Luxury magazine: June

High fashion on the high seas; the artist capturing the Gucci zeitgeist; a music legend's home goes up for sale; and Frida Kahlo's inimitable style

‘Kahlo treated her body as a canvas that needed to be adorned but also disguised’

When fashion, art and industrial design overlap, the results can be startling. In this issue, we look at three occasions where these creative fields have come together in unexpected and intriguing ways.
The collaboration between Gucci and young Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal has resulted in a new and distinctive visual identity for the Italian brand. The advertising campaigns, books and limited-edition T-shirts that the 22-year-old has created for Gucci are an ever-so-slightly unsettling mix of intense accuracy and offhand surrealism, created in Ignasi’s signature “digital painting” style.
“I try to look at a lot of things, stay cultivated, look at art, the currents and the masters. I love computer games, Japanese animation. So I guess my artworks are really a mix of all that imagery accumulated over the years, with my own spin on it,” Ignasi tells Sarah Maisey.
In the exclusive images from Gucci’s spring/summer 2018 campaign that we present an upstanding, bespectacled owl in a slick white suit is flanked by two sleek purple-clad Dobermanns. All are wearing Gucci’s inordinately fashionable belt bags. Elsewhere, we see a pair of Gucci’s ubiquitous Ace sneakers, a forked tongue alarmingly extending from the sole of one of the shoes.
This is the kind of distorted reality that we have come to expect from Gucci under the direction of Alessandro Michele. The flamboyant Italian has put Gucci back at the forefront of the fashion zeitgeist, paving the way for Ignasi’s one-of-a-kind illustrations to also go down in fashion history.
Art and fashion also collide in a new exhibition at London’s V&A Museum called Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Opening on Saturday, the showcase features an extraordinary collection of personal artefacts and clothing belonging to the Mexican artist. Kahlo was acutely aware of the power of appearance, as seen by her dramatic signature style. From the untouched monobrow to the floral headpieces and traditional Mexican garments (most notably the huipil blouses and skirts of the Tehuantepec region), she treated her body as a canvas that needed to be adorned but also disguised, on account of the disabilities that plagued her throughout her life.
With its new Les Petits Nomades collection, Louis Vuitton celebrates a very different kind of art. Decidedly sculptural in form, this collection of smaller decorative objects was created in collaboration with some of the biggest designers in the world, including Marcel Wanders, Patricia Urquiola, Atelier Oï and the Campana Brothers. It is fascinating to see what these creatives have been able to achieve by employing Louis Vuitton’s extensive craftsmanship and know-how.
One final piece of art that you might want to look out for in this issue is the bright purple driveway leading up to the Turtle Tail estate in Turks & Caicos, a fomer holiday home of the music legend Prince, which is being put up for auction this week. It is truly a sight to behold.

* Selina Denman, editor

If the shoe fits 

A long, button-down shirtdress skims the length of one model; another sports a polo with forest green sequins and a leather stripe; and a third dons high-waisted fitted flares paired with a mocha peacoat.
Chloé’s pre-fall 2018 collection perfectly captures the French label’s innate philosophy of free-spiritedness, infused this time with an equestrian twist, as evidenced in the models’ footwear. All save for one saunter down the runway in pointed lace-up leather boots. However, for her favourite look, creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi sent out a model in a pair of cropped pants with leg-warmers, paired with a checkered coat and Chloé’s new leather, nylon and canvas high-tops (pictured).
Luxury sneakers are the new Louboutins. From Ermenegildo Zegna and Valentino to Gucci, Lanvin and Louboutin himself, designers are leaping onboard the trainer bandwagon. This style of footwear is now perfectly acceptable in almost all walks of life, from beach to boardroom.
While the shoe’s sporty functionality remains the domain of the likes of Nike, Adidas and Puma – which have their own high-end iterations – consumers in the UAE are notoriously brand-conscious, and many are gravitating towards trainers with designer names affixed to them. Enter Chloé’s Sonnie sneaker.

According to a statement released by the maison, the Sonnie was created to signal in the era of women who are determined to “move through life with a forward momentum”. Available in both high- and low-top styles, the shoes feature a sloped silhouette, cross-strap detailing and a moulded bi-colour sole. The contoured nylon panelling of the upper is rendered in a combination of suede calfskin, mesh and hard-wearing neoprene, while the Chloé logo is embossed on the back and embroidered on the tongue. The shoe, available in four colourways, is easy to slip on, aided by a back loop rather than the usual front straps.

The decision to introduce the style in this particular collection was deliberate. From her coffee-making days at Balenciaga and her time at Louis Vuitton as Nicolas Ghesquière’s right-hand woman, Ramsay-Levi has been a self-professed fan of pre-fall collections, which she says are about well-thought-out pieces that “have to work into a wardrobe without screaming what season they’re from”.
Accordingly, in a bid to integrate seamlessly into every woman’s wardrobe, the Sonnie is available in all-over white with accents of athletic green and sepia red; neutral beige with white, sand, sepia red and faded orange; earthy brown with white, yellow and burgundy; and dark khaki with antique purple, beige, faded orange and collegiate blue.
The Sonnie sneaker will be available from this month at the Chloé boutique in The Dubai Mall, and retails for €495 (Dh2,110).

The trend : strong feminine suiting

Christian Dior

Double denim in tonal shades of blue is roughly riveted around the female form, so that it loses none of its urban appeal.

Dolce & Gabbana

With its nipped-in waist and eye-catching stripes, this slick three-piece, from the masters of men’s suits, is feminine to its core.

Stella McCartney

Loose cut? Check. Drawstring? Check. This understated and effortless two-piece in soft alabaster is all about relaxed living.


Even busy patterns can work well when crafted from contrasting panels. The boxy, cropped jacket and high-waisted trousers add a retro 1990s feel.

Of silver and glass

Sarah Maisey discovers how historic brands such as Saint-Louis and Puirforcat, which share more than six centuries of history, remain relevant

Nestled between Hermès and Dolce & Gabbana in The Dubai Mall Fashion Avenue extension is a treasure trove of exquisite silverware and elaborate glassware. This is the new home of two cherished French brands, Puiforcat and Saint-Louis, which share an impressive 630 years of history between them.

