The business model proves how important close bonds are to achieving success

The business model proves how important close bonds are to achieving success

For family-run objet d’art purveyor and producer Lotus Arts de Vivre, it is all about relationships – and not just within the family. YUEN LIN KOH catches up with the von Buerens

Their sprawling family home, hidden in the high-rise jungle of Sukhumvit 23 district of Bangkok, has for decades been a sanctuary for travellers from near and far. Rolf von Bueren, now 73, a prominent industrialist who arrived in Thailand from Germany in 1962, and his wife Helen – also of the same age and of Thai and Scottish parentage, are the hospitable couple who lavished dinners and parties on friends visiting Thailand from around the world. Witnessing and interacting with a cosmopolitan mix of guests passing through their doors as young children, elder son Sri and younger son Niklas von Bueren – the second generation of the family – perhaps understand better than anyone else that the world, huge with different and divergent cultures, can also be very small.

After all, the von Buerens were as cosmopolitan as it gets for a family living in Thailand during the sixties. Despite being seen as foreigners, given their European blood, they embraced traditional Thai culture with fervent passion. Their home, sitting on grounds purchased by Helen’s family close to a century ago, is a vision of classicism. Nine hardwood houses with soaring peaked roofs and generous wooden decks rise from the verdant 1.5 acre plot, and are connected by a maze of wood and stone paths meandering across a garden lush with tropical flora. When locals were looking to shed that heritage while they were moving forward with times, Rolf embraced it as someone enthralled with this new culture he was experiencing. The Catholic later even converted to Buddhism. His passion for Thai culture – which is passed on to his children and distinctly showcased in Lotus Arts de Vivre pieces – makes the von Buerens perfect ambassadors of the graces of the Thai culture. Yet at the same time, they are also familiar with the fashions and aesthetics of the European culture.

Sri and Niklas’ cosmopolitan views and tastes were also nurtured through their many journeys around the region. “We were always travelling to Indonesia, India and other destinations all around the Asian region even before they were fashionable,” recalls Niklas, now 41 years of age. “Father of course, was the disciplinarian. But the most valuable thing he taught us was curiosity. He has a curious mind and is always interested in art and culture, and would constantly be making us learn and enjoy other cultures, be it trying new things, eating new foods, visiting temples… All that learning was quite boring when we were young, you know, but today we know that this curiosity is the root of all of Lotus Arts de Vivre’s new developments.”

This galuchat (stingray leather) elephant stool has a touch of silver sterling to make it shine

This galuchat (stingray leather) elephant stool has a touch of silver sterling to make it shine

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Lotus Arts de Vivre – though with a history of just 30 years – is one of the most revered names in the niche jewellery business of producing one-off pieces. In fact, it is one of the largest producers of single-piece jewellery in the world. Their statement pieces, adorned by members of high society and royalty alike stretching from Palm Beach and New York to London and Cannes to Beijing and back to Bangkok, are sought after worldwide. Elizabeth Taylor, Gore Vidal and even Gianni Versace are just some personalities who have fallen under its spell.

Each unique piece is inspired by nature and crafted from a fantastical combination of wonderous materials – from humble coconut shell to innovations of gold-fused glass, from sparkling diamonds, rubies and emeralds to iridescent scarab wings. Sumptuously textured, riotously colourful, outrageously glamorous and exquisitely graceful, they are pieces not to be carelessly worn by all and sundry. With the pieces from Lotus Arts de Vivre, you have to carry it with all your personality, lest it outshines you.

They are also producers of fantastical homeware – ranging from gold-leaf and lacquer-lined ostrich egg containers and black onyx and silver toothpick holders in the form of a miniature porcupine, to stools clad in stingray skin and a magnificent mahogany eagle that took 17 artisans and more than a year to carve and cast with 99 pounds of sterling silver.

For all its sophistication, Lotus Arts de Vivre has amateurish beginnings. It was set up as a mother’s way of keeping herself busy when her children had left the country to study abroad. Though of course, the von Buerens didn’t just set up a shop at any place; they placed themselves strategically at what is now the Four Seasons Bangkok. It was 1983 and the hotel, then the Bangkok Peninsula, was the place for anybody who is anybody to see and be seen. “My father encouraged my mother to start the first shop through selling pieces that have been purveyed and collected through their travels. But my mother is not a businesswoman – if anything, she didn’t want to carry on with this!” reveals Niklas.

