Saut Hermes 2016
Saut Hermes 2016

Sunlight streams through the glass domed roof of the Grand Palais

Hermès, maker of handbags and scarves to the world’s celebrities and super-rich, still celebrates its roots as a saddle-maker in a very different world. Millie Walton goes behind the scenes at the annual Saut Hermès in Paris, with the beau-monde, and geese, for company

Standing at the ringside of the warm-up arena at Saut Hermès, the brand’s annual showjumping event held under the glass-domed roof of the Grand Palais in Paris, is quite unlike any other experience. While the smell of warm horsehair, oiled hooves and leather is immediate, and almost reassuring in the way it says that this is really happening, there’s also something a little otherworldly about it all. There are horses, glamorous spectators, the world’s best riders and, strangely, a flock of trained geese. An unusual mixture in an even more unlikely setting, yet anyone who is familiar with Hermès will know to expect the unexpected. A traditional brand still owned, despite the best efforts of the luxury industry, by members of the extended original family, it’s constantly innovating too. This multibillion-euro behemoth takes a playful approach to luxury; Hermès really wants to welcome you into its magical world.

Hermès may be known for its Birkin bags (for which there is a waiting list, from a few weeks to five years, depending on who you are and how bespoke you want it) and handmade silk scarves, but at its heart it is what it says under its original logo: a sellier, or saddler. The only things made in its atelier above its world flagship store on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris are saddles; the most desirable and expensive saddles made anywhere, in fact. They are a tiny part of the business, but at the heart of the brand.

Hermes saddle

Cavale saddle by Hermés

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“A customer once complained that the stitching had come undone on one of our saddles,” Marion La Rochette, Equestrian Métier Director, recalls. “Everyone in the workshop was so upset about it but when we pulled out the records, we found out the saddle was 100 years old. A 100 years old and only a little bit of stitching had come loose!” She smiles as she tells me the story. It may or may not be apocryphal (I’m sure it’s true), but it’s certainly true that Hermès products really are made to be enjoyed down the generations, not just years, which helps to explain their price tags.

So why the horses, riders and geese? “For a whole century Hermès worked only with equestrian products such as harnesses and saddles,” La Rochette points out. “In 1837, when the company was founded, Paris was full of horses, but now, of course, they’ve disappeared from the city.” Over the years and under the leadership of various family members, Hermès has extended its repertoire to everything from the must-have Birkin bag to picnic hampers, jewellery and clothing to what can only be described as exquisite objets such as lamps and even a special edition Apple Watch with a Hermès strap.

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“With Saut Hermès, we wanted to reopen the doors of the Grand Palais to the horse,” La Rochette continues. The Grand Palais is the landmark Beaux-Arts exhibition hall located in the park next to the Champs-Elysées. “It was built for exhibitions including equestrian events. From 1901 to 1957 there were annual horse shows held here and below us, in the basement, are stables.” The geese are there for fun, along with an interactive Pegasus animation and daily performances by the acclaimed French horse trainer, Bartabas.

Over the weekend at the 7th edition of Saut Hermès, there’s a huge sense of excitement. As well as marking the official launch of the latest Hermès jumping saddle, the Allegro, the main event involves 30 of the world’s best riders tackling a complex, though naturally elegant, Hermès-branded showjumping course. Heels and hooves are aligned. “We get really passionate horse lovers, of course, especially on the Friday,” La Rochette says, “but Parisians come here who would have never normally thought about going to a horse show. Because it’s so accessible and centrally located, they think why not and they love it.” Watching the horses effortlessly vaulting over the jumps with sunlight streaming through the glass, it’s hard to imagine a more majestic or fitting setting for such an impressive display of equestrian athleticism. La Rochette agrees, “It’s very special because you’re sitting so close to the ring, to the horses, that you can feel and hear the thud of the hooves.” A few cleverly placed microphones under poles, I suspect, help enhance the tense atmosphere.

