Luxury magazine: February

Sometimes, clothes can be more than just clothes. This was a point poignantly made at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards last month, when high-profile actresses donned black to show their solidarity and support of victims of sexual abuse. In that instance, clothes became a visual manifestation of a movement – a fashion statement in the truest sense of the word.

Prabal Gurung is all about that kind of fashion statement. To close his spring/summer 2018 show during Berlin Fashion Week, the American-Nepalese designer came on stage wearing a T-shirt that read: “This is what a feminist looks like”. That same show featured T-shirts emblazoned with phrases such as “I’m an immigrant” and “Revolution has no borders”.

Fashion is so often written off as frivolous and fanciful but, every now and again, we are reminded that the clothes we wear can convey important messages about who we are and what we believe in.

Gurung, a calm, softly spoken soul, was reacting to the sociopolitical climate in his adopted home of the United States. And so clothes became more than just clothes. “Everything the new government was talking about really challenged those of us who believed in equality, diversity and inclusivity,” Gurung explained when Sarah Maisey met him in Abu Dhabi late last year.

There’s much to be said for making a stand, particularly when it has the potential to impact your bottom line. Panna Munyal looks at the contentious issue of rubies from Myanmar. Burmese rubies, as they are still called, are the stuff of legend – but there are ethical issues surrounding these blood-red beauties. Funds from Myanmar’s mining industry are, in part, distributed to the country’s military, which has been accused of committing horrific atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. The gemstone business has always had a bad rap – Burmese rubies are the new blood diamonds. But a petition from SumOfUs, entitled “Is your jewellery funding genocide”, is a reminder of the power and responsibility that luxury brands (and, by extension, the consumers of those brands) have.

I was lucky enough to visit the Gemfields-owned Montepuez ruby mine in Mozambique a couple of years ago. The scars of Mozambique’s civil war still run deep and, more than anywhere else that I have visited in Africa, it felt like a country that was still very raw.

There will always be controversy around the idea of foreign companies coming into a place and benefiting from its natural resources – but there is much to be said for Gemfields’ ethical approach. By implementing a professional, transparent and legal mining process, Gemfields is minimising damage to the environment, eliminating illegal mining, and paying taxes and royalties to the Mozambique government, while creating employment and job security for members of the local community – and supporting local CSR projects in the process. If consumers have the choice of a gem that has been mined under those circumstances, or one that is potentially “funding genocide”, it should be a no-brainer, right?

* Selina Denman, editor

A look inside an eight-bedroom mansion an hour from Manhattan 

Refurbished to the highest standard, this Dh22 million sprawling estate with Hollywood connections is the ideal place to host Great Gatsby-esque parties

Almost a century after it was built, this eight-bedroom mansion featured in The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks. The 1986 film tells the story of an ambitious couple who buy a distress-sale estate with the intention of slightly improving it and selling it on for a profit. However, the house falls apart spectacularly, causing the couple to completely refurbish it. They end up living in it themselves – at least in the Steven Spielberg-produced comedy.

In reality, when the film was being shot, the home belonged to Olympic gold medallist Eric Ridder, and it had actually fallen into a state of catastrophic disrepair by the time current owners Christina and Rich Makowsky bought it for Dh7 million in 2002. They spent five times that amount doing it up, put it on the market in 2014 for Dh46 million, and – upon not finding any takers – reduced it to Dh22 million this year. In other words, it’s a steal, and here’s why.

The 5.4-acre Northway estate sits in the elite Oyster Bay enclave, an hour from Manhattan. The three-storey structure is at the end of a half-kilometre-long, flower-lined drive (rumour has it that the Makowskys spent Dh7m on landscaping alone). The three-tiered grounds also house a six-car garage, a saltwater pool and 800-square-foot pool house, an outdoor sound system, and a fountain, gazebo and rose garden.  

The house itself has a cedar roof and offers 14,000 square feet of living space. Christina, who is a fashion designer, says the decor was inspired by a “Versace-esque” style, in a nod to Long Island’s Gilded Age: all black and gold, elaborate mouldings and ebony wood floors. From redoing the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, to installing plaster ceiling medallions, hand-carved balustrades, crown mouldings and herringbone floors, the owners spared no expense with this project.

When it was built in the late 1800s, the mansion had at least 15 bedrooms, of which three are now combined to create a chef’s kitchen, with marble countertops and a centre island made from mahogany wood. In addition to the seven bedrooms divided between the upper levels, the master suite combines four rooms, and includes an opulent dressing area with mirrored French doors. There’s also a library, media room and dining room that can seat 28 people.

The massive living room boasts a 500-year-old fireplace, which was imported from France along with several chandeliers and bronzed sconces.

Three sides of the space are covered in tufted, black suede fabric, while the fourth wall is refrigerated. The lowest level has a recreation room, a gym, laundry room, staff suite, powder room, pantry and a French door leading to a bluestone patio.

A herringbone brick veranda wraps around the back of the house, while a brick staircase leads to the heated pool.

The pool house has slate flooring, and is equipped with its own kitchen, separate bathroom and changing room, and a small laundry area. As Christina put it: “The house was designed to entertain. It’s the ultimate anti-money pit.”

* Panna Munyal 

Mask for more

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” That’s the basic premise behind Foreo’s latest futuristic-looking skincare proposition, the UFO (which may look like something aliens would ride around in, but in fact stands for Ur Future Obssession).

Face masks were a big skincare trend in 2017 – they accounted for 40 per cent of online sales for beauty companies worldwide, according to Foreo, which itself stands for “for everyone”. But there are inherent issues with the current batch of face masks on the market – notably, limited penetration, poor facial coverage and the amount of time they take to work their magic, according to the Swedish brand. Clay masks are messy and get stuck in your hair, while paper sheets are apparently ineffective as that they leave up to 20 per cent of your face uncovered.

“Face masks are the guilty pleasure of millions, but is lying under cold, wet sheets of paper the best we can do for 2018?” asks Paul Peros, Foreo’s CEO. “After four years in development, Foreo’s designers and technicians have proved there is a better way. We’re taking the latest professional beauty technologies available – treatments that can cost thousands of dollars – and incorporating them into one UFO device to unleash the full potential of our face masks.”

Only half-jokingly, Foreo is calling the UFO “the cure to the sheet-mask epidemic” and promising to “rescue” women from all those wasted hours sitting under ineffectice masks (apparently up to five days per year in Asian countries, where the highest number of recorded users is to be found).

The UFO was unveiled during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, and is being positioned as “the world’s first smart-mask treatment to offer spa-level facial treatments in just 90 seconds”.

To do that, it combines cooling and warming elements with T-sonic pulsations and red, blue and green LED light therapy, across preset programmes. Thermo-therapy warms up the skin, softening it and opening up pores, to ensure that the mask’s ingredients fully infiltrate the skin. The cooling function lifts and firms the skin, reducing the appearance of pores and the risk of inflammation; and T-sonic pulsations, a trademarked technology developed by Foreo, heightens absorption while delivering a relaxing massage. The LED therapy, meanwhile, uses three types of light: red to erase signs of ageing and boost collagen production; green to brighten and even the skin tone; and blue to kill bacteria and stimulate blood circulation. The device works with two specially formulated smart masks that are made from soft, microfibre-infused plant and fruit extracts, concentrated botanical oils and natural flower water. The Make My Day mask features hyaluronic acid and red algae for deep hydration; Call it a Night features ginseng and olive oil to nourish and revitalise. The UFO can be paired with a Foreo app on your phone to get the most out of the device.

