SCMP Wednesday, October 11, 2000


The best money can buy

MARK McCORD

So you think you have the best of everything? Those Prada shoes, that Vivienne Tam dress, that Miyaki scent? Are they really the best money can buy? The answer is no. They don't even come close. Not according to the learned arbiter of good taste at the Robb Report, the American publication that is considered the last word on luxury buying. Each year it publishes its "Best Of The Best" list of those quintessential items that any conspicuous consumer just has to have.
For Asian trend-setters, however, this year's list - the 12th compiled by the Robb Report - makes poor reading. Besides one or two minor mentions, no Asian designer, brand or marque gets a look in. For real taste, exquisite taste, you'll have to cross the Pacific to the US or jet to Europe. The Americans, British, Italians and French, it would appear, simply ooze style.
Across 125 categories, the Robb Report panel of editors, staff writers and independent experts judged goods for their "quality of craftsmanship and design, build, durability and reliability, while conveying luxury and sophistication in taste and style".
"While form does not preclude function in making our selections, those services or persons selected as the 'Best Of The Best' reflect the finest in quality and professionalism within their specific field," says Daniel Phillips, CEO of Luxury Media Corporation, which publishes the report. For most of us, this is one catalogue that will only be read, and not bought from. But for those who use it as their style guide, get your wallet out: this is not your average shopping list.
First up, in the menswear department, the report tells us that the designer all dapper chaps should go for is Jil Sander, the German who has been creating clothing for men since 1973. "Her always imaginative, technically innovative and deceptively simple clothing is not only structural and precise, but also flawlessly constructed of the finest fabrics," the report says. A cashmere sweater will cost at least US$900 (about HK$7,000).
When going casual, there is only one brand to wear, the Italian label Brioni. Why? "Brioni tailors weave a collection of solid-coloured and fancy knitwear, multi-purpose sport shirts, and easy-care outerwear, including a four-in-one reversible leather-to-cashmere jacket that is as versatile as it is opulent." The cost? A basic polo shirt will set you back US$750.
During wet weather, the man about town should keep the rain off his immaculate off-the-peg American-made Oxford suit (prices start at around US$3,000) with an Allegri of Rome raincoat, which will cost up to US$900. Only an American-made Kiton tie (US$170) will finish the look and shirt cuffs will be linked with monogrammed gold cufflinks from London's Asprey & Garrard (US$1,300).
If you are tailing off your look with ready-made shoes, then Hermes is where you should be shopping. A pair of leather loafers will cost US$640. For hand-made footwear, double the price and visit bespoke cobbler Cleverley in London or Glasgow, who has been hand-making no more than 500 pairs of shoes a year since the early 1960s.
The elegant woman around town would not be seen dead in anything but a Geoffrey Beene creation. Beene impressed the judges with his collections that are "unique, emphasising colour and eye-catching new silhouettes that streamline the female form". A cocktail dress will set you back anything up to US$10,000.
Only a fur can top off something like that, and Oscar de la Renta's minks do that perfectly - so long as you have the US$15,000 to buy one, that is. Then in the evenings, elegant women should slip into one of de la Renta's gowns. In this year's autumn collection the so-called "Matron of Madison Avenue" has included a range of spangly numbers that cost at least US$14,000.
The look will be completed with Caovilla evening shoes (prices for custom-made shoes start at around US$500) and a fur or leather Fendi Baguette bag (US$8,000).
Beneath it all, only La Perla underwear can provide the look and comfort needed for today's tasteful lady - at around US$200 for a bra. To add sparkle, consider nobody but designer Henry Dunay. His brooches especially caught the eye of the Robb Report panel. The prices, at US$67,000 for a Japanese lady motif, will catch yours. Patek Philippe's US$8,500 Calatrava wristwatch is the timepiece of choice.
Looking good at play is as important as cutting a dash in the office or turning heads at the ball. To achieve this the Robb Report gives a few suggestions. When sailing, go in style in a Feadship yacht. The boat's craftsmen, says the report, "spend decades as apprentices; the resulting expertise creates interior finishes that are some of the best in the business". If fitted out by the report's preferred interior designer, Dutchman Pieter Beeldsnijder - who has kitted out launches for Netscape boss Jim Clark among others - a 45-metre yacht should set you back no more than US$24 million. A snip.
If you are sailing to the golf course, you'll be wearing a Luciano Barbera cashmere sweater (US$500). Its rich colours will set you apart on the course, preferably at the US$1,000 a round Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, as you drive off with your Callaway Big Bertha Steelhead woods (US$300 each) and play into the green with your Japanese-made Mizuno T-Zoid irons (US$800 each).
Maybe golf isn't your game and you prefer a spot of tennis. For US$1,200 a night you can stay at the plush Rancho Valencia Resort in southern California. There, the professionals will be impressed that you are wielding the ultimate in tennis accessories, the US$200 Head Ti.S4 racquet. Alternatively, you could travel to Palm Springs and indulge in a chukka or two of polo. So long as you have a horse - and can ride it - you can play all season at the club for US$10,500. Stable fees will set you back another US$4,500 per season. If you just want to watch, a box can be hired at US$4,000 per person per season.
