The Men's Issue - meet Chris Hemsworth; sneakers as collectibles; discussing art with Mario Testino; and a stylish sojourn in New York

Design, in all its forms, is undergoing a seismic shift. Fashion is a prime example – the way we create it, the way we consume it, the way we present it and even the way we write about it, is changing radically. The result, at this point in time, is complete chaos.

Over the last month, designers have shown their creations on runways in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Some presented spring/summer 2018 collections, others unveiled see-now, buy-now or “September” lines that went on sale immediately. In Milan, Livia Firth spearheaded the Green Carpet Fashion Awards and celebrated sustainable initiatives; on the high street, the fast-fashion model whirred on unabated. Some designers stuck with the formula and sent stick-thin models down the runway; others embraced a more curvaceous silhouette (the New York shows, in particular, presented a hearteningly diverse representation of femininity). Global fashion behemoths and arch rivals LVMH and Kering joined forces to ban the use of size-zero models and those under the age of 16. And then, to confuse matters further, Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Dior (an LVMH brand) presented a show that celebrated feminist artist Niki de Saint Phalle, but went on to make headlines for reminding the world that, actually, “not all people can be a model … it’s a job”. Her explanation: “We work on a Stockman dummy. It is size 37 … So we need the girls who have the talent and are naturally born in this size.”

Clearly, the old systems are breaking down, and the traditional practice of creating a single, seasonal collection, showing it months before it hits stores, as part of a closed, industry-only event, is dying a slow death. Whether this is a positive or negative thing remains to be seen.

With such disruption under way, existing value systems are also shifting. The things we covet, collect and imbue with value (perceived or real) are changing. And so pens become investment items, even though, in a digital age, we hardly use them; trainers, a long-standing symbol of underground counterculture, become a luxury acquisition; and a pair of crusty Nike shoes created in 1989, as a prediction of what the future might look like, sell at auction for more than Dh150,000.

Also shifting are perceptions of masculinity and success – at least according to German fashion brand Hugo Boss. The company has announced that Chris Hemsworth is the new face of its Boss Bottled fragrance. Following in the footsteps of Ryan Reynolds and Gerard Butler, the Thor actor and all-round nice guy is fronting a new campaign for the fragrance, entitled Man of Today, which is being positioned as an exploration of current definitions of masculinity and success. “There have been times when I’ve done things and it’s felt like a line,” Hemsworth says of Man of Today. “Whereas this particular campaign really spoke to me. I think it is a great, positive message and mission statement about living your life with integrity and passion and honesty, and success not being measured by the material things we attain, but by the ideals you live your life by.”

The world may be in a state of flux, but that’s a message that we hope will resonate.

'We may have pushed it too
far; I don't know'

With the next Thor movie set to hit screens in November, Chris Hemsworth, chats to Selina Denman about films, family, fashion and fragrances

It’s hard not to roll out the clichés. The shoulders are broad; the eyes piercing; the voice deep and sonorous. It would be churlish not to acknowledge, straight off the bat, that Chris Hemsworth is absurdly handsome. The point, however, is that he manages to claw his way back from pure caricature by being altogether rather likeable.

We are talking about fashion, so I ask him who the most stylish person he knows is. He pauses, takes a moment to consider. “My mate, actually, from high school,” he says. “He has, for a long time, sported a very tailored, narrow-legged pant, with a rolled-up ankle and a pair of loafers. And we’d all be saying: ‘What are you wearing, mate? That’s ridiculous.’ And now we’ve all caught on and realised, oh, actually, that’s pretty cool. He’s my assistant and I’ve worked with him for years. He’ll laugh that I’ve said that, because I used to give him so much grief.”

That’s the kind of guy Chris Hemsworth is. The kind who has a school friend as an assistant; and the kind who shares screen time with the likes of Robert Downey Jr and Tom Hiddleston, but still maintains that his mate is the best-dressed person he knows.

Our interview takes place in the minimalist concrete-and-glass headquarters of German fashion house Hugo Boss, in the industrial heartland of Metzingen in the south-west of the country. We are here because the brand has just (in a top-secret event that, in that wonderfully Germanic way, still manages to be completely understated) named Hemsworth as the new face of its Boss Bottled fragrance.

Hugo Man was the first perfume Hemsworth wore when he was 16, so it is fitting he is the face of Boss Bottled

Hugo Man was the first perfume Hemsworth wore when he was 16, so it is fitting he is the face of Boss Bottled

Inspired by the smell of apple strudel, Boss Bottled came into being nearly 20 years ago, and is still a bestseller. “I wanted to make something different,” says Annick Menardo, the perfumer behind the now famous scent. “Fruity notes are often associated with feminine fragrances, but I wanted to use them to create a masculine scent, which was challenging.”

If Hemsworth is to be believed, there is fitting symmetry to his appointment as an ambassador for a Hugo Boss fragrance. “This is not a line; this is the truth,” he tells me earnestly. “The first fragrance I ever wore was given to me by my mum when I was 16, and it was by Hugo Boss. It was Hugo Man – the one with the green lid.”

Since 2014, campaigns for the Boss Bottled fragrance have adopted the strapline “Man of Today”, with the aim, says Ingo Wilts, chief brand officer at Hugo Boss, of initiating a conversation about masculinity and success, and how these concepts are evolving.

Hemsworth is a canny bit of casting. There’s a realness to him that is absent in many Hollywood stars – a sense of humility and humour in the way he talks, jokes and laughs at himself. “Chris Hemsworth really embodies the perfect man,” says Wilts. “He’s successful and strives for the best. He’s very handsome, but also very family-driven; and he’s very nice and easy to work with, which makes it easier when you have to spend so much time with him.”

Indeed, if you were looking for an ideal of 21st-century masculinity, you could do a lot worse than Hemsworth. Not just because of his looks and career trajectory (which includes films such as Rush, two editions of Snow White and the Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In the Heart of the Sea, and, most famously, a recurring role as Thor in the Marvel series), but because he clearly places great stock in family and friendship, and in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Boss, a fruity but masculine fragrance

Boss, a fruity but masculine fragrance

“For me, success is about the family and friends you keep; the people around you that you share your life with,” he says. “I feel very successful in the relationships that I’ve been able to form in my life. I’m very lucky in that sense. I have friends and family who are very honest with me and tell me how it is. But they are also very compassionate and kind and supportive. My biggest success would be having children and having a family of my own now. It’s a lot of work, with kids, but it’s the greatest thing in the world.”

Hemsworth married Spanish model and actress Elsa Pataky in 2010; their daughter, India Rose, was born in 2012 and twin boys, Tristan and Sasha, followed in 2014. After nearly a decade living in Los Angeles, Hemsworth and his family moved back to Australia a couple of years ago, settling in the coastal town of Byron Bay. He was at a point in his career where he felt like he didn’t have to be in the thick of it anymore, and had always maintained that he would like to bring up his children in Australia. Even when he talks about his favourite smells – “eucalyptus leaves, especially in the summer when they are dry and crackling and the smell is everywhere, surfboard wax and coconut sunscreen” – it is clear how ingrained the Australian lifestyle is for the Melbourne-born actor.