Winning horse rider at Saut Hermes

Moroccan rider, Abdelkebir Ouaddar won the Grand Prix Hermés CSI 5* on Sunday afternoon riding Quickly de Kreisker

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Hermès works very closely with riders too, hand-picking international rising stars in equestrianism (including Simon Delestre, currently ranked number one in the world in showjumping), to represent the brand as partner riders, kitting them out in full Hermès gear and also inviting their input into the actual design process of the saddles. “What makes a good saddle, in my opinion,” comments Swiss rider and Hermès partner rider, Romain Duguet, “is one which brings you as close as possible to the horse so that you can really feel the movement. That’s exactly what makes the Hermès saddles so special.” Each saddle is made bespoke for horse and rider, and put together from beginning to end by a single, skilled craftsman who pulls and stitches the leather to create an extraordinarily beautiful object. La Rochette stresses, however, that beauty in appearance and construction is not the real aim: “Our master saddler’s only objective is to make it as functional as possible and when it’s finished, it’s beautiful. To me, that’s what Hermès is about.”

Winners at Saut Hermes are awarded prizes

Presentation of prizes with (at right) Anne-Sarah Panhard, President of Saut Hermés, and Olivier Fournier of the Hermés executive committee

The inspirations for Hermès reside a mile or so down the road, past the Hôtel Matignon (official residence of the French president), in the private museum above the St-Honoré flagship store. It holds a unique collection made up of wonderful and eccentric objects from founder Emile Hermès’s travels round the world; huge spurs from Argentina, saddles from Tibet, sketches, paintings, books, cots, sculptures and luggage – the list goes on (including rather terrifying giant studded dog collars which were the inspiration for a line of jewellery).

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Back at the Saut Hermès as the showjumping continues, the under 25s are taking to the ring for Les Talents Hermès class, a competition restricted to 20 up-and-coming riders from around the world. Though these youngsters, one just 15 years old, are the future stars of the equestrian world, the course is cleverly constructed to unnerve even the pluckiest of riders and it causes a few problems. One jump away from the fastest time, Ireland’s rider takes a fall and the crowd gasps. After a painful few seconds of total silence, he gets up and remounts to make a second, successful attempt to huge applause. We’re all relieved, almost panting with exhaustion after mentally making every enormous flying leap with horse and rider, regardless of their nationality. Though, naturally, it is an especially gleeful and patriotic moment when the British national anthem is played to a standing ovation as a young pair of English riders gallop round the ring, red rosettes flying, having triumphed in Sunday’s Les Talents class. This is a competition, after all – the applause is notably louder for the French, as you would expect – but it is decidedly less cut-throat and more sophisticated than most sporting events. When the bell rings to start the clock, it all comes down to just the rider and the horse and their partnership.

Junior rider at Saut Hermes

USA rider, Catherine Pasmore (aged 24) on Z Canta, 2nd in the Les Talents (the under-25s class)

Axel Dumas, the company’s CEO (and the sixth-generation scion of the family), is at the ringside, looking relaxed with his children. It would be easy to suggest that this is what any brand with Hermès’s history and status should do, a strategy straight out of business school: establish brand story, create experiences around it, invite media and VIPs, be in evidence.

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Yet Hermès isn’t just a brand. It’s also as far as it can be from being a business school creation – famously it doesn’t even have a marketing department. It is a maker of some of the most beautiful items in the world, a family company whose owners have so much pride in their name and history that they fought, and won, a bitter battle against luxury supremo Bernard Arnault, who wanted his company LVMH to acquire a majority stake in Hermès. To have given in to Arnault would have meant cashing out and acquiring wealth beyond the imaginations even of the most creative souls in the brand’s studios; but that just wasn’t what Hermès is all about. Somehow, geese and saddles at the Grand Palais kind of sums it all up.

Reading time: 8 min
private jet travel with Bombardier

Bombardier’s newest jet, the Global 6000

Millie Walton takes to the skies in a Bombardier Global 6000, this season’s jet of choice for the discerning billionaire

I’ve just boarded the Bombardier Global 6000, a new model which looks pared down from the outside: the hull looks so lightweight it feels like a solid tap from a bottle of Krug might crack it, though obviously that’s an illusion. Inside, it’s spacious and elegant with sturdy plush, arm chairs that, to my delight, swirl round on their base in all directions. I choose to take off facing the back of the plane – legs dangling, hands gripping the armrests – just because I can. These jets are build-your-own bespoke, from the interiors and sound system right down to finishing paint varnish. Pretty much anything is possible. From the window, I can spy Lewis Hamilton‘s (the racing driver is among a long line of celebrities with Bombardiers at their beck and call, including ACDC who we apparently just missed in the lounge this morning – shame) bullet-like black and red jet, which I’m told is similarly dark and foreboding on the inside. “It looks like a flying demon,” someone truthfully comments. Ours, thankfully, is delicate cool creams with polished mahogany touches.