When summer has passed and you are still yearning for a bit of outdoor excitement, then you just have to get on the piste. That means forking out US$500 a night to stay and ski at Blue Sky Basin, the newly opened run at Vail in Colorado. If that isn't challenging enough, try Courcheval in France, where the Trois Valles resorts have slopes 315 times the size of Vail's and slightly cheaper accommodation; about US$300 a night at the Arol Chalet. Of course, wherever you go, you'll be taking your Salomon X-Scream Series skis, which retail at US$780.
Hunting is still a favourite pastime of the well-heeled and big game is the most exciting of all. The Robb Report rates Tanzania-based Scandrol & Swanepoel Safaris (US$600 per day) as the best Africa has to offer. Among his arsenal of weapons, no well-to-do huntsman would be without his Ivo Fabbri shotgun, ideal for winged game, and a bargain at US$72,000.
While away, only the best hotels will do, and of those the report recommends you stay at the recently refurbished Four Seasons George V in Paris. Its rooms are fully booked for the next year, but should one become free, a basic room costs around US$600 per night. When in London try the highest rated boutique hotel in the world, the US$790 per night suites at One Aldwych, near Covent Garden. Should you want to get away from the city, then a suite in the Twin Farms country retreat in Vermont, in the US, can be yours for US$2,500 for a two-night stay. For a beach holiday, the Philippines is the place. The Amanpulo in Palawan is considered the best luxury resort. Its beachside huts go for US$4,000 per couple for five nights.
What to do in the evening is never a problem if you have the money, and the Robb Report. You can, for instance, lose your savings at the best casino in the world, Las Vegas' Bellagio (Macau's tacky Casino Lisboa came a surprising third in this category). For eats, try the best chef of the year, Thomas Keller, who will cook you up a treat at his Napa Valley, California, restaurant The French Laundry. A meal for two with wine costs a little over US$250. The best restaurant, and with similar prices, is Al Sorisso in Milan.
Getting around needn't be a worry for the Robb Report-armed traveller. He'll know that for around US$6,000 Virgin Atlantic will provide a bed and masseuse in its Upper Class cabin on flights between London and New York. Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific is rated as having the best airline club lounge - The Wing at the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. The report calls it a "peaceful oasis away from the hectic airport terminal building . . . a traveller's dream". Of course, should flying with the general public prove too ghastly, you could always invest US$45 million in a private Boeing Business Jet, which has the range to carry you and a small team of executives from Los Angeles to London. It has two bedrooms, two baths, a cocktail area and a dining room. For shorter hops, a considerably cheaper option - at US$7 million - is the EC 155B Eurocopter, which will still carry you and another 13 people almost 800 kilometres.
The Robb Report-savvy gent won't need to travel however, as he'll have the finest home on the planet. His garage will be full of luxury cars, such as a Rolls-Royce Corniche (US$360,000), a Bentley Arnage Red Label (US$200,000) and maybe even an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage (US$140,000 to US$350,000, depending on age). There should also be room for the now-essential sports utility, in this case a US$50,000 BMW X5 4.4I. The flightier Robb Report observer will also keep a BMW K1200LT touring bike (US$18,000) and a Harley-Davidson FXSTD Softail Deuce cruising bike.
Inside, the home will be an opulent palace filled with the chubby bronze caricatures created by Colombia's Fernando Botero. He isn't the most prolific of collectible artists, but a bronze horse sculpture of his is available at the James Goodman Gallery in Manhattan for US$150,000.
Your interior will be designed by Frenchman Jacques Grange who from his base in the US has designed the homes of the rich and famous, such as the Manhattan pad of Estee Lauder heir Aerin Lauder. The furniture will be of the commissioned variety only, and will be made by Queen Elizabeth's nephew, Viscount Linley. His prices depend on the size of your commission, but as a guide, a ready-to-buy small lamp stand will cost you US$700. In the kitchen, there will be in the order of two metres of cooking surfaces, all provided by La Cornue, whose ranges cost around US$30,000. The bathroom will be flitted out with a Jacuzzi Affinity Entertainment Bath, which boasts 11 water jets, 60 air injectors, a CD player and a TV and costs around US$10,000 to have installed.
The living room is where the trim yet powerful CD player, the LinnSondek CD12 can be found (US$20,000), next to the last word in DVD technology, the US$6,000 Proceed PMDT DVD Transport. When it comes to big-screen TVs, there are none better, according to the report, than Sony's Wega XBR line with FD Trinitron picture tube (US$8,000). Of all the gadgetry, the VCR is probably the oldest in the home, and the trusty old Sony SLV-R1000 - a steal at just US$200 - does the trick perfectly.
Business at home is no problem, either, because the US$2,699 Sony PCV-L630 desktop computer can do it all for you. For a similar price, so will IBM's ThinkPad 570 laptop. And no business hot shot is worth his salt without the Motorola Timeport P8167 (US$299), a digital wireless phone with Internet capabilities.
Spending so much money and actually utilising all your ostentatious purchases can be tiring. So bring the day to an end with a wee dram of the finest whisky, Macallan's Gran Reserva, an 18-year-old single malt (US$160 a bottle), or even a glass of red wine, preferably a Joseph Phelps Vineyards' cabernet Insignia (US$120 a bottle).
Bed will then beckon, and sleep may fill your head with the dreams of next year's "Best Of The Best" Robb Report, when you'll have to go out and start all over again.
To read the entire report online visit