Foreo has teamed up with crowdfunding site Kickstarter to bring this latest innovation to the market. The device has obviously struck a chord – the Kickstarter campaign had aimed to raise $20,000 (Dh73,450); but has accumulated well over $1.3 million (Dh4.7m). It will be available to order by the end of February and will retail at Dh1,024, while a smaller “entry-level” option will sell for Dh657.

www.foreo.com

* Selina Denman

For a behind the scenes look at the shoot click here

For a behind the scenes look at the shoot click here

Launch pad: totally tempting totes

Burberry

The brand’s classic checked motif is updated with a fluoro-pink top, and thanks to 200 years of know-how, the colour is unlikely to fade anytime soon. 

Louboutin

This otherwise grown-up bag is given an urban edge with graffiti-style scribbles and doodles.

All Saints

Ideally sized for a serious day of gallivanting around town, this buttery-soft taupe suede bag is deep enough to carry all your essentials. And then some.

Jimmy Choo

Papaya-coloured leather is toughened up with black overstitched handles and small metal studs.

Mulberry

Add a touch of UAE glamour with this gold bag. The glistening hue brings out the texture of the leatherwork that the brand is famed for. 

My Luxury Life: Madhur Jaffrey

Born in Delhi in 1933, Madhur Jaffrey is considered a world authority on Indian cuisine, having penned more than 15 books on the subject over the past 40 years. Dubbed ‘the actress who can cook’, she has also appeared in more than 20 films, including Shakespeare Wallah, for which she won a best actress award at the 1965 Berlin International Film Festival. Jaffrey will speak at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai next month

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?
I would be in the Seychelles. Any one of the islands would be just fine.

You are sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, what are you eating and whom are you with?
I am in Kyoto, Japan, in a little restaurant where we are sitting on the floor, eating wonderful abalone in a mustard sauce, and fish grilled right in front of us on a tile with coals burning underneath it. Our dessert is just fresh, ripe persimmons, so it’s obviously November or December. The snow is falling outside, but inside it is warm and cosy, and we’re drinking Japanese tea.

What is life’s greatest luxury?
The greatest luxury is the ability to do anything I want, when I want.

What was your first-ever luxury purchase?
It was probably a pair of very nice, high-heeled Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, when I was very young.

Are you a collector? If so, what do you like to collect?
Oh, too many things. I’m afraid I’m one of the squirrels of the world. I travel a lot and I pick up all kinds of wonderful things. It could be ceramics, it could be antiques, lacquerwear, fabrics – I love old fabrics from different countries. It could be paintings or pieces of furniture that I then have to cart back home with me.

What are you reading at the moment?
I hate to tell you this, but I’m just in the middle of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. The details are juicily terrifying.

E-reader or old schoolbooks?
I used to love reading old-school books, but I’m afraid I’ve taken to the Kindle. I feel quite guilty.

What’s your next holiday destination?
We’re just trying to figure it out. The last one was Peru. We went to the Andes and the Amazon, which were absolutely marvellous. I’m not exactly sure what’s next, but it might be the Gobi Desert. In Peru, we climbed Machu Picchu and then went into the Amazon on a boat. It was wonderfully adventurous.

What three things do you always take on your travels?
I’ll always have a notebook because I’m constantly writing things down, especially about the food, because you never know what might come up, and where. I always have my wonderful Indian slippers, or juttis, which are comfortable – and my toes don’t get cold. The third thing is all my different pairs of glasses, now that I need one pair for every kind of distance.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
To see both sides of an issue. And if it comes to it, draw up the pros and the cons, and make a decision after that.

What does your dream home look like?
It’s definitely got a courtyard in the middle of it. It’s a bit like those wonderful houses in Seville where there are orange and lemons trees in the courtyard, so I’d definitely want a garden inside the home. Both in India and places like Morocco I’ve known such homes, where you enter through a big gate and you see nothing, and then you proceed through one courtyard and then another, and another. My parents were raised in homes like that as well, in India. That’s my dream.

Do you have a favourite city?
I don’t have a favourite city. I’m happy in many cities – I’m based in New York, but I’m happy in London, I’m happy in Paris and I’m happy in Sydney. I’m from Delhi, but it’s beginning to bother me because the air is so bad, so I wouldn’t call it a favourite anymore.

* Selina Denman

Brooches make a dazzling comeback

Think of brooches, and you’ll probably conjure up images of shiny baubles, heavy with gold, glistening on aristocratic necks. Or perhaps granny wearing something bright and cheerful that snags on the wool of her twinset.

As one of the oldest forms of adornment, the brooch began life simply as a way of securing clothing in place. Only over time did it become a convenient surface for decoration and, subsequently, a fashionable accessory. The very earliest brooches are believed to have been made from bone, while the oldest surviving pieces hail from the Bronze Age, as metal was not only durable, but also allowed for increasingly complex carving. Brooches by the Irish and Scottish Celts, from around this time, are considered among the finest examples in the world.

By the 1500s, brooches had become more decorative than functional in Europe, and were lavished with cabochon-cut gems and pearls, and worn on necklines or on hats. The 17th century saw the invention of updated gem-cutting techniques, with new facets making jewels seem brighter and more vivid. This led to a surge in jewellery wearing, as the wealthy rushed to join in this glittering age. Aigrette brooches, made in delicate filigree, using bird, floral or wheat motifs, were covered in stones (usually garnets) and worn in the hair, while en tremblant brooches (a French term meaning to tremble) were particularly en vogue, with fragile sprays of diamonds crafted to gently move and shimmer to better catch the candlelight.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the brooch take on a more sombre air. It was adopted as a sign of mourning, with cameo brooches carved from shell, and inscribed with dates of birth and death. They often had lockets of hair from the deceased woven into them. Queen Victoria’s self-imposed 50-year mourning for her husband during the late 1800s created demand for black clothing and jet jewellery, as loyal subjects rushed to copy their sovereign. 

By the turn of the 20th century, the brooch took yet another, more political, turn when Holloway brooches were adopted by suffragettes and their supporters. Worn at the throat for maximum visibility, the Holloway had a distinctive hashed pattern, based on the portcullis of Holloway Prison, where many of the women were held. Art nouveau styling also emerged around this time, and its graceful, fluid lines soon made their way onto jewellery, with the likes of René Lalique crafting languid pieces in smoky enamel. The emergence of the Ballet Russes in 1907 and the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 set off a craze for anything Egyptian and/or geometric, which merged with cubism to evolve into art deco.