Abalone Shell Bowl - The sterling silver grasshopper features onyx stones for eyes

Abalone Shell Bowl – The sterling silver grasshopper features onyx stones for eyes

Even though he and his brother were sent to boarding school in the United Kingdom when they were about 10-years-old, it is clear that unbreakable bonds with the family have been fostered even in their tender ages. Without the slightest bit of pressure from their parents, both Sri and Niklas eventually joined the company, in their own time. Sri, now 45, went on to study gold and silversmithing after his studies in the United Kingdom. “It was after I returned that we started our own jewellery workship; it then slowly morphed into a retail business. It was really run very much as a hobby until about 10 years ago, but a lot of the philosophy still stands, in that it is inspired by travel around the region, by places such as China, India, Japan, Indonesia and of course, Thailand.”

Niklas himself went to business school and entered the banking industry upon graduation. Spending four years in the finance industry, he saw the family operation very differently. Where others saw exoticism, he saw Unique Selling Points. Joining the company in 1998, after the economic crisis, he made it his mission to market the brand globally in a time when Asian aesthetics were not widely appreciated.

Together, the brothers injected new vigour into the company and created a brand – a name known today for its inimitable style that applies delicate, time-honed traditional craftsmanship to bold, innovative designs from a distinctly young spirit.

Through exhibitions, events, dinners – each month sees an average of two events, one held in Bangkok and another internationally – and naturally, their personal connections, the von Buerens keep their global audience enthralled with their unique sense of style. It’s a work that sends the entire family to different parts of the world: as Niklas speaks to us from their home office in Bangkok, Sri is at Mozaic Beach Club, one of the two boutiques in Bali where their pieces are sold – and attending Jeremy Irons’ Indonesian screening of his environmental documentary, “Trashed”. In the meantime, Rolf and Helen are in Europe talking to a carpet purveyor for their other retail business, Theatre of Indulgence, before moving off to London for an exhibition with Couture Lab, an impossibly chic retailer of exquisite luxuries, founded by Carmen Busquets, previously a major investor and board member of Net-à-Porter.

Dragon Ring - A key symbol of Chinese mythology, this dragon features diamonds, citrine and pink tourmaline

Dragon Ring – A key symbol of Chinese mythology, this dragon features diamonds, citrine and pink tourmaline

But their work is not just about spreading the word. It is really all about the pieces they produce. “Over the last 30 years, we have probably created some 10,000 pieces,” shares Niklas. “We are in the midst of doing a large format coffee table book, and in the process have spoken about our favourite pieces – as it turns out, some of the pieces dearest to each of us are custom orders for our clients. These pieces are special to us because there is a sentimental story behind each commission, and each piece holds a profound meaning for them. To us, the profound meaning comes from the fact that these people have entrusted us to create this for them.

“Our pieces are predominantly one-offs, 50 to us is a big number. Each piece – even those that are not bespoke – has a story behind it.”

And it’s not just a story of the wearer that it tells. Working with Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s SUPPORT Foundation, Lotus Arts de Vivre collaborates with silk embroiderers of Thailand. The von Buerens family also takes years to cultivate relationships with master craftsmen such as a Chinese cinnabar lacquer artist based in a place five hours outside of Beijing; maki-e painters in Noto, Japan; and even Indonesian ivory carvers, now preserving their skills through carving coconut shells. Each meticulously crafted piece is a many-fold story of traditional craftsmen from Asia, each lending his unique touch to the piece, and in turn, leaving a little piece of his own story in it.

Each piece also tells very much a story of the von Buerens – their taste for Old World charms, their rich globetrotting life, their all-embracing spirit, their sense of wonderment. Their principle of being true to themselves extends to beyond the immediate family, now expanded with Niklas and Sri becoming fathers themselves. This is because every patron, every craftsman and everyone from the team of over 200 is considered family. Niklas for one is quick to declare that theirs is not a closed operation limited by blood ties – kindred spirits who hold the same values are also welcome to join them in Lotus Arts de Vivre’s journey into the future.

“It is the network that we created over the 30 years which has opened us to business opportunities – it’s an interesting way to move forward. We never really plan to go into something, we just naturally go into it because our customers were looking for these services or products.”

