Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Watch That's Beautiful, Affordable –
And A Design Classic, To Boot

"Form ever follows function," wrote the architect and father of the steel-framed high-rise Louis Sullivan in 1896. "This is the law," he affirmed, as if to make certain that his intentions would be clearly understood.

And they were. These few words defined international style in architecture and minimalism in industrial design for the better part of the 20th Century (although not everyone agreed with Sullivan, and his emphatic "ever" is no longer used when the phrase is invoked.)

Flash forward about 50 years to the Museum watch face, one of the archetypal expressions of Sullivan's commandment. Designed by George Horwitt in 1947, the museum dial has no numerals or lines to indicate intervals between the hours. Horwitt reduced the wristwatch face to a pair of elegant white gold hands and one lone dot where the 12 goes, set dramatically against a black background. That's it.

The design has been produced continuously – first by Vacheron & Constantin, then by Movado – since the late 1940s. The timepiece itrself became synonymous with Horwitt's dial and is universally known as The Museum Watch after the Museum of Modern Art added it to its permanent design collection in 1960.

While Horwitt specificed white gold hands and dot againsta black background, today yellow gold is typically used, sometimes with a white or navy blue background in place of black. In any combination it's still a stunner, an affordable piece of timeless luxury that you can use and enjoy every day.

Buy yours here. See other versions of Movado's Museum Watch here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

For a Memorable Valentine's Day,
Try These Outstanding Champagnes

Jay McInerney observed in the Wall St. Journal recently that the British regard champagne as a necessity, rather than a luxury

As might be expected, Winston Churchill was less tactful. "I cannot live without champagne," he once said.

Most of Britain continues to concur. More champagne is sold there than in any other country outside France. That includes the U.S., whose population is about five times larger than the U.K.

So what do the British know about champagne that Americans don't? For one thing, they're more knowledgeable about a wider range of first-rate producers. These include the historic French houses of Pommery, Pol Roger and Bollinger.

Not one to disagree with the man who also said, "I am easily satisfied with the very best," The Luxurist proposes a few memorable bottles that are worth seeking out.

(Or for ease, just click on the links and they will be whisked to your residence in no time at all.)

Let us start with Bollinger. It's a family run house with a long tradition dating back to 1829.  "Bollinger's appeal is unmistakable: It's rich and powerful and Pinot Noir-heavy—the Château Latour of Champagnes," McInerney opined.

"Bollinger's Special Cuvée is one of the biggest non-vintage champagnes on the market, and the complex La Grande Année is really a food wine more than it is an aperitif." For a notable Valentine's Day, the Grande Année Rose is the way to go.

Bollinger's richness and particular quality is often attributed to it's fermentation in wooden barrels, some more than 100 years old and kept in shape by a full-time cooper. The Luxurist believes it is the only house producing champagne in this manner.

The Luxurist notes that James Bond often quaffed Bollinger in both Ian Fleming's novels and movies made from them.

Also Read: Sweets, Hearts, And Other Valentine's Day Confections

Pol Roger is another tradition-steeped family owned operation. Founded in 1845, it is known for its vintage champagnes, which McInerney rightly states "merit comparison with the best.". Right now 2002 Pol Roger Vintage Brut is available at a very reasonable under $100 price. Also try the non-vintage Pol Roger Brut.

You might find you will enjoy Pol Roger more than the usual champagnes Americans are used to drinking. Churchill certainly did; it was his favorite.

But if you must have Veuve, then The Luxurist recommends you opt for their rose, which is more highly rated than the Yellow Label and, take it from The Luxurist, absolutely delicious.

Finally, McInerney notes that "champagnes likes these really deserve to be drunk year round."

The Luxurist certainly subscribes to that philosophy. In fact, he's heading to his cellar now to make his champagne selections for tonight's dinner.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sweets, Hearts, And Other Valentine's Day Confections

Giving chocolates to your sweetie on Valentine's Day may be banal, but, like guilt, it usually works. The trick is to seek out an elegant offering from one of the more distinctive choclatiers.

