Joanna Przetakiewicz

“My family, always took care of the quality of life, even if they had to turn to the, ‘grey market’ let’s say,” Przetakiewicz tells us, nestling into a vast white velvet sofa in her beautiful Belgravia home. “My grandma was a talented embroiderer, my aunt and my mother were great cooks, and crazy about fashion, and so was I, always. It was my ‘mania’; that’s what I named my company for.”

From the age of five Przetakiewicz rejected the playground in favour of accompanying her mother and grandmother to see their dressmaker, Miss Stanislava, who had worked for Christian Dior. And it was in this sanctuary that she first discovered the world outside of Warsaw through the pages of fashion magazines sent over by relatives in Europe and New York. “It didn’t matter to me if the magazine was three years old, it was still such a beautiful, colourful world. It taught me to always pursue something better, something different.”

Belgravia, London

Decades later, after a career as a lawyer then entrepreneur, this pursuit eventually led Przetakiewicz to found La Mania in 2010. But it actually started life as a far more personal project: “I was travelling all over the world, for business, pleasure, visiting art fairs and exhibitions and I needed to have a modern woman’s wardrobe. I was so sick of buying something from the cover of Vogue and seeing it on two or three other people at a party.”

Tired of the way fashion was so tied to specific seasons, Przetakiewicz decided to seek out a Miss Stanislava of her own. The results were liberating: simple shapes in beautiful fabrics that travelled well and could be dressed up or down whatever the occasion. Unsurprisingly, her friends clamoured for the secret of this new label, and, crucially, where it could be bought. Przetakiewicz realised she had unwittingly identified a niche and decided to branch out into commercial production, founding an atelier in Warsaw.

Przetakiewicz’ many friends have played a significant part in the success of her label; Karl Lagerfeld has become a trusted confidante since they were introduced by mutual friends. “I was so afraid Karl would tell me I was crazy for trying to establish myself, but he simply said ‘go for it. I will support you don’t worry.’ I felt like it was a blessing from god, from a genius.”

Lagerfeld was true to his word, and later introduced Przetakiewicz to another of the most influential people in her life: Zaha Hadid. “She saw my collection at the Royal Academy of Art during London Fashion Week in 2012, and said ‘I love this line, this cut.’ She had no idea that it was the most beautiful compliment because I had been so inspired by her work. We went for lunch at Park Chinois just two weeks before she passed – we were talking about her work, my work, gossiping.”

Spending time with Przetakiewicz you can understand why people are drawn to her, she is clever and kind, a proud mother and a loyal friend. The success of La Mania – it sells phenomenally in Harrods and is one of Poland’s biggest fashion brands – genuinely brings her joy, but she never forgets the difficulty of her youth, revelling in the beauty of the world at every chance. “What I really love is to create a better world around us.” Her dream, it seems has come, but there’s still something she wishes for – to create La Mania Home. “One day…”

Hotel Bel-Air

The boutique hotel is one of a portfolio of ten luxury hotels operated by the Dorchester Collection. It is situated in Bel-Air, in Los Angeles, a mile north of Sunset Boulevard. It has 103 rooms, including 45 suites. It was built in 1946, positioned just outside Beverly Hills and Westwood, which partly explains its popularity with sirens of stage and screen. The high ratio of suites to rooms is part of its great talent as an innovator. As many hoteliers of the time wanted to build high and pack them in, the Bel Air, said no: luxury isn’t just the beautiful pool and restaurant with a Michelin Star, it is about space, and about privacy, the room to breathe.

Outside Hotel Bel Air

It sits in the most discreet locations: in wooded hills, in 12 acres of lush, landscaped gardens, with rare flowering plants. Guests must cross a small footbridge over its Swan Lake to access the hotel. The buildings – cut from that distinctive pink Californian stone – serve a little like castle walls, like fortifications that keep interlopers, or prurient observers, out. Many suites have private patios. It all feels worlds away from the antic hustle of LA. It is the polar opposite of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Pink Palace, just down the road which reclines on a hill like a dowager at a party wanting always to be the centre of attention. That is old world luxury, the Bel Air has always been about looking beyond the now and looking to the future. To know what people will want in the future.

All this likely explains its popularity with heads of state, too: Richard Nixon wrote his memoirs there, Prince Charles has visited. And Truman Capote hid there before he threw his infamous masked ball in New York, to celebrate In Cold Blood; it was his calm before the storm. Its layout is contrived so that guests can reach rooms without passing through the hotel’s lobby; Monroe and JFK reportedly used this to their advantage, arriving via limousine and moving through the hotel without being spied by other guests or staff.

The staff are discreet, as you would suspect. One story goes that Beatles members Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison all stayed there at the same time without knowing that their bandmates were also in residence: the staff were obediently schtum. It was built as a haven for old Hollywood, but this attention to privacy was inadvertently prescient: with prurient smartphones and tireless paparazzi, new Hollywood needs its protection more than ever – and it gets it here.

Some legends liked it so much they stayed for for a long time. Kelly’s suite was a thank you for her loyal patronage. The actress slept there the night that she won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Country Girl, and had long-since become an active member of the hotel’s life: she dined in the restaurant instead of taking room service, and introduced her husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco, to every member of the hotel’s staff during the couple’s first visit.