The Boss Bottled television campaign, in Germany, was helmed by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn and the print campaign was shot by fashion photographer Nathaniel Goldberg

The Boss Bottled television campaign, in Germany, was helmed by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn and the print campaign was shot by fashion photographer Nathaniel Goldberg

“One of the greatest luxuries, for me, is the ability to live back in Australia now, and to come and go with work,” he says. “For a long time, I had to be in LA, right in the centre of it, living and breathing and workingin the midst of it all. And now I have the chance to come back to Australia, switch off in a different world, a different setting, spend time with my kids and spend most of my time outdoors. That’s pretty special.”

Hemsworth may have a predilection for wearing Hugo Boss suits on the red carpet, but will happily admit that his own style sensibilities sit firmly in the board shorts and T-shirt category. “My wife says I have more board shorts than most females have shoes,” he jokes. “I have a strange kind of addiction to them.

“Growing up, I never thought about fashion too much. No, maybe that’s not true. I was very particular about what board shorts I wore, or what T-shirt. But to be able to wear beautiful clothes because of my work is a real luxury,” he says.

“When it comes to suits, it’s got to be comfortable, so the material can’t be too heavy and stiff. It’s got to have enough strength to it that it doesn’t wrinkle up and get crumpled. I think it’s about having a great tailor. Because there are not many, if any, suits that fit me off the rack, I always have to have them tailored. I do like dressing up for an event or premiere, but at home, it’s board shorts, T-shirts and tank tops.”

The next time we see Hemsworth in a suit will probably be for the premiere of his latest film, Thor: Ragnarok, which is out on November 3. So synonymous is Hemsworth with the gruff-yet-endearing prince of Asgard that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing him. But, in truth, Hemsworth very nearly didn’t get the role.

The casting call went out for a man over 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing more than 90 kilograms. Hemsworth fit the bill, but had an unsuccessful first audition with Kenneth Branagh, who directed the first Thor. As it turned out, Hemsworth’s younger brother and fellow actor, Liam, did get a callback and ended up on the shortlist for the role. Luckily for at least one Hemsworth, none of the shortlisted actors made it through, so Chris, fuelled, he admits, by a healthy dose of sibling rivalry, decided to give it another go. The rest, as they say, is Norse history.

Thor famously didn’t appear in the last Avengers movie (if you haven’t seen Hemsworth and Rolling Stone’s spoof skit explaining why, watch it below), and is experiencing something of a reversal of fortunes in Thor: Ragnarok.

If you’re one of the few people in the world who hasn’t seen the trailer yet (within 24 hours of being released, it had garnered a whopping 136 million views, a record for both Marvel and its parent company Disney), here’s a quick recap: Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his mighty hammer, which has been destroyed by a very powerful-looking Cate Blanchett, who plays goddess of death Hela; Asgard has seemingly been destroyed; Thor’s luscious blonde locks have been unceremoniously shorn off; and he has to battle the Hulk (sans hammer, in case you missed that bit).

“That was our plan. To destroy him, destroy his world and everything he knows and everyone he loves, and just reinvent it,” says Hemsworth gleefully. “He happens to be on a planet where everyone else is pretty damn powerful too. So he’s kind of a regular guy in that sense. No one gives a damn if he’s the prince of Asgard or whatever. It doesn’t mean anything on this planet. We wanted to strip all that back and make him more relatable. I had also gotten kind of bored with how I was playing it. I wanted to do something different.

“Taika Waititi, the director that came in, is a genius and has such a left-of-centre, wildly odd sense of humour,” he continues. “He said: ‘I don’t ever want to hear ‘Loki’ and ‘this madness’ again.’ And I said: ‘No, I’m done. I’ve said that a thousand times.’ And so anytime something felt familiar, we’d go the other way, throw it out of the window and start again. We may have pushed it too far; I don’t know. But it was a hell of a lot of fun and it’s going to be vastly different and unique to what we’ve done before.”

There’s a lot more humour in it, too, particularly in the interplay between Thor and Bruce Banner, who, Hemsworth reveals, happens to be his favourite Avenger. “Definitely Banner, in this film. He’s different, too. He just had such a different energy. And we had such a laugh. There’s a lot more improvisation and comedy. It was just cool. I love Mark Ruffalo, too. He’s the sweetest, kindest, most intelligent person. He’s just one of my favourite humans.”

There he goes again with that humility and likeability. If you were looking for an ideal of 21st-century masculinity, you really could do a lot worse than Chris Hemsworth.

On the crest of a new wave

Luxury carmakers and designers are increasingly dipping their toes into the waters of high-end boatmaking, with companies such as Aston Martin and Pininfarina now joining the fold, writes Adam Workman

Diversifying into premium lifestyle products is nothing new for the world’s top motoring manufacturers, whether it’s high-end homeware or entire houses. But the latest cross-pollination trend has seen multiple household-name car brands splashing out into yacht-making.

For the UAE, the coming together of luxury carmakers and top-of-the-market boat designers is an obvious Venn-diagram convergence. Where else on the planet, with the possible exception of a handful of European honeypots such as Monaco, are you likely to see supercars and superyachts with such frequency? And the same customers who love their motoring eye candy to be in possession of a prestigious badge are, more often than not, in a position to cast off onto the open waters in equally flashy floating vessels.

“It’s happening because customers are demanding it,” says Marek Reichman, design chief at Aston Martin, which has joined the car/boat arms race with the AM37 day cruiser. “People have their favourite brands, don’t they? Is it Apple or an Android device? And I think once you become accustomed to the way something feels and makes you feel, then you have a desire and a want to have more [of that] in your life.”

The AM37 is the latest in a fast-expanding line of collaborations in the car world – Pininfarina, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus are among the names that have also paddled into the world of boat-making. Aston’s 11-metre (or 37-foot, hence the name) craft is the fruit of a three-way labour of love from the British carmaker and two Dutch co-conspirators, Quintessence Yachts and Mulder Design.

The Mercedes-Benz Arrow 460-Granturismo mirrors the shades of the current Mercedes-AMG F1 car

The Mercedes-Benz Arrow 460-Granturismo mirrors the shades of the current Mercedes-AMG F1 car

Reichman and his team conceptualised, as he puts it, “everything you see above the water line” – which includes a sleek teak deck that evokes thoughts of the grand old carmaker’s opulent dashboards. The design chief explains that the company has harboured plans to produce a boat from the days of David Brown, who headed Aston from 1947 to 1972 and lent his initials to the famed DB range. Seven decades on from Brown’s original acquisition, the time was right.

“Quintessence decided that there was potential in the marketplace to create and develop something very different, and approached us,” Reichman says. “That moment came maybe two-and-a-half years ago, and the first production boats are now hitting the water.