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After a few bumps on the steep incline, we’re above the clouds, way, way above the clouds (these jets make it to a much higher altitude than commercial airliners) sipping chilled glasses of Chateau D’Esclans  and eating platters of fresh sushi, ordered in from London’s Nobu, naturally, both excellent ways to decompress. Although the stress levels of flying from Farnborough airport are pretty minimal anyway, involving sitting in a VIP lounge, walking onboard, and taking off. No unpleasant security queues or holiday crowds of the economy-flight masses (to which club I would, sadly, return after this trip).

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Graciously accepting another glass of  wine, I stare out of the window into a perfectly blue sky – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was simulated – and down at the French lakes we’re now soaring over.  “Madam,” the air hostess stirs me gently from my daydream. “Would you like to sit in the jump seat for landing?” I would, of course, and with childish glee I strap myself into the seat in between the two captains for an exhilarating, but graceful descent onto Nice’s water edged runaway. Again it’s the impeccable service and timing: the jet’s steps are down, bags dealt with and a chauffeur’s arm waiting to guide me into an air conditioned car for the three minute drive to the helipad – God forbid I should break a sweat. A helicopter transfer from Nice to Monaco takes roughly 15 minutes; the drive can take anywhere between 30 and an hour if it’s peak season. Something I’m starting to realise is that if you’ve got enough cash the clock really can be turned back.

Luxury hotel Hermitage in Monaco

The grand front of Hotel Hermitage, Monte Carlo

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My bag is already neatly positioned on a stool in my room at the decadent Hotel Hermitage, next to a huge bouquet of white roses. It’s slightly predictable, but a nice touch. I open the doors to the balcony and bask in the midday rays, whilst staring down at the world’s most famous yacht club. The phone rings: “Madam, it’s time for your facial.” It strikes me that this is the everyday for most of Monte Carlo’s residents and turn ever so slightly green.

I recall this realisation later to the CEO of Fraser Yachts, Raphael Sauleau over dinner on one of their most glamorous vessels Heliad II (that’s actually now for sale if anyone’s in the market for a new yacht). Smiling, he shrugs his shoulders, “This is Monaco, that’s just how it is.”  Another day, another destination.

Reading time: 3 min
LFW backstage image of Emilia Wickstead models

Emilia Wickstead SS16 Collection, backstage at London Fashion Week

Emilia Wickstead’s designs are attracting the attention of Hollywood royalty (and even the real thing) for their mix of the classic and the modern. LUX discovers what inspires her

Emilia Wickstead is hot, hot, hot. The 31-year-old, London-based fashion designer has become one of the biggest draws of London Fashion Week in the four years since she started showing. Her grown-up, dressy, classical yet contemporary style has attracted the likes of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton), Gwyneth Paltrow and Diane Kruger; and the architectural cut and quality of her garments has earned the praise of fashion directors and drawn the attention of the industry’s big guns.
What’s the secret of the New Zealand- born designer’s success? Is it her clever references to the 1950s Modernist design movement (not just Dior and Chanel, but the whole of design), creating pieces which look like they have been inspired by an architect’s pen? Her philosophy, which she describes as “classic with a twist”? Her smiling, outgoing, gregarious yet steely personality? Or her sheer hard work – the mother of two small children is known for her 18-hour days?

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Alexandra Shulman, Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, comments: “Emilia has a very strong vision for her label. She has a clear idea of the woman she is designing for and she is also an excellent brand ambassador.”

Wickstead also has influential followers among the people she counts among her customers. Says Narmina Marandi, a friend, supporter and confidante of Wickstead: “Emilia is a rare person in fashion, a brilliant designer with a strong view on how the modern woman should dress up. She’s also fantastic company, with a great sense of humour, charm, and a very powerful philosophy and determination underneath.” These are views you will find echoed among her friends and admirers around the world.

