Arabian-influenced architectural elements, the imposing triple-fronted property sits statuesquely on the shores of the Dubai Creek. Its lobby is exactly what you would expect – neoclassical-style furniture is set on floors crafted from Italian Cremo Delicato marble; textiles look like they have been transposed directly from the Versace runway;colonnades call to mind ancient Roman ruins; and a grand chandelier, consisting of an incredible 3,000-kilograms-worth of hand-blown Bohemian glass, cascades from a ceiling that has been hand-detailed in gold.
The hotel’s location in Dubai’s Culture City holds a certain novelty value – it feels like you have escaped into a hidden corner of the city that no one else knows about. The views reinforce this idea; instead of looking out over the oft-seen skyline of new Dubai, the Palazzo Versace offers views out across the Creek towards Garhoud, Deira and, in the far distance, Sharjah, presenting a less familiar and more authentic perspective of the city. A respect for both the past and the present defines the property, and the Versace brand as a whole, said Donatella, and this was a big part of why Dubai was selected as the location for Versace’s second hotel (the first is to be found on Australia’s Gold Coast).
“Dubai is the perfect city to make this dream come to life,” said Donatella. “It is one of the most exciting cities on the planet. It represents a deep respect for tradition and a total obsession with the future. This mix of tradition and the future is also what defines the Versace world.”
Donatella’s stamp is apparent on every inch of the 215-room hotel. Sketches of designs from her Atelier Versace haute couture collection line corridors, while her actual creations can be acquired in the hotel's boutiques, which stock Versace-branded clothing, jewellery and homeware.
“I love to design pieces for interiors,” Donatella explained. “It is a different way of thinking than when I am designing for the catwalk. There is a timelessness to interiors that I love. I always think about what happens when people are experiencing the Versace life. I think about how people feel when they wear our clothes. I also think about how they will feel in our hotels, surrounded by this extraordinary craftsmanship and splendour. I want people to have the best time of their lives at Palazzo Versace. I want them to experience pure joy.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the hotel’s 65 suites. In the Executive, Grand Executive and Grand suites, parquet flooring is paired with a canvas of beautiful boiserie, and decorated in a stunning palette of turquoise, blue, beige, gold and salmon. Bedspreads are silken and sumptuous, while headboards are elaborate and intricately carved.
Located on the ninth floor, the hotels signature Suites measure up to 300 square metres and feature an entrance hall, powder room, living room and bedroom with an en-suite bathroom. Luxurious design touches include Cremo Delicato, Giallo Siena or Verde Laguna marble on the floors and walls dressed with intricate wallpapers.
This Versace-inspired opulence comes to a natural conclusion in the two Imperial Suites located on the top-floor of the Palazzo Versace. Set over two stories and measuring 1,200 square metres each, with a grand marble staircase connecting the two levels and acting as an anchor for the design, the Imperial Suites feature a dining room, living room, office area, lounge and entertainment rooms, private gym and sauna, as well as a master bedroom with walk-in closets.
The highlight of the space, however, an outdoor terrace that is home to a private pool and garden area. One of the suites carries a traditional, neoclassical design, while the second offers a contemporary aesthetic, courtesy of a more neutral colour scheme and furnishings from Versace Home’s understated Via Gesu collection.
The hotel is currently offering a special winter offer, inviting guests to experience the “Versace lifestyle” for as little as Dh1,250 per night. Valid until April 2018, the offer includes accommodation, complimentary transfers to Nikki Beach Resort & Spa Dubai, and a free shuttle service to The Dubai Mall, Dubai Festival City and Dubai Parks and Resorts. In addition, guests are eligible for discounts of 20 percent at the hotel’s restaurants and on massages at the spa, so they can fully immerse themselves in every inch of this luxurious, fashion-infused environment.