“We’re not privy to say who the customers are or how many at the moment. We can only build seven boats a year because of the amount of time [it takes]; they’re heavily personalised. But several of the first customers are part of our VIP club. They’re multiple Aston Martin owners, and now they’re owning the Aston Martin boats as well. [These are] customers who are driving the cars, experiencing the ocean; enjoying the art of living, as it were.”

The interior details of the AM37 cruiser, which has a teak deck, reminiscent of Aston martin's sleek dashboards

The interior details of the AM37 cruiser, which has a teak deck, reminiscent of Aston martin's sleek dashboards

Admittedly, enjoying this high-luxury segment requires deep pockets: the AM37 costs from £1,260,720 (Dh6.1m) for the dual-430hp-engined version. But in this stratospheric world, the speedy, 52-knot vessel is at the modest end of the scale.

Italian design legend Pininfarina – best known for its work on some of the most iconic Ferraris of all time, from the Dino to the Testarossa – has taken things to an altogether greater level with the Aurea. A link-up with compatriot shipyard Rossinavi, the 70-metre superyacht, which had its premiere in London in June, is more or less a beach club with a hull. It has two swimming pools, three large outdoor decks and additional water-level access on both sides.

“The boat sector needs new ideas, especially in the luxury class where the current designs are too conservative,” chairman Paolo Pininfarina reasons. “Innovation is generated by contamination of different design experiences, the so-called ‘cross-fertilisation’ process. The average age of customers is decreasing, so new design proposals are needed and the inputs from car designers are certainly welcome.

“Rossinavi defined clearly the layout of the yacht. When we started to develop the exterior design, all the details, specifications and volume distributions were already developed. Our task was to put the best dress on a functional body, so the process was definitely 50/50. The shape of the Aurea is very fluid, sinuous and harmonious. It takes its inspiration from the lines of the sea,” Pininfarina explains.

Aimed at ultra-high-net-worth individuals, Aurea’s pricing is, perhaps unsurprisingly, firmly in the “if you have to ask…” category.

The design of the Lexus Sport Yacht concept

The design of the Lexus Sport Yacht concept

Roughly midway between the Aston and Aurea is the GTT 115 Hybrid, a meeting of minds from Monaco-based yacht-builder Dynamiq and Porsche’s Studio F A. The 35-metre superyacht, which features Targa-style mullions among other flourishes taken from the German carmaker’s illustrious history, was put into production earlier this year. GTT stands for Gran Turismo Transatlantic.

“In a way, the transfer of luxurious transportation from the road to the waters seems logical,” says Roland Heiler, Porsche Studio F A’s chief executive officer. “Many aspects, with regard to the style, materials and craftsmanship, can be related. Transferring brand values is also an interesting aspect and not to be underestimated.”

The GTT 115 Hybrid is a limited edition of seven and costs from €12.5m (Dh55m), a price that can quickly rise with optional embellishments such as a sundeck pool (€27,500) or, if you are feeling particularly flash, a Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo in matching interior colours for a cool €131,200.

While those craft are informed by, rather than directly drawn from, celebrated design lines, perhaps the most obvious homage yet to the motoring world is Mercedes-Benz’s work with Silver Arrows Marine. The unison led to the Arrow460-Granturismo, which made its maiden voyage last year.

The 14-metre motor yacht mirrors the striking shades of the current Mercedes-AMG Formula One cars, while its side-on silhouette is a slightly unholy matrimony of boating and motoring, with the cabin very reminiscent of an S-Class’s pillars and roofline.

Taking a less literal visual interpretation of its increasingly futuristic car design, meanwhile, is the Sport Yacht concept, Lexus’s theoretical contribution to the expanding crossover market, unveiled at the start of this year in Miami. But it is perhaps the most straightforward application of four-wheeled tech, powered by two Lexus V8 engines based on those under the bonnet of its flagship LC 500 sports car. Sadly, as it stands, the yacht – developed alongside American company Marquis-Carver – is currently a concept only, with no intentions to put it into production as of yet.

A rendering of the interiors of the GTT 115 Hybrid designed by Monaco yacht-builder Dynamiq and Porche's Studio F A 

A rendering of the interiors of the GTT 115 Hybrid designed by Monaco yacht-builder Dynamiq and Porche's Studio F A 

What all these projects share, however, is an inherent similarity with the core objectives of a luxury car: efficiently cutting through its surrounding medium, be that air or water, while inspiring its financially blessed potential customers with taste-making design.

“Certainly the Pininfarina luxury projects, in different sectors such as automotive, housing, boat and aviation, are addressed to clients who have a particular attitude for innovation,” says Pininfarina. “Therefore, there is a potential crossover benefit. There is a chance that a client for a Pininfarina automobile, such as a Ferrari Sergio, is interested in a superyacht, and vice versa,” he adds.

“Aston Martin makes sports cars, and making a fast boat is very similar in many ways because of the challenges of going fast on water versus going fast on a track, or having a performance product that goes on the roads,” says Reichman, who trained as an industrial designer before studying for a master’s in vehicle design.

“The way the hull operates in the water is quite similar to the way a car cuts through the air,” he continues. “Some of the challenges [we faced] were beginning to understand the differences between fluid dynamics and aerodynamics. And, quite surprisingly, they’re very similar.”


Menswear gets an urban upgrade in New York City. Shirt, Dh2,400; trousers Dh2,200; jacket Dh6,600, all from Dior Homme. Bracelets, from Dh1,655, all from Dean Harris. Necklace, Dh2,390, Diaboli Kill

Shirt, Dh3,100; jumper, Dh3,800; coat, Dh18,700 all from Louis Vuitton

Jumper, Dh2,755; jeans, Dh3,030; coat, Dh9,370, all from Linder. Scarf, Dh1,575, Hermes. Bracelets, from Dh1,655, all from Dean Harris. Ring, Dh1,100, Diaboli Kill

Jumper, Dh3,900, Bottega Veneta. Coat, Dh 6,960, Issey Miyake

Jumper, Dh4,600; trousers, Dh4,690, both from Ermenegildo Zegna. Jacket, Dh7,670; backpack, Dh6,065, both from JilSander.

Trusty aviators transition from
skies to streets

A guest at this year's Pitti Uomo fashion show in Florence teams aviators with a wool coat, suit and hat

As the name suggests, aviators were first produced for pilots – which is why they’re also referred to as “pilot’s glasses”. And although today’s versions often come with reflective, blue- green- and even pink-tinted lenses, early aviators were designed with function, rather than fashion, in mind. American company Bausch & Lomb, known for its contact lenses and eye-related medical products, created aviators in 1936, after it was asked to produce protective glasses for fighter pilots during the First World War, to block out the sun’s glare. At the time, the company made binoculars and telescopes.

It wasn’t until the Second World War, however, that the eyewear silhouette really became a fashion statement, emblematic of the handsome, reliable and fearless American hero. Updated styles featured gradient effects on the lenses, so that a coating on the upper halves would provide enhanced protection, and the lower, uncoated halves would allow for clear views of the plane’s cockpit.