This style of symmetrical, structured patterning was ideally suited to jewellery, and soon Cartier, Tiffany and James Emmott Caldwell were all creating beautiful art-deco-inspired masterpieces that bristled with diamonds and onyx, and were set with increasingly clever mechanisms. Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels both created jewellery for the controversial Wallis Simpson – who became the Duchess of Windsor – including a Cartier flamingo brooch with wings of rubies, emeralds and sapphires, and the now iconic panther motifs, one of which was seated on a cabochon sapphire.

As the clothes of the 1920s and 1930s became lighter and more simple, they became the perfect foil to show off new jewellery purchases. Customers snapped up clever pieces that could be worn in multiple ways, including brooches that came apart to be worn on dress straps, bags and even shoes. New materials, such as platinum and chromium, came into use, while industrial materials such as Bakelite and steel were repurposed for jewellery, allowing the less well-off to also partake in the craze.

Today, after a few years out of the spotlight, brooches are back in style once again, with major jewellery and even fashion brands keen to get involved. “I would like to do something with brooches,” Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s creative director for jewellery, told us last year. “They are very elegant, and we have stopped wearing them. We have to adjust them a little bit, because maybe in the past they have been too heavy. But now, if we do something a little more light and playful, it could be something we can wear.”

Van Cleef & Arpels still makes its famous diamond Ballerina brooches – first crafted in the 1940s – while its Le Secret high-jewellery collection has charming brooches that merge technical mastery with a sense of whimsy, resulting in such pieces as a gem-covered parrot that carefully lifts a wing to show a tiny nesting chick, or a flower whose petals open to reveal a ladybird hiding within.

Also known for blending skill with playfulness is Chaumet, which offers high-jewellery brooches depicting sheaths of wheat captured in 18K yellow gold and white diamonds. Its Attrape-Moi collection is garden-inspired, with bees buzzing on a honeycomb of yellow sapphires, garnets and peridots.

Boucheron is another house with a long history and an eye for the unexpected, and its latest collections include the Arctic brooch, where a tiny diamond polar bear strides across a crystal iceberg; and Nymphéa, a water lily rendered in mother-of-pearl, diamonds and sapphires.

Cartier, meanwhile, has brooches that include a tiny spray of blooms in rubies and emeralds, or delicate flower pins carved out of amethyst, chalcedony or aquamarine. A flock of miniature diamond parrots resides in the Fauna and Flora collection, while a wriggling lizard made of white gold, sapphires and diamonds, coils its tail around a cat’s eye tourmaline.

If there were ever any doubt that there are no truly original ideas in fashion, Roger Vivier, Miu Miu and Prada all play with heavy brooch-like jewellery on footwear, while Stuart Weitzman has really gone to town for spring/summer 2018, with a chunky heeled shoe topped with a crystal waterfall brooch. Balenciaga has unveiled a costume aigrette brooch, while Gucci continues to experiment with granny chic, with retro-inspired, crystal-encrusted beetles, bows and double-G brooches.

Realised in priceless gems or faux diamanté, the options are endless when it come to brooches, with many designs following fashion’s current obsession with nostalgia. So, keeping in mind that in 2014, a rare 1930s Cartier Tutti-Frutti brooch was uncovered at a flea market (and later sold at auction for almost Dh55,000), perhaps now is the time to be nice to granny. She might just have been wearing a rare Georgian gem all along.

* Sarah Maisey 

Of purses and princesses

Royal figures have inspired many a fashion accessory over the years, from the Battenburg jacket, named after Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, and the Alexandra coat, influenced by the former princess of Denmark, to the Kelly bag by Hermès, which was named for Princess Grace of Monaco.

Few designers, however, can claim to have forged personal friendships with the royals in question. Not so Lana Marks. The American luxury handbag designer was a close friend of Diana, formerly the Princess of Wales. She commissioned Marks to create a handbag in her name, and then ended up ordering 15 of the same, in various colours. The women kept in touch until Diana’s death in 1997. Marks’s now-bestselling Princess Diana handbag, in alligator or ostrich, is adorned with a diamond heart, made up of 225 stones weighing 3.22 carats, and set by hand in 18K gold. The top-handle purse, in forest green and fire engine red, as well as a matching pendant, are available at the first-ever Lana Marks boutique in Dubai, which opened at Atlantis, The Palm in December.

“During the 20th anniversary of the passing of Princess Diana [in August], I auctioned her own namesake green alligator bag to raise money for the Red Cross, to aid children who were living in shelters after the Houston flood. Soon after that, the Metropolitan Museum in New York accepted that bag to be put on display. It will be the only thing of Princess Diana’s that’s part of a permanent exhibition in the United States, which I think is terribly important,” says Marks.

The story of how Marks got into designing handbags has its own royal connections. The year was 1984. Marks and her husband, a prominent medical practitioner, had been invited to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth aboard the royal yacht Britannia in South Florida. Marks, who is originally from South Africa, was on the lookout for a red handbag in American alligator, to match her red and purple suit, but her search proved fruitless. That’s when she decided to fill the niche for exotic, coloured leather in luxury fashion, and designed a hot pink alligator lunch box under her own label a few years later. “I also did a red one for myself, of course, but pink was a hotter, more unusual colour that season,” she says with a laugh.

The Cleopatra bag is another favourite from the Lana Marks stable. A regular on red carpets – it has been carried by Helen Mirren, Oprah Winfrey, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Aniston, among others – the gemstone-encrusted clutch was inspired by the eponymous film starring Elizabeth Taylor. “The Dubai boutique has a very rare Cleopatra, with a flawless pear-shaped vivid blue diamond set amid waves of white diamonds on midnight blue alligator. It comes with a GIA certificate,” says Marks. The price? A whopping US$9.5 million (Dh35m).

“Luxury, to me, is something that is rare, made of exclusive materials and hand-crafted. It’s an item you don’t get tired of, whether you wear it tomorrow or in 10 years’ time,” adds Marks, all of whose bags are made by hand in Italy, and start from $2,000 (Dh7,400) for the Petite Chain bag in ostrich.

www.lanamarks.com

* Panna Munyal

Rebellion on the runway

Prabal Gurung has a few things he’d like to get off his chest. We meet the outspoken fashion designer in Abu Dhabi

“Grant me the strength to change the things I cannot accept.” These were the words that opened Prabal Gurung’s spring/summer 2018 show in New York in September. Clearly, this reworking of the first lines of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer (which reads: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”), was a barely-veiled swipe. But at whom? The White House? Politicians in general? The fashion elite?

This is not the first time that Gurung has pulled this kind of trick. His previous autumn/winter 2017/18 show featured T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like: “I am an immigrant” and “Girls just want to have fundamental rights”.

Gurung clearly has some things on his mind. “Everything the new government was talking about really challenged those of us who believed in equality, diversity and inclusivity,” Gurung tells me over coffee in Abu Dhabi. Alarm at the change of leadership in America, his adoptive country, has galvanised something in this softly-spoken man.

As a brand, Prabal Gurung is known for creating stunning womenswear that is often to be seen on the red carpet. As the man behind the self-titled label, Gurung is known for being fair-minded, passionate about equality and, increasingly, unafraid to use the very public space of the runway to voice his views. “As a brand, what I stand for is the idea of feminism and femininity. I have always believed – and been a vocal advocate of, from the day I started – in visibility for women and ethnic minorities. The runway is the medium for expressing myself.”

