Luxury magazine: May

High fashion in Oman's abandoned villages; a conversation with the chief executive of Saint Laurent; Sonam Kapoor's favourite things; and a priceless pen

'Heritage, longevity, legacy: these are words that are thrown about with abandon’

There’s been a flurry of hirings and firings at the big luxury brands of late. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track, but here’s the abridged version: Belgian designer Kris Van Assche has left Dior Homme to join Berluti; Kim Jones took his place at Dior, departing from Louis Vuitton (where he was, somewhat unexpectedly, replaced by Virgil Abloh of Off-White fame). Riccardo Tisci replaced Christopher Bailey at Burberry, after a 12-year tenure at Givenchy. And at Céline, Hedi Slimane replaced Phoebe Philo, whose next move remains a complete mystery.

This constantly changing merry-go-round of creative talent at the upper echelons of the industry has become the norm – but some members of the old guard are appalled by the current state of play. Sarah Maisey speaks to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. And what starts out as a frank discussion about what will happen when the pair are no longer around to design for the brand, turns into a Dolce-driven tirade against a new generation of designers who flit from brand to brand without ever really putting their name to anything.

“Today the fashion world is all profession, not emotion,” Dolce laments. “I don’t understand. Today, why don’t designers have ambition to [create] something alone? Do they just want a big company and lots of money? If you want to do your own work, why not do it under your own name? For me, and maybe I am old, but I love the respect for tradition.”

Francesca Bellettini, the firebrand chief executive of Saint Laurent, sits on the other side of the fence. She has been responsible for overseeing the revival of the famed YSL brand, and while she is respectful of its heritage and of the legend that was Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent, she knows that even in its earliest days, the company was all about modernity, creativity and nonconformity. In her eyes, Yves Saint Laurent may no longer be around, but the codes of the house live on, safeguarded by its current creative director, Anthony Vaccarello.

“Anthony has his own vision and identity, and he is using his own language to take the brand to the next level, bringing it into the future while respecting its DNA,” Bellettini says.

Tradition, heritage, history, longevity, legacy and house codes – these are words that are thrown about with increasing abandon by luxury brands. But there is, arguably, no maison that better epitomises those concepts than Hermès. We report from the Saut Hermès, a top-level showjumping competition held in Paris’s Grand Palais every year. The event is a celebration of Hermès’s long-standing relationship with the horse, since it started out as a producer of saddles, bridles and harnesses. A regular customer since 1837, the humble horse has never been forgotten by the house of Hermès – when you start looking, you see it in every facet of what the company does, from the stunning equine-inspired motifs on its scarves to the closure of the Verrou bag, which mimics the bolt of a stable door.

Dolce, Bellettini and the Hermès team might all agree one on thing: there is comfort in continuity.

Selina Denman, editor

‘From the beginning, Saint Laurent was a rebel brand, bold and unconventional’

Freedom, connectivity, creativity, coolness – these are the defining features of the Saint Laurent brand, says its president and chief executive Francesca Bellettini.

A fashion powerhouse with a background in banking, Bellettini is respectful of Yves Saint Laurent’s rich history – but also acutely aware that modernity and nonconformity and have always sat at the heart of this much-loved French maison. “Modernity comes from letting creativity express itself,” she maintains.

Much like the company’s founding CEO, Pierre Bergé – who was credited with nurturing and guiding designer Yves Saint Laurent’s boundless talent – Bellettini believes in crafting an environment that allows creatives to do what they do best. And then standing back and allowing them to do exactly that. “I strongly believe in generating an environment that fosters creativity as opposed to fear and oppression.”

The Italian Bellettini started her career in London, working for Goldman Sachs International, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell Group and Compass Partners International. At the age of 29, she made the move into fashion, initially joining the Prada Group and then, in 2003, Kering, the parent company of Yves Saint Laurent. She took on her current role in September 2013, and has been a formidable force in bringing the brand back to its former glory, recasting it as bold, cutting-edge, sometimes controversial – but always bitingly cool.

To coincide with the launch of a new Saint Laurent store in the Fashion Avenue extension at The Dubai Mall, we spoke to the inspired executive. In her first-ever interview with a publication in the Middle East, Bellettini tells us about the challenges facing the luxury industry, how she measures her own success and why Saint Laurent has always stood as a symbol of female empowerment.

Is it true that you took a 50 per cent pay cut when you left the banking industry? Why did you decide to make the move into fashion?

Yes, it’s true. I was 29 and I thought it was better to follow my passion – I valued my aspiration to work in the fashion industry more than money. And I was lucky to have a family that supported me in this decision. I always liked fashion; even when I was working in banking, I was dedicating myself to projects related to fashion and luxury companies. My move to fashion came thanks to Mr [Patrizio] Bertelli, the owner of Prada, with whom I worked on several projects while I was in banking and who offered me a job at Prada. And that’s where it all started.

Why did you accept the job at Saint Laurent? What was it about this brand that appealed to you?

When François-Henri Pinault offered me the position, I was strongly attracted by the extraordinary heritage of the maison and, at the same time, its present relevance and great potential for the future. I arrived at Saint Laurent in September 2013; the repositioning of the brand had already started, and I strongly believed in it. Kering decided to further invest in it and in Saint Laurent’s great potential. Not every entrepreneur would have done this, and François-Henri Pinault has been a visionary, fully supportive of the project.

The company was ready to take the challenge. When I arrived, I could immediately see the willingness of everybody in the team to make it happen. We started to focus on all the processes and organisation, aiming to build a successful future. With no compromise. We brought clarity back to the brand and built a solid business on it.

Why was Anthony Vaccarello the best person to take over as creative director of Saint Laurent? What does he bring to the brand that’s new and fresh – and to what extent has the direction of the brand shifted under his stewardship?

The creative director of any brand has to be able to express its values naturally and in an authentic way. What I could see already, by observing the work of Anthony even before I met him, was that he was going to be the one able to do this for Saint Laurent. Meeting him reinforced this idea, and made me feel secure enough to give him the creative helm of this incredible maison. And he was indeed the only person I met for the position. Now our results have proven this clearly to everybody.

Anthony Vaccarello is very determined and is not afraid of challenges. He is pushing the brand forward with clarity and modernity. Today we are in a further phase of growth, Anthony is mastering perfectly the house’s dynamics and its power over the collective imagination. He is developing an all-round vision, which is generating excellent response and results.

I strongly believe in letting creativity express itself, and in generating an environment that fosters creativity as opposed to fear and oppression. For me, this translates into letting talented creative directors express their vision in all possible ways. Anthony has his own vision and identity, and he is using his own language to take the brand to the next level, bringing it into the future while respecting its DNA. This is modernity and gives longevity. It is excellent for me to lead this inspiring maison together with such an open, modern and creative mind as Anthony, and evolve Saint Laurent together to its full potential.

What are the Saint Laurent codes? How have these evolved since you took over five years ago?

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé created Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in reaction to the gap or differentiation between “the elites” and “the street”, between “the bourgeois” and “the people”. Yves Saint Laurent wanted to bring couture and style to the people and to open the doors of the haute couture salons to them.