And perhaps therein lies the beauty of keeping things in the family. The brand isn’t developed – it is nurtured; the company isn’t developed, it grows organically. Certainly there are challenges to working with family members – even staying under the same roof can be a trial for some of us – but for the von Buerens, the pros outweigh the cons. “And it allows me to spend more time with my kids!” beams the usually-stern Niklas. And that alone, for anybody who understands the joy of a family, is priceless.

Reading time: 8 min

London Fashion Week is an increasingly unmissable item on the global style calendar. With the help of Tom Ford and friends, DARIUS SANAI celebrates its unstoppable rise

For decades, it was a curious anomaly. London, the creative hub of the globe, the capital of the country that gave the world Alexander McQueen, Dizzee Rascal, The Clash, Damien Hirst, Jonathan Ive, Michael Caine, Vivienne Westwood, Anna Wintour, The Beatles, Corinne Day and Jessie J, had no fashion industry to speak of.

There were plenty of brilliant designers – who, like McQueen, were snapped up by big houses from Paris or Milan or New York, because that’s where the industry and the money was, and where the shows were. London was somewhere you went when the fashion shows were over.

Wander through the shows and the parties at London Fashion Week this February and you would be forgiven for wondering if London, not Paris or Milan, is now the engine of the global fashion industry. The shows – scattered around the centre of a city so bursting with creativity that Fashion Week is always just one of lots of things going on simultaneously – have an energy, panache and confidence that looks sharply to the future. Parties are not just attended by the requisite beautiful, glamorous and wealthy, and the nowmandatory celebs (from A to G list, depending on the party) but by aneverrotating phalanx of creative types who make their own fashion, sometimes literally. London has the buzz: Paris, immediately afterwards last September, felt a little sedate by comparison.

The numbers don’t lie and despite the tide of brands showing in London, Paris and Milan are still the fashion industry powerhouses: London is still dwarfed in terms of its commercial clout. But for creative buzz allied with a rising commercial significance, London, once ignored, is now a destination.

What catalysed the change? Alexandra Shulman, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue in the UK, tells me, “London Fashion Week is an example of how successful something can become when you can combine great talent with first rate organisation and support. British designers are currently playing a major part in the international fashion world and the collections they are showing are both inspiring and successful on a commercial level.”

Meanwhile Tom Ford, the thinking man’s style guru, and a designer who made significant waves when he decided to show in London, says, “I am so happy to be showing my menswear and womenswear collections in London. It is one of the most influential cities in the world for fashion. The design schools are exceptional, and the street style and youth culture have started some of the most important global trends ever. My design studio is based in the UK and I am pleased to help support the British fashion industry.”

But you don’t need to take their word for it: just wear it instead. London doesn’t have a constricting style; Erdem, Simone Rocha, Nicholas Kirkwood, Burberry or Tom Ford? All of them? Or get a ticket to a show or a party: at the last LFW in September, I bumped into Erin O’Connor, Poppy Delevingne, Roland Mouret, Antonio Berardi and Philip Treacy at the Claridge’s ‘preparty’, amid a buzz of anticipation rarely seen anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile at the Browns Focus party the next day, where the high-octane mood was fuelled by high-octane tequila cocktails, the guests were not famous, just brilliantly and creatively put together, a perfect walking, dancing uber-street-style Instagram. A hop and a skip away at Longchamp’s dazzling opening party, Kate Moss, Georgia May Jagger, Lily Cole, Mick Jagger and Otis Ferry created a kind of pop-up Studio 54 on Regent Street.

London has always known how to party. Now, everyone’s paying attention.

Reading time: 3 min
Christa Dichgans - Peru, Lithograph

Christa Dichgans – Peru, Lithograph

Art is becoming a luxury good for the elite: but if it does so, it will die. R.J. MALONE takes the view that we need more ventures like the House of Fairy Tales, aimed at redressing the balance

Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk

Art is expensive these days. And that’s a problem if you’re young, or not one of the global hyper-wealthy, or both. Cue a tide of initiatives by philanthropists, collectors, and sometimes artists themselves, aimed at getting art to a wider audience.

But what about participating, rather than just appreciating? Few do it better than the London-based House of Fairy Tales, which has the active backing of blue-chip names like Gavin Turk, one of the enfants terribles of the Britart movement, Sir Peter Blake, and Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of 1990s cult arthouse band Pulp, among many others.