LUX sat down with Wickstead in a room with bare-brick walls, dark varnished wood floors, and four racks of her next season’s collection, in muted yet joyous colours we promised not to identify, to find out more.

LUX: Is fashion is in your genes?
Emilia Wickstead: My mother [Angela Wickstead] started studying fashion when I was born, and then began her business from home when I was a little girl. It was just my mother and I. Designing was instilled in me from a very young age. I didn’t know anything else. Her business went through different moments and growth then. She worked from home and went from designing and selling through word of mouth (similar to how we started our business) on to building her retail model.

LUX: Do you have childhood memories of taking bits of fabric and creating pieces?
EW: Absolutely! There are many memories of being in her workroom all the time – weekends, after school. I would sit in on her fittings, I still laugh about it with some of her existing clients who she still has today. Without even realising, I would just sit, watch and observe, and take in everything: fashion weeks, late nights… It was just the two of us. Her workroom and her store – that was where I had my upbringing. I didn’t go home after school, I went to her work to do my homework and just be there until we went home, which sometimes could be quite late at night.

LUX: What do you think you picked up?
EW: I learned from my mother that it was all about the cut and fit and the quality of fabric. The theory that the quality on the inside should be the same as on the quality of the outside of the garment. Those are things you don’t necessarily learn at university, as there is so much focus on design, experimentation and building your philosophy of who you are as a designer. So I do think I learned from her the majority of what I know in terms of those very important factors, without which you couldn’t have a successful line of business.

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LUX: The architectural cut is something you’re renowned for. Do you think that’s something all designers should pay attention to?
EW: I think that it’s something that’s very ‘old world’. It depends on who they are as a designer, their aesthetic and what their business model is. I always believe that, for me and my business, what I would hope for in years to come is that people will pull out an Emilia Wickstead piece as though it is a Chanel suit. You will still wear that Chanel suit because (a) the quality of the fabric is brilliant and because the quality of the garment is excellent and (b) it is just a beautiful cut. So when I look for inspiration, I will look at anything from old Christian Dior to Christian Lacroix to Chanel and look at the way they have constructed a garment. The design lines are incredible and I do feel that with fast fashion sometimes that’s a little bit lost. There is a little bit of a trend going on at the moment of not focusing necessarily on the fit or the cut of the garment, but when a designer does get it right, I think that’s when it plays a tremendous part in either becoming a brand or becoming a garment that’s going to stay in your wardrobe forever.

LUX: How do you create something that is timeless yet fashion forward?
EW: I’d like to think that we’re creating ‘the new modern’. I’ve always used the reference of old world design, which I find incredibly inspiring. But for me, it’s about modernising that, too. That’s something Raf Simons did when he entered into the world of Dior; he was playing on archive pieces and old-world silhouettes. He was creating clothing for a new modern woman in the way that he was designing clothes. In the same way, I think that by playing on the traditional while keeping myself very fashion forward, my clothing represents someone who’s confident and incredibly feminine. I showed that during London Fashion Week [in February 2016]. I am always pushing the boundaries, but at the same time it’s very important that I’m selling clothing that women want to purchase.

Backstage at London Fashion Week with Emilia Wickstead

Emilia Wickstead’s clients include royals and A-list celebrities

LUX: Is there an age group who buys your clothes?
EW: I think that Emilia Wickstead is for all women. That can be a girl in her twenties and it can be a woman in her nineties. Up until three years ago, I worked in my store every single day and did every single fitting for the major side of the business. What was so wonderful about it was that you just got to understand that the collection was for every woman, which is such a nice touch for a business model to have – to be able to think that yes, it’s youthful because everyone wants to feel fresh, young, and modern, but at the same time it is really for everybody.