Saint Laurent codes today have re-established this juxtaposition and synthesis between the street and the salons, which is at the heart of the identity of Saint Laurent. From the beginning, Saint Laurent was a rebel brand, bold and unconventional – as it is today. Both Monsieur Saint Laurent and Monsieur Bergé were not afraid to push boundaries forward, shocking, provoking. Not for the sake of it, but in the name of empowerment and freedom of thought.

The maison was actually the first to be at the same time revolutionary and luxury, and this is what we are now. These codes make Saint Laurent relevant today. Anthony is naturally embracing this spirit with a 360-degree vision for the brand, and he is bringing back the silhouette and elevated offering, still focusing on empowerment, new generation, freedom, connectivity and coolness. He is able to take references, transforming them through his vision and making them modern and relevant today, both for those who know the history of the maison, as well as for those who do not, but share our values.

Is there pressure at a historic brand such as Saint Laurent to honour the company’s history and legacy? Can this sometimes stifle progress?

Mr Yves Saint Laurent founded the eponymous maison along with Mr Bergé by putting creativity at the centre of the brand. As there was an incredible creative talent to be placed at the centre, whom Mr Pierre Bergé believed in. Each of them had his own clear role and each of them was respecting the other one in that role, and they worked together, with a common vision that was built by daily practice. Creativity is fundamental in a fashion brand, and believing in it is the key to success. This incredible heritage is the DNA of the brand, and we are lucky to have the chance to bring it into our era, while maintaining its values and spirit.

What are the biggest challenges facing the luxury industry today?

Definitely, the fast evolution of technology, which has broken barriers, expanded audiences and made the luxury industry more reachable and inclusive today than it used to be. Still, luxury was and still is about creating desire, a dream to which people aspire and with which they want to engage.

A challenge today is to take the opportunity that technology offers, but remain consistent with who we are. Which means to be consistent in all different dimensions and touchpoints with the end consumer, to connect with them in an authentic way. In order to do this, we need to hire and retain the best talent, so in the end the challenge is and remains this one.

You have said that it is important to out-behave the market. What do you mean by this?

Out-behaving means behaving better than others, as opposed to simply outperforming others. It means focusing on relationships and engagement, as opposed to simply economic performances. We are trying to achieve our economic goals without compromising on behaviour. We focus on building authentic relationships, as opposed to short-term opportunistic ones, and we do not compromise on the positioning of the brand.

Would you like to see more female executives at the highest levels of the fashion industry?

For me, it is more a matter of competence than gender. I would always like to see competent professionals in the right positions, no matter what their gender is. This fosters personal growth for everybody and enriches everybody. Concerning my own personal experience, I never felt discriminated against because I was a woman, and I always felt that [I was given] the same possibilities as men. I was born in a world where women have a lot of opportunities and I work for a group, Kering, that looks at gender equality as one of its most important values and has made it a mission.

At the same time, I recognise that not all women have been and can be as lucky as I have been, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that equal opportunities are given to [both] genders and fairness is guaranteed. The maison has always stood – maybe more than any other fashion house – for the empowerment of women and gender equality, and against gender stereotypes.

Empowerment means, above all, the freedom to express. We have always expressed this value with creative freedom, notwithstanding the risk of shocking, displeasing or being misunderstood by some. Saint Laurent empowers women and their freedom to express their conscious femininity. It is part of the house’s DNA and always will be.

What is the most important lesson that you have learnt since joining Saint Laurent?

At Saint Laurent, I learnt the importance of not being afraid to take risks when you know they are right for the brand, and how important it is to project the brand identity into the future without compromising on its value and positioning.

How do you measure your own success?

The company’s success is what makes me proud, and it is the success of all the people that have worked together with me to make this happen. It is never one person, job or merit, and I strongly believe in this. Success needs the passion and participation of a whole team that believes in a common vision and wants to make it happen.

And how do you de-stress?

To de-stress, I play sport. In particular, I love running and I do it regularly. It is very good for me also to fight jet lag when I travel.\

Selina Denman

The 90-year-old Gibson F-5 mandolin worth Dh214,000

This well-preserved Gibson F-5 Model Carved Top mandolin has gold-plated, pearl-button Waverly tuners; a sunburst lacquer finish; a maple back, sides and neck; spruce top; and an ebony fingerboard. It comes in its original black hard-shell case.

Despite being manufactured in 1938, the one-owner instrument has plenty of volume and clarity, a crisp and powerful sound, moderately low action with room to go higher or lower, and a good “chop”.

Since Gibson was founded in Michigan in 1902 – with Orville Gibson first patenting a mandolin design – its instruments have found favour with the likes of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Carlos Santana, Elvis Presley, Tom Petty, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.  

By the time this piece was manufactured, mandolins had taken a backseat, overtaken by the more popular guitar. Not many people were willing to pay US$250 (Dh900) for the mandolin in the post-Depression era, so very few examples of the F-5 model exist, rendering this specimen more rare and, as such, more precious.    

Currently in possession of Retro Fret, a Brooklyn store that specialises in vintage banjos, mandolins and guitars, the instrument has been reconditioned by Gibson mandolin maestro David Harvey, and mounted with a reproduction pickguard. The original is included, but has suffered some celluloid decay.

Other rare examples at Retro Fret include a Gibson Advanced Jumbo Flat Top Acoustic Guitar from 1937, and a Ken Parker Custom Arch Top Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar from 1991.

Panna Munyal

Sprüngli chocolates in Dubai

Fresh biscuit crumbs with the perfect crunch are coated with a truffle ganache made from pure dark chocolate, and shaped by hand to resemble a miniature cake. Light-as-air macarons – better known among confectionery connoisseurs as Luxemburgerli – are handmade following a 60-year-old family recipe; and filled with naturally flavoured raspberry, pistache, citron, bourbon vanilla and, of course, chocolate. Frozen strawberries, bananas, peaches and apricots are whipped into an assortment of miniature fruit-shaped ice creams. These and other decadent offerings from Sprüngli, the 173-year-old Swiss chocolate-maker, can be sampled first-hand in only two countries in the world: Switzerland and the UAE.

The chocolatier sells its sweet wares exclusively from its own boutiques, 24 of which are dotted around its country of origin. Meanwhile, its latest outfit in the Fashion Avenue extension of The Dubai Mall opened last month, five months after the country’s first branch at The Galleria in Abu Dhabi. The stores even offer two UAE-exclusive creations: a coconut truffle and the Sprüngli Logo praline in milk, with an almond gianduja filling. All stock, however, is made in and arrives fresh from Zurich. “All our products are still handcrafted in Switzerland, with no use of industrial machines, to ensure customers in the UAE receive the same quality,” says Marc Wirth, managing director of Sprüngli Middle East.