This isn’t just talk. Sitting in the front row of his spring/summer 2018 show in New York was Gloria Steinem, a highly respected feminist thinker, journalist and political activist. At the grand age of 83 – at Gurung’s insistence – Steinem was attending her first-ever fashion show. Three seasons before, Gurung had used Steinem’s quotes on his runway, and now here she was, sitting ringside. His excitement at her presence was palpable; he personally rushed out to greet her before the show began.

“Backstage, I sat with all my models and said to them: ‘We have among us Gloria, who some of you might know and some of you won’t’. Her coming to this show represents something; this is not a coincidence. You can walk down the runway as if it is business as usual, or you can walk the runway and remember the audience, and the platform you have, and the responsibility it comes with.”

Beyond the unusual front row and catchy slogans, crew members were decked out in T-shirts that read “Stronger in color”, and the runway was walked by models of every shape, size and race. Plus-size models paraded beside dark-skinned girls, alongside size 6 Caucasian, mixed-race and Asian women, with a few boys thrown in for good measure.

Selecting models that did not fit the traditional mould of tall, blonde and Caucasian was a clear act of rebellion. “I wanted it to be a collection that included diversity in the biggest possible way, with models of different sizes and races. Maybe I can change just one person’s thinking on what beauty is, especially in an industry where beauty is such a one-dimensional idea, because real women are different sizes.

“The greatest beauty a woman can have is when she embraces her femininity. To see a woman in her full feminine glory is so unnerving for so many people and, oftentimes, people don’t know how to handle it,” Gurung says.

The collection was also diverse. Although initially it felt optimistic, with loud pops of colour, it was filled with deconstructed dresses and pieces that were, quite literally, coming apart at the seams. Dresses and tops were made from sheer, see-though fabrics, perhaps raising questions about transparency in the wider sense, while practically every look had bits that were caught and held, or exposed and flaunted. 

If it feels like Prabal Gurung comes at things from a slightly different perspective to the rest of the fashion pack, there is good reason. Gurung was born in Singapore and raised in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, and his path to fashion stardom has been anything but ordinary. “I am a boy from the mountains, and all I ever dreamed of was fashion,” he says. “There were no Nepalese fashion designers for me to look up to. When I told people I wanted to be a fashion designer, I was told: ‘That’s a good hobby, but what do you really want to do?’

“I went to an all-boys British Catholic school, where I was just told I was different, that I didn’t belong, that I was not like regular boys. Even then, I thought, if they think I am different, then I will do things differently.” Some might have been crushed by such negativity; instead, it taught Gurung how to glean the positive from every situation, he says. He went on to study in Mumbai and moved to New York in 1999, to attend Parsons School of Design. During this time, he also interned for Donna Karan, before starting work for Bill Blass, as design director. He left to set up his eponymous label in 2009. 

“As a fashion designer, my job is not to dictate what women must wear. The runway is one version of my idea, and good fashion is a conversation, an exchange of ideas, of thoughts. I wanted somehow to be able to create that dinner table, where I am able to talk about fashion, politics and art. It’s not just hemlines – which I love, don’t get me wrong – I wanted to create a luxury brand with a soul. I want to let people know that they matter.”

Such lofty ideas now sit at the very heart of the label and the designer. But that has not always been the case. It was a chance conversation that led Gurung down his current path. “I was doing an interview and the journalist said to me: ‘It’s fashion, you aren’t exactly saving lives.’ And that really struck me. After she left, I called my family and said I wanted to start a foundation in Nepal. We started with 12 girls and now we have more than 350 children. We pay for their education until they graduate and help them to get their first job. After the earthquake in 2015, we started rebuilding work, and we have been able to help about 15,000 people.

“In Nepal, we believe in karma, and that what you do comes back to you. What you put out there, comes back to you tenfold. There is so much negativity on social media, so I wanted [my social media presence] to be like a Nepalese prayer flag. We have a flag with prayers written on it, and the whole philosophy is you hang it outside, and the wind blows the prayer all across the universe. I wanted my Instagram and my social media to be that.

“I have so much to be grateful for. Success is a true test of your character. Nothing else. It is testing you, what kind of person you are going to be, and who you really are. My whole thing is, whatever you do, do it with grace and love, and things always work out.”

At the end of every runway show, designers traditionally step out to take a bow. Some bob an unwilling head around the partition, while others revel in the moment, drinking in the applause. Gurung? At the close of his spring/summer show, he stepped out and started walking, his fingers held up in peace signs, wearing a T-shirt that read: “Resist with love”.

Vive la revolution.

* Sarah Maisey

The trend : sunny side of yellow

Kenzo

So sharp it almost edges into green territory, this acid-yellow dress is softened by flouncy frills and a high, sheer neckline.

Balenciaga

Head-to-toe lemon belies the complex construction of this panelled, bias-cut dress, which falls from a central point mid-sternum.

Dolce & Gabbana

Only the Italians could make veggies look alluring. This gown in banana yellow is covered in radishes, but still oozes femininity.

Gucci

Who knew that a floor-length skirt in daffodil yellow, with cascading ruffles, could be so on point? Pair it with a quilted jacket and velvet slip-ons.

Heart of darkness

Myanmar produces some of the finest rubies and sapphires in the world. However, the mining industry fuels the country’s controversial military, raising concerns about the ethical value of its gems

“Is your jewellery funding genocide?” There’s a hard-hitting headline, if ever there was one. It was followed by 900-plus words penned by a representative of SumOfUs, a watchdog organisation that launches online campaigns to hold corporations accountable on issues such as climate change, and human and animal rights.

The piece, which was published in December last year, argues that luxury brands must stop dealing in gems from Myanmar – the Southeast Asian country known for its high-quality rubies. The reason? Funds from the mining industry are, in part, controlled by and distributed to the country’s military, which has been accused of committing horrific atrocities against the country’s Muslim minority – crimes that the United Nations has gone on record to call “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

A handful of jewellery houses, most notably Cartier, responded to the 140,000-strong SumOfUs petition, and proclaimed that they will not trade in gemstones from Myanmar in the foreseeable future. “As part of our continuous review process to ensure ethical sourcing, Cartier has decided to stop purchasing gemstones from Myanmar, which will become fully effective as of December 8, 2017.

“Cartier will not purchase certified goods from the country, and will make its best effort to ensure that non-certified gemstones did not originate there,” declared a reactive statement from the French luxury goods brand, which also went on to add: “Cartier strongly believes in the importance of ethically sourced materials, [even though] current international rules permit these gemstone purchases.”

That last bit of wording is particularly noteworthy, as it indicates that while a free-for-all trade policy is now in place, this was not always the case. In fact, in 2008, the United States set up a ban on the import of jade and rubies from military-ruled Myanmar, a directive that was already in place in Europe, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Norway.

The ban was lifted by the various countries between 2012 and 2016, and remains so until the present day. Which makes the timing of Cartier’s potentially loss-inducing decision interesting. The Rohingya community has, after all, been targeted on and off since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. Additionally, to a true connoisseur of luxury gemstones, rubies from Myanmar are the very epitome of precious purity, with some of these stones claiming more cost per carat than diamonds.