Monroe also lived at the hotel on-and-off for almost a decade, which she saw as her safe, reliable bolt-hole during volatile marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Her Vogue shoot was reportedly one of those intoxicating, mythic Hollywood nights: endless Dom Perignon on ice, the suite – number 261 – sprayed with Monroe’s favourite Chanel No. 5. The images are sensual, playful and relaxed; Monroe looks like she’s at home.

"Luxury isn’t just the beautiful pool and restaurant with a Michelin Star, it is about space, and about privacy, the room to breathe."

LA is a transient city, one that feels often like a passage not a destination: it is fitting that the hotel stands in as a home for so many celebrities. Most of them have a favourite room, one in which they stay every time they visit. Joan Collins’ favourite is 166. A refit in 2011, when the hotel came under its new proprietorship, re-nosed its old glamour a little: a few more spare lines here, sculptural touches there. It introduced 12 new rooms and There is a new spa, and a fitness centre, and there are Bang & Olufsen televisions and iPads in every room. Refuge from reality needn’t mean a total digital detox.

Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air

Of course, a hotel’s bar is its burning heart: it’s where the flirtations and conversations happen. The Bel-Air has The Bar, whose leather chairs, piano and low lighting gives it the feel of an upmarket speak-easy, with leather chairs, a piano, low lighting. The cosiness encourages confessional conversations: guests sit for hours, swirling their high ball glasses, deep in intense conversations.  But it’s not too serious: Antonio Castillo de la Gala, the bar’s former pianist, once spent an evening playing movie soundtracks with Billy Joel, and Paul McCartney once wryly complimented his rendition of Eleanor Rigby. Sophia Loren married at the hotel, and had drinks there afterwards. What this does is give you a sample of that other thing that makes it in the vanguard of the new luxury.

It’s a romantic, nostalgic portrait of a golden age, but the hotel’s modern life is just as vital. It still hosts contemporary Oscar winners – like Hillary Swank and Nicole Kidman – and plays the setting for fashion shoots. Interviewers from glossy compendiums like Vanity Fair and Vogue meet their interview subjects on its famous patio, or cloistered away at the private tables in its restaurant, which is presided over by the veteran chef Wolfgang Puck. Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields are regular guests. Reece Witherspoon has stayed there, as has Milla Jovovich. In 2008, Stern returned to the hotel to create his homage to the Monroe shoot with actress Lindsay Lohan. Celebrities visit The Bar for night caps after awards ceremonies. The Bel-Air is one of a small roster of elite hotels that hosts Oscar nominees, make-up artists and stylists in the feverish days before the Academy Awards.

But its character prevails. La La Land is an easy place to lose your head, but the Bel-Air keeps its firmly screwed on, which is why it is so popular with those who live inside a constant circus. It’s LA without the flinty, hard edged, high octane modern celebrity. It’s classic, elegant and will leap over mountains to accommodate its guests. Bette Davis reportedly once told a chauffeur who was taking her to a different hotel: “Take me to the Bel-Air. That’s my home, even if I have to sleep in the lobby. They’ll find me a bed.”

Built to Last

Osorio’s approach to comfort and elegance is holistic and painstaking.“I hire technicians who have been making lasts and shoe constructions for over 40 years,” he says, “and together we’ve developed a shape that fits better on the foot and distributes the weight of the body, not only on the ball of your foot, but also on the arch and the back. We also put extra padding with memory foam in the soles so that it’s softer when you walk. Fabrics are also very important, so I’m very demanding. We use cashmere suede and butter nappa leather, as they’re soft and caress the feet and skin without constraining it.”

I’ve had a chance to work with the best craftsmen and artisans in the world, I really learned how to appreciate good quality design and how real luxury is made..."

Amongst all the denizens of the contemporary luxury fashion realm, there is no greater authority on elegance than the man who founded the shoe brand of choice for the world’s most discerning women. A man intent on concocting “a modern dolce vita” amongst his customers – hence his company’s name being a portmanteau of the Italian words for “blue” and “water” – he lives in the only private apartment in a 15th-century Florentine palace which was home to the Medici family until 1649, when it was purchased by Maria Maddalena Machiavelli.

Filled with Renaissance frescoes, sweeping staircases and Baroque features such as its shell-and-coral encrusted fountain room and, Osorio’s favourite piece, an 18th-Century Portuguese alter (“It’s quite imposing – I’ve put it next to a modern Kagan sofa and mid-century tables and lamps: I love the mix,” he says), his home, the setting for the portraits surrounding these words, epitomises his broader philosophy on aesthetics. “I think too much is never enough,” he says. “I’m of the ‘more is more’ philosophy in life.”

His love of opulence is not something Osorio only brings to the drawing board sparingly, though: “In design, I tend to be the opposite – I think the most beautiful things are often the most pure and simple,” he says. “I think its all about the mix and proportions.” This belief in the sublimity of purity has been percolating for many, many years. “As a child, I was very creative – always doodling, drawing and dreaming,” he explains of his formative years in Colombia. “I always wanted to make beautiful things. I used to escape classes to read fashion magazines with my friends.”

Observing the young Edgardo’s yen for all things sartorial, his family weren’t surprised when he began working as a fashion intern at just 14 years old, or when he moved to London to study at the London College of Fashion at the age of just 16, or even when he a dropped out of college to take a position as a shoes and accessories design consultant at Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence aged just 19. “In applied arts, the best school is working,” he says, “and living in sunny Florence and working for one of the oldest shoe houses in the world was a dream come true.”