From colour-changing wardrobes to TVs that double as artworks, these objects will transform a living space, says Kevin Hackett
Form, function and connectivity
It is no longer enough for a table to simply be functional – not when it is surrounded by all those other smart devices in your 21st-century home. Enter Smartables. This new multimedia table doesn’t just provide a surface on which you can set your phone, place a speaker or install a light. Instead, it combines all these functionalities into a single piece of rather futuristic furniture. Featuring a wireless charger for compatible mobile devices, LED lights and Bluetooth speakers, the Smartables will satisfy most of our modern needs. You can place up to three Qi-compatible phones, smartwatches or tablets at the head of the table, where the built-in inductive charger will supply the power. If you don’t have a phone capable of being wirelessly charged, there are USB ports that will allow you to juice your devices the old-fashioned way. With two 10-watt speakers connected to an amplifier, you can transmit your favourite tunes directly to the Smartables via a Bluetooth connection. But perhaps more compelling than its built-in functionalities is its modular design. The top of the Smartables can be detached, and repurposed as a serving platter or laptop table.
A new approach
August is an American company that wants to make its customers’ lives simpler and more secure by developing and offering devices that give homeowners and tenants “unprecedented visibility and control over their front door”. Letting the right people in, at the right time and on the right terms, is just as important as keeping the bad guys out, the company says. The August Smart Lock Pro can be easily fixed to your door, without the need to change your existing locks, so you won’t even require a new set of keys. Using Wi-Fi technology, you can control access from anywhere via your smartphone, as well as check that the door is actually locked (if it isn’t, fixing that problem is a tap of a screen away). You can send keyless access to friends and family, your cleaner or plumber, without stressing about hiding spare keys under the doormat. Perhaps coolest of all, it detects your smartphone as you approach your front door, automatically opening it – handy for impressing friends or when your arms are weighed down with shopping bags.
In the cloud
If you are looking to create a unique ambiance in your space, the Cloud could be just the thing. In the words of its creator, Richard Clarkson, this is “a music-activated visualisation system that conducts thunder-and-lightning performances”. Using an Arduino controller and embedded motion sensors, the Cloud consists of an interactive lamp and speaker system that flashes light and explodes sound to simulate thunder and lightning – only indoors. Users can adjust the Cloud’s light levels and colour while streaming music via Bluetooth-compatible devices. A cloud crafted from sensors and code, this is a highly technical interpretation of nature.
Colour me happy
Some of us might know the effect as hologram, but its real name is lenticular – a special printing process that creates the illusion that a coloured surface or image is changing as you move around it. And now, Orijeen, a South Korean design studio based in Seoul, has used the effect to produce two mesmerising items of furniture, known as the Color Flow collection. One is a free-standing wardrobe, the other a smaller sideboard, both of which feature rigid lenticular surfaces that refract light from a colour gradient under the skin, depending on your angle of approach. The pieces are elegant and simple in design, with the wardrobe appearing to change between blues and greens, while the sideboard shifts between blues and pinks.
Tech as art
Samsung has turned the television into a work of art, quite literally. Its new set, known as the Frame, is designed to enhance any room or viewing environment, and is so much more than a big black box. Using new technology, the Frame can be switched to Art Mode when not in use, and users can select digital artwork from a collection of more than 100 pieces that include architecture, landscapes, wildlife and drawings. Extra artworks can be downloaded from Samsung’s Art Store for a fee or you can use the surface to display your own photos by uploading them. Numerous options exist for layouts and colours for borders, as well as a customisable surrounding frame, which is available in beige wood, walnut or white. As you might expect, the Frame can be wall-mounted – flush with the surface, with no unsightly cables – or even on an easel, should you have one sturdy enough.
Dh6,500,000 ... is the price of this new Montblanc pen
Here’s what makes it the ultimate investment
Montblanc’s latest writing instrument pays homage to Hannibal Barca. One of the greatest military generals in history, Barca is best-known for crossing the Alps in 218BC, with more than 50,000 infantry, 9,000 cavalry and 37 African elephants, to attack Rome. He chose this treacherous route as the Romans dominated the seas, making a maritime voyage impossible. The forepart of the fountain pen is engraved with the route he took from Carthage to Rome.
Only one will ever be made. Montblanc’s newest, most exclusive piece is, says its maker, “a feat of stone-setting precision” and is positively dripping with diamonds, set in white gold. These contrast with a full pavé of glittering blue sapphires, and the pen is also embellished with rows of carre-cut individual diamonds.