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LUX: You mention “business” a lot for a designer…
EW: I’ve always had a business head on my shoulders, which has meant that I haven’t designed a collection and didn’t know who I was going to sell it to or what I was going to do with it. I built a client base; I showed to friends and family and through word of mouth, so I tested the product and market that way. I basically did everything backwards! Given the financial constraints, we couldn’t afford to create units or to sell through wholesale. We couldn’t afford to carry stock and we didn’t take on any investment either to do that. I guess people did genuinely like the clothes and that’s how the business grew. As we started making money, we started taking on stock, and then in the next chapter we started to build wholesale relationships and wholesale accounts. It’s been a very organic and natural process. Now we’re speeding things up. I always knew I wanted to have my own business and always knew that I wanted clothes that sell – to make money out of my business as much as love what I do. That was always very clear in my mind.

LUX: At Central Saint Martins, what were the most valuable things you learned?
EW: The most valuable things I learned were how to think outside of the box. I never picked up a fashion magazine. You would be in a library photocopying and looking through books. I didn’t Google images! It was a very raw education. For inspiration we went to galleries, watched old movies, old fashion shows that were all archived in the Central Saint Martins libraries. It was a really different way of researching compared to today… I Google everything now! What Central Saint Martins pushed you to do was, for example, to look at a window frame and see how that inspires you, see what’s beautiful about it, and to understand what you gain from that, where it leads you and what it does for you. You had to approach things in a different way. It was a creative process being educated there; it was very raw and very wonderful.

LUX: Has your success and endorsements by prominent people taken you by surprise?

EW: Yes, and they still do!

LUX: What do you think made them come about?

EW: From a modesty perspective, I don’t know! You really just count your lucky stars, I guess. Every time you make a collection, you put yourself out there. You do it because you want to change the way people dress, you want to say what people should be wearing for the season, as well as what you believe in and what you’re passionate about. It always catches me by surprise when people are shown [in the media, wearing my designs]. I believe that we have a niche in the market and that we have a point in difference. I am a real believer in what I am doing. I absolutely love it and I love my client base, which has some big supporters in it. It is always a nice surprise to see someone else really believing in your brand and wearing your clothes beautifully.

LUX: How did you find that niche in the market?
EW: I love anything nostalgic and old world, that’s really what gave me the drive to create my own business and to do something different. I loved the idea of playing on how women used to dress in shops, the women who love to dress up, who go somewhere and can sit down in a room and have something made for them, who can have a say in what they’re having made for them, choose the colour and fabric, and who want to be really fashion forward as well. That always inspired me. It was always going to be very important to meet the demands of today’s woman. She wants to buy it off the rails and wants to wear it that night or she wants to go on e-commerce and wants to have it in a few hours. We tap into that like every other designer, but our point of difference is that I wanted to keep a little bit of tradition. We have made-to-measure, which is a full service in which we have a fitter and fittings. That is very old school. But then it was also very important to have a modern version of that for today’s woman. For example, if you come into my store, see a dress and absolutely love it but want it in a different colour, you can order the garment in the preferred colour in your size and have it made in Italy in 20 working days. My business model offers those different services, which is very important. I never wanted it to feel too much like a normal retail experience, more a little bit of a salon when you walk into the store. On Sloane Street [in London’s Knightsbridge], I truly believe we have created just that. We sit alongside Chloé and Valentino and we are not a fuddy-duddy, old-fashioned, made-to- measure house but a modern version of it. What you are measured for is what you see during London Fashion Week and on the catwalk.

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LUX: Is there pressure to constantly produce new collections?
EW: A little bit. We used to design just two collections a year, for the fashion weeks in February and September. But this year, I have designed – I am the only designer, we don’t have a design team – six collections.

Clothing by Emilia Wickstead

Wickstead is known for the architectural cut of her garments

LUX: You started up six years ago. In six years’ time, where do you see the business?
EW: Everywhere! Stand-alone stores, stand-alone salon with made-to-measure areas, like we have on Sloane Street, and more variation within a collection. Since December we’ve had a slightly better infrastructure in our business model, whereby we have made key hires, and that’s been incredibly exciting, because it’s meant that we can build bigger collections. It also gives more scope in terms of accessories; also we worked with Matches and designed cotton dresses for them, which reached out to another group of clients; I had never done cotton dresses before. It was really different but still carried the Emilia Wickstead aesthetic, but it just meant that you could wear them in the south of France or Italy.

LUX: How do you balance being a mother with everything else that you do?
EW: I don’t really balance it very well [laughs]. I don’t think there’s any right answer to that. I think in what I am doing. I absolutely love it and I love my client base, which has some big supporters in it. It is always a nice surprise to see someone else really believing in your brand and wearing your clothes beautifully.