Historically, the ancient mines of Mogok in the Mandalay region were famed for producing 90 per cent of the world’s “pigeon’s blood” rubies, so called for their hue and intensity. Ancient Hindu texts describe these as a tie between the “seeds of the pomegranate and the eyes of the Greek partridge”. The stones are coveted for their high-intensity colour, which is a combination of the bluish-red body and the super-charged fluorescent red light it emits, owing to a low presence of iron. The rubies are also famed for being made up of “facetable material”, according to Ruby & Sapphire: A Gemologist’s Guide by Richard Hughes, which means that, internally, they are some of the cleanest stones on earth.

Despite the subsequent tapping of other mines, the rubies that have been unearthed in Myanmar remain the most prominent, including the most expensive ruby ever sold. The 25.59-carat Sunrise went under the hammer at the Sotheby’s Magnificent and Noble Jewels auction in Geneva in 2015, selling for a staggering Dh112 million, which works out to more than a million dollars per carat. At Dh32m, the world’s second most expensive ruby is also from Myanmar. The 8.62-carat, cushion-shaped stone was initially sold by the House of Graff to Greek financier Dimitri Mavrommatis. The stone was scooped up for a second time eight years later at more than double its original price, by founder Laurence Graff, who renamed it the Graff Ruby, and said at the time that “it was the natural thing to do. The Graff Ruby has a life and legacy that extends beyond us all. When you buy such a stone, you are not just a trader; you are a collector and guardian while you own it.” Interesting as this turn of events might be, it’s not altogether surprising because the Mogok mine is believed to be virtually depleted, which only adds to the price and appeal of its precious red fruit.

Rubies aside, Myanmar births mountains of other high-quality precious and semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, garnets, moonstones, peridots, chrysoberyl and, most notably, lustrous blue sapphires. The region is also the source of virtually all of the world’s finest jadeite – an almost translucent green stone that is prized above almost all other materials in neighbouring, high-spending China, a market that’s attracted most international high-end brands in the past years.

Why, then, would Cartier et al not continue to nibble away at this gem-encrusted pie as long as they are able? In a phrase: conscious consumerism. No matter what legal restrictions are or aren’t in place, more luxury buyers around the world are demanding to know where their products come from. So it is perhaps inevitable that when NGOs such as SumOfUs target companies that they say are “profiting from murder and mayhem”, both buyers and brands take notice.

“End users want to know that the gemstones they buy have been mined responsibly and set in jewellery in a manner that is both transparent and ethical,” confirms Sean Gilbertson, the chief executive of Gemfields. A visit to the mining group’s Montepuez Ruby Mine in Mozambique and Kagem Emerald Mine in Zambia shows that it champions legitimacy, transparency and integrity in the sourcing of its coloured stones. Gemfields also focuses on building sustainable livelihoods for its employees and is mindful of the environment, with an aim to operate zero-accident mines. “Many of our clients visit our mines and ask for detailed information regarding our activities, as well as visiting community projects to see the positive effects of our involvement with local communities for themselves,” adds Gilbertson.

By definition, an ethical gemstone is one that has a traceable provenance and transparent route from mine to market. In the case of Myanmar, there have been multiple reports of the inhumane conditions and low wages that plague the military-dominated mining community. These have become much more prominent in light of the recent wave of violence. Hannah Lownsbrough, executive director of SumOfUs, says in her piece: “The situation in Myanmar is complex, and finding ways to unpick centuries of conflict and persecution will not be straightforward. Far easier, however, is to take clear steps towards cutting off financing to the forces that continue to abuse the Rohingya people in Myanmar.” She recommends stemming the income stream by completely shunning the country’s rubies and other precious stones.

“Any avenue of purchase that promotes violence is unethical. So buying from Myanmar under the current political scenario is completely unacceptable. This should be the stance for any company until the country makes repatriations and amends its policies,” agrees Nishith Shah, chief executive of Dubai-based La Marquise Jewellery. “Since the conflict began, we started purchasing our rubies from ethical sources in Mozambique,” he reveals.

During the commercial embargo against Myanmar, African rubies filled the void, most notably those from the Montepuez mine in Mozambique, which was discovered in 2011 and subsequently taken over by Gemfields. The mine is known for its high-quality rubies, some of which can be compared to pigeon-bloods from Myanmar. “Our estimate is that Gemfields in Mozambique alone already supplies approximately 30 per cent of the world’s rubies. As such, the supply of rubies is now much more diversified than in the past, and sources from countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Thailand and even Iceland will provide customers with greater choice. And the competition between them will drive greater transparency as each goes the extra mile to appease customers,” explains Gilbertson.

Should everyone then follow Cartier, Tiffany & Co and La Marquise’s example and boycott the Burmese blood gemstones altogether? The solution, alas, is not quite so simple. While part of the profit from the gemstones unearthed on a daily basis may fund the militia, some of it also trickles down to the largely innocent mining community.

“We surely don’t want to see Burma go off the radar. The history and legacy of Burmese rubies is unparalleled. Many people are employed in the sector and we wouldn’t want people to lose their livelihood,” says Dev Shetty, president and chief executive of Fura Gems, a Dubai headquartered mining and marketing company. “A complete boycott would not be possible in any case, as there are a lot of rubies already on the market, and sitting in the windows and safes of many jewellers around the world. One must also remember that not all mining in Burma funds unethical activity, so we can’t single out the entire ruby industry. We believe that the problem in Burma is short-term, and there is still hope.” Here’s hoping.

* Panna Munyal

What makes this magazine rack worth Dh86,000?

As you may have gathered, this isn’t your average storage solution. This particular magazine rack is designed by Hermès, a byword for high-end, handcrafted products made from the most covetable materials in the world.

The Equilibre d’Hermès magazine rack measures 21.7 inches by 11.8 inches by 21.7 inches. Its clever design mimics the look of saddlebags, in a nod to the French brand’s roots as a high-end harness- and saddlemaker.

The structure is crafted from solid, natural maplewood, while the bags are composed of Hermès’s so-called “fauve taurillon H” leather, which comes from the hides of bull calves. Calfskin is generally viewed as one of the highest-quality leathers on the market. The structure of calfskin is particularly firm and even, and its grain is finer than that of adult animals.

The magazine rack is part of a wider collection of decorative objects, which are all defined by their carefully measured proportions, natural maplewood, brass and supple calf leather. “Designed to appeal to the senses and the mind, their apparent simplicity contains within it both the mathematical precision of drawing and the skill of the artisans who made them,” says Hermès.

Also part of the range are a wastebasket, which stands 11.8 inches high and retails at US$8,200 (Dh30,114); a desk pad that costs $6,900 (Dh25,340); and an icosahedron paperweight that sells for $5,850 (Dh21,484), along with bookends, a magnifying glass, cups and spinning tops.