The sixth-generation business began in 1836, when David Sprüngli and his son, Rudolf, acquired a confectionery on Marktgasse in Zurich. It was widely thought at the time that Paradeplatz in downtown Zurich would become home to the city’s main train station. This prompted the enterprising confectioners to relocate their handmade-chocolate shop to that square in 1859. Unfortunately, the Hauptbahnhof didn’t materialise there, after all, leading to many a sleepless night under the Sprüngli family roof. Just as things began to look properly bleak, the intersecting street of Bahnhofstrasse became the city’s most popular meeting place for musicians, shoppers and lovers alike. Sprüngli was perfectly placed to benefit, and its headquarters sit in that spot to this day.

The company was split among Rudolf’s two sons, one of whom took on the Lindt & Sprüngli factory, which has since become an industrial enterprise, while the other ran Confiserie Sprüngli, which remains a family-owned artisanal operation.

The chain was voted one of the top 10 chocolate shops in the world by National Geographic in 2016. It was one of the first Swiss chocolatiers to present itself online, back in 1998, and soon after expanded to include soups and light meals in addition to chocolate-flavoured concoctions and aromatic teas and coffees. Local folklore has it that young men who want to signal their availability will do so by turning over their coffee spoons in their cups, a rumour, says the company, that harks back to its earlier days, when the cafe used to be one of the few places where young women could talk to strangers without fear of compromising their reputation.

Wirth says of the new Dubai branch: “We selected it to ensure we were aligned with a location that reflects our luxury essence. At Sprüngli, chocolate, the making and the consumption of it, has always been looked at as one of the finer things in life.”

Panna Munyal

Hot property: 145 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, Maine

Coinciding with France’s Belle Epoque period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America’s Gilded Age represented an era of social, cultural and economic growth, with the state of Maine playing summer house to the super-rich. The Bar Harbor area, originally known as Eden, was particularly popular, and welcomed John D Rockefeller Jr, J P Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Astor family and former president William Taft, all of whom regularly summered there. In 1947, though, a great fire raged through the town, destroying nearly all of the Gilded Age mansions, except East of Eden.

The villa was originally named Eegonos by Walter G Ladd, a lawyer and trustee to American philanthropist Josiah W Macy Jr. The word pays tribute to and reverses the spelling of the name of the first house built on this plot, Sonogee. The Ladds approached Guy Lowell to design the 1909 property. The Boston architect was known to favour the Beaux-Arts style, characterised by sculptural but linear decorative features; arched windows and doors; the use of then-modern materials such as iron and glass; and a hierarchy of spaces – leading from grand entrances and staircases to smaller, more utilitarian areas.

There is, however, nothing small-scale about this estate on Frenchman’s Bay; it comes with 15,000 square feet of living space vertically spread along three storeys, with nine acres of waterfront. This includes a deepwater docking station.

The H-shaped structure is flanked by a porch supported by paired Ionic-style columns and topped by a red tile roof. Within, fireplaces are finished in marble and wood, walls are hand-painted and covered with murals, and the 14-foot ceilings are decorated with friezes and medallions.

East of Eden was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Although it’s remained in good shape over the decades and comes with most of the furniture selected by Lowell, the main house underwent a 10-year renovation in 2006. The original detailing was refreshed, bathrooms upgraded and an eight-bay garage constructed for the antique automobiles of the current owner, who also acquired an additional four acres from the adjacent estate.

Entry is via a vaulted marble-laid vestibule leading to a reception room, which further branches out into what used be a music room overlooking the bay, a card room, library, and separate living and dining rooms. The kitchen has been updated to include a pantry and laundry nook. A grand staircase just off the entry hall goes up to the second-floor landing, which is decorated with hand-painted Chinese wallpaper with birds, butterflies and flowers. The master suite is located on the southeast corner of this floor, and has a separate sitting room. All but one of the seven bedrooms come with decorative-iron balconies overlooking the water.

The third floor was originally the staff quarters and has 11 bedrooms, currently used for storage, plus two bathrooms. The main terrace on this level takes in views across the bay, to Hancock Point, Sorrento and the Porcupine Islands, all the way to the Schoodic Peninsula – where the Acadia National Park is located – on a clear day. 

Panna Munyal

Montblanc pen pays tribute to
The Little Prince 

Over the last 75 years, an estimated 400 million people have read Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s allegorical tale of a young boy who leaves the tiny asteroid he calls home and travels to Earth – but the story is undoubtedly imbued with added resonance when recounted by Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman.

To celebrate the launch of its latest writing instrument, a Meisterstück inspired by the adventures of the little prince, Montblanc organised a high-profile gala dinner in the observatory of One World Trade Center, New York’s tallest building. High above the streets of Manhattan, celebrities such as Charlotte Casiraghi, Milla Jovovich, Rita Ora, Chloë Sevigny and Lucky Blue Smith converged in a space that had been transformed into a magical, childlike universe. But it was Jackman, who read a passage from the book alongside fellow Montblanc ambassador Casiraghi, who stole the show.

The setting was fitting – fans of The Little Prince may be surprised to hear that French author de Saint-Exupéry wrote the book while living in New York during the Second World War. It has since been translated into 300 languages, with 200 million copies sold around the globe.

It was the story’s themes of love, imagination and friendship that resonated with Montblanc’s creative director, Zaim Kamal. “I was 10 when I read Le Petit Prince,” he recounts. “In fact, it was read to me by my cousin, who was older than me. I read it to my daughter; I read it to my brother; my brother read it to his children. This book is always transmitted. And it speaks of very universal concepts like love, friendship, imagination. These exist in every culture.”

Transference is another key theme in the book and aligns perfectly with the Montblanc ethos. “The Meisterstück is a writing instrument that is often gifted. When I have a Meisterstück and I give it to you, I create a bond, and this bond is unique. I am transmitting something – either the promise of friendship, or a reward for something,” says Kamal.

Available as a fountain pen, rollerball and ballpoint pen, the Meisterstück Le Petit Prince takes its design cues from the beautiful hand-drawn illustrations created by de Saint-Exupéry for the book. The pens are made from night-blue resin, which references the deep blue sky of the universe around the prince and is the first-ever instance of the colour being used for one of Montblanc’s Meisterstücks. A milled cap is decorated with a fox-face pattern – for it is a fox that teaches the young prince about the bonds of human relationships. “The fox teaches him that by taming or connecting or bonding with something, it becomes unique to you – just as you become unique to it.”

A golden star adorns the clip of the pen, while a sentence from the book has been engraved onto its crown: “Créer des liens? Tu seras pour moi unique au monde” (“To establish ties? To me, you will be unique in all the world”). The prince himself makes an appearance – in miniature form on the pen’s 14K rhodium-plated nib.

“I could have just taken the drawing on the cover of the book and put it on the pen,” says Kamal. “But that’s not what Montblanc does. You have all these different aspects. It was about finding a balance between the adornment, the message, the connection and also the imagination.”

Selina Denman

'Today the fashion world is all profession, not emotion'

The outspoken Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana chat with us about life, death, fashion and succession

No strangers to controversy, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana can always be relied upon to speak their minds. When they are not busy conjuring up beautiful, gilded fashion, they are refreshingly candid in their views – something of a rarity in an age of sanitised sound bites. Searing honesty has, at times, landed the pair in hot water, perhaps most famously in 2015 when Elton John boycotted the brand because Gabbana described children born via IVF as “synthetic”.