The aviators manufactured by Bausch & Lomb were ideal successors to basic pilots’ goggles, which failed to mask the glare of the sun at high altitudes, making pilots feel light-headed and nauseated. These filtered out the dazzling brightness, and soon got their own trademark name – Ray-Bans, since they were literally banning the sun’s rays.

By 1937, aviators were available to the public, and featured plastic frames. The following year, they were remodelled with metal frames, and marketed as Ray-Ban Aviators. Later variations of the silhouette targeted outdoorsmen, and were advertised as ideal eyewear for hunters, shooters, fishermen and golfers, before adapting to the female consumer.

In the 1950s, military fashion played a role in influencing mainstream fashion trends, and aviators emerged as a key micro-trend. The Ray-Ban Caravan style was launched in 1957, and was worn by Robert De Niro in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, aviators were overshadowed by the dramatic disco and retro shades that were in vogue at the time. On the brink of extinction, they were effectively revived by Tom Cruise.

In 1982, Ray-Ban signed a Dh183,660-a-year deal to have the sunglasses appear in over 60 movies and television shows. And in 1986, when Cruise donned aviators for his role in Top Gun, the design’s cult status was cemented. After the film’s release, Ray-Ban sales reportedly increased by 40 per cent.

Over the years, aviators have become almost emblematic of celebrities like Robert Redford, Michael Jackson and even Elvis Presley, whose signature eyewear included gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses with orange- or lavender-tinted shades.

In recent seasons, luxury fashion houses have redefined aviators by exaggerating the shapes of the lenses, adding colourful brow bars, scaling back the opacity of the tints and bedazzling the frames with embellishments.

But current designs are heavily influenced by retro elements, and both oversized frames and aviator styles have been combined to present one of the hottest eyewear trends of the season: aviator optical glasses. These vintage-inspired offerings feature minimalist, lightweight wire frames and large clear lenses. If you’re looking for a pair, Bottega Veneta’s sleek silver aviator glasses for men are absolutely exquisite.

My Luxury Life - Francesco Nuschese

Born on the Amalfi Coast, the founder of the famed Café Milano sits on the board of various charities, and was presented with the Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by the president of Italy. He regularly welcomes heads of state, high-profile politicians and celebrities to his restaurant in Washington, and opened the only international branch of Café Milano in Abu Dhabi last year.

If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?

I was born on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and I really love my home town. I would like to wake up there.

Your perfect meal: where are you, whom are you with and what are you eating?

I love to eat at home. The idea behind Café Milano was always to create that feeling of home. I like to entertain my friends at home, because then I can dedicate myself to my guests, without being distracted by anything else around me. The food has to be simple, but great. It is about knowing your guests and what they like. I have some friends who only want to eat pasta; others who only want grilled fish. It’s about catering to them. Life is not about me. Even when it comes to the business, I don’t really care how much money we are going to make. The point is: how do we entertain people? Can we make a difference to their experience?

Are you a collector?

I collect ties and watches. I really like watches. They are very personal. Every day, what you wear depends on what you are doing and where you are going – are you going shopping, to a meeting, to the office? Is itraining, is it snowing, is it sunny? Based on that, you create an image in your mind of what you are going to look like. Your watch is part of that.

How would you describe your style?

You should be stylish based on your everyday needs – there should be flexibility. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been very picky, even down to my socks. My father used to say: ‘I don’t understand, why would you be so fussy about your socks, Who’s going to see them?’ And I’d say: ‘Father, I’ll see them.’ I dress for myself, not for others. And I think that’s the way it should be. You also have to have a passion for details, I think – although I am not quite sure if that’s a great thing, or a curse.

Wheredo you like to shop?

For clothes, I like Prada and I like Zegna.

What does your dream home look like?

I’m really happy with my home in Washington. It’s a very old home, but it’s right in the middle of the city and it has pretty much everything that we need. There’s a great, very big garden and we grow all our own vegetables there. And we have a greenhouse for the winter. There is a pool that I have probably never used, because I spend my summers in Italy, but it’s heated just in case we want a winter dip. I also really like my home in Italy, on the Amalfi Coast.

Is th*ere anywhere you haven’t travelled to*, but would like to?

I’ve never been to the Seychelles.

Where is your next holiday destination?

I have nothing booked because I’ve just spent three months in Italy, travelling around. In the summer, I entertain my guests in Italy.

What three things do you always take with you when you travel?

A watch, for sure. It will, of course, depend on where I’m going, but also a pair of jeans and a suit.

Café Milano in Washington will celebrate its 25th anniversary in November. What is the secret to the restaurant’s success?

Our philosophy is to understand our guests. In a city where you have a lot of people from different political parties, you need to understand who is who. When we first opened we had The Washington Post constantly asking us: ‘Who came? What did they eat? Who paid the cheque?’ We never said anything. We make people feel comfortable; we accommodate them. You know, in the US, a lot of business gets done on the golf course. But I’ve always felt that going to a restaurant is about more than just food – although the food does need to be great. It’s a very special thing to be able to bring people together around the same table.

Sound Technology

Beats Solo3 Wireless
It’s fair to say that no other headphones have been as polarising as the ones from Dr Dre’s multibillion-dollar brand. The punchy bass that so squarely defines the iconic “Beats” sound has endured, to the ire of many listeners. Users either love that “slug-to-your-chest” audio impact, or hate the fact that the imposing bass all but drowns out the nuanced mid-range of the music. In-house engineering has done little to stifle the oft-heard criticism that the acoustics do not justify the price tag. If your playlist is comprised primarily of hip-hop and electro music, though, you’ll find the low-wave acuity of Beats headphones actually pumps new life into classic tunes.

Yet in its latest Solo iteration (Dh1,100, the brand recognised that it isn’t winning over any audiophiles, so instead it delivers its signature sound wirelessly in a Bluetooth experience that is probably the most seamless in class. With 40 hours of battery life on a single charge, a W1 chip that fully integrates into your Apple ecosystem and intuitive on-board control buttons, Beats Electronics accurately identified what makes its premium headphones convenient. With hundreds of celebrities seen donning B-branded sets, Beats headphones have become staple urban wear, and this new pair, which comes in eight colours, will definitely win you some street cred. The build quality, however, is mediocre. Plastic components, and a comfortable yet noticeable ear cup foam, which makes you want to take them off at least every hour, are disappointing features. Saying that, if you love Beats, then this is its finest Solo yet.

Sennheiser Momentum
The German brand’s devotion to audio fidelity manifests itself in an understated but true-to-form listening experience. You get breadth with Sennheiser, and in its mid-level Momentums (Dh1,500), listeners don’t need to read the geek sheet to understand why they sound so clean. Here the company isn’t explaining why its gold-vaporised ceramic transducers deliver an ultra-high-impulse fidelity, as in the Dh200,000 HE-1. Here you just need to be patient – the bass isn’t going to punch you so hard that you’ll mistake it for quality. Instead, Sennheiser wants to attract listeners who appreciate more finesse and less brute. In terms of engineering, the product mimics Bavarian industrial sensibilities. So, the German touch is there, but perhaps a little too much. If there were to be any criticism, it’s that these headphones are balanced to the point of being boring. Design-wise, the company has improved on comfort, but the band’s brushed metal design still makes it a little rigid for long sessions. And while the audio balancing has created a real treat of a listening experiencing, it takes a listener with an eclectic style to appreciate the range.