You may wear a dress, but with shoes, it’s the shoe that wears you, It needs to become a part of your body, an extension of your leg. A woman with the right pair of shoes feels more secure, more beautiful and, in the end, more powerful.

From this point, Osorio’s meticulous approach to craftsmanship was further ground and whetted by stints working for Sigerson Morrison, René Caovilla and Roberto Cavalli. “I’ve had a chance to work with the best craftsmen and artisans in the world,” he says. “I really learned how to appreciate good quality design and how real luxury is made. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t worked for so many different people.”

And yet all of this diverse, rich experience was all really just preparation for his fulfilment of a much bigger dream: to found his own shoe brand, which Osorio eventually did alongside his partner Ricardo D’Almeida Figueiredo (“We are very different people,” he says of the pair’s unique dynamic, “but we will walk into a room and see the same flaws, or the same objects we both love.”)

Another major tributary to Osorio’s artisanal sensibility is travel. “Being born in Colombia, raised between Miami and London and then moving to Italy made me who I am today,” he says. “My brand is a mix of Latin sensuality, Italian sophistication, and American ease.” This international perspective is reflected neatly in the interior design of Aquazzura stores throughout the world, which share certain design tenets but also pack an ‘in situ’ sense of localised flavour. “The store in Madison Avenue feels like a ‘Duomo’, and is inspired by Santa Maria Novella Cathedral in Florence; London’s feels more like the inside of a townhouse in that city, with the twist of having a striped altar; the Florence outlet is a Baroque palace from the 17th century, and mixes modern and mid-century pieces with antiques. We want to adapt and embrace the territory we’re in.”

London and New York remain major sources of design inspiration – “They’re both melting pots of culture and ideas, full of energy and opportunities,” he says – but Osorio is also not afraid to tread far, far away from the beaten track in search of inspiration. “Because I love everything that is hand-made and hand crafted,”“I travel the world looking for new artisanal techniques and ideas to apply to my shoes. A recent example was using the hand-woven fabrics used in mochilas made by indigenous Wayuu tribes in Colombia to make shoes in Italy.”

The resulting neon-bright Espadriles, a highlight of the brand’s spring/summer 2015, are the epitome of outlandish beauty. And yet for Osorio, aesthetics alone are not enough: for him, functionality is also at the core of craftsmanship. “You may wear a dress, but with shoes, it’s the shoe that wears you,” he explains. “It needs to become a part of your body, an extension of your leg. A woman with the right pair of shoes feels more secure, more beautiful and, in the end, more powerful. That’s why I love that Marilyn Monroe quote: ‘Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world.’”

For Osorio, these words from the most celebrated Hollywood starlet of all time are more than just a pithy quip – they represent his mission: one which goes hand in hand with his determination to redefine the word ‘innovation’ with every stroke of his pencil, and with every one of the highly coveted shoes which leave his production line.

The New Bentley Mulsanne

And so, we travelled to Bavaria to test the three new versions of the vehicle – Signature, Speed and Extended Wheelbase – on the twisty mountain roads which score the Alpine border of Austria and Germany (venturing onto the throttle-opening ribbons of autobahn at every opportunity as well, naturally). Stepping out of the Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa Retreat, about an hour’s drive from Innsbruck, and walking, awestruck, around the fleet of gleaming vehicles assembled on its sun-kissed courtyard, it’s immediately obvious that the Mulsanne has been given more than a few nips and tucks: Bentley evidently wanted this vehicle to be its most forceful statement of uncompromised elegance to date.

Hence, the front end has been redesigned entirely, a wider grille and new wider, lower air vents creating a far more imposingly handsome effect. The sweeping character lines remain similar to before, but vintage-looking wheels complement the car’s profile considerably more elegantly than those on the outgoing model did. Also adding to a more classic aesthetic, the taillights now are now curved into a seductive “B” shape, while the rear bumper has become slightly more rounded. Overall, the design tweaks sit at the vanguard of Bentley’s new character: still a symbol of timeless elegance, but with a grittier edge; more in keeping with design values that appeal to a younger demographic as well as the silver-haired elder statesmen with whom Bentley was, in recent decades, mainly associated.

While most of the upgrades having been made to the exterior, the 2017 Mulsanne’s plush, handcrafted interior is teeming with old-world opulence (deep-pile carpets, polished stainless steel fittings) but with a modern twist (stunningly elegant analogue gauges and tachometer, glass switchgear, church-organ dash switches). Choosing wisely between the 13 different veneers on offer will enhance your interior’s sophistication immeasurably, but the dominating material inside, of course, is leather: passengers leaving the Mulsanne almost seem to do so shrouded in a redolent haze from the diamond-quilted hide that encases the car’s interior (it takes the wily artisans in Crewe 150 hours just to stitch all the top-grade cowhides contained in a single interior together).

Not that you’ll want to leave the vehicle much. Comfort, ride quality and handling have all been improved markedly by a reinforced rear sub-frame, hydraulic suspension bushings and a better air suspension system. Surely the most impressive new addition to the car’s technical repertoire, though, concerns Bentley’s astonishing efforts with noise abatement technology. So successful have they been in ditching the decibels associated with wind and so on with previous models, perfectionists in the R& D department began to notice that the sound of the tyres rolling on the road had become vastly more prominent. And so, they’ve now created a special sound-deadening foam which is bonded to the inside, cutting tyre noise by half.