Nonetheless, the pair are in no rush to conform to other people’s expectations and have always valued their independence, which is evident in their work – an unashamedly flamboyant celebration of love, life and excess. “We are strange guys,” Dolce tells me. “We still do what we want, when we want. We decided on this long ago, and organise everything around that. Not because we are anarchists, but because we cherish our freedom,” he explains.

And what a freedom it is. I am in New York at the lavish four-day couture extravaganza that Dolce and Gabbana throw for their most exclusive clients – the Alta Moda shows, which include jewellery, as well as exquisite one-off clothing for men and women.

Standing among the racks of priceless creations, each lovingly handcrafted, I ask whether the duo prefer working on ready-to-wear or couture? “They are very different from each other,” Dolce explains. “We love them both, but in different ways. It’s like we have five children; one is beautiful, one is uglier, one is intelligent, the other is stupid… but like a mother, we love them all. We cannot choose. But Alta Moda has more freedom,” he admits. “We can experiment more, we don’t have to worry about the price, and there is no limit. We can give the audience a dream.”

The fact that the two still design for the label that carries their name also makes them a rarity in today’s fashion universe. Few of the other big brands still have their founders at the helm. Established decades ago, the original designers of these labels are long departed, replaced with young creatives tasked with keeping the brand relevant for a modern audience. While this may work for the other houses, it does not sit well with Dolce and Gabbana.

"Today, all designers are freelance. I have worked freelance with many companies, and it is a very different approach. You finish the project, you take the money and ciao, you go on holiday. It’s normal.”
- Domenico Dolce

Gabbana has been quoted as saying: “Once we are dead, we are dead. I don’t want a Japanese designer to start designing for Dolce & Gabbana.” I ask Dolce if he shares this view. “We talk about this a lot now. We all need to understand when our time is done. You just need to be honest with yourself and say my time is over, ciao. Today, all designers are freelance,” he says. “I have worked freelance with many companies, and it is a very different approach. You finish the project, you take the money and ciao, you go on holiday. It’s normal,” Dolce adds.

“But when it’s your love, your name, your company, it is completely different. Today the fashion world is all profession, not emotion. I don’t understand. Today why don’t designers have ambition to make something alone? Do they just want a big company and lots of money?” This clearly touches a nerve.

Having been in the industry since 1985 (“We started with zero lira, we made sacrifices,” Dolce is at pains to point out), the pair can now be viewed as veterans, with an fascinating overview of the industry. Yet, Dolce clearly does not like what he sees. “This is not a job about money. Fashion design is something you love, you need. When was the last time you went to the doctor and they told you, you need two dresses and a coat? This is about devotion.

“What is the point, if you have spent your life making clothes in black, and the new designers presents plastic clothes? Why don’t they respect the name? If you want to do your own work, why not do it under your own name? For me, and maybe I am old, but I love the respect for tradition. If you want to make something different, do it under your own name. But they don’t, and that’s the problem,” he says.

That’s not to say that the pair are afraid to embrace new ways of thinking – they were quick to use influencers as models and sent handbags down the runway attached to drones as part of their autumn/winter 2018/19 collection showcase in Milan. “We believe in new, and this is a new age,” Dolce maintains. “I think the internet has changed everything, and we need to pay attention to the revolution. But everything ends, nothing is forever. We need to understand when our moment is finito.”

As the pair leave to prepare for the collection being shown later that night, Dolce smiles. “Life is beautiful,” he says. “I want to live and enjoy. I want to die happy. I have lots of money, and I don’t need any more, because money is not happiness. It comes back to devotion. I don’t want to work with people who don’t have this devotion.”

Sarah Maisey 

Gems of the Silk Route

Boghossian jewels capture the rich history of a family that fled from Turkey to Syria and then on to Lebanon and finally Europe. We trace their journey.

Grand auction houses pride themselves on sourcing unusual pieces from contemporary jewellery maisons to tempt collectors and connoisseurs. And later this month, an exceptional bracelet that flows with the fluidity of silk and is set with some extraordinarily rare coloured diamonds will headline the Magnificent Jewels sale at Christie’s Hong Kong.

The masterpiece is made from a collection of red, pink, blue, green and yellow diamonds that form dainty flowers on twisting stems. These, in turn, rest lightly on a mesh of luminous pearls. The design is based on a medieval manuscript that was on display in Stuttgart and was spotted by the Boghossian family. It took Albert Boghossian 10 years to assemble the diamonds and a further 18 months to produce the finished piece. It is a fine example of the daring things that this family does with precious stones.

The Boghossians are European jewellers that have been based in Geneva for the past 40 years, but have strong roots in this part of the world. The entrepreneurial family is of Armenian descent, hailing from Mardin in Turkey, where it is believed they were involved in the jewellery trade as far back as 1750. Official records show that six generations of the family, dating back to the 1880s, have traded gems and produced fine gold filigree and gem-set jewellery – first in Mardin, then Aleppo, followed by Beirut, until the 1970s, when fifth-generation member of the family Jean Boghossian moved to Belgium and his brother Albert Boghossian, the company’s CEO, to Geneva. Now Jean’s sons, Ralph and Roberto, are carrying on the tradition in London.

“The Armenian community is always on the move; it is inherent to our roots,” says Albert Boghossian from the headquarters of this small high-end jewellery business, which overlooks the Rhône river and the gleaming facades of Geneva’s big-name jewellery brands. “So that is our approach. We are always on the move into uncharted territory and innovation, as far as jewellery design is reflected. Seeking new ways of doing things,” he explains.

The Boghossians make a point of developing groundbreaking techniques, crafting new combinations and beautiful illusions from high-carat stones. “For the past 15 years, we have pushed ourselves to be out-of-the-box jewellers, to really push jewellery design,” says Albert. The first innovation they dreamt up focused on the art of inlay, inspired by the magnificent inlay work decorating the Taj Mahal, which Albert visited in his 20s. “We thought how magical it would be to inlay one precious stone in another, rather than setting a stone in gold with diamonds around it.”

A cradle is scooped out of a larger stone so another gem can nestle safely inside. For example, a large blue sapphire sits within an aquamarine ring, or colourful brilliant-cut diamonds are embedded in a mother-of-pearl bangle. It took a few years to master the technique, and the Boghossians are constantly fine-tuning the process, adding to the intricacy by carving the base gem into Mughal motifs in the case of one pair of earrings.

The enchantingly named Kissing Stones technique evolved from this inlay method. “It is like two stones are holding each other in a poetic embrace,” explains Albert. This is illustrated by a ring with a pink diamond resting on a larger white diamond and reflecting its light. “Hard metal is a waste, so we remove it as much as possible to give the stones the freedom to dance and hold each other.”