LUX: And finally… your style is dressy and also everyday. How does that work?
EW: What I always try to project is that an Emilia Wickstead piece, like a pair of trousers, shirt or a dress, dresses you up, but it’s a very effortless way of dressing. You put on that piece and you are dressed up, comfortably. It’s meeting the demands if you are a stay-at-home mother but if you want to look a little dressed up, or if you’re a workaholic and work five to seven days a week, it works as well. You can tap into anything in the collection, as there’s something for everybody. For example when we were styling our Spring/Summer fashion show last year the model had little gold hoop earrings, very little makeup, brushed back hair with little bits falling out at the sides and was wearing a piece with flat shoes. It goes to show that there is a way that you can make yourself look absolutely fantastic and feel great in your own skin with what you’re wearing. Emilia Wickstead can do that.

Reading time: 13 min
Knightsbridge luxury property development by Finchatton
Knightsbridge luxury property development by Finchatton

Finchatton’s exclusive residential development on Cheval Place in Knightsbridge (above: the penthouse reception room)

Knightsbridge, Belgravia or Mayfair? That’s the choice that faces most high-rolling new residents or investors in London. The areas border each other (the boundary between Belgravia, Knightsbridge and neighbouring Chelsea is notoriously fluid), and while none is exactly shabby, each has a different vibe and soul.

Mayfair, the most historically significant, houses the best boutiques and brass-plaque fund headquarters, but until recently lagged behind on residential desirability – it’s catching up, though. Belgravia is home to the most significant real estate. Nowhere else in Europe has the abundance of truly palatial, architecturally significant houses in a super-prime historic area as found within the boundaries of Eaton Square.

Read next: Vilbrequin’s CEO on the 1970s rock’n’roll lifestyle 

But for a blend of prestige, hauteur and vibe, nothing can quite match Knightsbridge, as evidenced by the fact that hotels and boutiques which are technically in Belgravia now claim to be in Knightsbridge. After all, it’s the home of Harrods, Harvey Nichols, the Bulgari hotel, it encompasses the better end of Sloane Street and shares a border with Hyde Park.

“I am always keen to invest in prime real estate where the values are secured by high worldwide demand and rarity of availability” – Javad Marandi

Cheval Place's luxury residential development by Finchatton

While Knightsbridge has never been anything other than exclusive, some trace its current status as the must-buy area for any self-respecting billionaire back to the 2011 launch of the Candy brothers’ Norman Foster-designed One Hyde Park development. Insiders go further back and point to the earlier creation of the Knightsbridge Apartments at 199 Knightsbridge by the Hong Kong-based Cheng family, back in 2002, to bringing world-class apartment amenities (proper hotel-style concierge, pool, gym) to London, once a city of houses rather than apartment towers.

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Now, with the emphasis away from bling, the places to own in Knightsbridge are in less flashy developments. Enter Knights House on Cheval Place, a brand new development that has arrived under the radar. In the heart of Knightsbridge proper, in a quiet street opposite Harrods, the development by Finchatton, “the discerning man’s Candy & Candy”, has sold out rapidly even while we were creating this story. At the time of going to press, only the penthouse remained, a three-bedroom, two-terrace, 210 sq m lateral apartment with the peace of a village.

Says Alex Michelin, MD of Finchatton : “It’s in a lovely part of Knightsbridge village, right by Harrods. It’s incredibly quiet, with no through roads: you hear no traffic or other noise. It has wonderful views over to the park and the dome of the Brompton Oratory.” Michelin says they were fortunate in that the previous building on the site had no historical value, so it could be knocked down and replaced with a new-build low-rise – a real rarity in the area.

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Javad Marandi, a British-Iranian global property investor and one of the project’s financial backers, who himself has a house nearby, says: “London is considered worldwide as one of the safest, most liberal and most desirable places to invest. Knightsbridge, with its close vicinity to Harrods and all the premium shops of Sloane Street, is the most attractive area in London; and Cheval Place is an ultra-luxury development in the heart of Knightsbridge village. I am always keen to invest in prime real estate where the values are secured by high worldwide demand and rarity of availability.”
A fabulous home and a watertight investment; what more could you need? Oh, it’s a two-minute stroll from Zuma, so you can fire the driver.