Bose QC35
In the mid-range realm, no headphones come close to the magic experienced thanks to the QC35’s ability to transport you from that uncomfortable plane ride, punctuated by a screeching infant, to a focused listening session. The sound stage and impressive crispness on these noise-cancelling virtuosos (Dh1,285) are tuned to deliver you right in the middle of the audio spectrum. Bose, over the years, has become the noise-cancelling champion, honing the technology to the point where the experience is slightly shocking. Of course, Bluetooth headphones will never be as good as a wired device. The Bluetooth on this device is great – it’s not going to deliver the kind of sound that will blow anyone away, but it will come pretty close. Another wireless technology fact: bigger is usually better. Speaking of which, the space inside these ear cups is surprisingly large and the headband is crafted from super-soft Alcantara. These touchpoints, distributed over a surprisingly light 230 grams, mean that, for the first time in my long headphone-wearing life, I never want to take these off. Ever.

Sony MDR-1000X
Sony’s expertise in manufacturing a wide range of products shines through in the MDR-1000X’s non-audio-related aspects. The design is understated and mature, and practicality shines through in oft-overlooked components. The leather on the outer shell makes the product feel premium, although the durability of the material is yet to be proven. The design will ensure that hair never gets caught between the ear shells and the headband. However, coming in at slightly more expensive than the Bose Quiet Comfort, these headphones make almost no case for why consumers should favour the Japanese brand. If anything, the extra features in the noise-cancelling system indicate a failure in design. It forces the listener to input information, while the Bose option just blankets all noise. To unlock the device’s hi-res capability would require a commitment to a Sony ecosystem, which is a big ask, given the company’s outdated tech. Also, when compared to the QCs, I noticed a slightly heavier bass on these. Fanchildren are sure to chime in on how much better QC’s technology is. Admittedly, the MDR-1000X (Dh920) is a great start and Sony is likely to build on this maiden entry into noise-cancelling technology.

Philips SHL3060BK
It was a pair of Philips headphones that first made me understand how much better it was to have music around the ears, rather than inside them. Of late, the company has focused on making a name for its shavers – it introduced the electric razor in 1939. However, around the same time, it began manufacturing home radios, gaining insight into the complex world of sound engineering. The 3060s are airport headphones, but they’ll outperform both the Dh80 price tag and the iPhone earphones you forgot to pack. What sets them apart from other Dh100-range headphones is the warmth of the bass, which shines through, sounding big on low-wave heavy songs, which is uncharacteristic of budget sets. The criticism comes when playing softer music, which sounds springy, even muted. However, the vocals will always be vibrant and real. What also makes these surprising is just how comfy they are. The soft, rotating ear shells rest easy on even the most awkwardly shaped heads, plus there’s that low price. So you can break free from scooping earwax and enter a world where music travels the way it’s meant to.

Hot Property
Fayette Country Farm, Lexington, Kentucky, USA

He may be embroiled in financial troubles, but Johnny Depp has no intention of selling the horse farm he owns in his home state for any less than the asking price

He may be in the midst of a financial crisis, but the unflappable Johnny Depp has no intention of selling the horse farm he owns in his home state for less than its asking price

Save for four years in the early 2000s, the Kentucky-born actor has owned this 41-acre estate since 1995, when he first bought it for his mother, Betty Sue Palmer. The Pirates of the Caribbean star has a penchant for collecting and furnishing properties, and had this place running as a fully functioning horse farm until late last year.

The Greek Revival-style main house was built in 1915. It has 6,000 square feet of living space, spread over six bedrooms and seven baths, plus a dining room, family room and sun lounge. The master suite and open-plan kitchen were recently refurbished, with the latter featuring a Scandi-style island countertop and new appliances.

The manicured grounds feature a guesthouse, a swimming pool with a slide, a patio, four-car garage and three barns. The stables are the main highlight, however, and are made up of 15 stalls and 10 paddocks with a state-of-the-art automatic-watering system. The paddocks are protected by the stately dark wood fencing that the area is known for, and built on a lush patch of bluegrass, the fodder of choice for pure-breed racehorses.

Depp was born in nearby Owensboro and grew up surrounded by horse farms. In fact, Lexington is known as the “horse capital of the world”, with similar such farms dotting the countryside, along with thoroughbred racetracks, most notably the Red Mile and Keeneland. Of course, few of the other farms will have the plush rugs, quirky artwork, pure wood flooring and cabinetry, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, gigantic screens and futuristic-looking fireplaces found at Depp’s luxurious ranch. Framed film posters, ceramic plates, abstractly shaped mirrors, and even a gold-hilted sword take up almost every inch of wall space; while the master suite has a watercolour of a vest-clad Depp playing the piano.

The estate was put up for auction last month, and caught the eye of American radio presenter and fellow farm enthusiast Rick Dees, who made the highest bid of US$1.4 million (Dh5m) against an asking price of $2.9m. His offer was promptly turned down. Considering the financial rut that Depp appears to be in right now – what with a seven-million-dollar divorce, coupled with his allegedly lavish lifestyle – it all boils down to numbers, of course.

Fayette County officials have assessed the fair cash value of the farm at $2.3m, which perhaps explains why Depp originally reduced the price from $3.4m to $2.9m, but also why he refused to sell to Dees, who admitted himself that his bid was “too low for such a valuable property”. Not to mention that Depp first bought the property in 1995 for $950,000 and sold it in 2001 for a mere $50,000 more, only to buy it back in 2005 for $2m.

The actor also owns a 45-acre château in the south of France, and multiple other homes in the US, including several penthouse lofts in Hollywood and Los Angeles, many of which are currently on the market, much like his beloved horse farm.


Feet on the ground

Forget fancy footwear. The modern man is measured by the rarity of his sneakers, writes Hafsa Lodi. Pictured, the design prototype proposed by Turkish designer Bunyamin Aydin for this year's Nike Air Max competition

Ermenegildo Zegna is an Italian fashion house best known for the quality of its men’s suits. But earlier this year, when Zegna unveiled its first see-now, buy-now product on the runway during Milan Fashion Week, it was a pair of high-top leather trainers, costing approximately Dh3,300.

The trainer has carved a place for itself at the very highest echelons of luxury menswear, simultaneously cementing its status as a bona fide collector’s item. And while labels such as Lanvin, Givenchy, Valentino and Balenciaga have all jumped on the bandwagon, these high-fashion offerings don’t really get to the heart of the urban-footwear movement, which centres on creativity, innovation and collaboration.