* Selina Denman

Tea’s new identity

The age-old commodity has been a constant luxury over the years, but is currently attracting a whole new crowd, who are deviating from accepted tea-drinking traditions

Drinking a cup of freshly brewed tea while sitting on your sofa, in your pyjamas, may be a daily ritual for some, but the trendy way to consume tea these days is sipping a unique blend in an establishment that specialises in the beverage.

Tea-drinking norms have deviated dramatically from their old-school, aristocratic roots. And while the drink still carries luxurious connotations, the vibe at up-and-coming, New Age tea hotspots is laid-back and lighthearted.

Charlie Cain, who goes by the Twitter name Tea Evangelist, predicted the decline of traditional, Victorian-themed tea rooms in 2011, and hypothesised that urban cafes appealing to younger consumers would soon thrive. “While there will always be a place for well-run Victorian tea rooms, tea is no longer the exclusive choice of the Red Hat Society and those with the flu. Tea is young, hip, and healthy. Tea is cool,” he wrote in a blog post for Chicago-based tea retail business Adagio.

Indeed, in its list of industry trends for 2016, the World Tea Directory noted a 10 per cent yearly growth in speciality teas, noting that millennials were showing an increased interest in the hot drink. This shift is also reflected in a 2016 report on the tea industry in North America, compiled by Chris Monk of market research company Nielsen. “Millennials are your growth cohort – go after them,” he advises tea brands in his report. He also states: “Don’t be afraid to be edgy to breathe life back into tea consumption. Be memorable and evoke conversation.”

Tea has a fascinating past – one that’s somewhat at odds with our current relaxed approach to drinking it. There were rules, regulations and societal expectations surrounding the process of drinking of tea, Nirmal Sethia, founder and owner of Newby Teas, tells me. “You didn’t drink tea, you sipped tea. That’s part of the tea culture,” he says. Sethia founded his luxury tea brand in London in 2000 and, today, it is available at high-end hotels around the world. The brand has won numerous awards for its ethics and quality teas and, in the UAE, has established an e-commerce site.

To say that Sethia is passionate about the heritage of tea would be an understatement. When I visit his stately office in Dubai, he gives me an hour-long history lesson. Tea is believed to have been invented by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC, and introduced to Europe in the 15th century, when the Portuguese exported it from China, along with silk and bone china. When it was eventually brought to Britain, it was reserved for the ultra-elite. “Tea was only for the royals; it wasn’t for the common people,” says Sethia.

He goes on to explain that tea leaves must be preserved and protected in order to retain their characteristic fine taste – and at Newby Teas, this happens at the brand’s production facility in Kolkata, India. He also reveals that when it was first exported from China, less than 1 per cent of tea was technically suitable for consumption, and this small portion would all go to Chinese emperors and European royals and aristocrats.

But demand grew. “As the world population was increasing, the consumption of tea was also increasing,” says Sethia. “A new culture started, picking up 99 per cent of the poor tea. They started packaging it beautifully, and not preserving the tea, so that by the time the tea went into the package, it had lost its entire character.” While the first teas introduced to British nobles may have been of ultra-fine quality, tea soon became a drink for the masses, packaged in teabags and often tasting too bitter, causing many to add milk and sugar to it – a disgrace to the very nature of tea, Sethia claims. “The culture started declining, and the tea culture was 100 per cent destroyed by the year 2000,” he says.

But while the tea culture of the past may be lost on modern-day consumers, in its place, a new league of tea-drinking destinations has sprung up. These have developed cult followings for their unique blends, appealing atmospheres and social-media-worthy decor. In 2016, Alfred Tea Room opened in West Hollywood in Los Angeles, and quickly became a hotspot for celebrities such as Kourtney Kardashian and Larsa Pippen. Founder Joshua Zad saw a gap in the market between fast-food-style tea and coffee joints, and traditional high-end tea rooms where the hours-long experience involved being taught about the ingredients in each tea by a skilled tea master. His resulting concept was minimalist, yet customers were quickly captivated by the pink-tiled walls decorated with cheeky phrases spelt out in neon lights above the bar. Black, green, white, fermented and caffeine-free teas are all on offer at Alfred Tea Room, and come in simple takeaway cups decorated with cactus illustrations on pink backgrounds.

Instagrammable disposable cups are a hallmark of the new tea-room trend; a far cry from the fancy crockery previously considered essential. According to Sethia, prior to the 19th century, a person’s status could be determined by his or her tea set. “If it was silver, it had to be beautifully chiselled and very ornate, and if it was porcelain, the teacups had to be beautifully painted,” he says.

Elaborate table settings boasting such tea sets are typical of afternoon tea – a tradition introduced in England in 1840 by the Duchess of Bedford. These lavish afternoon teas, as well as high teas, are offered in the UAE at fancy cafes like Fortnum & Mason, and at five-star hotels across the country. But while luxury locations may have traditionally attracted UAE residents, tea drinkers are increasingly opting for outlets that are more accessible.

Still, fans of the beverage don’t visit tea rooms for a run-of-the-mill black tea that they can make at home. Located in The Dubai Mall, the TWG Tea Salon offers a glimpse into the glorious world of tea in a location that couldn’t be more convenient for the city’s residents. Yellow artisanal tea cans containing loose tea leaves are on display in large, glass windows bordered by rich, wood-panelled walls. More than 200 different teas are listed on the menu – including a 24K gold-infused tea called Gold Yin Zhen, which costs Dh998 for a single pot.

“We’ve noticed a growing trend of discerning customers who are increasingly demanding in their request for fine harvest teas as their palates develop,” says Maranda Barnes, co-founder of TWG Tea. Amanda Herhold, TWG Tea’s business manager at Al Futtaim in Dubai, explains that a tea salon provides customers with a full-on experience, from the vast selection of teas available, even within single categories like Earl Grey, to the accompanying snacks. The macarons and desserts at TWG are also tea-infused.

While these new tea rooms are more like cafes, since they tend to serve a selection of snacks, pastries or even light meals, Sethia admonishes the coupling of tea with edibles, and says that traditional tea rooms in China and Japan dedicate themselves solely to the preparing, presentation and etiquette of sipping tea. “The pairing of tea with food is the falsification and destruction of the tea culture,” he believes. “Good teas never have to be paired with food.”

Sanjeev Dutta, director of commodities and the tea centre at the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), insists that the world of tea is becoming ever more diverse. “Though tea is one of the world’s oldest traded commodities, there still exists plenty of room for innovation,” he says. “There is no ‘one cup fits all’; rather, drinkers of all ages can explore new flavour combinations customised to their own palate.” Last year, the DMCC launched a luxury tea brand of its own, called Shai Dubai, featuring blends such as pistachio, cocoa, nutmeg, sweet dates and herbal tea.

In the Middle East, teas are often infused with ingredients such as saffron and cardamom, and karak chai has also become a beverage that’s considered cool, with concepts like Emirati homegrown cafe Karak House, specialising in the popular drink. After all, it is tea, not coffee, that ranks as the second most consumed drink, after water, among UAE residents.

Dutta says that Dubai is the largest re-exporter of tea in the world. “In 2016, the DMCC Tea Centre handled more than 41.6 million kilograms of tea,” he says. Euromonitor International has estimated that the UAE’s tea market will be worth US$70m (Dh257m) by 2018. And, according to the DMCC, the country as a whole consumes about 7m kilograms of tea per year, and more than 19,000kg daily.