Reading time: 3 min
Vilebrequin model cactus

Roland Herlory, CEO of luxury swimwear brand Vilebrequin continues our Luxury Leaders series. He speaks to LUX about Saint Tropez’s 1970s rock’n’roll lifestyle, the influence of social media and working in St. Bart’s

CEO of Vilebrequin

Roland Herlory

LUX: How would you describe the Vilebrequin lifestyle?
Roland Herlory: When you think about Vilebrequin, you think about holidays and fantasy. About having a good time, relaxing, and sharing privileged moments with your loved ones. Vilebrequin wants to make this feeling of “lâcher prise” last all year long. Our style is elegant but casual and fun at the same time.

LUX: In the fast expanding luxury market, is heritage still as significant?
Roland Herlory: Of course it is! We were born in St-Tropez in 1971. At that time it was just a little harbour where many artists and icons gathered. It was a time when carelessness was allowed and freedom was in the air. Brigitte Bardot , Gunter Sachs, Françoise Sagan  …They all met and had fun together. It was rock’n’roll at that time and Mick even married Bianca Jagger in St-Tropez in 1971. Now times are different, but Vilebrequin still claims its St-Tropez 1970’s roots! It is very important because no other swimwear brand has this kind of heritage and expertise – apart from probably  Eres  created in 1969. Most of our clients work throughout the year in dark suits. Its only during their holidays that they allow themselves humour and freedom. Vilebrequin’s expertise is this delicate fine line between elegance and the joy to play. This is part of our heritage and we will keep working around this. The secret about men is that they embody strength when they feel comfortable with their bodies. Only then, they wear green elephants or pink crabs with an ultimate, male allure. For me, this is the St-Tropez spirit of the seventies for which Vilebrequin is still a symbol.

Read next: LUX takes a VIP tour of the Monaco Grand Prix 

LUX: What makes a product truly luxurious?
Roland Herlory: Quality is restless. The characteristic of real luxury is to always strive for more. For our golden swimsuits, it was our Italian embroidering company that came up with the idea to work with threads of real gold. Now, there are 15 grams of pure gold embroidered onto these special editions, plus 2 sapphires for the ends of the cords. Half of the 80 pieces that were produced were sold out in a second.

LUX: What are the most challenging issues you face as a CEO of an international business?
Roland Herlory: We always need to evolve. We still have the same ocean vocabulary but we always need to reinvent our classic, with the iconic turtle becoming bubbly or 3D. We don’t follow fashion, instead we are guided by our technological advances. What makes the human hand also allows us to progress stylistically. Today, thanks to ink jet printing, we can reach qualities of unsurpassed delicacy on a fabric, which is nevertheless extremely difficult.

Read next: LVMH’s Jean-Claude Biver on the singleness of real luxury 

LUX: How do you balance business with pleasure?
Roland Herlory: I live 10 days each month in St Bart’s, but I’m not at the beach as often as one might expect me to be living in the Caribbean. Having lived in St Bart’s for 15 years, you tend to look at the beach in a different way to tourists. If you’re were on holidays there, you would probably spend the whole day at the beach. But I work there, even if people don’t believe me when they hear ocean waves in the background of a phone call. The rest of the time I live in Geneva and Paris, travelling from subsidiary to subsidiary. I am moving around a lot.

LUX: How has the rise of social media affected or influenced your business decisions?
Roland Herlory: Under the #Poolside365 this year, and #SummerAllYearLong last year, fashion and lifestyle bloggers presented their favourite pools on the Vilebrequin blog and social networks. The whole digital Mise en Scène is a trend that is represented by these bloggers. Tradition stays alive if you inject modernity. It’s a skill I’m well accomplished in, having been at Hermès for 23 years. Tradition can become a part of the past very fast. We need these bloggers to add part of the modernity.