Gucci’s Ace trainer, which features the brand’s signature stripes and a snake, bee or lion appliqué, may be one of this year’s It shoes. But what attracts true sneaker connoisseurs is not your mass-market footwear, readily available at every luxury department store. Instead, shoes designed by athletic brands in collaboration with seasoned creatives, and produced in limited quantities, are what prompt sneaker enthusiasts to fly across the world for their next pair.

That’s exactly what Algerian sneaker collector Yaseen Benchouche once did, just to get his hands on the limited-edition Nike Air Max 180 Cowboy Sole Collectors. Benchouche began collecting trainers in 1995, and today owns between 500 and 600 pairs. In 2006, he flew from Paris to Miami and stood third in a queue of hundreds outside Niketown. Rules were strict – you could leave your place in the queue to quickly use the bathroom or grab a bite to eat, but if you were gone for longer than an hour, you’d lose your spot. “When I told people I had travelled from France, they said: ‘Nah, you liar.’ Then I pulled out my passport and plane ticket, and they said I was the craziest person, because I had come all the way for one pair of shoes,” recalls Benchouche.

Avid collectors will go to extreme lengths and queue up for hours – sometimes days – to buy limited-edition shoes. “Some people find it crazy that we would camp out in the cold in London overnight just to get a pair of sneakers,” says Abu Dhabi-based collector Jack Brett, aka Jackson, who moved to the UAE from London in 2009. He explains that his ongoing hunt for cool sneakers can dictate his holiday plans.

“Choosing which stores, sneakers or streetwear cultures I want to see, has a massive impact on where I travel. I can’t remember the last holiday I actually went on that didn’t involve going to see a certain store,” he says. “Japan is still number one on my list.”

Streetwear culture in Japan is what inspired the concept of the shoe collector’s consignment store, says Benchouche. One of his friends, Damany Weir, brought the concept to the United States when he launched Flight Club – which is one of the world’s most popular marketplaces for trainers. Benchouche took the concept to Europe, where he worked under the collector’s pseudonym Epsi, and launched Wall Kicks Paris, before relocating to Algeria and opening a store called Sneaker City.

Some of the most valuable sneakers currently available at Flight Club are the Air Jordan 3 Retro Grateful shoes, which are listed at Dh92,000; the Nike Air Yeezy 2 shoes in Red October, for Dh22,050; and Adidas Ultra Boost Miami Hurricanes, at Dh14,700. Buyers can pay upfront or through monthly instalments over one year.

Tiziano XXX sneakers from Ermenegildo Zegna

Tiziano XXX sneakers from Ermenegildo Zegna

The consignment store model is successful because it’s where “sneakerheads” can both stock and seek hard-to-find styles. But not all collectors are sneakerheads, claims Joshua Cox, who, along with Kris Balerite, Hussain Moloobhoy and Raj Malhotra, founded Sole DXB, an urban footwear, fashion and lifestyle event held annually in Dubai.

“A collector may have an extensive collection and elements of the culture they like – but isn’t necessarily ingrained in the lifestyle,” says Cox. “A sneakerhead lives and breathes every single aspect of sneakers. They will stand in line for hours waiting for the latest drop, scour the internet endlessly looking for a pair they couldn’t get their hands on, and connect with other like-minded ‘heads’ within the community to get the latest scoop on trading values. Simply put, a sneakerhead is a diehard enthusiast, who appreciates good design and will stop at nothing for rare finds.”

But what do collectors actually do with their trainers, especially when they have hundreds? Do they put them on display in a showroom, never to be worn, or do they actually wear them? “If you’re someone who has to consider that question, then you’re probably going to want to buy two of everything,” says Sole DXB’s Balerite. Benchouche agrees. “Real sneaker collectors always buy two to three pairs [of one design],” he says. “Always double-double – wear one, and keep the other to resell.”

It takes a great deal of financial investment, as well as a fair bit of networking, to become a collector of sneakers – even if one’s motives are purely personal. “Only buy what you can afford,” advises Jackson. “Plan ahead for the hard-to-get releases and be prepared to hustle for the ones you really want. Be more than happy to help other people, as what goes around comes around.”

Jackson is in the process of launching a new concept space in the UAE. “By teaming up with some of the most renowned leaders in the industry, we’re bringing a bespoke men’s barbershop, select sneaker and streetwear consignment store, and specialty coffee all under one roof. We aim to be a cultural hub here in the UAE where you can express your art, design and style,” says the entrepreneur.

At Sole DXB, which this year takes place on the weekend of December 7 in Dubai Design District (d3), sneaker vendors from all over the world exhibit their valuable wares, some of which are shoes that were made exclusively for a brand’s family and friends. These are extremely rare, as they are made in very limited quantities and never even make it to stores. Throughout his career as a collector, Benchouche has owned some family and friend exclusives, including the Nike Air Force PlayStation sneakers. When word spread in the collectors community that Jay-Z was on the lookout for a pair, Benchouche, who had them in the right size, sold them to the rapper for about Dh7,000. The most valuable find the collector has ever come across, however, was an Air Jordan X Eminem shoe. “At the time that I had it, it was around Dh20,000, but within a few years its value skyrocketed to around Dh90,000,” he says.

The Asics Gel-Lyte trainer at the Sole DXB event

The Asics Gel-Lyte trainer at the Sole DXB event

While consignment stores were once optimal spaces for sneakerheads, the industry has since evolved. International fairs, such as Sneaker Con, take place around the world, while online marketplaces, such as, are convenient and reliable platforms for buying and selling rare sneakers. And through social-media apps like Instagram, re-sellers can connect with customers around the world within minutes. “The growth of the culture has happened in line with the growth of social media; they complement each other very well. The access is now global, and so is the interaction, which before was a massive hurdle,” explains Jackson.

However, the sudden, wide-reaching implications of the web and social media may have also altered the very soul of the previously urban, underground nature of sneaker-collecting. “Now it’s different,” says Benchouche. “You only see resellers in the queues; nobody’s really passionate about the shoes anymore, they just want to buy them and sell them on sites like eBay within the next hour.”

Nonetheless, many collectors remain loyal to the original trade, and continue to value creative vision over trend hysteria. “For us, it’s all down to collaboration,” says Sole DXB’s Moloobhoy. “Sure, there’s an element of ‘hype’ and ‘limited quantities’ involved, but we don’t mind that.

“We’re talking about collaboration in its purest sense – when two entities come together and produce a product inspired by a collective creative journey and unique vision. A true reinterpretation of a silhouette through the deconstruction of design, material and colour,” he explains.

Whether it’s populated by veteran collectors or new-age shoe addicts, the sneakerhead community is expanding all over the world, and with concepts like Sole DXB becoming yearly events on the calendar, the UAE is no exception. The 15-year-old Emirati YouTuber Rashed Belhasa, also known as Money Kicks, is the region’s poster child for expensive sneakers, with a collection worth hundreds of thousands of dirhams.