In London’s jewel box boutique on Old Bond Street (the brand also has shops in Hong Kong and Geneva), Ralph Boghossian reveals a third signature technique for which the family is famed. This one is of his own devising. Les Merveilles is so sophisticated that it makes the diamonds look like they are floating in thin air. It took four years to develop and completely free the stones from their settings. A thin, almost invisible core of white gold holds round, brilliant-cut diamonds on each of its four sides, creating an uninterrupted flow of light. The technique is used on the Creoles earrings, wedding bands and a dazzling pink sapphire, ruby and diamond bib.

“Buyers want to be amazed by something new,” explains Albert. On display are other wonderfully unique pieces, like an 11.87-carat Colombian emerald that is held aloft on a ring by a bed of minty-green beryls, and an audacious necklace featuring precious emeralds inlaid into crystals that, in turn, magnify the pavé diamonds in the gold setting that lies beneath.

Boghossian has exhibited at fairs in Riyadh, Jeddah and Bahrain, where Ralph says customers enjoy a more personalised experience. “Today it is about a more considerate, more personalised service than about having shops everywhere,” the young jeweller explains. “The Middle East is an important market for us as a source of inspiration, and as a source of support and admirers of our work.”

Later this year, the Boghossian family will launch its first high-jewellery collection inspired by the Silk Route, tracing the path that the family has travelled over the decades. Albert describes the work as a dialogue between East and West: “The intricacy and femininity of the East, and the innovation and modernity of the West.”

It starts with a Chinese design that acknowledges the work of Boghossian’s Hong Kong-based creative director Edmond Chin, but is also where Albert’s father, Robert, spent time during the Communist era sourcing pearls. The collection then travels through India, since Albert went to learn about emeralds and gem-cutting in Jaipur, the Rajasthani capital renowned for gems. There are also designs that chart the family’s highly personal retreat from Turkey.

A recently discovered memoir penned by Albert and Jean Boghossian’s grandfather Ohaness describes his flight to Aleppo in 1915 from the genocide in Mardin, where his grandfather, Ovaness, had run a flourishing jewellery business. He found work there making bracelets and filigree necklaces, and then started trading in gems. He was only 25 but by 1919, had made enough money to open a shop in the city. Both his business and his family grew, and he was trading in gems all over the world by the 1930s. His son, Robert, went to China to source fine pearls in the 1950s, and the Boghossians became a leading supplier of natural pearls in the Middle East, as well as experts in high-quality gems.

In the 1960s, the family moved again to Beirut, where Robert’s sons were raised. From the age of 10, Albert and Jean spent summer holidays in their father’s shop, playing, observing and learning, before travelling the world buying gems and developing a connoisseur’s eye themselves. But the civil war and a devastating fire in Beirut’s city centre in 1977 destroyed the family’s shop and archives. “We fortunately were able to save the jewels and the stones, but everything else was destroyed,” remembers Albert. By 1980, he was in Geneva, beginning the next chapter in the family’s story.

In a nod to their history, the Boghossians established a foundation in Brussels, today run by Roberto and Ralph’s cousin, Louma Salamé. Impressed by the leadership, resilience and optimism of Ohaness Boghossian, who survived genocide and wars, and was determined to help the poor in his community by funding an orphanage and medical services, his grandsons were encouraged to follow the same course. The Boghossian Foundation now works on humanitarian and educational projects in the places that have been a backdrop to the family’s story, whether helping the victims of Armenia’s earthquake in 1988, funding a school for Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon today, or funding a medical clinic that travels through the refugee camps.

Much like the jewels themselves, these projects serve as a reminder of – and nod to – the family’s rich and turbulent history.

Francesca Fearon

A ring with a diamond set into an opal, and inlaid into a chrysoprase.

The diamond bracelet that will be auctioned by Christie's on May 29.

Sonam Kapoor showcases a Ralph & Russo outfit from the autumn/winter couture 2017 collection.

My luxury life: Sonam Kapoor

From receiving numerous  film awards in India to walking international runways and red carpets, Sonam Kapoor is one of Bollywood’s most famous actresses – as well as one of its most fashionable. She has a weakness for traditional timepieces, and was named brand ambassador for luxury watchmaker IWC last year

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?

I would be in Bombay, at home, waking up in my bed.

What is your favourite shopping destination?

It used to be Paris, but now it’s a tie between London and Dubai. I like Boutique 1 a lot, it’s got very nice things, and I like The Dubai Mall because it has everything.

What are the three beauty products you don’t step out without?

I use lip balm, under-eye cream and blush every day.

What was your first-ever luxury purchase?

It was a classic black Chanel caviar skin handbag, with gold hardware. I still wear it a lot because it’s so timeless. I really think 5,000 times before buying a handbag, not because of the price of it, but because I always believe in using it until it’s, like, torn.

Do you have a favourite piece of jewellery?

Honestly, my IWC Da Vinci watch. It’s in rose gold and it has a brown strap on it, and I wear it every day. I’m so old-school, and their watches are so classic and beautiful. I got a watch when I was 16, I got another when I was 18, and one more when I turned 21. At any important age, my mother used to always ask if I wanted a pair of earrings or a watch, and I would always choose the watch. I’m such a traditionalist when it comes to watches; even if I have to wear something that counts my steps or something like that, I have to always wear a watch too.

What is your go-to footwear brand?

I like my Manolos. I have these satin Manolo Blahniks with crystal embellishments. I love satin shoes.

What’s the one fashion investment that you get the most wear out of?

The Bottega Veneta Knot clutch. It was one of my first evening bags. I must have had it now for I don’t even know how many years. I carry it a lot, and right now the clip is so [loose] that I need to hold it shut.

What three things do you always have in your bag when you travel?

My passport – god forbid I don’t have that while I’m travelling; my iPhone, which I’m obsessed with; and a perfume or deodorant. I like the new Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold fragrance, which is inspired by India. I like anything with jasmine.

You’re sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, what are you eating and whom are you with?

I love Thai food. Hopefully I’m in Phuket with Anand [Ahuja], because he loves Thai food as much as I do. I’m vegetarian, and it’s easy to have vegetarian Thai food.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? and from whom?

I think it was from my dad. He said: “Whatever goes up comes down, and nobody’s better than you, and you’re not better than anybody. So treat everybody right.”

What’s the most overrated luxury?

Flying. I love travelling, but I hate flying. I just think that, no matter what class you’re sitting in, it’s so bad for you to fly. It dehydrates you and exhausts you. I wish we could all teleport instead.

Hafsa Lodi

Smart kitchens to the rescue: 5 products to try

From a multitasking washer and dryer to a coffee machine you can programme from your bed, we list five gadgets that will make your kitchen a savvier space.


The latest version of the Samsung Family Hub was unveiled at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year. The Wi-Fi-enabled 3.0 may look much the same as its predecessor – with a tablet built into the door – but it comes with a host of upgrades. Once paired with the company’s Smart Home app, the fridge allows you to sync your family’s calendars. You can keep track of appointments and leave messages for each other on the digital notepad, even when you’re not home. Within, the gadget tracks expiry dates of stored produce and stops ice build-ups. Activating a new feature called Meal Planner enables the grocery-tracking cameras to suggest recipes based on both the food contained within, as well as previously input preferences and allergies. The four-door model also features AKG sound speakers, so you can get the perfect bass for the music or video you’re mirroring on the inbuilt screen from your television or smartphone.