Based in a part of East London that was once ‘gritty’ and is now ‘edgy’, House of Fairy Tales, run by Turk and his wife Deborah Curtis, uses the money it raises by selling fabulous artworks to fund activities from circuses to workshops.

Turk tells LUX, “Working with the House of Fairy Tales gets me collaborating with ‘young unknowns’ from an array of different backgrounds in many diverse ways; I’m able to share my experiences and at the same time learn a lot about myself. I’ve travelled all over the country from Shakespeare’s Theatre in Stratford to Newlyn Art Gallery in Cornwall via numerous festivals including Glastonbury and Edinburgh. In the future, I’m looking forward to seeing the Art Circus in Canning Town and working on influencing various public housing and social developments.”

Cornelia Parker, one of Europe’s leading sculptors and another key figure in House of Fairy Tales, tells us, “Since I have had my daughter, I realise how important it is to invest in the future of her generation’s creativity. Cultural capital, after all, is our biggest export.”

While Cocker, of ‘Let’s All Meet Up in the Year 2000’ fame, says simply, “The House Of Fairy Tales is the most magical place. I wish I had been able to go there when I was a lad.”

Perhaps the last word should go to Matthew Slotover, co-founder and director of the Frieze Art Fair, who has done more than anyone to raise the profile of contemporary art while simultaneously maintaining its credibility. Taking a break after the latest Frieze, Matthew tells us, “The House of Fairy Tales is an extraordinary project. It engages young people in the arts with a level of imagination that could only have come from artists. It is truly exceptional and I fully endorse their work.”

Stephen Walter - A Night on the Isle of Everyday Nightmares, Lithograph

Stephen Walter – A Night on the Isle of Everyday Nightmares, Lithograph

Nigel Peake - The Night the Wanderer was Misled, Lithograph

Nigel Peake – The Night the Wanderer was Misled, Lithograph

Susan Stockwell - Red Road Butterfly, Screenprint

Susan Stockwell – Red Road Butterfly, Screenprint

Heidi Whitman - Tink’s Night, Lithograph

Heidi Whitman – Tink’s Night, Lithograph

Josh Knowles - (Sketch for) Industrial Dream Mandala, Lithograph with hand finish

Josh Knowles – (Sketch for) Industrial Dream Mandala, Lithograph with hand finish

Andrew Rae - Map of the Inner World, Lithograph

Andrew Rae – Map of the Inner World, Lithograph

Reading time: 2 min

While Hollywood stagnates, Bollywood is thriving. CAROLINE DAVIES charts the exciting progression of an Indian film industry that is going global

In India, cinema is more than just weekend entertainment. Producing roughly 1,000 films a year, the industry is projected to be worth US$4.5 billion by 2016. Its stars are filtering into LA; Amitabh Bachchan appeared in The Great Gatsby, Irrfan Khan as the baddie in The Amazing Spider-Man and Priyanka Chopra, or rather her voice, appeared in Disney animation Planes. Other names and faces are also seeping into the international consciousness: Aamir Khan, Anil Kapoor, Freida Pinto and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan are but a few. Hollywood may still have the lion’s share of the global film market, but Indian film makers are snapping at their heels. Slumdog Millionaire, Laagan and most recently, Three Idiots, the highest grossing Bollywood film to date, drew big audiences at home and abroad, and with it, new international investors.

But Bollywood is more than a business. It has, after all, been bringing a sub-continent together for decades. Its all-singing, all-dancing and mostly Hindi language films captivate billions, watched everywhere from rural village screens erected on cricket pitches to massive urban cinemas crammed with city workers on a Friday night – not to mention among expatriates the world over. In India, the songs are hummed in fruit markets and blasted out in nightclubs.

Bollywood is taking risks. The stars, the structure, the stories and even the songs are starting to stray from the tried and tested formula of the past. This is a brave new India and it is demanding more.

“Eight or 10 years ago we thought that cinemas would close down,” says Rakesh Roshan, a Bollywood actor, director and producer. “They were very bad; the sound system, the seating, the toilets.”

“The upper middle class had stopped going to the cinema. They watched films on DVD,” says director and composer Vishal Bhardwaj. “Until the multiplexes arrived.”

India’s huge economic growth over the past decade has nurtured the middle and upper middle classes, predominantly based in the major cities. In the early 2000s, multiplex cinemas sprang up in the urban hubs of India. Unlike the pre-existing single screen cinema audiences, the new, airconditioned, well-maintained complexes offered multiple smaller screens.