The pen’s solid gold nib is decorated with a special design that represents the Carthaginian deity – Ba’al Hammon. It is also adorned with two brilliant cut diamonds and, crowning the fountain pen, a magnificent 6.03- carat. DFL diamond. A blue sapphire cabochon from Sri Lanka shines at the base of the writing instrument’s cone.
The elephant trunk clip is one of the most sophisticated ever conceived by Montblanc. All of the stones set on the clip, and the elephant head of the cap, have been individually cut and set by hand, a process requiring many months of meticulous craftsmanship.
The clip’s unusual shape presented its own set of challenges. Montblanc’s atelier developed what is known as an “external tensioned clip” in order to make possible the complex design and aesthetics of the elephant’s elongated trunk. It needed to do this while creating the smoothest possible clip function.
This month's names, numbers & events of note
Jazz in the dunes
Parisian band Swing Deluxe will perform at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara from December 28 to 30. The band, who formed in 2003, specialise in tunes that fuse French and American jazz classics, particularly those from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. In Abu Dhabi, they will be performing covers of songs by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Boris Vian and Charles Trenet. To complement the performance, the resort will be laying on an opulent Bedouin-style dining experience, served under the stars among the dunes of the Liwa Desert’s Empty Quarter. The performance will last from 7pm until 10.30pm, and packages for the dinner and music cost from Dh498. Reservations can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org qasralsarab.anantara.com/jazz-in-the-dunes
In time for the festive season, Ermenegildo Zegna has launched Zegna’s Toyz – a line of contemporary gift ideas fashioned from Pelle Tessuta, a woven leather fabric made from extremely thin strips of nappa hide. The collection consists of gadgets, devices and home accessories “dedicated to the modern man for three different moments in his life”. The Essential line includes travel accessories and business-related items, such as a cardholder and sunglasses case; Toyz includes games, such as playing cards and a dominoes set; and Technological features multimedia items, such as speakers and headphones that have been created in collaboration with premium audio brand Master & Dynamic. The collection is available from Zegna stores and via its website. www.zegna.comBulgari LvceaBulgari has unveiled two new handcrafted Lvcea timepieces composed of miniature gold tiles. The result, says Bulgari, is “an infinite variety of subtly shimmering light effects achieved by the meticulous placing of the tiny tiles in a long and patient process”. The wristwatches feature approximately 700 tiny squares of 18K gold plate, each measuring exactly 0.84mm. Each tile is individually applied to the dial, starting from the centre and working outward. Under each tile is a grain of sand, creating a slight obliqueness, which is responsible for the shimmering light reflections and for making each watch utterly unique. As if all this artistry weren’t enough, 78 brilliant-cut diamonds are applied to the face, making these pieces as valuable as they are special. www.bulgari.com
The first Gucci fragrance to be developed under the expert nose of Alessandro Michele is now available in the UAE. Gucci Bloom was blended by master perfumer Alberto Morillas, in accordance with Michele’s wishes, which were to capture the richness of scent, as experienced in a thriving garden. “The garden is as beautiful as women are; colourful, wild, diverse, where there is everything,” Michele says. The ingredients used in its formula are nothing if not diverse: natural tuberose harvested in India, along with jasmine bud extract and Rangoon creeper – a unique flower that is used here for the first time in perfumery – combine to form a rich fragrance that, Gucci says, “transports the wearer to an imaginary garden”. As a final feminine touch, the lacquered bottle comes in a vintage powder pink. Gucci Bloom costs Dh545 for 100 millilitres. www.gucci.com
Abu Dhabi-based admirers and collectors of Korloff, the luxury French jewellery and watch brand, no longer need to travel to get their fix. The brand, which was founded in 1978, is renowned for its feminine, intricate designs and its signature women’s collections, which include Envolées Poétiques and Lumière, can now be found at Al Manara International Jewellery stores within The Galleria, Yas Mall, Al Ain Mall, Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall. www.korloff.fr