Another CES specimen, the LG Top Load Washer and Dryer with SmartThinQ is basically two washing machines in one. Attached to the main compartment is a second, smaller chamber, which means you can start two cycles simultaneously, and get those delicates or baby clothes or bedsheets or sneakers cleaned alongside your main load. Of course, the machine connects to your smartphone and can be controlled remotely, and – if you have Google Assistant – via voice command. What’s really neat, though, is that the machine can be programmed to know when you’re going to exercise, and self-set to clean your gym clothes. LG’s SmartThinQ kitchen range also includes a dishwasher and refrigerator.

Coffee machine

The matter-of-factly titled Smarter Coffee literally allows you to wake-up and smell the coffee. The Second Generation bean-to-cup model is equipped with the patented BlinkUp technology, a one-step secure set-up process. Thanks to its Android and iOS compatibility, you can set up four coffee-drinking times, say for when you wake up or as soon as you come home from work. If you’re sleeping in or running late, you can access the Smarter app remotely and change or cancel your usual order. The app allows you to adjust the strength of your brew and choose between freshly ground or filtered. It also knows when you’re running out of coffee and can be programmed to reorder it for you. The new model connects to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, which means you can bypass the app and ask these to automate the process and alert you when your cuppa is ready.

Smoke alarm

Smoke, carbon monoxide or just burnt toast – the Nest Protect smart smoke detector can tell you exactly what’s wrong and in which part of your house. Designed to speak in a “friendly, human-like tone”, the device uses voice alerts to apprise you of the nature of the emergency. Unlike other smoke alarms that need to be tested every month, Nest Protect is equipped with a Split-Spectrum Sensor, which enables it to check its batteries automatically on a daily basis for up to a decade. Once you’ve turned off your all cooking equipment and lights, the device emits a green glow to indicate that it has tested itself and there’s little chance of being disturbed while you sleep. If linked with the Nest Thermostat, the Protect will direct it to switch off, to stop from doing more damage in the case of a short circuit carbon monoxide leak. The gadget send alerts to your phone if you’re not home, and you can also silence the alarm from the app itself.

Smart scales

Bakers, rejoice. There’s now a technology that not only supplies you with endless pastry-related recipes, but also gauges the accurate measuring of the ingredients that the recipe calls for. The Drop app and smart scale link to iOS devices with Bluetooth. Once you select a recipe, you can place a bowl on the scale; as you fill it with an ingredient, the app reflects the weight in real time, pings to warn you if you’re over-filling, and shifts to the next instruction once you’ve got the right amount. The app can switch out the produce you don’t have access to, and suggest simple substitutes – or readjust the rest of the quantities and instructions to do away with it completely. The auto-progress capability means you don’t get sticky fingers on your gadget. The Drop app also includes a handful of beverage and savoury meal recipes.

Panna Munyal

The trend: full skirts are making waves


The name that started the craze for tulle, Dior shows us how it’s done with a simple layered petticoat over a striped body suit.

Dolce & Gabbana

Like something out of a fairy tale, Dolce & Gabbana swirls gingham over netting, and makes it fun with playing-card motifs.


Despite its love for figure-hugging forms, even Versace couldn’t resist the lure of swishing skirts, here made from fringing.

Alexander McQueen

McQueen takes the idea of full skirts and accentuated waists to a whole new level with layers of gossamer silk gathered around a tightly corseted waist.

Louis Vuitton's first fragrances for men

The first collection of fragrances for men builds on the brand’s rich heritage of travel and exploration

Hot on the heels of news that Virgil Abloh has taken on the role of artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, the brand has made another announcement. It will launch its first collection of men’s fragrances on May 31.

The new scents are crafted by the same man behind Louis Vuitton’s fragrances for women, which were unveiled in 2016. This time around, master perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud has used his skills to create five highly individual scents, using innovative techniques such as fractionation (a separation process in which one mixture is divided into a number of smaller parts) and distilling with carbon dioxide, to extract the purest and most intense elements from the raw ingredients.

Building on Louis Vuitton’s heritage of exploration – the house started out as a producer of treasured travel trunks – the fragrances are based around the idea of journeys and adventures. As a counterpoint to our hectic lives, Cavallier-Belletrud set out to create scents that evoke a sense of space and escapism. The accompanying notes speak of the desire to “leave behind everything familiar and strike out for unknown lands”. As the brand maintains: “Travel is not a destination. It’s a spirit.”

Louis Vuitton rather grandly promises to “accompany travellers’ curiosity wherever it might lead” – and the resulting fragrances do indeed offer a fresh approach. They are presented in the same understated flagons as the women’s scent, but Marc Newson, who was tasked with designing the bottle, has added a more masculine feel, engraving the house logo onto the lid in cold galvanised metal.

The first fragrance in the collection is called L’Immensité, a sharply intense scent that features a skilful blend of bitter grapefruit and ginger, mixed with labdanum and amber to create a lemony, spicy smell with an echo of sage and rosemary. Nouveau Monde, meanwhile, is inspired by the intrepid 19th- century explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, after whom the city of Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo is named. To honour this African connection, raw cocoa from the Ivory Coast has been distilled to capture the essence of the bean, and then blended with oud assam for a warm, vaguely leathery feel. To this, saffron has been mixed, adding an unexpected but masculine edge.

Named for the French word for “thunderstorm”, Orage is an intriguing blend of the earthiness of patchouli and the softness of iris. The addition of bergamot and distilled Japanese vetiver creates a complex, layered fragrance of woody, musky tones. Sur la Route, literally “on the road”, is said to be about personal journeys. Cavallier-Belletrud has used Calabrian lemon and a special grade of cedar. Preferring the precise astringency of the lemon pulp, first all the terpenes (aromatic essential oils) had to be removed, revealing a deeper, hidden element. Blended with Peruvian balsam, the zestiness is finished with the spice of pink peppercorn and nutmeg.

Finally, Au Hasard, meaning “by chance” or “at random”, aims to capture the giddy feeling of a surprising detour, or a leap from a high cliff into the sea. Building on the milky creaminess of Sri Lankan sandalwood, the exceptionally rare seeds of the ambrette flower have been introduced, creating a vegetal muskiness with a hint of pear.

In addition to these five new olfactory offerings, Vuitton also created a unisex scent entitled Ombre Nomade, which launched exclusively in the Middle East on May 4. With the region’s heritage in mind, Ombre Nomade is built around Bangladeshi oud assam – which is worth more than gold – with its spicy scent of leathery wood cooled by hints of raspberry and rose. Rosat geranium and benzoin add further layers, creating an intense and enveloping incense. Even the bottle has been given a unique treatment, as Newson has darkened the glass to a sunset tone, in homage to the desert.