Valentine's Day Gifts from England's Charbonnel et Walker...

The British confectioner Charbonel et Walker is little known in the U.S. In England it's considered top shelf, as it holds a Royal Warrant to the Queen of England, and has for more than a century.

You will find two Charbonel et Walker offerings at Neiman-Marcus, including a Milk Chocolate Vintage Red Heart ($65) and a 16-piece assortment of "Vintage" Chocolates ($39) charmingly presented in a box covered in Charbonnel et Walker's original floral print paper.

...and from Vosges (left) and Bissinger's.

Neiman's also has stocked the Vosges Exotic Carmel Collection ($74), 36 butter caramels infused with exotic flavors. They are packaged in a sophisticated, round pink and purple four-tiered gift box. Vosges is the fashionable maker of fine candies from Chicago. It has become better known in recent years after opening stylish boutiques in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and New York.

Also Read: Memorable Valentine's Day Champagnes

Finally, Neiman's has astutely elected to offer Bissinger's Signature Heart Box Chocolates at the very attractive price of $40. Don't know Bissinger's? You should. It has been producing quality confections in St. Louis since 1927.

When it comes to Valentine's Day gifts, if you cannot be original, then at least show some class. It will not go unnoticed, which, of course, is the point of plying your loved one with bon-bons in the first place.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Make It A Double: An Appealing Wine At A Good Price. And You've Probably Never Heard Of It.

If you ever see a bottle of Chinon on a wine list when you are dining out, do yourself a favor and  order it. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised.

The Luxurist has been taking his own advice for many years because he knows what many wine mavens have learned: this medium-to-full bodied red wine from the inviting Loire region in France pairs nicely with food and, because it is so little known, ordering a bottle won't break the bank.

In fact, the prices are so reasonable that a high quality Chinon usually turns out be a terrific value.

Made primarily from the cabernet franc grape, Chinons tend to show more herbal and mineral qualities than Burgundy. They might show some nice fruit. But you will not find any floral notes in them.

Some have called these wines "austere" or "reserved" Of course, that is precisely why they are wonderful wines to drink with a meal.

While the quality can be quite good across the board, the style of the wines will vary, not simply because of the skill of the winemaker, but also because the soils in the Loire Valley are not uniform.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the Chinon appellation comprises "a mix of terroirs, including alluvial soils that tend to produce lighter, easier drinking wines; limestone, chalk and clay slopes, where the most complex, structured and age-worthy wines are grown; and soils dominated by clay, which can produce wines that reflect both styles."

Perhaps this is more than you need to know about Chinon. Suffice it to say that if you spend a few minutes with a thoughtfully assembled wine list, you may well find a Chinon worth drinking.

If you want to try a Chinon: Charles Joguet is one of the oldest and most reliable Chinon producers. Others include Bernard Baudry, Couly-Dutheil, Domaine des Roches Neuves, Phillipe Alliet. Wines from several of these producers were highly rated last week in a New York Times tasting of Loire reds. The Marc Bredif 2011 received 2 1/2 stars and is widely available in the U.S. You an get it here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Big Deal: Big Savings On Big Books At Taschen Stores

Taschen publishes smart, swanky, beautifully designed, large format books on art, photography, fashion, and pop culture. These are volumes to covet and treasure. They don't come cheap, yet which of you, beloved readers, does not want to own at least a few of them?

The Luxurist has his eye on several that are just out, especially Genesis, the sensational collection of Sebastiao Salgado photos which comes in a leviathan 18.4 x 27.6 in. two volume set for a mere $4,000 and a smaller, yet still highly desirable version that seems like a bargain at just $69.99.

The Complete Works of Hieronymus Bosch, with large fold-outs of The Last Judgement and  The Garden of Earthly Delights  ($150), and National Geographic Around the World in 125 Years (three volumes, $499) are two others that Santa did not have in his bag for The Luxurist.

(There's always next year, but I digress.)