“Previously, if you couldn’t make a film that filled a hall of 1,000, then it wouldn’t get made,” says writer and director Sriram Raghavan. “But multiplex screens have 200 seats. People will come and fill that.”

The audience packing out these smaller screens does not necessarily have the same taste as the masses in the halls.

“I think cinema audiences have matured,” says Vikas Gulati, a film and music director. “They are looking at films with a little more meaning. They have seen international ideas and storylines.”

But director and producer, Rohan Sippy begs to differ. “I think that audience was always there. They were always open to good content,” he says. “But still, certain types of film are still not going to have more than a 30 million audience, which is pretty small when you consider the population density.”

Thirty million may be a small percentage, but it is still a sizable demographic. Targeting different audiences has given film makers a new freedom to experiment.

“Indian cinema used to be split into commercial and art house,” says Bhardwaj. “Art house was dying, almost dead. Before, being ‘art house cinema’ meant that no one would watch your film. Since then the line has been blurred.”

As concepts have developed, songs have been squeezed. “Every film used to have eight songs,” says Roshan. “Then it came down to six, then five, now three. Now you have songs playing in the background without lip sync. Now people have less time so we have to make shorter films.”

“Songs used to be patches in the narrative,” says Bhardwaj. “Seventeen years back, if the song was not good, people used to go out and smoke. That doesn’t happen now, because directors are trying to incorporate it in the narrative.”

A new generation might also not have as much need for a musical interlude to help the story along. “In Hollywood, they express love by having an intimate scene,” says Roshan. “Because of the sensitivities, we used to have a song. All that can be explained in Hollywood in 30 seconds, we have to show in five minutes. Now the censors are becoming more liberal and we can convey it in a shorter way too.”

But songs are in no danger of disappearing altogether. “When they are badly done, they are a detour,” says Dr Rajinder Dudrah, Bollywood academic and Head of Drama at Manchester University. “But Bollywood song and dance sequences are crucial. When done well they act as narrative accelerators. If you cut out a particular song you would miss a crucial element of the plot.”

“It is the way the audience has been conditioned for more than 100 years,” says Bhardwaj. “There is a song for every occasion in our life and every region has their own in a different language. Marriage, coming of age, death; when we laugh we sing, when we cry we sing, so it becomes a part of our culture.”

It is also a part of the commercial culture. “Songs in Bollywood music are a very big promotional tool,” says Gulati. “It gives you free play on music channels. From the producer’s point of view it makes a lot of sense, because you play a video for three minutes for free rather than for a 30-second advert.”

“I think that the need for songs in Bollywood films is slightly a self-fulfilling prophesy,” says Sippy. “Conventional wisdom says you need a song and the films don’t get made or promoted without, therefore you don’t know how to do without the song. It seems unlikely to completely change; music is still a big reason why people come into movies.”

Storytelling has also changed. “Previously when you were writing a film that you wanted to do well across India, you wouldn’t root it in one city,” says Raghavan. “We often wouldn’t have surnames so you couldn’t tell which part of India they were from. That is changing. Last year there was a film set entirely in Calcutta which used local language and actors. Rootedness is being accepted.”

Not all stories were easy to introduce to India. While casting his Bollywood version of Macbeth – Maqbool – Bhardwaj approached a big Bollywood star. “He read the script and said he enjoyed it,” he says. “But then said ‘he is a loser’. I laughed and told him ‘that’s Shakespeare’s fault not mine’. He couldn’t get what I was trying to do.”

Some contend that the stories themselves are not that new. “It is more the treatment, not so much the story that has changed,” says Sippy. “Maybe some ways of storytelling have changed.”

The huge success of the 2012 film Vicky Donor, a romantic comedy about a sperm donor, was seen by some as a sign of India’s growing acceptance of new lifestyles. “Ideas are global,” says Kishore Lulla, Executive Chairman of the film studio Eros International that created the film. “There is no such thing as ‘just for Bollywood’. It depends how you package it. We are in talks with an American studio who would like to remake Vicky Donor in the US.”

Hollywood may be borrowing from Bollywood, but it is a symbiotic relationship. “From 1997 to 1998, India begun to be liberalised,” says Dudrah. “The government opened the borders and allowed foreign investment. The opening up led to Bollywood partnering up. There were new forms of business and filmmaking opportunities.”