One might make the mistake of thinking that handblown chandeliers and delicate silver vases are relics from the past. But, talking to Nicolas Cantenot, managing director of silver specialist Puiforcat, and Jérôme de Lavergnolle, chief executive of Saint-Louis, it quickly becomes clear that while these storied houses may be steeped in history, they have their eyes firmly on the future.

Founded in 1820 in Paris, Puiforcat specialises in handcrafted silverware – from elegant, solid silver cutlery to perfectly proportioned art deco coffee pots and delicate caviar sets. The brand established itself as a master of silversmithing early on, and enjoyed a further boost in the 1920s under Jean Puiforcat, who was both a silversmith and an artist heavily involved in the art deco movement. He brought harmony and balance to Puiforcat’s designs, adding a new slant to the very classical pieces it had hitherto offered.

One example is the Cannes cutlery that Jean created for his own wedding, which is still very much in demand today. “In Paris, we have the only remaining workshop in the world that has 15 silversmiths working across all the techniques,” Cantenot explains. “Planishing, chiselling, engraving – everything that makes silversmithing what it is.”

This is no small boast. Each Puiforcat creation, from teaspoons and trays to tumblers and soup tureens, is entirely handmade, using techniques that require years to master.

“We recently launched a Sommelier line, which is a mix of very ancient techniques and the latest technology,” Cantenot continues. “The glass is extremely light, while the heavy base is precision-cut from a solid piece of metal, using very sophisticated machines that operate on five planes of axis.”

Interestingly, it is the silversmiths who programme and operate these new machines, which means they are still involved in every part of the operation. “It has been a process and an evolution,” Cantenot explains, “because obviously the craftsmen have been trained to use their hands. Those very traditional techniques are extremely important for us, so together we had to understand that using a piece of automatic machinery is not against traditional techniques, but can complement them. I think it took a while in everyone’s mind to understand that, and to see that we were using both elements to create our products.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Puiforcat has long been a favourite with royalty, although its clients are of a slightly different sort these days. “We started looking at our history, and we noticed it has always been linked to power, to kings and queens. If you look at who has power today, it is entrepreneurs, and the wealth that they created themselves.”

Today such wealth is found in the marinas of Monte Carlo, Capri and Saint-Tropez. “We decided to focus on our target audience of yachts and jets,” says Cantenot, “because people who drive nice cars could be successful, or maybe they just have a nice car. However, once you talk about yachts and jets…”

While Puiforcat may be about to celebrate its 200th anniversary, it is a young whippersnapper compared to Saint-Louis, the oldest crystal glassmaker in Europe, which was established in 1586 and in 1767 was named Royal Glassworks by Louis XV.

“We have been on the same site since the beginning,” de Lavergnolle explains. “We are totally surrounded by forest, and in the forest there is everything we need to make crystal: sand, lead and potash. In the past, we used wood for the furnaces – wood is the heart of a crystal factory – but now of course it is all electric.”

Even with workers who are considered the best in their field, glassblowing is still notoriously tricky, requiring immense patience and skill, and the ability to endure the extreme heat of the furnaces. Saint-Louis likens the craftsmen to “ogres with the finesse of embroiderers”. Molten glass is picked from the furnace at 1450°C, to be quickly worked before it cools; just adding glass to moulds produces a cloud of steam that is 900°C.

“All the techniques we use today we have used since the 19th century,” de Lavergnolle explains. “We have new colours, which is a matter of mixing metallic oxide with the crystal – but double-layered colours, triple-layered colour, acid etching, all these techniques were invented in the 1800s.”

Finding those “ogres” and preserving these skills is the greatest challenge facing historic brands like Saint-Louis. “It is very important to maintain a good pyramid of ages, because we don’t learn in books, we learn by observation of others,” says de Lavergnolle. “If we don’t maintain a good pyramid, one day the older generation of craftsmen will have retired, taking all their knowledge with them.”

In 1953, for instance, the house struggled to recreate a glass paperweight that required a technique that was commonly used just 50 years earlier. “When a British collector said he would like to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II with a special paperweight with the Queen’s portrait inside, we really had difficulties, because we had forgotten how to do it.”

Today both Puiforcat and Saint-Louis are part of the France-based Hermès Group, which is entirely fitting given the philosophies of all involved. “We share three values,” de Lavergnolle explains.
“Craftsmanship; it takes 10 years to train to make a Birkin as well as to blow glass. Next is quality, because we make no compromise; it has to be perfect. The third is innovation and tradition. The value of the crystal is only 10 per cent. The rest is the value given to it by the human hand.”;

Hot Property: Prince's Dh 44 million island estate

Turtle Tail, Providenciales Island, Turks & Caicos

A winter retreat of the late music legend Prince, this island estate boasts a driveway painted in the flamboyant artist’s favourite colour: royal purple

The musician from Minneapolis was not only an award-winning singer-songwriter, but also something of a real estate mogul. Over the years, Prince accumulated homes in Beverly Hills and Marbella, as well as more than a dozen properties in his home state of Minnesota, including Paisley Palace, his main base and studio. However, this Caribbean retreat was the Sign o’ the Times artist’s go-to when he wanted to escape the harsh winters of the American Midwest. Located about 1,000 kilometres from Miami, Providenciales Island – which spans 60km from end to end – has also hosted vacationing celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Christie Brinkley and Eva Longoria.
Prince was known both for his much-glamourised parties and his reticent offstage demeanour. However, the eight-time Grammy winner seemed entirely at ease on the island, with many reports of him being spotted out and about in town or at the Amanyara resort, mingling with locals and visitors. He also worked with home-grown musicians to help them hone their craft. Nonetheless, the Turtle Tail estate itself is a study in absolute privacy.

The 10,000-square-foot main house is built 40 feet above sea level and sits on five acres of land on Providenciales’s largely uninhabited south shore. Built for typical island living, the open-plan, sparsely furnished home has a spacious master suite, plus five other bedrooms and six bathrooms. Its multiple balconies and hexagonal living room overlook the tranquil blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s also a dining room, spacious kitchen with mod-con appliances, and a semi-covered terrace, ideal for entertaining. The interior features wood-beamed, vaulted ceilings and glass walls.