The 2017 Mulsanne’s plush, handcrafted interior is teeming with old-world opulence but with a modern twist.

This creates the counter-intuitive impression of three tons of mass tearing through the zephyrs all but silently – until, that is, you put your foot down and that 6.75-liter pushrod V8 engine’s baritone purr evolves into a sonorous roar. Which brings us neatly onto performance. The Mulsanne is named after one corner of the Le Mans circuit where Bentley has won six 24 Hours victories, and the moniker is more apt than now than ever: think 0-to-60-mph in 5.1 seconds (4.8 in the case of the Speed edition), and a top speed of around 184/190mph.

Like all luxury marques, in response to demand in markets with a chauffeuring culture such as India and China, Bentley has put greater emphasis on back-seat comfort of late – hence the long wheelbase version which, with its pop up entertainment tablets, extending leg-rests and an optional fridge with crystal champagne flutes, calls to mind the back of a luxury private jet – but such is the performance and handling, most buyers will want to do the driving themselves.

What with the abundance of state-of-the-art safety features, a rear-seat entertainment system that wouldn’t be out of place on Air Force One and an unprecedented blend of refinement and grunt, this is vastly more than an updated version of a luxury car: the new Mulsanne, rather, is the expression of an ethos; a rallying statement from a marque on a mission – to put its proverbial pedal to the metal, and send automotive excellence hurtling rapidly and effortlessly into ever more exciting pastures.

Renaissance Man

“If I see something I like, I get it – I don’t care if it’s been there three seasons: good, that means it works. People ask me about ‘my style’ and I just think, ‘Well Tom Ford wears the same kind of suit every day. Look at Domenico Dolce or Giorgio Armani – they usually wear black t-shirts and stripes. They’re not flamboyant: they just know what works for them. So when people ask me what’s on trend, my answer is always the same: ‘Who cares?’”

Ensconced in a comfy chair in the studio’s cavernous, eclectically furnished reception area, Gandy – dressed in a baggy chequered cap, loose white t-shirt, grey flannel trousers and monkstrap leather shoes with no socks (more on those later) – seems to be enjoying an existential purple patch. His manner has always been affable, unruffled, but the impression he gives off today is that he’s immensely comfortable operating in that life phase in which youthful exuberance and mature guile eclipse.

If I see something I like, I get it – I don’t care if it’s been there three seasons: good, that means it works.

For those unfamiliar with his back-story, while he was studying marketing in Cheltenham, one of the then 21-year-old Gandy’s flatmates mischievously sent his photos to a This Morning With Richard And Judy modelling contest (without his knowledge – it’s tough to imagine the almost disarmingly humble Gandy sanctioning the entry). He won first prize – a contract with the model agency Select – and within what must have seemed a blink of an eye, found himself in front of the lens of Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino, modelling for Dolce & Gabbana’s ‘Light Blue’ fragrance campaign. His vertiginous ascent from there bucked the conventions of male modelling – Gandy’s Adonic frame and smouldering gaze could not have stood out more amongst the androgynous, xylophone-chested teens who hogged the catwalks at the time – and also thrust him into the international limelight.

Gandy realised immediately that he was different to other models: not just because of his Adonic form, but in terms of his singularity of purpose. “I could never understand why models would go along to shoots and be shot one minute in a suit, the next in the most outlandish styling, and they’ve had no say in it,” he says. “They’ve been scared to say they don’t want to do it. So I’ve always said, ‘Sorry guys, this is my thing, this is the way I want to go. People ask me now, ‘Who’s your stylist?’ I’ve never had one in my life.”

In fact, it was his early modelling career, he says – along with his family’s influence (Gandy’s parents are successful freight, shipping and property entrepreneurs) – that cut his teeth as a businessman. “It’s where my entrepreneurial ethic came from,” he says. “What people don’t realise about models is, you’re self-employed. You don’t work for anyone – you pay an agency to work for you. They advise you but they’re not your boss. People say to me now ‘You’ve gone into business?’ and I reply, ‘Actually I’ve been in business for 15 years.’ What I was selling was me.”

Throughout this early period, David was also plotting a life-course leading to more creatively and commercially autonomous pastures. “From the start of the modelling career, in 2007/2008, there was a strategy – always a seven, or five, or three-year plan – in terms of where I wanted to be,” he says. “And my ambition wasn’t to be the world’s most stylish man. It always had more to do with my love of design, and of style, and my desire to support the UK fashion industry: my heritage, my city, where I’m from. It’s the London fashion industry that’s supported me over the years, after all.”

And so, he began working with select outfitters with whom he felt a personal connection. “Thom Sweeney, Henry Poole and M&S were all brands I wanted to push,” he says. “So we collaborated on suits, and ideas, and I helped get them coverage – but always doing what I wanted with my own sense of style. When I went to work with Lucky Jeans, I’d take pairs in from my wardrobe from years ago that I love, and they would make their own spin on them. I’ve always had that creative input because it was always my image people were using.”

To this day, far from being merely a face for the labels and ventures he promotes, David spends his days buzzing around the capital, liaising with designers over concepts and ideas. His lounge-wear and swimwear line for Marks & Spencer, meanwhile, was entirely his own concept and creation. “Because of that, I was more nervous when that came out than when the underwear came out,” he says, “but when it first launched we sold a pair every minute. So we’re expanding that venture next year.”