Eros are also due to partner with HBO to create a Bollywood-based version of Entourage, the popular US TV series following a Hollywood film star and his friends. Scripts are not the only thing India has adapted and adopted from the States. Studios, rather than individual producers, are now funding the projects.

“Bollywood today is where Hollywood was in ’40s and ’50s,” says Lulla. “Studios have the financial muscle and distribution. What Hollywood achieved in 50 years, Bollywood will do in 10.”

“The corporates mean that the industry has become more organised,” says Bhardwaj. “When it was just independent producers, it was a mess.”

While Hollywood studios are now notorious for pushing re-runs and re-makes, Indian studios seem to be more open-minded, able to spread the risk.

“Many smaller films with young actors are being made because the corporates support it,” says Roshan. “It is easier now that the corporates have come. The new directors, writers, actors get breaks and a chance to work.

“On the flipside it has become so easy that people are not working hard. That’s why you see short films that come around for a few weeks then disappear. If I’m putting my own money in the film, I will see to it that I get my returns back. But if I am making a film for someone else then I don’t have that pain. I just think ‘let’s do it, we’ll see what luck has got’.”

While the West is playing it safe, Bollywood is testing its boundaries.

With thanks to Eros, Reliance, Sobo Films and Media and Entertainment at The Confederation of Indian Industry

Reading time: 7 min

It’s the combination of history, hospitality and a superb location in the heart of South Kensington that makes Cranley Hotel the ideal home away from home in London. Explore the neighbourhood with ANDREA SEIFERT

There are few hotels that make you feel instantly at home from the moment you set foot through the door, but The Cranley is one such place. Tucked away on Bina Gardens, a quiet side street in elegant, historic South Kensington, it is an intimate hotel more akin to a friend’s grand home. It is perfectly placed for exploring the myriad of charming shops, legendary auction houses and world-class museums that the area has to offer.

Distinctly British, with the nostalgia of yesteryear evident in the classic fit-out of antiques, grand oil paintings and gilded mirrors, The Cranley is comprised of three intimate Victorian townhouses that date back to 1869.

Each of the 39 well-appointed bedrooms is comfortable. The focal point of mine? A Beaudesert four poster canopied bed with handstitched Irish linen – certainly a decadent cocoon to slip into at night. Modern amenities are not forgotten – a contemporary limestone bathroom houses Penhaligon’s toiletries and all rooms boast LCD flat screens and complimentary WiFi.

The inviting sitting room with its Regency blue palette is a relaxed setting to indulge in the champagne and canapés that the hotel serves each evening. During winter, sink into an armchair and enjoy the roaring fire. The terrace is heated, but I had the luxury of languorous mornings in the sunshine with numerous cups of tea and freshly baked pastries.

The Cranley is well-served by Gloucester Road station just a few blocks away, and the shopping areas of Knightsbridge and Kings Road are also close by. But for those who would like to really feel like a local resident, the staff can let you in on the gems that are but a few steps away.

You really don’t have to venture far to enjoy the riches of London; you’ll find a vibrant neighbourhood teeming with things to do, right on your doorstep. Read on to explore some of the highlights

Holistic Healing

london1I try to maintain a consistent yoga practice whilst on the road, and a brisk eight-minute walk to a dear little leafy mews off Old Brompton Road brought me to Evolve Wellness Centre. A vine-clad façade opens up into a tranquil haven from the busy London streets. Evolve offers not only superlative walk-in yoga classes and Pilates instruction, but also integrative holistic medical therapies. Acupuncture, massage, craniosacral therapy and osteopathy by well-regarded practitioners are heaven-sent for weary travellers.

Science and Nature

Take in nature’s wonders at this impressive free museum: there are over 70 million specimens to view from botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The Diplodocus dinosaur model and colossal 1,300-year-old sequoia tree are worth the visit alone, but one should also explore The Vault, home to extraordinary treasures, gemstones and meteorites. helpful


© Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Motoring Marvels


Car buffs will enjoy a visit to this fine showroom, exhibiting vintage racers and roadsters. Established in 1963, Hexagon has a storied 50-year history in car dealership, having traded just about every type of fine motor. They also deal in historic racecars and truly exotic models such as the Aston Martin DB4 Zagato, DB3S Coupé and the Ogle-designed Aston Martin DBS V8. Hexagon can source rare models, restore them and ship internationally.