Not only do many of the country’s expats hail from tea-drinking cultures, such as India, Pakistan, Turkey, Japan, China and United Kingdom, but UAE residents are also increasingly concerned with health and well-being, and this could be a reason why younger residents are turning to tea.

“I do think tea has been revived because people are so health-conscious,” says Herhold, who emphasises that it can be a detoxifying drink as long as you avoid adding sugar. “Recent studies of younger drinkers have indicated that more than a third are willing to pay more for blends that offer added health benefits, such as antioxidant properties, anti-inflammation, or energy boosters,” Dutta adds.

* Hafsa Lodi

Award-winning technology

Held during the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the CES Innovation Awards cover the full gamut of tech – from 3D printing and sustainable technologies, to gaming, headphones and home appliances. The Best of Innovations Award goes to the leader in each category. Here are some of the winning concepts that we’re coveting

The friendly robot

Standing 56 centimetres high and fully mobile, Buddy is part-personal assistant (he’ll remind you of important events in your agenda or suggest recipes for dinner); part-security system (he’ll patrol your home while you’re away, looking out for intruders, as well as potential fires and floods); part-entertainer (he’ll play your favourite song, amuse the kids, and help you communicate with loved ones); and a hub that centralises various functions within your home, from lights and thermostats to wearables. Plus, he’s pretty cute. Enough said?

Multifaceted sound system

A winner in the High Performance Home Audio/Video category, Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound Shape sound system consists of a series of hexagonal tiles that function either as speakers, amplifiers or acoustic dampers. Their shape means they can be arranged in countless configurations. “The hexagon is one of nature’s favoured forms, seen in anything from snowflakes to honeycombs, and makes perfect sense in repetitive and expanding structures. Every outcome is unique and there is a sense of natural beauty in these infinite variations,” says designer Øivind Alexander Slaatto. The tiles are covered in a wool fabric by Danish textiles brand Kvadrat, and come in brown, green, pink or dark blue.

Smart refrigerators

Samsung unveiled the next generation of its award-winning Family Hub refrigerators at CES. With the addition of Bixby voice control and its integration with Samsung’s SmartThings IoT ecosystem, the Family Hub is bringing new levels of ease and connectivity into the kitchen. Yes, it’s where you’ll store your meat and veg, but it’ll also act as a centre for food management, and help you organise and connect with the rest of the family. One of the fridge doors features an LED touchscreen, where you can create shopping lists and keep track of expiry notifications. Three interior cameras allow you to look inside your fridge from wherever you are – and images of items that need to be replenished can be immediately added to the Shopping List feature. New for 2018, the Hub’s Meal Planner takes food management to a more personalised level by providing recipes for the family based on food preferences, dietary restrictions and food expiration dates. There’s also a new Deals app that gives users the ability to find great bargains and save them directly to the Shopping List. You can also leave a note on the White Board to remind the kids to clean their rooms after school, see who’s at the front door, adjust the thermostat, or check on a sleeping baby in the next room. 

A companion for the elderly

A winner in the Smart Home category, ElliQ is an AI-driven active ageing companion – or “proactive social robot”, which encourages the elderly to remain engaged. Having developed an understanding of the user’s tastes, preferences and habits, the device will proactively suggest and connect them to digital content such as TED talks, music or audiobooks. It will also recommend activities in the physical world, such as taking a walk after watching television for a prolonged period of time; and remind users to keep appointments or take medications on time. Easy and intuitive to use, ElliQ is a collaboration between a company called Intuition Robotics and the famed industrial designer Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject studio. “The idea of having a robot companion is quite dystopian, especially for older generations. Through years of research, we were able to develop a design language and user experience that feels natural, with subtle expressions to develop a unique bond between ElliQ and its owner. ElliQ could never replace human interaction, but it can be an important motivating factor in keeping older adults healthy and active when living alone,” says Béhar.

Motoring made intelligent

Driverless and tech-assisted vehicles emerged as the leading trend at CES this year, but it was the 2018 Nissan Leaf that won top honours in the Innovation Awards’ Vehicle Intelligence and Self-driving Technology category. One of the car’s most notable features is a level 2 autonomous technology entitled ProPilot – essentially a combination of lane-keeping assist and adaptive/intelligent cruise control. The car will go on sale in the UAE for the first time later this year, following on from a link-up with Expo 2020, which in November announced Nissan as its official automotive partner. The new Leaf is expected to form a notable part of about 1,000 vehicles that will be provided for the event.

* Selina Denman

Like a moth to a flame 

French maison S T Dupont unveiled a collection of prayer beads and other Arabian-influenced designs in Dubai last month. We talk to CEO Alain Crevet about the brand’s past glories and future goals

It doesn’t help that I’ve only got 20 minutes to chat with S T Dupont’s CEO Alain Crevet, given that his opening line is: “I could talk about S T Dupont all day.” He means both the brand and the man, and the latter cuts a fascinating figure indeed. Simon Tissot Dupont began his career as a photographer for Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, whom Dupont also counted among the first customers for the personalised travel trunks he began manufacturing for Paris’s elite, in 1872.

“It was quite different from what was being done at the time,” Crevet tells me. “Louis Vuitton was, of course, doing beautiful trunks, but empty. Dupont’s would come with unique accessories and compartments – and that became the signature of the brand. It became a symbol of luxury to have this attaché in your house or with you on your travels. And the clients who came were also very specific about the space separators they wanted, for cosmetics and so on,” he adds. “Often, they would ask for bespoke accessories, which Dupont was then able to invent in his boutique factory.” The brand’s famed lighters and writing instruments were both conceptualised on the back of special requests.

Crevet’s recent visit to the S T Dupont boutique in The Dubai Mall coincided with the launch of a host of new collections, some of which were firsts for the 144-year-old maison. In addition to making good on its leather expertise – with a first-time range of belts, briefcases, duffel bags, laptop cases, wallets and credit card holders – Dupont has also created a series of prayer beads, in sterling silver and precious stones such as malachite, amethyst, amber and tiger’s eye, especially for this region.

Crevet explains that the brand has always been the go-to for customised requests and gifts. In the 1940s, for instance, the Maharaja of Patiala ordered 100 clutch bags for the women in his harem, with separate compartments for their cosmetics, and each holding a gold lighter. “It was this request that gave Dupont the idea to do their first-ever luxury lighters in solid gold,” he confirms. “Then Jackie Kennedy, who loved Dupont lighters, wanted a matching pen. So the artisans designed our first ball-point pen, based on the drive wheel of her personalised lighter.

“The misbaha, too, were designed keeping in mind that they will make beautiful gifts. We have also had many requests for the falcon and horse designs, and so we decided to make them available to more people, by embossing the patterns on our lighters. With their Arabian influence, these collections will be made available first and foremost in the UAE,” he adds.

The same goes for Dupont’s Picasso collection, which dropped in Dubai before it became available anywhere else in the world. “This is because the residents here have a taste for S T Dupont products and, besides that, the region also enjoys such a multitude of visitors – from Russia, China, all over,” says Crevet, frankly.