Consumers in the UAE are also notoriously brand-conscious, so the majority will gravitate towards trainers with designer names affixed to them. Jackson points out that brands are now connecting with a wider audience through exclusive partnerships and capsule collections, citing the recent collaboration between Louis Vuitton and streetwear label Supreme (a collaboration that Belhasa also invested in, getting hold of trainers, clothes and bags from the collection, and foiling his Ferrari to match it, too).

“Fashion houses are now looking to younger, more influential creative directors to lead and challenge the stereotypical norms of fashion,” says Sole DXB’s Malhotra. And while these may not always embody the street-level soul of trainer-trading, they have helped to wash the shoe of its grungy stereotypes.

Turkish designer Bünyamin Aydin of Istanbul-based label, Les Benjamins, says that streetwear – and trainers – are a part of the social identity of millennials. Aydin became the first Middle Eastern brand to collaborate with Nike, when, this March, he was one of 12 designers worldwide selected by the brand to come up with a design inspired by the classic Air Max silhouette.

But even though trainers are trending, and becoming increasingly acceptable even for formal occasions, Aydin points out that some traditional outlets have yet to catch up with this new lifestyle. “Some restaurants that I’ve seen, even here in Dubai, and in London, still do not allow sneakers,” he says. “I was so shocked to see that – I mean, sneakers are part of who we are now; you can’t avoid that. Some sneakers are even more expensive than loafers. I’m in this culture, I’m not going to wear Tod’s, that’s not me. If it isn’t acceptable, then I’m in the wrong place.”

Mario Testino on the disruptive power of art

On a crisp September afternoon in London, almost 400 lots from a private art collection came up for sale at Sotheby’s, in a much-anticipated auction replete with firsts.

Not only was it the first time that an oil painting by the highly regarded German abstract artist Tomma Abts had ever come up for auction – Zaarke (2000) more than trebled its presale estimate of £35,000 (almost Dh174,000) – but it was also the only time that any of the works from the much-coveted collection had ever been sold.

The collector? The world-famous fashion photographer Mario Testino, a man who has launched modelling careers with the lens of his camera, but also helped to sustain artistic ones thanks to his passion for contemporary art.

The reason? A good cause. Testino will use the proceeds from the sale to support the contemporary art museum he founded in 2012 in his home town of Lima, with the aim of giving local artists a platform for their work and exhibiting international contemporary art in Peru.

Thanks to two sales and an online auction, Testino’s MATE – Museo Mario Testino will benefit from a healthy endowment. The afternoon sale, which featured works by Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Ruff and Ugo Rondinone, generated a cool £6,285,375 (Dh31 million), while the day sale, which also included works by Tracey Emin, Urs Fischer, Luc Tuymans and Shirin Neshat, resulted in sales of £2,423,313 (Dh12m). The top lot in the online sale was Richard Mosse’s Lac Vert, which sold for £28,000 (Dh138,000).

Although the diverse works were, undoubtedly, contemporary, they were also linked by the eye of their collector, which has proved itself to be as brave as it is astute, guided more by the need to be provoked and challenged than soothed. “People always say: ‘You have to buy what you like’, and I’m not so sure of that phrase. I think you almost have to buy what puzzles you, what attracts you and what, at the same time, confuses you, because there needs to be a space for growth,” Testino tells me before the auction.

“What you like is something you’ve already consumed. And once you take it home, it has no space to grow, so you get bored of it quite quickly. Whereas what attracts you, but confuses you, has a long time to grow, and so you can live with it for a much longer time,” says the photographer, who has created campaigns for fashion labels such as Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Valentino and Versace.

Guided by such impulses, Testino has been collecting art ever since he started making money from his photography in London in the 1980s – his work first appeared in British Vogue in 1983 – and has benefitted from the feedback of a trusted inner circle of aesthetic advisers, including the photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd (stepbrother to Diana, Princess of Wales) and the art dealer Sadie Coles, whose artists feature heavily in Testino’s collection.

The result is an art collection that is still housed worldwide, much of it in storage, but some of which Testino has also lived with. Works from the sale, such as Anselm Kiefer’s collage H20, hung in the photographer’s kitchen, while Richard Prince’s picture of a girl astride a motorcycle, Untitled (Girlfriend), was not only mounted above the headboard of Testino’s bed, but also featured in a photo shoot with the supermodel Kate Moss.

If Testino’s collection features stellar works by internationally recognised artists, it also contains lesser-known pieces by ones who are just at the beginning of their careers, which means that some of his investments now seem incredibly well-judged, while others appear as acts of patronage.

The sale not only contained incredibly rare and sought-after paintings by 36-year-old artist Tauba Auerbach and works by Laura Owens, whose mid-career retrospective is just about to open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, but also contained pictures that were estimated to sell for as little as £400 (Dh2,000).

“The very important thing is that I collected artists young. The interesting thing for me was that I became so obsessed with it – that my buying was associated with making young artists stay alive almost, because I was buying them quite early on and betting on people that had no proof,” Testino tells me.

“My money was going into things that could make it or couldn’t make it. But I was excited by the process with the artists, participating with the artist’s career and development and growth. They also all surprised me with what they did.”

When I ask if the sale represents an end to his collecting days, the photographer responds with an emphatic “definitely not”.

“I’ll continue to collect and support young artists. The art world is where I feed. It opens my eyes to new things and shifts my consciousness. What I love about it is that it’s constantly challenging us to look at things differently, not necessarily because you like them, but because you are surprised and curious,” he insists.

“Just as photography is a vehicle for me to live a new moment, to go to a new place, meet a new person and so on, art is a process of encounter and discovery. Art is never static.”

Precious pens

The act of investing in fine pens has been propelled by digitisation, as collectors begin to value the increasingly rare art of writing, finds Panna Munyal. Pictured, a pen from the Motegrappa's Ernest Hemingway: The Traveller Collection

The digital age is replete with paradox. It has made many of us impatient, insouciant and all about the instant gratification, yet we also place great value on the traditional (think vinyl and watches) and the tailor-made (suits, shirts and shoes). From handmade and limited-edition products to bespoke experiences, true luxury has become synonymous with one-off, personalised and unusual pieces. And a rare pen – that mighty bastion of an analogue era – sits firmly in the premium-product category, with collectors regularly seeking out investment-worthy instruments.

This might explain why stationery is an important market for both age-old auction houses and modern-day shopping portals. “Many of our clients say they appreciate fine pens precisely because they represent a respite from the digitisation of everything. The very act of using a fountain pen is, in a sense, a small rebellion against the trivialisation of the art of writing,” says Ivan Briggs, director of writing instruments at Bonhams auction house. “In contrast to the blitheness of dashing off a quick text or tweet, using a fine pen makes one keenly aware of the value of self-expression. One tends to slow down, to become mindful of one’s penmanship, to select one’s words more carefully, and to gather and develop one’s thoughts more thoroughly. The act of writing becomes intensely personal, providing an oasis in the midst of hectic modern life.”

Likewise, from a receiver’s point of view, getting a handwritten note, card or letter holds far more meaning. The printed type of a digital message simply cannot match the sentiment that can be conveyed through ink on paper.

