What Is The Difference Between Luxury And Bespoke

“Louis Vuitton has become too ordinary,” a billionaire woman told China Market Research Group. “Everyone has it. You see it in every restaurant in Beijing. I prefer Chanel or Bottega Veneta now. They are more exclusive.”

Gucci is similarly suffering from a reputation problem, while bespoke goods and less-well-known European labels are soaring in popularity amongst affluent buyers.

Exclusivity is the eternal watchword of the luxury goods industry. But in the digital age where information is ubiquitous how can luxury purveyors maintain the aura of being exclusive when their brands are in danger of becoming over exposed?

Bespoke items remain the ultimate luxury good.

The concept of bespoke dates back to the emergence of London’s Savile Row in the eighteenth century as the premier tailoring destination for men’s clothing, including suiting, shirts and shoes, designed for and made specifically to the measurements of each customer.

Over time, the term bespoke has evolved to gain a wider currency that today encapsulates any luxury product or experience that has been specifically tailored to the exact requirements of a customer. It is entirely separate from the over-worked expressions custom or made to measure whose meaning is to make certain adjustments to an existing design or pattern.

Bespoke is the epitome of the luxury experience and therefore inherently the most expensive option available.

Whether it’s a handmade suit from Brioni, a specially commissioned cigar humidor by Elie Bleu or an alligator bag from Bianca Mosca the ultra‐high‐end and bespoke category is a no‐limit segment where all the craziest dreams (and prices) come true.

“The brands bought are actually more important than the level of money earned,” HSBC managing director Erwan Rambourg wrote in his recent book, “The Bling Dynasty: Why the Reign of Chinese Luxury Shoppers Has Only Just Begun.”

Rambourg created a brand pyramid to show how major brands range in accessibility from everyday luxuries to ultra-high-end luxury and bespoke like Hermès and Bianca Mosca.

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What of the future? If it’s a safe bet now that tomorrow’s luxury consumer will seek brands that speak to their unique selves, further down the road, logic says it will go one step further: affluent consumers will demand solutions that can adapt on the fly to precisely the person they want to impress.

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It Makes Scents

Whilst in New York recently I was introduced to the intriguing fragrances developed by Ulrich Lang and Britt Biegelson.

Consisting of a tight range of four niche products they are distributed through a network of exclusive retailers including Barneys and Fortnums as well as online. Lang whose twin passions are photography and perfume started developing his eponymous range about 12 years ago.

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Recently launched Aperture (£125/$200 for 100ml EDP) was inspired by a photograph of a sunset taken by Olivia Bee, a 20-year-old photographer who is something of a sensation, having shot a campaign for Converse trainers when only 14 years old, as well as having worked for Hermès and The New York Times. With Aperture, Lang wanted to create a male fragrance that was “just the right side of dirty” – a tricky thing to bring off and which he does by dint of a large hit of civet and musk. The result is warm and powerful with a strong hint of danger – it is indubitably modern and very, very male.

 

Yamakazi Attack

Hot on the heals of Burn’s Night-the annual feast celebrating the Scots poet, whisky and haggis comes hot news from Japanese interloper Yamakazi, the maker of fine Japanese whisky.

Treacherous though it may seem to a true believer in the virtues of Scottish whisky, malts from Japan are having their moment in the sun.

Suntory’s Yamakazi has announced the imminent arrival of its bespoke Sherry Cask (£200 for 70cl) Limited Edition. The 2013 was awarded the moniker of Sherry of the Year by Jim Murray in his 2015 Whisky Bible so there are high expectations for the latest version which will hit the market next Monday February 1st.

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Yamakazi Chief blender Shinji Fukuyo points out that he “did not blend the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 for the novice”.  The result is an uncompromising, intense and tannic brew with a richness exploding with dried fruits, dark chocolate and spicy notes and a long, sophisticated finish.

There are a total of 5,000 bottles released for the world market so get in quickly with your order.

 

Where To Buy Your Lapsang Souchong

It’s clearly a dilemma but one that I’ve been determined to solve as I have a love affair with the smokey, ethereal flavour and taste of Lapsang Souchong, the fabled tea from China.It’s name is derived from the Mandarin and means literally “sub variety from Lapu Mountain”.

It’s a black tea that came originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. Lapsang is distinct from all varieties of tea because the lapsang leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires that give it its distinctive smoky flavour.

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Smoky teas were first developed in Chongan County in the 17th century. The Chinese smoke their tea in artisanal fashion. After oxidation, Souchong leaves are grilled on a hot iron plate, then arranged on bamboo racks over a fire fuelled by green pine logs that give off their scent. Smoky teas are known for their substantial character

Lapsang from Wuyi is increasingly expensive as it’s a small area and there is an increasing demand for the variety of tea.

But back to my original question. Where best to buy it from? In my view there is only one supplier of tea that I trust to whet my appetite for the very finest and utterly reliably sourced teas: Mariage Frères-the French gourmet tea company based in Paris, France.