It has floor-to-ceiling windows and doors, one of which opens up onto a lagoon-shaped swimming pool, bordered on two sides by a rock garden and bonsai plants. The idea, as with many island homes, is to homogenise the indoor and outdoor living spaces. One wing is dedicated to a gym, media room and home theatre with purple cladding, while the chairs and a mirror from the film Purple Rain are included in the sale.
The property also has a 200-foot dock, two private white-sand beaches, tropical gardens, a two-storey guesthouse, staff residences, walking trails and, of course, that purple driveway.

One of his first additions when he bought the property in 2010, the stretch is a tribute to Prince’s favourite colour and the name of his most well-known song from 1984, which spawned the eponymous album and film; he was even dubbed The Purple One. The driveway sits adjacent to a full-sized tennis court with night lights.  
After failing to sell when it first went on the market soon after Prince’s death in 2016, for an asking price of US$12 million (Dh44 million), Turtle Tail will be auctioned on July 12. Incidentally, this was almost the exact amount that the music icon originally paid for the estate.

Conducted by Premier Estates Auction Company, the worldwide sale has no set starting bid, potentially making this a one-off steal. Bids need to be submitted on paper, along with a fully refundable $100,000 (Dh367,350) registration fee. Scheduled viewings of the property can be made by appointment before the auction date, while the winning bid will be announced 48 hours after the July 12 deadline.
* Panna Munyal

In safe hands 

A luxury safe – one that secures your prized possessions while enhancing your decor – is a wise investment, writes Panna Munyal

Typically, on these pages, we expound on why some luxury item or other – rare books, high-quality gemstones, one-off pens, vintage timepieces – holds great value, both emotionally and financially. Here, though, we look at the merits of investing in an accessory that ensures the security of all those other precious collectibles: a safe. This might make it the smartest investment of all. 
Old-school safes were weighed down by their bulk and break-in potential. In modern times, however, safes have the advantage of technology, which helps both in terms of upgraded opening and closing mechanisms (as opposed to a simple lock and key, or numbered knob wheel), and the means to treat materials to make them more resilient. There are many elements that a safe can shield your prized possessions from, such as natural disasters – fires and, to an extent, floods – as well as attempted break-ins and thefts. A competent vault can also be built to uphold the condition of your treasures, by controlling the temperature and humidity levels, which stops or at least slows down age-related dereliction.

According to Paolo Agresti, security products have to adhere to a series of set parameters, against theft, fire and other threats, and buyers must double-check the authenticity and reputation of brands and the institutes that certify them. For instance, Italy-based Agresti has obtained its certification from the eminent Istituto Giordano; this qualifies its safes against both attacks and breaking. “To protect the safe and its contents from fire, we use high-level steel with several layers of chrome carbides for straightening, and our products also have electronic humidors to control moisture levels,” says Agresti, the company’s owner.
Austria’s Buben & Zörweg, which has a branch in Dubai, constructs its safes from Relastan, a patented composite material that increases load-bearing capacity and protects against extreme heat, while Stockinger, from Germany, uses a high-temperature fire sealant with a melting point of more than 1,000°C, and its safes come with VdS certification, a standard issued directly by German insurance companies.
Locking mechanisms, too, have progressed to include several foolproof options. From safes that can be controlled with phone applications, and biometric readers that authorise opening by one “master” and up to 99 other individuals, to systems that recognise unique face features and fingerprints, modern-day safes are virtually uncompromisable. Christian Zörweg, CEO of Buben & Zörweg, cites the example of the company’s X-007 luxury vault: “At first glance, nobody would even know that it’s a safe, nor can they see how it might possibly open. Then, it lifts up and you have more storage on the sides, which you wouldn’t expect at first. Another example is the Titan. If you press a secret button, our Time Mover watch-winding element impressively glides forward and turns 180 degrees, displaying 18 other watch winders. If someone is robbing you, they would never know there are more watches hidden on the other side.”

Agresti adds that many safes also come with an inbuilt coercive silent alarm, which sounds a warning to the authorities, along with recorded video footage in case of attempted attacks. The company’s safes range in price from Dh25,000 to Dh768,000.
What you want to store within should be the primary determinant of the kind of safe you invest in. According to Micah Dougherty, creative director of California-based Brown Safe Manufacturing: “What you intend to safekeep will determine the size of safe needed, the protection level required, the added features to keep those valuables in top condition and, ultimately, whether a particular safe truly meets your individual needs. Some of our most popular features include automatic watch winders for collectors of fine timepieces, fabric-lined drawer inserts in customised shapes and sizes for individual jewellery sets, tarnish-resisting fabrics for silverware, and hand-built racks for everything from necklaces and sunglasses to car keys and even weapons.” 

Functionality aside, sleek and sophisticated safes also add value to your decor. Francesca La Ferla, a sales manager for Underwood London, says: “A safe can be covered inside and outside with precious materials such as crocodile, ostrich or lizard leathers, or precious wood, like briarwood. Alternatively, a safe can be plated in precious resins or 24K gold. Once you start to look, the choice of luxury materials is almost limitless, and customisation is key.”
Often, the piece itself is treated as a work of art, taking pride of place among its owner’s living room furniture or on a bedroom wall. Take the Millionaire safe from Portuguese company Boca do Lobo, for example. The 320-kilogram structure draws its inspiration from the California Gold Rush, with detailed maritime motifs such as a silver-plated ship’s wheel, visible from the outside, with polished brass sheets, a gold coat finish and a set of individually lockable drawers crafted from solid mahogany.

Walnut burl, Macassar ebony and Grigio oak are some other woods to consider, while hand-stitched leather, mother-of-pearl veneers, varnish with diamond chips, high-quality carbon-fibre, two-way mirror spy glass and gold-leaf finishing will all ensconce your valuables within a suitably luxurious setting. “One can also request personal engravings and any automotive colour – depending on the decor – in a high gloss, matte or silk matte finish,” says Matthias Fitzthum, CEO of Stockinger. “Safes are like pieces of art, for your home, office, on board your superyacht or any other place where you keep special items.”
Companies are constantly on the hunt for materials that tick all the boxes in terms of safety and style. “We recently acquired an exceptional lot of Macassar ebony, for which we had to compete with the owners of a line of private A380 jets, who wanted to decorate their flying residence with this gem of rare wood,” Zörweg reveals. “The pattern of the ebony, which gained popularity in the art deco era, will now live on in our Objects of Time design for wrist watches.”