It was back in January this year that David shot up a few entrepreneurial weight classes, with his purchase of David Preston – the achingly hip East London label footwear brand launched in 2011 by the eponymous self-taught shoe designer. Three-quarters of a year on, the two Davids’ mission to create a lifestyle around the brand – “It’s having a cigarette and a whiskey after going out to a black-tie do, or being in your classic car with your Chelsea boots on,” as Gandy once put it – is in full throttle.

Alongside the mien of nocturnal decadence, the latest collection also conjures up the timeless elegance – as opposed to the transient sartorial oddities also prevalent on the scene – of Sixties London (the aforementioned Ray Davies would approve). “There was a time when The Beatles and The Stones met Carnaby Street and Savile Row, and that’s the period we’re taking aim at,” Gandy says. “David [Preston] is very into East London, very into the Stones, The Beatles and Dylan, so the whole Cuban heeled Chelsea boot and things like it were always going to be a great fit.”

Keen observers of popular music’s fashion sensibilities won’t be surprised that Blur, Kasabian and Iggy and the Stooges are among fans of the revamped brand’s output, the latest collection from whom includes: The Regent and Rivoli boots, both of which have Cubanesque heels and come in an impressive palette of elegant hues; a ‘Red Carpet’ capsule collection in black leather, patent, suede and velvet; and, perhaps the most groundbreaking sub-genre in the collection, a range of unlined shoes with formal appearance – which includes those soft brown Monkstraps currently wrapped around Gandy’s sockless feet.

They could be described as the Neapolitan tailoring of cordwainery. “They’re totally unstructured,” he says. “Just leather against skin. It started with me suggesting a really comfortable, slip-on canvas Oxford for the summer. Then David came back and said he knew of a leather which would work unstructured. So we got that made up and went with it.”

Between all this creative and entrepreneurial endeavour, Gandy somehow finds time to write his own columns for Vanity Fair, The Telegraph and GQ. He’s addressed the Oxford Union on two occasions. He’s ambassador not only for the British Fashion Council, promoting London Collections: Men, but several carefully selected charities (notably, at the moment, The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Emma Willis’s Style for Soldiers and Achievement for All – a charity working with vulnerable, disadvantaged children and those with learning difficulties). Having received his racing license in 2012, he’s also a regular behind the wheel of classic cars on the Goodwood circuit and on Italy’s Mille Miglia (which he’s completed twice, once in 2013 with Jasmin Le Bon as his co-driver, and this year accompanied by Jodi Kidd).

He’d never describe himself as such – he’s refreshingly humble, for a man who spent a considerable amount of time being beamed over Times Square wearing only a pair of underpants – but Gandy is in many ways a renaissance of the archetypical virile male: not just in terms of form but function too; an antithesis to the preening, androgynous fop wearing painted-on jeans that represented the male ideal in the fashion world for so long.

Once a brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, he’s a man more at home propping up the bar in one of Dunhill’s homes than in some neon lit celeb haunt blasting bubble-gum pop. He’s in his comfort zone restoring a 1960s Mercedes, piranha fishing in the Amazon or enjoying a weekend of belly laughs with the circle of friends he went to school with in Essex. He’s even being trained to drive a Vector Martini raceboat, and will soon undertake a series of world endurance record attempts.

“Someone asked me the other day ‘What does David Gandy stand for?’,” says this contemporary polymath as our interview comes to a close. “I said, ‘I don’t really know, but I’ve kept it along those lines of classic cars, three-piece suits, the London gentleman, old Hollywood kind of style.” In short, the phrase “the rebirth of cool” could have been coined with Gandy in mind.

A fair of the heart

Now entering its seventh year with Chief Executive Nazy Vassegh at the helm, the event saw record sales of over £100 million in June 2015, including the purchase of a magnificent diamond and ruby Boucheron cuff for a seven-figure sum at jewellers Symbolic & Chase. Modern British art was also in demand, with a previously unknown work, a lead Helmet from 1950 by Henry Moore, discovered by the Osborne Samuel gallery and sold to a private Canadian collector who flew in especially for the fair.

Alberto Burri at Mazzoleni Art in Mayfair.

I meet Vassegh at the Mazzoleni gallery in Mayfair, where a show of post-war works by the Italian artist Alberto Burri is just coming to a close. The paintings – tactile collages in unconventional materials including pumice, black tar and hessian – are bold in stature and colour. They provide the perfect backdrop to Nazy’s black ‘Maje’ dress with its red fluted collar and her shock of red lipstick.

Mazzoleni is one of many contemporary galleries to do business at Masterpiece London, which also attracts a growing number of international museum curators and directors. To date, they include: Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Carlos Picon, Sir Nicholas Penny from The National Gallery and Rita Freed from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Vassegh’s 24-year career in the art world began at Sotheby’s, where her passion for the finest masterpieces led her to the post of Managing Director of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department. Later, she founded her own independent advisory firm focusing on 20th-century art, working with a number of major banks and high-end luxury brands. She has also sat on various boards, including the Mayor of London’s Advisory Board for Arts & Culture, and is a prominent supporter of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).

Well-liked and respected by the greater art world, Vassegh was born in Tehran, and spent her formative years in Los Angeles before attending a boarding school in the UK and settling in London, which she now calls home.