Founded by the two eponymous brothers-Henri and Edouard-in 1854 and for over 130 years managed by a succession of Mariage family members this is the High Temple of Tea.

In 1983 the company was transformed from a wholesale importer into a retailer. Now under the leadership of Kitti Cha Sangmanee and Richard Bueno, Mariage Frères opened tea houses in central Paris. The first such tea salon was on the rue du Bourg-Tibourg and opened in the same building that Henri Mariage had as his office over 150 years ago.

Today, the company has  thirty Mariage Frères outlets in France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. There are also 4 Mariage Frères tea salons in Paris.The MF brand is also distributed through resellers in over 60 countries and served in famous hotels in Paris and London.

To my mind there is no substitute for Mariage Frères’ LAPSANG SOUCHONG IMPÉRIAL about which they have this to say:

“The most refined of smoky teas–its long, uniformly handsome leaves are carefully smoked over rare wood in a traditional manner. A rich yet subtle tea for daytime”.

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Never have truer words been spoken. Order some today.

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Why Is The Best Alligator Leather So Expensive?

This is a question I’m often asked and it’s always difficult to give a simple answer. As usual I turn to the expert in these matters, namely Tim de Rosen from Bianca Mosca that makes probably the best alligator bags and accessories in the market.

Selection

The first criterion is selecting appropriate skins from the tannery. This has become extremely challenging of late as the demand for prime grade unblemished skins has soared on demand from the major fashion houses who are increasing the proportion of exotic skins used in their high fashion collections.

In order to counter this problem groups such as LVMH and Hermes have bought their own tanneries in order to “lock in” the best availability of skins.

As a result the prices of larger and perfect skins (i.e. more than 30cm in width) is increasing by 10% a year, piling the pressure on retail prices. Of course it’s possible to buy products made from the skins rejected by the major players but they will never be as appealing or tactile as those made from prime skins.

Dyeing and Processing

This is the most critical aspect of turning the tanned “crust” into a useable skin for making finished items.

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“Skins are solid dyed, before a pigment-based surface treatment is applied to highlight the beauty of the material. Working on skins involves an alchemy that evolves constantly thanks to the innovations introduced by the Manufacture. This total control of production makes it possible to meet requests for customised items” says de Rosen of Bianca Mosca.

Quality control systems involve numerous laboratory tests on products to check their resistance to rubbing, UV rays, pulling and twisting, as well as their hypoallergenic qualities. All of this adds to the expense of producing the best products.

Manufacturing

Making products from alligator is a time consuming and labor intensive activity. It takes many years of specialised training to attain the required levels of proficiency to make even a seemingly simple article such as a credit card holder.

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Constructing alligator leather products is a very different endeavour than making products from cow leather and special tools and routines need to be employed in order to work the skins effectively and to ensure a fine result.

Bag making is altogether a higher art form and requires not just experience but also sensitivity for form and function as each piece is made over many hours entirely by hand from a paper pattern.

In France and Italy where the best workshops are located salaries and social costs are very high adding a large part to the costs of making these high quality products.

Durability and Longevity

There is no material that compares to Louisiana alligator leather. It has strength, durability and resistance to moisture, heat and light whilst also managing to be extraordinary supple and soft to the touch.

Over time alligator matures as it’s used and acquires a unique patina.

With proper care it should last a lifetime helping to underpin the relatively high price paid at the outset.

 

 

 

The Best Spaghetti In The World?

I recently had the good fortune to return for dinner at Il luogo di Aimo e Nadia to give it its full name.

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Founded by the eponymous Aimo and Nadia this small restaurant occupies a renovated building deep in the suburbs of Milan around a twenty minute drive from Piazza Reppublica.

The restaurant, one of only three 2-star Michelin establishments in Milan, has an illustrious 50 year track record and although Aimo and his wife are long retired they visit their premises regularly to check that their exalted culinary standards are being properly maintained.

After a pre-prandial glass of Bollinger 2005 (delicious and on song) we proceeded to sample the Italian gastronomic menu. Whilst not quite at the level of my previous visit ten years ago the food was none the less well prepared and lovingly cooked and served.

The highlights were the sublime (and famous) dish of spaghetti with onion that I still cannot quite believe comprises just-spaghetti and onion (period). As on my previous visit I questioned the Maitre d’ about this and he reaffirmed the seemingly simple recipe invented all those years ago by Aimo. The secret is an extremely slow and long cooking time at a very low temperature allowing the onions to caramelise perfectly.

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The second dish that was a standout this time round was the braised beef cheek, again benefitting from a super slow braise to render a gelatinous and deep flavoured finish.

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Although the other dishes were less memorable the evening was highly enjoyable and the accompanying wines were expertly chosen by the sommelier.

Would I return? Yes-I’m looking forward to my next visit in 10 years time to re-sample that wonderful spaghetti!