While watches and jewellery top the list, the choice is limitless when it comes to what you can store in these stylish and tech-savvy safes. At Buben & Zörweg, for example, client requests have ranged from a vault for violins to an armoire for antique cameras. “Before you select a safe, calculate the total value of your collections, be that money or gold or watches. Ask yourself what security level the insurance company of these items asks for. What is the maximum weight that can be handled by the architecture of your property – our safes can weigh up to two tonnes. Consider how you want to present your collections; the bespoke design of the exterior and interior are undeniably important,” says Fitzthum. “And finally, remember, collections tend to grow, so always go at least one size bigger than you had planned. Order the most exclusive and finest bespoke safe you can afford at the time, it is, after all, an investment for generations.”

The maritime-inspired Millionaire safe by Boca do ­Lobo in gold, silver and brass.

The maritime-inspired Millionaire safe by Boca do ­Lobo in gold, silver and brass.

A multipurpose safe from Agresti, which can hold ­watches, jewellery and other valuables in its compartments.

A multipurpose safe from Agresti, which can hold ­watches, jewellery and other valuables in its compartments.

Buben & Zörweg ­pieces can be customised to match the decor of your space.

Buben & Zörweg ­pieces can be customised to match the decor of your space.

The interior of a Chronos Series jewellery vault from California’s Brown Safe.

The interior of a Chronos Series jewellery vault from California’s Brown Safe.

My Luxury Life

Jeremy Hackett, who turned 65 in May, has been smartening up the wardrobes of boys and men the world over since co-founding Hackett clothing in 1983. A tireless and generous ambassador for the company, he remains the epitome of classic British style

If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?
I would like to be on safari in Africa, following elephants and photographing them.
You’re sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, whom are you with and what are you eating?
It would be at Wiltons restaurant on Jermyn Street in London with my good friend, the journalist and author Nick Foulkes, who is always good company and very amusing. I would probably choose the warm potted shrimps, followed by the grilled Dover sole with new potatoes and spinach. The very thought of it has me salivating. I would skip pudding and stroll down to Franco’s and have coffee outside whilst puffing on a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure no 1 Cubana from Davidoff. 
What is life’s greatest luxury?
Peace and quiet, and a good book.
According to you, What is the most overrated luxury?
Fashion brands posing as luxury. For me, luxury is about rarity and craftsmanship that is beyond fashion.
Are you a collector? If so, what do you like to collect?
I have never been a serious collector, although I do seem to have acquired numerous bespoke suits and shoes, and I do have a number of watches.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My 1963 Rolex Explorer, which I inherited from my mother and whom I am reminded fondly of whenever I wear it, which is frequently.
Is there anything you take with you on your travels that reminds you of home?
Whenever I travel, I take my cufflinks with the images of my dogs, Muffin and Harry, enamelled onto the links.
What are the most Common fashion mistakes that men make?
It has always puzzled me that men who are carrying extra weight, but are fortunate enough to be monied, don’t invest in having their clothes made. I so often see large men who have squeezed themselves into skinny suits in a bid to look fashionable – the effect being that they end up looking even bigger. There are many advantages to having one’s clothes made. For a start, the suit or jacket will fit in all the right places, and a good tailor will be able to disguise any unseemly lumps and bumps, so not only will you look trimmer, but your clothes will also last longer and you will feel more comfortable. It is often said that one should wear dark clothes, but if you are a larger-than-life character then even a white suit can look elegant, as long as it has been made by a decent tailor.
Hackett enjoys close ties with Aston Martin. if you could own any model, past or present, which would it be?
I have always admired the Aston Martin DB4, but, practically, I would choose the Aston Martin Rapide S, a most elegant four-door car that passes as a two-door with the added bonus that my dogs would fit on the back seats. That reminds of the time I was in Dubai with my Hackett colleague Neil Bugler for British Polo Day, and we had very kindly been lent an Aston Martin for the weekend. We decided to venture out of Dubai and take a few photographs of the Aston parked up in the desert. We took the car down a little track and, before we knew it, we became stuck in the sand, unable to move. Of course we were totally unprepared, it was blazing hot and we had no water. Fortunately, a workman, seemingly coming out of nowhere (at first I thought it was a mirage), stopped his truck and by conversing with hand signals, he generously dug us out. I was so relieved that I went to the boot of the Aston and pulled out a white linen shirt that I had yet to wear and ceremoniously handed it to him. He appeared to be most grateful; we certainly were.
* Kevin Hackett

‘A world of Greek mythology, strange characters and alchemy’

Sarah Maisey speaks to Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal, whose dramatic ‘digital paintings’ perfectly capture the current Gucci zeitgeist

Not many 22 year olds can claim to be at the forefront of a global fashion movement, but that’s where Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal finds himself.
In spite of his youth, Monreal is already well known in creative circles, having worked with people and brands such as Christian Dior, FKA Twigs, Swide (Dolce & Gabbana’s online magazine) and Jonathan Anderson. However, it is his work with Gucci that has really propelled him into the spotlight. 