Montblanc offers a Bespoke Nib Service, based on a person's writing style

Montblanc offers a Bespoke Nib Service, based on a person's writing style

From an investment viewpoint, the preciousness of a pen is directly proportional to its rarity. Accordingly, an upcoming Bonhams auction will include such specimens as a Pilot-Namiki maki-e pen from the 1930s decorated with a Japanese fan motif, by artist Shogo; and a Parker Ultra-Giant hard-rubber fountain pen, circa 1905, which holds a red Baby pen within its barrel. Although the latter is fully functional, it’s too large to comfortably write with, and will work best as a display piece.

The December auction will also offer at least two Montblanc instruments, including the Montblanc 75th Anniversary 18K gold Skeleton, modelled on the company’s classic Meisterstück; and a Montblanc for BMW Centennial Skeleton. The pens are estimated to sell for between US$15,000 and $35,000 (up to Dh128,500) a pop. The most expensive pair of pens ever sold by Bonhams were the Dunhill-Namiki Emperor-Sized Golden Tiger and Black Cat A-Grade Maki-e Fountain Pens from the early 1930s, which went for just over $300,000 (Dh1.1 million) in 2015.

“Its appeal as a collectible aside, a pen can also be a wise investment option. Writing instruments are a globally collected product, and tend to hold their value over time. The fact that each has its own story, told through carefully crafted design details, colours and materials, very much adds to their collectability,” says Franck Juhel, president of Montblanc Middle East, India & Africa.

In fact, no mention of luxury pens would be complete without referencing Montblanc. Every instrument that the German luxury house has released over the past century has been handcrafted in its Hamburg outfit. Each year, Montblanc also produces special and limited-edition pens across three categories, dedicated to a Patron of Arts, Writer and Great Character.

The Dunhill-Namiki Emperor-Sized Golden Tiger and Black Cat were the most expensive pair of fountain pens ever sold at Bonham's 

The Dunhill-Namiki Emperor-Sized Golden Tiger and Black Cat were the most expensive pair of fountain pens ever sold at Bonham's 

This year’s Patron of Arts, for example, is Italian cardinal Scipione Borghese, the 17th-century collector of Baroque art. The granite barrel of the tribute pen has been crafted to mirror the multicoloured pattern of the marble floors of the grandiose rooms in Rome’s Galleria Borghese. The Montblanc Writer’s Edition 2017, meanwhile, pays homage to author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and references his Caudron Simoun monoplane through engravings on the night blue, precious resin barrel and cap, which are reminiscent of the aircraft’s rivets.

“Writing will always be part of our lives. And collectors are as individual as the writing instruments they collect. So we have those who focus on one particular collection, such as Patron of Arts, while others seek fountain pens across the collections,” says Juhel. “We have an amazing young collector in the UAE, who only wants Montblanc rollerball writing instruments, and another who wants pens crafted in a specific material. The ultimate collectible would be a unique piece – a writing instrument of which only one has been crafted,” he adds.

The Kingsman pen created by Conway Stewart in collaboration with Mr Porter

The Kingsman pen created by Conway Stewart in collaboration with Mr Porter

For first-time buyers, a pen from a special-edition collection, which is based on a theme that appeals to your personality and lifestyle, is a good starting point. The options are almost limitless, and range from the Chinese opera and Charlie Chaplin to golf and Gandhi. Italian company Montegrappa, for example, has limited-edition lines dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the UEFA Champions League, Game of Thronescharacters, Ernest Hemingway and the Egyptian deity Thoth, who was said to have invented the alphabet. Luxury e-tailer Mr Porter offers the Kingsman pen, based on the movie franchise, created in collaboration with British manufacturer Conway Stewart – the gold cap of the instrument is engraved with the secret spy establishment’s moniker: “Oxfords not Brogues”.

Personalisation is another great way to ensure the one-offness of your pen. This can take the form of monogrammed text, etched-on images and bespoke nibs, or pre-decided materials, designs and even precious stones, to construct an entire pen based on individual specifications, the value of which will be priceless to its owner. While every Montblanc nib has the number 4810 engraved on it, a reference to the Alpine Mont Blanc mountain’s height, the company also has a service that enables the individualisation of a fountain pen’s nib, based on a buyer’s loops, angles and writing pressure.

As with most collectibles, research is a must. “There are many excellent books, magazines and websites devoted to fine pens. My advice is to do your research and then buy the pen that speaks to your interests. The key thing is to identify your tastes and then buy the best within your category and price range. If you’re buying with an eye to future resale, make certain to keep the pen in excellent condition, preferably uninked, and retain the sometimes elaborate packaging material and paperwork, as collectors are sticklers for completeness,” says Bonhams’ Briggs.

Montblanc regularly brings its collectors from all over the world together, for dinners and launch events. “There really is a dynamic world of collectors, which most people are quite unaware of until they become a part of it,” says Juhel. “But it is very much alive, and often multigenerational. Many young collectors follow in the footsteps of their fathers or mothers, who have instilled in them an appreciation for the handmade craftsmanship of writing instruments, which our collectors share an intricate interest in, knowledge of and, often, friendly rivalry for.”

What makes these scruffy shoes worth Dh150,000?

The shoes are the actual Light-Up 2015 Nike Mag pair worn by actor Michael J Fox’s endearing character Marty McFly in the 1989 film Back to the Future II. McFly time-travels in these shoes to the year 2015, to prevent his future son from ending up in prison.

In a bid to replicate the shoes of the future, the scruffy-looking pair features a textured blue-flecked foam sole that creeps up along the upper, LED lights behind the heel, and a glowing Nike logo on the ankle straps.

While the trainers famously self-laced in the film, these prop shoes, clarifies the auction description, are “a light-up, walk-around version” minus the “special-effects requirements for the self-lacing sci-fi shoes”. Nike did, however, release a button-powered, self-lacing shoe last year called Marty McFly, sending a first pair to Fox for trial. The sale of that limited-edition collection of 89 pairs of shoes raised money for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, with one buyer paying as much as $52,000 (Dh191,000).

This original pair, meanwhile, was estimated to sell for between £25,000 and £35,000 (up to Dh128,500), at Prop Store’s Entertainment Memorabilia Live Auction, which was held in London last month and showcased 600 original props, costumes and rare production materials.

Other lots at the movie memorabilia auction included: the wallet carried by Samuel Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction; a light-up miniature model of the Millennium Falcon building from Blade Runner; Jack Nicholson’s jacket from The Shining and Joker costume from Batman; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines costume; and the hand-painted portrait of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) and Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeifer) from Scarface, complete with bullet holes.

LUXURY editor: Selina Denman
Deupty Editor: Sarah Maisey
Art Director: Emma Tracey
Picture Editor: Olive Obina
Assistant Editor: Panna Munyal
Stylist: Hafsa Lodi
Contributors: Adam Workman, Naser Al Wasmi, Nick Leech