Masterpiece London was initially set up in 2010 with the idea of cross-collecting its main aim, and it has continued in that direction year-on-year. As Vassegh explains: “Masterpiece is a multi-disciplinary fair and in many ways is the equivalent of seeing an entire auction season in just eight days. Furthermore, you have a structure for world-renowned specialists and experts in their fields. They’re always willing to share their knowledge with visitors, so never be intimidated to ask questions.”

The art market is one of the most interesting industries to work in and I feel really lucky to be a part of it... I love the interaction with the art works, the collectors and the museums.

Meanwhile, each piece on show carries with it exceptional provenance, having undergone a strict entry process by the fair’s selection committee. There are 36 vetting panels made up of over 150 independent experts. After an initial edit of works online, they then physically inspect every single piece before it can be accepted into the fair. With an estimated 15-20 thousand pieces to take in, split into 40 different categories, they certainly have their work cut out for them. When the event takes place at the end of June – the period when most international collectors head to the British capital – London is at its most vibrant. “It’s undoubtedly one of the top three biggest international art hubs in the world,” says Vassegh.

The surge in popularity of art shows isn’t unique to London of course. “There are more art fairs and biennales around the world than ever before, and I think that’s an indication of how important art fairs have become,” she notes. “The art world has changed immensely in the past five years. I have come to expect its fast pace – it goes hand-in-hand with the large sums of money that are transacted in the sector today. Just when you think it can’t get any bigger, it continues to surprise and excite us every season.”

Suffice to say, when it comes to the curious twists and turns of the art and antiques business, this art fair CEO has seen it all. “The art market is one of the most interesting industries to work in and I feel really lucky to be a part of it. No day is ever the same. I love the interaction with the art works, the collectors and the museums. I’m continuously learning, and as long as I continue to learn I’m going to continue to be excited by this unique environment.”

A period of plenty

Giuseppe, the maitre d' at Ristorante Frescobaldi, London

So it is that the 15th-century Florentine Renaissance began in 1860. It was then that the Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt published his great treatise, The Civilisation of the renaissance in Italy, and it was from this work that the whole corpus of what we know as the Renaissance was born. It is an intriguing book, not least because it couldn’t be further from the frock-coated, dry-as-saw-dust work most people expect. It has, in fact, some elements of the rollicker to it.

Burckhardt argues that Italy never really suffered under the dead hand of feudalism. The collection of city states that once made up what we now think of as Italy skipped a step and therefore didn’t experience the communal, corporatised, life of the mediaeval period. “The Development of the Individual” is the second part of Burckhardt’s book, and the mainstay of his argument. The ego, he claims here – that bloom of self-esteem we see in the Uffizi, in the churches of Rome, in the palazzos standing century on the waterways of Venice – was born in Renaissance Florence. But you find it somewhere else too: Tuscany’s culinary history.

A second rebirth is now starting to take hold in Italy: the rebirth of haute cuisine.

When we think of Florentine food, one word invariably pops up: hearty. Wander a little from the Ponte Vecchio and you find the mainstay of the city’s gastronomy: the wild boar sausages, the delicious ribollitas, the crostini swathed in diaphanous slices of lard. It is good food, it is delicious food – but it does not strain the bounds of the imagination. And yet once this city was at the beating heart of culinary invention.

To be invited to dine with the Medici at their peak was to be pulled into a world of then-unknown hedonism. Polished hedonism, for sure – but hedonism all the same. When Marie de Medici married Henry IV of France, a banquet for 300 guests was held at the Palazzo Vecchio. The artist Bernardo Buontalenti was engaged to design the festivities, which began when the guests unfolded their napkin ­– a songbird flew out – and culminated, 50-courses later, with milk sherbets, the recipes for which had been brought from France specially. The only historical rival to the event was the 1520 ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ meeting between Henry VIII and King Francis I of France – which is saying something.

Such largesse was not confined to celebrations. The black marble jugs used by the Medici to hold water at the table still survive, as do renderings of some of the dishes they served: there are larks, thrushes, all manner of bird. This was delicate food, clever food that pushed boundaries as much as their invention of napkins and flowers for the table did. The Renaissance palette, at least in the upper reaches of society, was a sophisticated one. The notion that Italian food begins and ends with mamma stirring polenta and endless fussing over an Arabica sauce is a compelling one – but it is only a single thread of a complicated truth.

A second rebirth is now starting to take hold in Italy: the rebirth of haute cuisine. When the San Pellegrino 50 best restaurant list was unveiled at London’s Guildhall, the second spot went to Massimo Bottura and his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena. No one was surprised. His food is a paean to the food of Italy, but it is not hidebound by its traditions. Bottura has the flair of the artist. For one of his most famous dishes, “Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano”, he takes the cheese of his region and works it into a cornucopia of mind-melting textures. There are rabbit macarons, too; there is eel pasta, suckling pig with balsamic vinegar. It is about pushing local, seasonal ingredients as far as they will go.