Sarah Maisey

In attendance at the Saut Hermès showjumping competition

Selina Denman is a spectator at the action-packed Saut Hermès competition in Paris, an event that reiterates the luxury brand’s enduring love of the horse – its most loyal and long-standing customer

To truly understand the house of Hermès – to appreciate its quirks and curiosities, and the way that the past is constantly informing the present – one must travel deep into the building at 24, Faubourg Saint-Honoré that is home to the brand’s Paris flagship; through the hidden corridors and narrow staircases that were so charmingly referenced in Nigel Peake’s Promenade au Faubourg scarf; and enter the secret space that houses the private collection of Emile Hermès.

Here, you will find zoetropes and praxinoscopes, ancient Japanese saddles, 18th-century bridles and spurs from Chile. There’s a copy of Della Cavalleria (1609), a guide to all things horse-related; stools crafted from stingray; and studded collars that undoubtedly acted as the inspiration for the Collier de Chien bracelets. There’s a tricycle that once belonged to the son of Napoleon III; and one of the first bags that Hermès ever created with a zip.

A deep-seated curiosity about the world; an inherent sense of whimsy; a respect for the horse and all that it has done to further civilisation; and the understanding that objects can become more than objects when they are cherished by someone. These are the guiding principles of Emile’s collection – and the Hermès brand.  

Emile is the man credited with bringing Hermès into the present. During the First World War, he travelled to North America, where the motorcar was already taking over the streets. Until then, Hermès – founded in 1837 by Emile’s grandfather, Thierry – had been solely preoccupied with crafting harnesses, bridles and saddles for horses, then the primary method of transportation. As the company’s employees still like to point out, for more than half its existence, Hermès’s only customer was the horse. 

Nonetheless, on his return to Paris, Emile was smart enough to realise that a company with no other customer might soon find itself out of business. His brother and business partner maintained that if there were no horses, there would be no Hermès, and promptly extricated himself from the company. Emile, meanwhile, expanded into fine-leather goods and luggage, laying the foundations for a brand that now applies its expertise to bags, homeware, clothing, shoes, jewellery, watches and fragrances.

That’s not to say the horse has been forgotten – to this day, the animal enjoys exalted status within the maison. There’s the logo, of course, which features two horses and a carriage flanked by a groom; there are the horse motifs that appear, in countless guises, on Hermès’s scarves; the closure of the Verrou bag, which mimics the bolts commonly found on stable doors; and the Samarcande paperweights, shaped like sculptural horse heads and reinterpreted in different materials every season. But the brand’s horsey heritage also manifests itself in more subtle ways, explains Marion Larochette, equestrian métier director at Hermès.

“There are some hidden influences. For example, in the leather goods, all the metallic parts are functional, not just for decoration. I think that the style of  Hermès, the elegance that it brings to its products, is also directly influenced by its equestrian heritage.

“In the very beginning, Hermès harnesses received some very famous prizes and were very different from what existed at the time – harnesses then were very decorative. The Hermès idea was that there is nothing more beautiful than a horse. So instead of hiding the horse with decorations, you have to reveal it. Hermès harnesses were very pure in their design and as light as possible, and I think that this kind of sober elegance remains in all of the brand’s activities,” Larochette explains.

“We always say that Hermès pays a lot of attention to details; for example, in a jacket, we might put a leather lining in a pocket, just for the wearer. I think that also comes from our equestrian heritage. Hermès saddlers used to say that when your client is a horse, you really need to pay attention to details,” she adds. “Because if your client is a man and there is something wrong, he will come back and complain. But the horse can’t complain.”

A few floors down from Emile’s former office, master saddlers continue to craft accessories for horses, much like they would have done in Hermès’s earliest days. On a shelf in a corner of the room, a row of ledgers dating back to 1909 contains a handwritten record of every order ever placed, with every saddle lovingly sketched out in ink, amidst carefully penned details about each customer. This lesser-known arm of the Hermès brand is still an important one – 500 saddles are handcrafted on these benches every year.

A folder contains pictures of some of the more unusual custom-made creations that have been made here over the years. There are saddles crafted from crocodile and ostrich leather, and others decorated in leopard print, cashmere and embroidery. There is one that bears the initials RR, for former United States president Ronald Reagan; one with wings, reminiscent of the mythical stallion Pegasus; and one created specifically for Bartabas, the famed French horse trainer and equine impresario.

“What makes our saddles special is two things,” says Larochette. “The first is the quality of our leathers. The second is the craftsmanship. We are the only ones still making saddles this way. Each saddle is made from A to Z by one craftsman, which is unique – it means they need to be excellent in saddlery know-how. We are also the last to use certain techniques.”

It takes about 30 hours for a more classical saddle to be produced and each order is made entirely from scratch. Hermès offers a number of saddle models, including the Arpège, Cavale and Allegro, but each piece is built to order from scratch, so that it fits the horse and rider exactly. “When you want to buy  an Hermès saddle, we send an expert to the barns, to do a saddle-fitting. All of our saddle-making experts have a special tool that looks like a spider. You put it on the horse’s back. We use this tool to send to the workshop 100 points of measurement of the horse’s back.”

Huddled against the icy cold under the exquisite domed-glass ceiling of Paris’s famed Grand Palais, the crowd lets out a collective groan as Patrice Delaveau and his horse Aquila HDC bring an obstacle crashing down. The stakes are almost as high as the mammoth 1.6-metre jumps. Delaveau is one of the last competitors in the jump-off for the Grand Prix Hermès, the final and most prestigious class of the three-day Saut Hermès showjumping event. A total of 13 riders have raced against the clock to complete the course – and the chances of more than one have been dashed by that same obstacle. The stands are full, even though an unexpected icy snap has rendered the spectacular nave of the Grand Palais semi-Arctic in temperature. The tension is palpable.

It is Delaveau’s fellow Frenchman Simon Delestre who eventually emerges victorious, racing around the course in an awe-inspiring 34.54 seconds. The victory is particularly sweet, I imagine. There is the €400,000 (Dh1.8 million) prize, of course – but Delestre is also one of Hermès’s partner riders, a select group of 20 equestrian athletes whom the brand collaborates with. His horse bears the Hermès name, while his saddle and bridle have been handcrafted by the artisans at 24, Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

“Hermès Ryan performed brilliantly; I don’t have the words to explain how amazing this horse is,” Delestre, who is currently number 9 in the world rankings, enthuses after his win. “This competition is really special for me. I knew that the jump-off would be quick, but Ryan is a fast horse. He’s my favourite horse. He always gives 110 per cent.”

Saut Hermès came into being nine years ago as a way of reiterating the brand’s long-standing connection to the equestrian world. And while it may have initially lacked legitimacy from a sporting point of view, it wasn’t difficult to get top-class riders to participate, says Anne-Sarah Panhard, managing director of Hermès Distribution France. The 2018 edition of the event attracted such legends as Kevin Staut, Harrie Smolders, Marcus Ehning, Roger-Yves Bost, Bertram Allen and Edwina Tops-Alexander.