Since taking over at Gucci in 2015, creative director Alessandro Michele has been merrily turning the brand on its head, completely reimagining every aspect of the business from the ground up. Gone is the high-octane glamour of Tom Ford, replaced instead with Michele’s highly personal but deeply appealing vision of hipster geek chic – a seemingly haphazard style of dressing infused with eclectic, thrift-shop-inspired elements. Michele is a self-confessed magpie; his inspirations are wide-reaching and thrown together in a process that he likens to mixing a drink in a cocktail shaker.
Into this world stepped Monreal, who was discovered by Michele via Instagram. The Spanish artist was invited to join Michele’s #GucciGram project, a platform where artists are encouraged to create original artwork inspired by Gucci. Although barely 20 at the time, Monreal was seemingly unfazed by the proposition. “Gucci approached me and it was really a no-brainer to say yes,” he says.
“I absolutely adore Gucci’s current aesthetic and philosophy; it’s very naturally up my street and it was an incredible experience to be able to interpret the Gucci world,” he adds.
Monreal’s contribution was a painted pastiche of American advertising, featuring a woman with a blonde bob sitting behind a desk, with the words “Text FUTURE to 1921” urgently flashing on and off in one corner and a stream of text running along the bottom of the frame, too quickly to read. Smart, sassy and highly relevant (1921 is the year that Gucci was founded), Monreal’s artwork clearly struck a chord with Michele. Soon after, Monreal was asked to design the print edition of the 2017 Gucci Gift Catalogue.
Months in the making, the coffee-table tome that Monreal delivered was entirely hand-painted and filled with beautifully bizarre images, including mermaids on iPhones, women sporting kittens as hats, and boys wearing Gucci plasters and golden laurel wreaths. A total of 80 spellbinding illustrations presented Gucci accessories and ready-to-wear pieces (the book is, after all, made to showcase the Italian brand’s products).  
Monreal’s skill lies in his ability to mix accuracy with offhand surrealism. One painting has a pair of men’s shoes lying casually on a car-park floor, as a winged horse lazes in the background. Elsewhere, models have golden halos and are surrounded by cherubs, while a reclining tiger has a woman’s head, clad, if you will, in diamanté chain mail. Impossibly cool and quirky, the book is described by Gucci as “a world of Greek mythology, strange characters and alchemy”.
In spite of the hand-painted finish, Monreal’s technique relies on new technologies.

Rather than painting physically onto a canvas, he employs what he describes as “digital painting”, using Photoshop, a stylus and custom-made brushes. “I haven’t really trained to do this anywhere,” he says. “I started to experiment with digital painting when I was still at school. It was the time of the Photoshop hype, and I felt it was cooler than painting with paints.”
Describing his work as geek-meets-fashion, this self-confessed gamer has his own distinctive style. “I work very intuitively,” he tells me. “Sometimes ideas come to me naturally, sometimes I do go back to my very messy desktop for some references, and then I mix them in with whatever is on my mind. There isn’t really a process.”
This open-minded approach trickles down to the work itself. When he was asked to do the 2018 Gucci spring/summer advertising campaign, for example, Monreal looked to the unlikely inspiration of the 15th-century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. While Bosch’s original medieval works are populated with terrifying demons and visions of the afterlife, Monreal’s versions are filled with lamb-headed models and curious giraffes. Another image has John Everett Millais’s famous painting Ophelia (1852), now reimagined as a red-haired woman floating among lily pads, dressed in a chartreuse sequinned Gucci dress.

“I knew that Alessandro Michele really loves these paintings,” Monreal explains. “And so do I. Both artists really influenced me over the years, so I thought it could be a nice little homage to them.”
The two main figures in the campaign are taken from Arnolfini Portrait by the 13th-century painter Jan van Eyke, but transformed into a handsome couple in gilt embroidery. Elsewhere, a forked snake’s tongue extends from the sole of a Gucci trainer and a bespectacled owl is flanked by two purple-clad dogs.
Monreal’s fearless approach also led to him being invited to collaborate on a line of T-shirts for Gucci, which went on sale in April and are available online.

These added into the mix even more diverse elements, such as David Hockney-style portraits, English Romanticism and even the 1950s kitsch classic The Green Lady by Vladimir Tretchikoff.
“I try to look at a lot of things, stay cultivated, look at art, the current and the masters. I love computer games, Japanese animation. So I guess my artworks are really a mix of all that imagery accumulated over the years, with my own spin on it,” Monreal explains.
“I guess the amount of realness and imagination really depends on the painting, but I think the balance is quite important here, as you do want to make it feel believable and relevant. I don’t paint from photographs, so the time I spend on each painting really varies on how complex it is. Sometimes it can be a week.” As for knowing when enough is enough, he says: “It’s really just a sensation, and you are lucky when you get it.”
Monreal is playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to talking about the future. “I am working on a few projects at the moment, but not sure I can reveal it all,” he says. “I just did an installation with Kartell for Salone del Mobile, which was a really nice experience and completely different aesthetically to what I did for Gucci. I am also very much looking forward to a bigger personal project.”
While Monreal is taking the world by storm, last year also saw the release of the world’s first hand-painted feature film, Loving Vincent. It would appear that painting is very much back in vogue. “In that context, I am extremely grateful to Gucci and Alessandro Michele for entrusting a painter with such a big assignment,” says Monreal. “I think it really changed people’s approach to this medium. It feels relevant again. It is an important message to send to the younger generation, I think.” 

Material magic

Inspired by travel, Louis Vuitton’s new collection of furniture and decorative items is a reminder that objects are not always inanimate, says Selina Denman

Much of the magic of travel has been lost because of the speed and efficiency of flight, Aurel Aebi, co-founder of the Swiss design firm Atelier Oï, tells me during a chance encounter at the Milan Furniture Fair. “Today you don’t really travel anymore,” he suggests. “You just go from A to B. You get on a plane to go to Dubai and then you’re in Dubai; you see nothing in between.
“In the old days, when you travelled, you stopped, you slept in a hammock, you sat around the fire… you soaked in the atmosphere, you had moments.” Aebi wonders whether some of that magic can be reclaimed through the power of design. “Perhaps objects can help your spirit to travel,” he says. “They can transport you.”
And with this passing thought, Aebi captures the essence of Louis Vuitton’s Les Objets Nomades collection, to which Atelier Oï has contributed.
Objets Nomades is an ever-expanding line of limited-edition furniture, created in collaboration with some of the world’s best-known designers and inspired by travel (in fact, the choice of the word “nomads” suggests something beyond travel – a reference to the art of wandering, of moving from place to place, unencumbered. I suspect it is a reference to the same magic that Aebi has been lamenting the loss of).
Lest we forget, travel sits at the heart of the Louis Vuitton brand. In 1837, a 16-year-old Louis Vuitton arrived in Paris by foot, having journeyed from his home in eastern France. In the capital, he began an apprenticeship with the esteemed box-maker and packer Monsieur Maréchal. At a time when horse-drawn carriages, boats and trains were the primary methods of transportation, luggage tended to be handled roughly – and travellers often called upon specialists to pack and protect their precious belongings ahead of a journey.  
After 17 years with Monsieur Maréchal, Louis opened his own workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines, and the first Louis Vuitton trunk came soon after. Hundreds of thousands of trunks have since been handcrafted by the brand, and each has a story that is told “through those who order them, those who owned them, and the times in which they were made, as if, once wide open, they are no longer trunks, but albums”, Patrick-Louis Vuitton, Louis’s great-great grandson, has said.
Much like those trunks, the creations in the Objets Nomades collection tell their own stories. Since launching Les Objets Nomades in 2012, Louis Vuitton has collaborated with the Campana Brothers, Patricia Urquiola, Marcel Wanders, India Mahdavi, Tokujin Yoshioka and Atelier Oï, among others. Combining the French brand’s savoir faire with the creativity of these industry stalwarts has yielded exciting results.