You see it elsewhere, too. Food is becoming the new frontier in luxury: the Ferragamo family, the modern-day Medici of fashion, now produce Il Borro and Castiglion del Bosco wines. Massimo Ferragamo, youngest son of Salvatore and CEO of Ferragamo in the USA, bought the del Bosco estate in 2003. He had been searching for a “moderately sized” house for his family and friends in Tuscany.  In the process he chanced across the Castiglion del Bosco, a 4,000-acre estate and 23-bedroom castle with a lineage stretching across eight centuries. He bought it and, recognising that a house the size of a small village was a little beyond even his needs, he decided to rework his plans. “The only way to make Castiglion del Bosco come back to life was to make all the elements that exist there work together,” he says. “We decided to renovate all the buildings and create an experience.”

What that has meant in practice is converting the castle into a resort whose near entire focus is around superlative food and wine. And it has paid off: not only is the place constantly fully booked, but the estate is now the fifth-largest producer of Brunello di Montalcino in the world. Ferragamo did just what Bottura is doing and what the Medici did: he took a piece of Italian culture, refined it, invested in it, and help it along the way to a brighter future.

He is not alone, either. Renzo Rosso of Diesel recently bought BioNatura; Bernard Arnault of LVMH has purchased the Milanese pasticceria, Cova; in London, Angela Hartnett’s Murano restaurant has just opened a second site; Frescobaldi continues to dole out La Dolce Vita by the plateful in Mayfair.

Each, in its way, is selling an idealised version of Italy – but it is not a museum piece they are selling. The culinary muse, so long hovering high over the Scandinavian countries, has come south for the summer – and Italy has never looked better as a result.

Il nuovo lusso

What this lends the small, 13-room and 2-suite hotel – it has been such since 2004 – is a sense of permanence. It looks like it has the antiquity of The Trevi Fountain. It’s an impression that is redoubled as I sit in the drawing room surrounded by vast, wall-clothing Flemish tapestries and 19th-century sideboards crowded out with black-and-white photographs of the late Countess Spalletti Trivelli perched on a chaise with Elena, last Queen of Italy.

The view from Villa Borghese gardens

But there is another thing that reverberates around the room: a quietness bordering on the silent pervades. I have been sitting here for 15 minutes and I have not once been asked, “Would you like a drink, sir?” “Is everything OK, Sir?” or  “Can I get you something, Sir” and I could not be happier about it. Instead, there is something much more civilised:  a silver tray in corner of the room, with spirits and mixers lined-up on it like soldiers with a capacious ice bucket standing sentry by its side. This, like the fully stocked minibar in the rooms, are gratis. As Andrea Spalletti, the son of the last man to use this large edifice as a home explains, “We want it to feel like you are staying in a friend’s house. To feel that you can relax.”

This place does confect the air of a private house, not least because you can sit in its well-stocked library, with its first editions of André Gide, for hours reading or playing cards and not be disturbed. Like the underside of a swan gliding across water, the activity here is hidden. The ice bucket is constantly refilled, the Prosecco never runs out. The staff might very well be ghosts, so little do you see them. If you need something, you simply press the doorbell-like buttons stationed around the Villa, and with that, someone appears. The hard sell of the traditional luxury hotel, the clamour of the staff for attention (and tips), is not what they go in for here. They want to give you what you want, rather than what they imagine you expect.

What the hotel does within its 100-year-old walls is neatly tie together the strands of The New Luxury into something resembling a satin bow. In fact, it manages, in some ways, to be the very embodiment of it. You have the discreet soft-spoken service, the extra touches like the stupendous Turkish bath, and most importantly an absolute, cast-in-iron focus on creating a luxury that doesn’t scream from the rooftops and instead is subtle, implicit.

The hard sell of the traditional luxury hotel, the clamour of the staff for attention, is not what they go for here. They want to give you what you want, rather than what they imagine you expect.

You see it in the breakfast room laid out with cold cuts, cheeses, pastries, cakes, bread and seven different types of preserve. You see it in the fact that the family are very often be found walking across the parqueted floors. It’s evident in the olive oil and the white and red wine – Decanter World Wine Award winners – which come from the family groves in Umbria. All these things are, of course, things you find elsewhere – but here they are presented to guests with sympathy and personality.

The owners start with their guests – and with so few rooms, there aren’t that many – and then build what they do around them. They are steadfast in their commitment to their hotel being a Roman experience, but not so much that they wouldn’t stretch themselves to providing something extra for non-European guests. It sounds so simple, and yet so often it seems to be beyond the realms of imagining for even the best luxury hotel chains. The reason for this is sometimes economics, but more often it is the expression of a cookie-cutter corporate structure that deems a luxury hotel in Tokyo not so different to a luxury hotel in Miami.

What you find in this hotel is hospitality at its most personal and it’s most adaptive – making it the very best available. It is here, in a corner of Rome a few minutes’ walk from The Trevi Fountain and The Pantheon, that you’ll find The New Luxury.

Ian Schrager, rockstar hotelier

In front of me a woman dances in high heels on the pool table with, one can’t help feeling, admirable balance; her glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne, however, is not so poised, cascading out of her glass in a fizzing, iridescent arc. As a mark of one man’s renaissance it is a strong statement: Ian Schrager has come home. For the first time in 10 years he will once again have a New York hotel.

The man himself is the walking, talking epitome of the idea of renaissance. Born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, he grew up with Manhattan in his sights. Not only did he manage to bring about a rebirth in New York’s nightlife scene, with the era-defining club Studio 54, but he’s also spent the latter decades of his career doing the same with hotels.