It was this no-nonsense approach that led him to shut down the brand’s ready-to-wear stores in his first year as its CEO. “I’m a big believer in the DNA of the brand, which is basically about a guy running a small, boutique workshop, making bespoke accessories, each crafted individually by hand. Our expertise lies in leathers, lighters and pens – and with these we can be as inventive as possible. But Dunhill and Zegna will always do a better job than us in clothing, so there was no future there.”

Accordingly, the leather goods adhere to an S T Dupont-formulated diamond tanning technique, which renders the material more supple and durable. The belts are made of calfskin leather, and come in colours such as midnight blue, tobacco, rubis, emerald and a “new black”, Toit de Paris, as do the other smaller leather goods in the Atelier collection. The three styles of men’s bags – an overnight case, and a duffel and messenger bag – are offered in neutral beige or warm grey, set off by a tricolour strap and dark cognac or blue leatherwork and handles.

The pens and lighters in the Picasso range, meanwhile, are embossed with the artist’s prominent Profil de Femme line drawing. “It is said that Picasso was always smoking when he was painting, and he had a whole collection of Dupont lighters, which he would love to engrave for his visitors and friends, and gift to them. Those original lighters, unfortunately, don’t belong to us, but the family gave us permission to reproduce his original sketch of a woman’s profile on the Picasso collection lighters, cigarette cases and writing kit, along with his signature.”

The brand-new Complication lighter is another example of the artisanal industriousness that Crevet keeps coming back to. Based on the technology behind complication watches, the lighter features a skeletonised body, visible micromechanics and 200 parts, which took four years to develop, with each piece taking 21 weeks to complete. “Our factory is but 20 minutes from the Swiss border, and so many of our friends and colleagues were familiar with the workings of a complication watch. We were already using up to 50 spare parts in our lighters, so the next challenge was to create one with 200. While a complication watch may not be expensive, a complication lighter is very costly [Dh180,000 a pop, to be precise], so I wasn’t sure if people would be interested. But the first series of 10 sold at the snap of a finger in just two to three months,” says Crevet. “And when the mechanism of a dual soft and torch flame was ready, we were so pleased with the results that we created this baby,” he adds, whipping out the Le Grand Ligne 2 lighter. The largest in the S T Dupont stable, the lighter has double the flame and twice the heat than the original Le Grand, which also makes it ideal for lighting cigars.

The bodywork of both these lighters, as well as the pen and lighter in the Picasso collection, is composed of natural lacquer, an eco-friendly material that the brand sourced for the first time in 2014. For this, master lacquerers were called upon to revive an age-old technique called popoté, which enables them to transform the teardrops of the so-called Chinese lacquer tree into a glistening, deep-hued natural sap.

Crevet reveals: “Being eco-friendly is something the S T Dupont brand has always upheld, and it’s been very important for me personally, too. The family belongs to the village of Faverges, at the foothills of the Alps, which is also where the factory is located, so they were of the belief that while we must create beautiful things, we must not harm the mountains and lakes around.

“This is reflected in the way we recycle, we have always sourced only equitable gold, now use only natural lacquer and recently we have put up solar panels in the factory,” he says, adding somewhat conspiratorially: “I am even pushing the team to think of alternative sources for leather, which is a huge departure for a company known, above all, for its leather goods.”

* Panna Munyal

The black book

Gucci

For men who like to smell nice while sporting luxuriant facial topiary, Gucci has launched a new beard oil as part of its Guilty Absolute range. The scent is described by the Italian luxury brand as being “for a man who defines his own masculinity”, and was created in a collaboration between Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, and master perfumer Alberto Morillas. It consists of four key ingredients: golden wood, leather, patchouli and vetiver, with some nootka cypress extract thrown in the mix, too. The beard oil includes a blend of natural oils, including grapeseed, jojoba and sweet almond, which are known for their nourishing qualities. When applied to one’s beard, they are absorbed into both the hair and skin, helping create a smooth feel and appearance. Available in duty free and selected stores throughout the UAE, the oil comes in either a 30ml bottle, or as part of a luxury gift set, which also includes a brush and a 150ml bottle of Gucci Guilty Absolute eau de parfum.

www.gucci.com

Aura

Regional home-furnishing company Aura has partnered with left-field French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier to produce a limited-edition collection of tableware. The items, which are available exclusively in the GCC, include coffee cups, tea cups, saucers and a dellah (traditional Arabic coffee pot). Crafted from white porcelain, each piece is emblazoned with iconic motifs in Gaultier’s signature shade of blue. The designs are very much in keeping with the 65-year-old Frenchman’s penchant for naval themes, set as they are against a Breton-stripe backdrop. Typically Gaultier, the limited collection fuses tradition with modernity, and all profits from its sale will go to Ensan, a Saudi Arabian charity dedicated to the care of orphans. The dellah is priced at Dh379, the coffee cups cost Dh45 apiece, and the tea cups and saucers are Dh79, with all items available at Aura’s store in Dubai.

www.auraliving.com

Maisons des Fleurs

Sending a loved one flowers may be one of the most common romantic gestures, but it is invariably well received. And this Valentine’s Day, you can really push the boat out with Maison Des Fleurs, which has been specialising in bespoke flower arrangements since 2014. It might not be much use if you live in a penthouse apartment, but if you really want to impress on February 14, you can have those floral creations delivered to the doorstep in a classic, chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. To avail yourself of this extravagant delivery service, you need to spend a minimum of Dh7,500 on your order and another Dh1,000 for the Roller, which is an exceptionally glamorous vintage Phantom Coupé, painted in two-tone gold over black and complete with whitewall tyres. The founder of Maison Des Fleurs, Priya Jelly, says this is “the ultimate message of love for our customers”. Since the business started, it has developed a reputation for luxury bouquets using the finest quality flowers, arranged with Gallic flair. The company has five stores in the UAE: two each in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with another in Al Ain, or you can order online.

www.maisondesfleurs.com

Aigner

German label Aigner has announced its first collaboration in the Middle East, with Kuwaiti fashion blogger and designer Ascia Al Faraj. The 28-year-old influencer, who has more than 2 million social-media followers, joined forces with the brand’s creative director Christian Alexander Beck, to design the limited-edition Ascia bag. A revamp of Aigner’s classic Genoveva style, the bag features a marble-print effect on hard-wearing smooth grain leather, which was designed with everyday functionality in mind. In addition to the vintage clip- lock logo that is the signature clasp of most Aigner bags, this edit comes with an extra pendant, affixed to the metal handle with cabochons. The rear side of the pendant is inscribed with the words “Ascia exclusively for Aigner”, in rose gold. Modestwear advocate Al Faraj, who is known for her lux turban headgear, says of the collaboration: “The Genoveva Bag is so versatile and I had so much fun playing around with the colours and patterns. The bag is a perfect reflection of my style and Aigner’s craftsmanship.” The limited-edition bag is available at Aigner boutiques across the Middle East, and costs Dh3,425.

www.aignermunich.com