The idea of travel is reinterpreted in countless ways – the playful Bomboca sofa by the Campana Brothers is named after the sweets served at weddings and children’s parties in Brazil, and takes the form of clouds and “colourful sea apples”. Mahdavi’s Talisman Table takes its inspiration from the nomads of the Middle East, and features a portable leather-covered base that unfolds like a book, with a removable tabletop. There are hammocks and deckchairs, foldable stools and the Chaise Longue by Marcel Wanders, which the designer refers to as “an unfolding and portable oasis for relaxation”. As he explains: “Three individual modules fit into each other like a puzzle, yet when laid out create a generous chaise longue.” The Bell Lamp by Barber and Jay Osgerby, meanwhile, may look like an old-school transportable lantern, but in fact consists of Murano glass encasing a solar-powered LED light.

For 2018, Louis Vuitton has expanded the Objets Nomades concept to include smaller objects – the charmingly named Les Petits Nomades. These decorative treasures, designed by many of the same creatives involved in the Objets Nomades project, were unveiled at Milan’s Palazzo Bocconi during this year’s furniture fair, in an artful juxtaposition of historic architecture and innovative design installations.
The highlight of the presentation was a lush field of pink flowers dropping dramatically from the ceiling, each bloom painstakingly formed from leather by Louis Vuitton’s master artisans. For the striking design, entitled Origami Flowers, Atelier Oï cleverly replicated the motifs on Louis Vuitton’s iconic Monogram canvas, with each bloom available in a range of 15 hues. Also part of Atelier Oï’s contribution to Les Petits Nomades was the Rosace vase and Flower Field cushion, which, on a smaller scale, also mimics a field of flowers – this time multihued buds made from folded leather.

To kick off its collaboration with Louis Vuitton, Atelier Oï – which was founded in 1991 by Aebi, Armand Louis and Patrick Reymond (the name is derived from the Russian word “troïka”, a team of three) – visited the Louis Vuitton atelier in Asnières, north-east of Paris. “We saw all the know-how and all the savoir faire. We saw the museum with all the old pieces. And we were really fascinated,” says Aebi.
The idea of working with leather – but using it as a material in itself, rather than just a means of covering other materials – also appealed, since Atelier Oï is a setup that seems almost obsessive about materiality. “In our offices, we have a library with 20,000 different materials. We’ve been collecting all the materials that we’ve found around us since 1991,” Aebi reveals.
“We like to say that we think with our hands. In German, there is a saying: ‘I touch to understand.’ The idea is that you don’t only know something intellectually. It goes from your head, through your heart, to your hands and vice versa. In the end, design is not just a drawing – the form follows emotion. And when you work with these materials, you sometimes feel like it is too much for the material. You begin to speak with the material, in a certain way.”
In this instance, Atelier Oï’s conversation with leather is fluid and uplifting, and leather is transmuted into floral forms that capture the imagination in myriad ways.
André Fu was also committed to transporting users with his first contribution to the Objets Nomades line-up, which was unveiled alongside the Petits Nomades at Palazzo Bocconi. Fu’s Ribbon Dance chair consists of two seats wrapped in a ribbon, to create an intimate, cocoon-like space for two.

Most importantly, the seats face each other.
“The first idea that I had was, I really wanted to create a piece that went beyond the perception of an object and becomes a place,” the Hong Kong-born designer and architect explains. “It’s a place for two people to have a dialogue with each other. As you know, we live in a digital age, and nobody is talking to each other any more, so when an object provokes conversation and dialogue between people, there’s something quite magical about it.
“So we imagined this silhouette of these two people, who are so engaged with one another that they are sitting on two cushions that start to float up and this ribbon starts to dance around them,” Fu explains. “Objects have a role in how we interact and engage with each other. They have a role to play and are there to enhance life.”
Aebi agrees. “Good design is when you can capture the interest of someone and you can create a moment. Nice design is not just a dead object, but something that transports you to a certain mood or a certain moment. That’s why I say I like designing moments. Not just objects.”

Making herself up

A new retrospective at London’s V&A offers a look at the style and belongings of artist Frida Kahlo, a woman who had a clear and innate understanding of the power of appearance. By Sarah Maisey

When Mexican artist Frida Kahlo died in 1954, at the age of 47, her husband Diego Rivera ordered that her room – and everything in it – be sealed, with instructions for it not to be opened again until after his death. Although Rivera, who was a painter himself and helped set up the Mexican mural movement, died three years later, it was not until 2004 that Kahlo’s room was finally reopened. Within lay a near-perfect time capsule of her life, from her distinctive clothes to her favourite make-up.

Now, for the first time, this extraordinary collection is being shown outside of her native Mexico, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Entitled Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, the exhibition is a look not only at Kahlo’s possessions, but also at how she used them to create the unique and powerful image she presented to the world.
An artist famous for works inspired by nature and Mexican artefacts, as well as brutally honest self-portraits, Kahlo’s experience was one of extreme creativity marred by intense personal tragedy. Born in 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was a bright and spirited child, who understood the power of appearance from an early age. Family photographs show a teenage Kahlo wearing a man’s suit (complete with shirt and tie), her famous monobrow untouched and her hair slicked back in a masculine manner. Amid her sisters, who are dressed in fashionable American-style clothing, Kahlo is striking in her uniqueness.
A childhood bout of polio meant she had to endure months of bed rest, but despite being left with a deformed right leg and months of missed education, Kahlo was active and sporty, and became one of the few girls allowed to attend the renowned National Preparatory High School.