Pastry Perfection


Frédéric Vaucamps’ London outpost of this decadent homage to the meringue is a veritable parlour of sugary sin. His creations come in six flavours and three sizes, beautifully displayed underneath a gleaming counter. The eponymously named Merveilleux consists of a marvelously more-ish meringue base, encapsulated in lightas– air chocolate whipped cream and hand-rolled in shavings of dark chocolate. Enjoy your treats alongside a cup of coffee or tea. So simple and yet so divine.

Menswear Chic

Peter Sidell is the owner of this luxury multilabel menswear boutique. He has an exacting eye for selecting edgy threads, and this is a good thing for the fashion-forward gentleman customer. Expect heavy weights like Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent Paris and Lanvin alongside cult labels Carol Christian Poell, LGB, The Label Under Construction, Lost and Found, Lumen et Umbra and many others. They also carry a selection of accessories, shoes and books, and a small women’s range.

Upscale Indian

Feast like a Maharaja at this world-renowned Indian stalwart. The family-owned restaurant has been going strong since 1954, attracting a loyal following of locals and visitors alike who come for their favourite dishes from all around India. Light and crispy poppadums, tangy chutneys, fiery curries and sizzling tandooris are on the menu alongside a good wine list. The ambience is cosy with an Italian-style frescoed ceiling complementing an otherwise simple décor in slate grey and earthy, muted beige.

Brit Bites


The rustic environs of Bumpkin channel country-chic, with the open-plan kitchen adding a convivial and relaxed atmosphere to the Brit-centric eatery. Their seasonal menus use only the freshest of UK produce sourced directly from farmers to ensure sustainability and quality. Enjoy quintessentially British dishes like lightly spiced cured Highland venison with beetroot relish and foraged leaves, british beef pie, award winning English cheeses and sticky toffee pudding. Beverages are similarly patriotic – try Bumpkin’s house ale brewed in Kent.

Rollicking Reads


With the advent of the digital age, bookshops large and small have been under pressure. That makes a place like the Slightly Foxed bookstore even more special. Luckily there are enough bibliophiles that agree. What could be better than browsing the shelves of antiquarian, out-of-print and secondhand tomes for hours on end? There is also a curated selection of new reads, and “The Sly Fox”, their resident bookworm and literary advisor is available to answer all your bookish questions. Email him at [email protected].

Arty Endeavours


Founded in 1766 by James Christie, the world renowned private sales and auction house has enjoyed an illustrious reputation for dealing in all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewellery, photographs, collectibles and wine. Over 450 auctions in more than 80 categories are held here annually. Prices range from a prosaic $200 to a cool $100 million. Don’t let that put you off though. Browse the lovely South Kensington showroom for a slice of history and you just might see a thing or two you’d like to bid on…

Lounge Lover


This mainstay of the South Kensington bar scene is not the newest kid on the block – far from it – but it has maintained its reputation as a happening spot. The bijou, dimly lit art deco setting is perfect for pre- or post-dinner sips from a stellar cocktail list. Later, adjourn to their subterranean club for a gander on the dance floor. It also happens to be right opposite The Cranleyvery handy for stumbling home.

Reading time: 5 min
Mother and Daughter Olivia (left) and Andrée shared similar design sensibilities

Mother and Daughter Olivia (left) and Andrée shared similar design sensibilities

Head to central Paris and you might just catch a glimpse of Olivia Putman. CAROLINE DAVIES speaks to the designer who left her partying past behind her and became a highly respected interiors guru

“I was very wild,” Putman says. We are sitting in the French designer’s apartment and show studio overlooking Place de la Madeleine, the thrum of traffic muffled to a distant hum by the heavy cream drapes and no doubt rocket proof window. In here, amongst the elegant, clean-cut furniture, the Lalique chandelier and in the company of the composed Putman, the hectic streets of Paris seem another world.

Putman is the head of Putman studios, considered to be the epitome of clean, French product and interior design. The studio was established in 1984 by Putman’s mother Andrée Putman, a fiercely glamorous designer, known for her straight posture – she was said to have appeared as though she were always walking a tightrope, the result of a bike accident at 20 – and her flawless taste.