It ought to be no surprise that his party at the Edition was such a good one – he is a past master. To look at Schrager’s new book, a pictorial retrospective of his career, is to look at beautiful people having a bacchanalia. Studio 54, with its velvet rope, its beautiful design, its drugs and its excess – to say nothing of its famous faces – became the nightclub that everyone wanted to reproduce. His parties no longer have Bianca Jagger, Cher, Andy Warhol and Grace Jones; at the Edition, it is the likes of Grayson Perry, Iman and David Schwimmer. Where Studio 54 transformed the guts of an old opera house, here Schrager has converted a clock tower into a luxury hotel. Everyone is flirting, engaging in the thing that makes Ian, well, Ian: he is a master of making people have fun. As the clock draws closer to midnight I see Schrager himself, 69 years old, heading home. He is wearing the smile of a man who has pulled it off – again.

Formerly a lawyer, Schrager has reinvented himself more than most. He was a man who captured the club fever of the 70s with Studio 54. As Vanity Fair once put it, for 33 months it was the ‘epicentre of 70s hedonism, a disco hothouse of beautiful people’ – but that selfsame thing nearly finished him, too. In December 1978, the club was raided after Steve Rubell, Schrager’s business partner, attracted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, after saying the club made “more money than the Mafia”.

They were indicted on Federal income-tax charges for allegedly skimming $2.5 million. Cash was found stashed in bin bags in the ceiling of the office. He and his partner served 13 months in prison. ”It is hard to be a role model for your children when you make such a devastating mistake,” said Schrager in a recent interview. “But [Studio 54] was part of my life and my work. And the club continues to resonate today.” After prison, and a second, unsuccessful club, Palladium, Schrager and Rubell turned their attention elsewhere: hotels. To say it was a successful change is perhaps to underplay the word ‘success’.

In 1984, the pair opened Morgans Hotel in New York. Their aim was to turn the idea of hotel design on its head: instead of traditional architects and interior designers, they sought out people like themselves; people who hadn’t necessarily worked with hotels but felt they knew what people wanted. They got Andrée Putman, who had previously worked with Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Thierry Mugler, to work on design. Their aim was to create hotels that “had a sense of time and place” Schrager said, “that took all of the cultural fragments floating around in the air along with the cultural zeitgeist, and put them all together.”

Morgans introduced full-size Kiehl’s products in the bathrooms and uniforms designed by Giorgio Armani. They spurned the dingy lighting, patterned carpets and wallpaper of their competitors, and lined the walls of the bedrooms with Robert Mapplethorpe photographs. The term ‘boutique hotel’ was coined by Rubell, and it is an apt description of what they did. The lobby was redesigned as a ‘living-room’ with taupe-coloured glass walls, three shades of Italian granite and French leather club chairs. Together they invented the notion of ‘lobby socialising’: not only staying in a hotel, but wanting to remain there, to drink there and eat there. These were not shopping-mall, cookie-cutter hotels, but high-end pleasure palaces.

After their initial success, more hotels followed including The Royalton – the first hotel designed by Philippe Starck – which opened in 1988. The death of Rubell in 1989 from an Aids-related illness changed Schrager’s life. “I’ll never have the kind of friendship I had with Steve, who I loved.” he said in a Guardian interview in 2001. “We went to school together and grew up together and had our ups and downs together, and it was a really, you know, unique and special thing.”

Schrager sold his share of Morgans in 2005, but before that he created some of the world’s chicest hotels: The Paramount, The Hudson, Gramercy Park, The Delano, Shore Club, The Mondrian in LA, St Martin’s Lane and The Sanderson in London: each a meticulous expression of Schrager’s mind, right down to the chiselled-jawed staff and the height of the coffee tables.

“Many of the people I have worked with have been with me for a long time... Each and every one of them has helped make me who and what I am today and for that I am forever grateful.”

Schrager went on to launch his own chain of “accessible luxury” hotels called Public, with the first opening in Chicago in 2011. The latest act in his career, meanwhile, is a partnership with a company he would, ironically, have previously shunned. Forging a partnership with the hotel chain Marriott, Schrager has created the new Edition series of hotel. “I thought it would be fun to do something on a big scale,” he has said. After veering briefly off course in Hawaii, the Edition series has opened four hotels: The London Edition, The Miami Beach Edition, The Istanbul Edition and now, The New York Edition.

Within two months of the Miami Beach branch opening in December 2014, it had doubled its assumed profitability. Forty percent of that money came from guests’ spending on food and drink (the restaurant was by Jean-Georges Vongerichten). Over the next four years, the Edition series will roll out across the globe: Sanya, Shanghai and Wuhan in China; Bangkok; Gurgaon in India; Abu Dhabi; New York’s Times Square; West Hollywood in California; and Bali.

“Many of the people I have worked with have been with me for a long time,” says Schrager. “Each and every one of them has helped make me who and what I am today and for that I am forever grateful.” From Yabu Pushelberg to John Pawson and Philippe Starck, he surrounds himself with the most talented people around and together they contrive to produce things that attract people. As he has said before, “You have to lead people into a place they weren’t even sure they wanted to go.”

The man walking across the lobby of the New York Edition, surveying his domain, is now 69 years old. He’s the head of a multi-national, multi-million-dollar company, who wafts across the globe and lives in a $20 million house in Southampton, New York. For a man who lost his father and mother when he was 19 and 23 respectively, a man who went to prison and lost his business partner, his particular renaissance seems almost amaranthine.

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