'They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t... I painted my own reality'

In 1925, however, when she was 18, Kahlo’s life was altered completely, when the bus she was travelling on collided with a tram, plunging a steel rail through her abdomen. With a severely damaged spine, leg and pelvis, she was lucky to survive, and spent weeks in hospital in a full-body cast. Her injuries left her in constant pain for the rest of her life, and she would endure close to 35 operations, including spinal taps and botched attempts to fuse her vertebrae, to try and repair the destruction.
It was during her long recovery that Kahlo began to paint, channelling her pain into art. Unable to move, she painted her own portrait. She later explained: “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” Painting became Kahlo’s focus, and a medium for exploring and confronting the painful personal journey that she now found herself on.
Once she could walk again, Kahlo dressed herself not in the fashion of the time, but in traditional Mexican clothing. In particular, she adopted the huipil blouse of the Tehuantepec region – a loose, square-cut top covered in boldly embroidered flowers – teamed with a long, colourful, full skirt.

She favoured bright and vivid colours, both in her clothing and her work. This was not coincidental, but something that the artist mindfully explored. Kahlo wrote lists with her own interpretations of the meaning behind the colours she favoured. Green meant “good, warm and light”, while magenta was the colour of the Aztecs, the “blood of the prickly pear”, and the “brightest and oldest”. Yellow signified “madness, sickness and fear”, but also “the sun and happiness”, while blue was “electricity, purity and love”. The colour black, meanwhile, was explained, rather cryptically: “nothing is black – really, nothing”.
For Kahlo, combining meaningful colours and loose-fitting silhouettes was clearly not only about adorning clothing that was beautiful-looking, but that also helped to disguise her disabilities.
She would often wear her long, dark hair piled up in intricate plaits, topped with a halo of colourful flowers. Combined with long earrings and loose scarves, Kahlo’s look was both steeped in her country’s tradition, yet made entirely her own. In fact, so unique was Kahlo’s style, that she was featured in American Vogue in 1937.
“Frida Kahlo wore her heritage, her home, the clothing made there, to reveal or conceal the hardships she endured and continued to endure throughout her life. In doing so, Kahlo created her identity,” E P Cutler, fashion historian and author, explains. “Through her art, especially her pieces of self-portraiture, Kahlo shared her identity – and her human struggles.”
In 1929, Kahlo married fellow artist Rivera, but despite their deep bond, the union was highly tempestuous (the pair would go on to divorce and re-marry). She would later say: “I suffered two grave accidents in my life.” One was the tram – “the other accident is Diego”. His constant infidelity and her inability to carry a child was a source of ongoing anguish for Kahlo, and she once more poured her pain into her work.
A reference to her miscarriage in 1932, Kahlo’s painting Henry Ford Hospital is a distressing depiction of a sobbing Kahlo surrounded by, among other things, her lost child and smashed pelvis, joined to her by umbilical cords. Intensely personal, it is an insight into the darkest, deepest torments of her mind.
Of the 143 paintings she created, 55 are self-portraits. “Kahlo had a type of violent authenticity that came from unflinching self-exploration,” Cutler says, “and an eyes-wide-open way of life that was able to honour beauty and humour amongst pain. Her immense strength as a person and an artist, and the vulnerability in her work, transcends language and country lines; Kahlo captures the universal in her unflinching personal reflection.”
Kahlo’s refusal to adapt to social norms, both in her work and her style of dress, made her a magnet for those with a similarly rebellious mindset. She was friends with Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Leon Trotsky. More recently, Madonna has declared her admiration for the artist. Having purchased Kahlo’s painting My Birth (1932) – a graphic and disturbing depiction of Kahlo’s birth in adult form – the singer announced to Vanity Fair magazine in 1990 that “if somebody doesn’t like this painting, then I know they can’t be my friend”.
Kahlo’s 1943 portrait Diego In My Thoughts shows the artist encased in a traditional Tehuana lace scarf, which frames her face and immediately draws the eye to it. Given Kahlo’s innate understanding of the power of clothing, it is little wonder that so many fashion designers have looked to her for inspiration.

“Fashion designers are often drawn to women like Frida Kahlo,” Cutler explains. “Strong women, enigmatic women, whose hearts seem fuelled by fire. Fashion will always be transfixed by the few women who possess those qualities. Fashion doesn’t forget women who changed the world, especially when their clothes and look played a part in doing it.”
Jean Paul Gaultier (who famously designed the corset-inspired costumes for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour in 1990) called his spring/summer 1998 collection Hommage A Frida Kahlo; the designer drew on the artist’s darker side, resulting in a line that was almost entirely black. Now regarded as one of Gaultier’s finest collections, Cutler describes it as “layers upon layers upon layers, brightened first by a bit of blood red in a skirt and then glistened with heavy sequinning”. In addition to the floral headpieces and monobrows, many looks featured torsos tightly wrapped in buckled straps, which echoed the steel corsets that Kahlo was forced to wear to support her fragile spine.

In 1944, Kahlo’s back deteriorated once more, to the point where she was confined to bed by her doctors, encased in yet more corsets. With a spinal column barely capable of supporting her, Kahlo wore medical corsets almost every day, yet the pieces she was forced to don during this period – made of plaster of Paris and steel – were so brutal that she described them as instruments of punishment. Despite months in bed, she continued to paint (via a setup that held the canvases over her head) and also decorated the corsets that gripped her, encouraging her visitors to do the same. Several had holes over the stomach but, undeterred, Kahlo painted on her skin, too. Even when unable to access her paints, she would use lipstick and iodine to continue the patterns.