Images of Putman (junior) in her early 20s show a bright young thing of the Parisian artist set; A Bardot-style sweep of brunette hair, a careful flick of black eyeliner and immaculately worn Breton striped tops. Today, she is dressed sharply in a black pencil skirt, white shirt and a well-chosen lipstick that compliments the splash of her red sole Louboutin shoes. It is an unsurprising choice of accessory. Christian has been her partner in crime for over three decades. “We were bad little boys and girls,” says Olivia.

“We went out a lot. I met Christian at La Palace, a night club in Paris. It was an incredible place where you could bump into Yves Saint Laurent and Andy Warhol. At that time, there was no VIP area, it was just a melting pot. There were no rules about whether you should dare speak to anyone. True, we were very young, which makes things easier because you aren’t shy about anything.

“We used to go shopping in the flea markets in Paris for old shoes; he wouldn’t care if there was only one shoe, which I always thought was stupid. We went to Morocco when we were 15 with no money. I was so wild that I was put in boarding school for a year and a half on Bexhill-on-Sea. I learnt to appreciate authority there, it gave me some security.”

Today Putman’s mane may be tamed, but she still has a gleeful twinkle about her. On returning to Paris, a reformed 16-yearold, she finished school and studied History of Art at the Sorbonne. She spent a few years transforming old buildings into artist studios before she decided to follow her passion for horticulture and trained as a landscape gardener, a pursuit she owes to Christian.

“I was Parisian; I didn’t realise you could plant a little thing in the ground and it would become big,” she says. “Christian showed me that. He and I toured England looking at the wonderful gardens there.”

Putman’s skill took her around the globe, but she eventually returned to Paris in 2007 to become the Art Director of Putman Studios.

“I have no interest in going back to landscape gardens,” she says. “Today, I am more impatient. Even now, about 20 years after I designed my first garden, I still don’t think I have seen a garden as I hoped it could be. It takes time. It did teach me some patience. You can’t have a garden within an hour.” Putman continued to work alongside her mother for a couple of years. Andrée died in January 2013, aged 87.

“She wasn’t the cold woman you believe she might have been if you look at photos. She was warm and funny. We had a wonderful relationship. She left me to be free. Even at the age when you rebel in a dramatic way, she was free enough to think it was great to have someone expressing themselves as they wanted.”

Anything Putman did could hardly have surprised or shocked her mother. In her 20s – in an act of self-discovery – Andrée stripped her room bare, furnishing it with an iron bed, a chair, white walls and a Miro poster on the wall. Possibly one of the few minimalist acts of youth rebellion.

Elegant Lines Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps perfume is an example of Putman’s inclination for timeless design

Elegant Lines Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps perfume is an example of Putman’s inclination for timeless design

“We used to think we had very similar sensibilities,” Putman says. “I prefer timeless design, not creating something that no one has ever seen before. That was something that my mother believed. She didn’t think you should be revolutionary. She thought that people who wanted to invent something entirely new were daydreaming because everything is almost nearly discovered. You have a wonderful vocabulary of forms and things that are already available and you can express yourself through that rather than think you can create an entirely new way.”

Putman’s work with Nina Ricci for the L’Air du Temps limited edition bottle is a good example. The swirling edges have been striped with blue, as have the entwined doves on the bottle top. It is clean, elegant and unobvious.

“It is a very simple addition, very subtle,” she says. “But it makes a difference. I tried other more complicated designs, but ultimately it was the simple one that worked the best.” Rather sweetly, this perfume is also the first Putman was given by her husband and the one she wears today.

“I like perfumes that have a floral smell. I was always aware of making scented gardens. You have 200 roses but only a few that smell incredible. Why bother with ones that don’t smell at all? I think flowers are the most magic, most natural perfume.

“In France this is the first perfume for a lot of girls. It’s important for many people, although it smells different on everyone. I kept it because I like the idea of scent being part of your identity; I like the idea of having this as my personal smell. You can leave a room and your perfume follows you. The people in my office say that they know whether or not I am already in as they say they can smell me in the elevator. I remember my mother by her perfume too.”

You can hardly forget the presence of Putman senior. Her studio, her taste and her creations surround Olivia, down to the chairs we are sitting in.

“An armchair is an armchair,” says Putman. “You can find nice details and nice wood, you don’t change the essential purpose. But I love these chairs, I always have. They are half round, partially protective, but you can’t slouch.”

She smiles. Perhaps among the many gifts Putman left her daughter, the teenage rebel, a chair where you have to sit straight, is the most maternal reminder of all.
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