Read next: Bringing back the sounds of the seventies 

LUX: You’re a pioneer facing increasing competition, how do you deal with that?
Roland Herlory: You have to keep on fighting to maintain the level or to improve something. For example, quick dry was a big challenge during the last two years. The new collection dries three times quicker – I don’t know if I should even be telling you this yet – but my dream is to make completely water-resistant swim shorts. We are working on it, with nano-technology . But I don’t want the competitors to know more. Fabrics that dry fast are easy to be found, but they are thin and technical. When you leave water in such a fabric it sticks to your legs. Bad for selfies…Our material is- thanks to an elaborate fabrication process and incredible expertise – the ultimate elegance. Wet or dry , the swim shorts keep their look. But still the easiest solution for the problem is a second pair of shorts: one for the water, one for the beach.

Commercial shot of Vilebrequin swimwear

Vilebrequin menswear

LUX: What are the most important developments for Vilebrequin this year?
Roland Herlory: Vilebrequin was created 45 years ago so for us, this is an age of maturity. We will open more shops in Asia and Australia. We have been developing accessories, including shoes and soon sunglasses. We grow at our own rhythm, step by step. We will continue creating more products.

LUX: How do you relax?
Roland Herlory: The best way to relax is yoga. Otherwise, when I am home in St Bart’s, on a beach at sunset.


Reading time: 5 min

Speed and posing in Monte Carlo: Francesca Peak revels in the most glamorous destination on the F1 calendar, courtesy of Rolex

Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2016When you think of Formula One, you don’t think of the gruelling driver training, the complex mechanics, or the global travel involved in an exhausting 10-month schedule. Instead, it’s the lavish parties, glamorous crowds, and beautiful surroundings. More than any other international competition, Formula One is a seductive combination of speed and charm, and nowhere is this more evident than at the Monaco GP.

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Since the first race was run on the Circuit de Monaco in 1929, the event has remained one of the most competitive and desirable for drivers and fans alike. Along with the Indy 500 and Le Mans 24 Hour race, it forms the Triple Crown of Motorsport, lusted after by every driver that graces the tarmac. And this year, about 10 years into being a Formula One fan, it was my chance to see the sport’s most legendary race up close and personal.

For this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, I was hosted by Rolex, Formula One’s official timekeeper, and taken underground – literally – to see all sides of the race weekend. Driving into the city from Nice airport, the colours of the houses and Mediterranean nonchalance drew me in, definitely something I could get used to. Oddly, the track is opened to pedestrians and cars when races aren’t taking place which, while making it much easier to drive up to the hotel, meant walking to dinner was a little unnerving.

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Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2016

One question I always had about race weekends was what visitors do to amuse themselves on the mornings before qualifying and racing. The answer in Monaco is, of course, take a classic car for a spin along the Grande Corniche, the mountain road that connects Monaco and Nice. My ride for the morning was a navy blue Jaguar XK120, in perfect condition but seemingly produced in an age before seat-belts were compulsory. The almost dangerous lack of power steering and extremely low gearstick were certainly a glimpse into the world of Formula One before today’s technology kicked in – no wonder the drivers had to be thin and fit as marathon runners.

A rainy Sunday took us around The Paddock, otherwise known as the Beverly Hills of motorsport: this is where the teams park up their motorhomes for the weekend, worth tens of millions of pounds. The Red Bull motorhome is more of a floating disco – by day a modest bar, restaurant and press centre, by night a disco with live DJ and dancing until the early hours.

Read next: Constructing timeless elegance

Being shown around The Paddock by Sir Jackie Stewart (a Rolex Testimonee for nigh on 50 years) was an honour – this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first win in Monaco, Stewart spoke of the track and the sport with nostalgia, affection but a tone grounded in reality, as only a brutally honest Scot can. Walking through the teams’ homes with Stewart made one realise how revered and legendary a personality he is – the sport certainly couldn’t be blamed for forgetting those who made it what it is today.

The weekend ended with the race itself which, thanks to a dry qualifying session followed by a race in the pouring rain, made for a more interesting race than usual. We watched from the Norman Foster-designed yacht club, an impressive structure nestled next to the water on the edge of the track. While some braved the rain outdoors to watch the cars passing beneath, others stayed inside with a blanket and a glass of champagne to watch on television with live commentary by Jonathan Legard. Somehow everything’s more immediate when the commentator’s standing right behind you.

Reading time: 3 min