“I think the relationship with the horse is so authentic and so real at Hermès, that we managed very quickly to convince the best riders to come here. Something else that really helped is the magic of this place. If you’ve been to many horse competitions, you will know that it is quite rare for a competition to be in such an environment. Technically it is a competition that is very singular because it has the light of an outdoor competition, while it is held indoors. It has both complexities,” explains Panhard.

Sitting proudly on the Champs-Élysées, the Grand Palais was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, and serves predominantly as an exhibition hall and museum complex. But in its early days, it played host to countless equestrian events, says Larochette. “For almost one century, and half of its existence, Hermès had the horse as its only client. And Hermès was surrounded by horses everywhere on the streets of Paris. Then cars replaced horses. The Grand Palais is a perfect illustration of that because it was built for the Universal Exhibition, but also, in the beginning, to hold horse competitions. From 1900 to 1952, there were horse shows held very frequently in the Grand Palais, and there were stables in the basement.

“Eventually, in the Grand Palais, like the streets of Paris, the car replaced the horse. And instead of horse shows, there were car exhibitions. The idea behind the Saut Hermès was to give back the streets of Paris, or at least the Grand Palais, to the horse. It’s a tribute to the horse.”

This is quite literally the case as, for the duration of the event, the horses are housed in temporary stables that sit directly on the Champs-Élysées. Of course, the Saut is also another way for the brand to communicate that ever-present interplay between past and present (for those who might never get the chance to see Emile’s treasures). “We were at the Grand Palais before 1957, when there were equestrian competitions here, we were a part of that,” says Panhard. “So in a way, this is a return. It’s part of our history.”

Launch pad: women's double-breasted jackets


Jaunty florals can help perk up any outfit. Although this pattern is quite busy, the cut of the jacket is understated, coupled with small buttons and neat welt pockets.  

Dolce & Gabbana

This jacket will transform any dress into evening wear. The contrasting edging draws attention to the masculine peaked lapels and ticket pocket, while the sheen of the shantung silk keeps it feminine.

 Petar Petrov

A boxy shape lends itself to checked fabrics, as this gingham example shows. Wide-notched lapels are balanced by oversized buttons, while the stark monochrome means it’ll go well with a white shirt.


Racil is known for its tailored jackets, and this piece with contrasting lapels is a fine example. The relaxed fit is both stylish and practical, making it ideal to sling on over the shoulders.

The enduring appeal of Polaroid cameras

“It’s for an office party,” quips Raj Thomas as he hands over his debit card in a Dubai store, in return for a “Polaroid” camera that’s made by Fujifilm. “I think we’ll have some fun with it for a few weeks before the novelty wears off.”

The force of nostalgia is strong with instant cameras (which, no matter the brand, will always be referred to as Polaroids, just like every vacuum cleaner used to be known as a Hoover). Old school doesn’t get much cooler than this.

The unexpected resurgence in the popularity of vinyl records shows there’s demand for the technology of the past and that, as useful as digital is when it comes to playing music and taking photographs, there’s an undeniable hankering for the way (some) things used to be. Practically every mobile phone in the world can be used as a camera now, but for dramatic effect, absolutely nothing beats gathering around a photograph as it develops in front of your eyes.

With the advent of digital cameras, the demise of Polaroid was not a surprise, and the company, which had been a global household name, ceased to be a decade ago. Last May, however, the Polaroid brand and its intellectual property were acquired by a company called Impossible Project, which had been manufacturing and selling instant film for owners of the old SX-70 cameras. It’s now known as Polaroid Originals and business is booming.

For fans of the real thing, this can be an expensive hobby, with Polaroid Originals offering a selection of vintage models that cost many thousands of dirhams. But if you’re not fussed by the style of the equipment, there are cameras available for less than Dh500, depending on the model and brand.

It might seem like throwaway tech for some of us, but there are professional photographers out there who adore the image results from Polaroid cameras and include them in their portfolios. One such artist is Julian Castaldi, a Dubai-based Welshman who has travelled the world with some of rock music’s biggest names as an official photographer.

“For me, Polaroid was my first introduction to photography,” he recalls, “as my parents had one at home that came out for birthdays and special occasions – at £1 [Dh5] a shot it was not cheap, but it’s what got me hooked on photography.”

When Castaldi began touring with bands, he says he shot stills and film using more traditional methods but always carried a Polaroid camera with him. “The shots I got with it remain some of my favourites – the colour 600 film had such a great look and it really did capture the moment like nothing else. I would experiment using torches and putting tape over the flash to get different effects.”

Oasis, Paul Weller, Pearl Jam, Public Enemy, Eddie Vedder, The Rolling Stones, Lemmy, Tom Jones and Stereophonics – Castaldi has shot them all and many more. “The colours and the vibe were only available from a Polaroid, long before Instagram filters came along,” he says. “And the prints allowed me to experiment when it came to producing artworks – I would paint over them, cut them up and make giant paper and canvas versions. I would see something new to photograph and I would know exactly where that shot would work with others I had taken; I like to group them together in similar colours and genres. I took some shots of [actor] John Malkovich once, which I then turned into a two-metre-high collage artwork for him.”

He adds that while he’s seen plenty of these new instant cameras being used at events and parties, he’s so far remained unmoved by the results. “I’ve shot thousands of real Polaroids, so the new format would look out of place. I did try the 600 reissue film manufactured by Impossible Project, but it didn’t quite have the same results. But, having said that, the new cameras are keeping instant photography alive, which is a great thing in this digital age. You have to think a little more when shooting instant, as it’s expensive and not ‘deletable’ like digital.”

Some of history’s most revered artists have been inextricably linked with Polaroid photography. Andy Warhol used his Big Shot camera to create iconic portraits of luminaries such as singer-songwriter Debbie Harry and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as of himself, in the process turning snapshots into desirable and highly collectible culture. Popular American landscape photographer Ansel Adams immortalised the Yosemite with his Polaroids and, being a friend of Edwin Land (the co-founder of Polaroid) he was heavily involved in the development of the company’s technology, signing up as a fully-fledged consultant in 1949.

Barbara Hitchcock worked in Polaroid’s marketing division during the 1970s and 1980s, and she says the appeal of the format to artists was obvious. “For many people, the Polaroid was like an empty canvas,” she explains. “They could add or subtract, do something very personal that was going to be the stamp of who they were.”

An excellent example of Polaroid’s cultural stamp can be found on the cover artwork for Talking Heads’ second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food. The idea was conceived by band frontman David Byrne, and executed by an artist called Jimmy De Sana, who created a photomosaic using 529 close-up Polaroid shots of the group members. It’s a simple idea and perfectly captures the magic of instant photography – something treasured by creative artists like Castaldi, whose love for the format is unlikely to ever die away.

As for the tradition of waving a Polaroid after it’s ejected from the camera, Castaldi has bad news for us. “It’s a myth,” he laughs. “It does nothing to speed up the developing process and can actually damage the image. Having said that, I always did it. It just came with the territory.”

Kevin Hackett