On January 24-26 Taschen stores in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, New York, Miami and London are cleaning house by offering discounts of up to 75% on retired display copies, slightly dented specimens, and discontinued items.

The selection is different at each location and may or may not include The Luxurist's, or your, favorite titles. Taschen says that they will offer some of their reduced stock online, as well.

Look for bargains on the three-volume Julius Shulman Modernism Rediscovered ($300, Zaha Hadid Complete Works ($49.99), The James Bond Archives ($200), Caravaggio The Complete Works ($150), Modern Art 1870 to 2000 (2 vols., $59.59), Diego Rivera The Complete Murals ($200), any of the six books in the limited edition Fashion Design A-Z series on Akris, Etro, Stella McCartney, Missoni, Prada, and Diane von Furstenberg ($350 each).

You'll be lucky to snag any of these, but Taschen also publishes several hundred other titles, many of which sell for a more modest $9.99, $14.99, and $19.99. Even if you don't find a distressed treasure, you'll enjoy browsing through your nearest Taschen store. Each one is architecturally unique.

Again, the sale takes place on January 24-26. Start your countdown clock now.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Artful Traveler: St. Petersberg's New Faberge Museum

Faberge eggs are having a moment just now.

This might not have come as a surprise to Tsar Alexander III who in 1885 commissioned the first ornately bejeweled egg as an Easter present for his wife. It became an annual tradition over the next 30 years, with prized specimens going not only to the tsaritza, but also to other matriarchs in Alexander's family.

(Yes, the wife of the Tsar is properly called tsaritza, not tsarina, which, though commonly used in some places is woefully incorrect. Trust me on this. But I digress.)

Forty-two eggs still exist. If you can get your hands on one – good luck! – it will set you back $8 - $10 million, perhaps more. 

Even if you cannot buy one to put on the mantle next to your Oscar, it is possible to see a good many of them this season.

Four will be on display at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum from February 18 to May 18.

You must travel to Russia to view two larger collections.

Moscow's Kremlin Armoury museum has ten eggs on display. Nine are to be found, along with another 1,000 pieces of jewelry and objects crafted by the Faberge workshops, in the much anticipated Faberge Museum set to open in St. Petersburg this winter.

The museum is owned by Viktor Vekselberg, purported to be the fourth richest man in Russia, and housed in the elaborately renovated Shuvalovsky Palace, described by The Telegraph as "a fabulous riot of 18th-century rococo."

As this is a privately owned institution,  admission is limited to just 15 people per hour, and then on only certain days of the week – after the museum finally opens, that is. While the museum held a gala society and press  event in November, it has yet to announce the date the public will be welcome.

Reports in the Financial Times, The Telegraph and other British papers indicate that it could be quite difficult to get in. (Would you expect anything less from Russia's fourth richest oligarch?)

Advance planning will be necessary, and it might be best to leave the arrangements to the several Russia travel specialists based in London who can guarantee admission to this and other coveted sites, whisk you through customs on our arrival, and arrange luxury accommodations for your trip.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Artful Traveler: Unexpected Pleasures In Unlikely Places

Art actually is all around us.

It's in museums, of course, in plazas in front of rude public buildings and soul-crushing skyscrapers, and in the homes of well-heeled friends or business associates.

Occasionally it turns up in the least likely of places.

The Dutch chain Spar recently opened a supermarket in Budapest designed around a series of curvaceous wooden ribs that extend, not uniformly, from the ceiling to the floor so as to divide the  large space into a series of inviting, humanly scaled pods.

Curved counters are clad with similar wooden ribs for displaying wine and baked goods. Produce is displayed on curving white islands, and the forms of the checkout counters echo the same pleasing shapes.

Undulating white beams in the ceiling contrast with the warm wood and guide shoppers on one of several routes through the store – short for daily shoppers, long for those on a weekly shopping expedition.

The market opened in September in a mall in a wealthy suburb of Budapest and is the work of the local LAB5 architectural firm.

Let us hope that the Spar store is so successful that it spurs less progressive chains to think along the same lines.
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