At the V&A exhibition, visitors can catch a glimpse of one such corset that she decorated with the hammer and sickle of the Communist Party. As such a major part of her life, she often included the corsets in her work, including The Broken Column (1944), which exposes Kahlo’s shattered spine, and Tree of Hope (1946), where the artist is shown twice, once bleeding, post-operation, on a hospital bed and in the other instance, seated upright, clutching a back support.
Of course, fashion designers and labels inspired by Kahlo have also chosen to focus on the sense of celebration inherent in her dress. Clements Ribeiro, for instance, referenced her famous hairstyles for autumn/winter 2005, while in 2011, Kenzo looked to Kahlo’s love of floral layering, reinterpreting it in muted, autumnal tones. Moschino’s spring/summer 2012 collection took its cues from Kahlo’s floral headpieces, while Lena Hoschek embraced Mexico’s cultural heritage for spring/summer 2013, mixing Day of the Dead skull make-up with Kahlo-esque floral crowns. Alberta Ferretti updated Kahlo’s look in 2014, cropping the embroidered shirts to mid-torso and the striped satin skirts to above the knee.
However, it was Osman Yousefzada who seemed, like Gaultier, to look deeper into the artist’s life, basing his spring/summer 2016 collection on one of Kahlo’s love letters. While the collection is a subtle journey through her life, the most notable look is a yellow-orange dress with a tree growing up the front. It is a clear reference to Kahlo’s 1943 painting Roots, which sees the artist wearing the same colour gown, with plants growing from her belly.

In 1950, ongoing polio-related health problems resulted in Kahlo having to amputate part of her right leg. However, just as with the corsets, Kahlo refused to let misfortune have the last word. When her prosthetic leg arrived, she added a jaunty red leather boot, decorated with snakes and Chinese dragons.
“That will strike a chord with subsequent generations,” Cutler explains. “Today, Instagram has provided a powerful forum for women with disabilities who do not hide them. They share their stories and their bodies, and the fashions they wear, to tens of thousands of followers. These women are showing there isn’t just one type of body or one type of beauty.
“These women are inspirational, but, like Frida Kahlo, they are more than that. They are aspirational. Rather than hiding disability, they are showcasing it and sharing it fearlessly. That is something women identify with, and want to be like,” she adds.
Part of the new exhibition, which runs from June 16 to November 4, the prosthetic leg and its faux boot have also been a source of inspiration on fashion runways, most recently in Gucci’s autumn/winter 2017 line, when it reappeared as a dragon-embroidered ankle boot for men and women.

The enduring legacy of Frida Kahlo is that despite immense personal suffering, she managed always to rise above it. In 1953, for example, she had her first solo exhibition in Mexico, but was in very poor health. So she arrived to the opening in an ambulance, and received visitors from a four-poster bed brought in especially for the occasion. Now, thanks to the Making Her Self Up exhibition, featuring some of Kahlo’s most personal possessions, visitors will be able to get a clearer understanding of this complex and intriguing woman. As Kahlo herself said: “They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, seen here in a photograph from 1939 wearing a blue satin blouse with a trademark ­ floral headpiece

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, seen here in a photograph from 1939 wearing a blue satin blouse with a trademark ­ floral headpiece

Cruise control

High fashion on the high seas

On the decks of the storied ocean liner the Queen Elizabeth 2, this month's fashion shoot for Luxury magazine explores the latest in ship to shore fashion.

Photography: Alex Trommlitz
Fashion direction: Sarah Maisey
Model: Kathie at Promod
Hair and make-up: Sharon Drugan
Videography: Andrew Scott

Timeless talent

Few names in horology inspire as much admiration as Klaus, who at the age of 83 is still celebrating a lifetime as part of IWC

International Watch Company. Not the most imaginative name, perhaps, but since its launch in 1868, the company that came to be known as IWC Schaffhausen, after the Swiss town where it is based, has prided itself on its innovative spirit - from the original factory’s hydropower plant, driven by the Rhine, to the invention of several world horological firsts. And to mark its 150th anniversary this year, one of its most famed and respected engineers was recently in Dubai to share some of his career highlights.
As far as luminaries in the watch world, they don’t really get bigger than Kurt Klaus. He’s spoken about in reverential tones by enthusiasts the world over, having spent half a century working as IWC’s head of research and development. Despite retiring 17 years ago, he hasn’t stopped. He still has an office at the company’s headquarters and travels the world as brand ambassador for an organisation he evidently cannot fathom ever being apart from.
For Kurt Klaus, a family man and great-grandfather who will turn 84 in October, a lifetime spent with one company is completely natural. “It was just how things were at IWC,” he smiles. “Many people started their careers there and worked all the way up until they were 65.”
A meek, humble and gentle man, he won’t brag about his accomplishments, but they speak for themselves. He was instrumental in bringing both IWC and A. Lange & Söhne back from the brink of certain death in the wake of what’s referred to as “the quartz crisis” (that period during the 1970s and 80s when mechanical wristwatches were almost universally ditched in favour of highly accurate, reliable and inexpensive digital and quartz movement items). In 1985, he was the main designer behind IWC’s Da Vinci perpetual calendar, which has become the company’s most celebrated model.

“My main task during the quartz crisis,” he recalls, “was to make IWC’s watches more accurate. The quartz watches we were making at that time were changing rapidly, and changing the image of IWC too, but when it came to mechanical timepieces, there wasn’t really anything revolutionary about them. They told the time, the date and that was about it. The biggest innovation up until then had been the automatic winding system designed by Mr [Albert] Pellaton. Complications hadn’t even been considered but we knew we had to do something different.”
Looking back, it’s almost impossible to appreciate just how revolutionary his Da Vinci was. The original had been a lozenge-shaped quartz model, a total child of the 70s that now looks cool in a retro way. But the mechanical version was completely different in design, unapologetically taking the wristwatch back to the 1930s with an elegant case that, underneath its round face, featured hitherto unseen engineering. It was a perpetual calendar chronograph, with a module designed by Klaus, built on a Valjoux 7750 chronograph base.
But it was Klaus’s perpetual calendar mechanism – the first ever made in which every calendar indication, including the moonphase, was coordinated via the crown – that had everyone in a stew. To set the watch, all its wearer needed to do was pull out the crown and advance the day indication. Everything else would follow suit. It was a technical achievement that cannot be underplayed and, in an era when mechanical watches were at their least popular, it was a brazen statement of intent from IWC. It had implicit faith in the future of mechanical timepieces.
“IWC is known as the engineer of the watch industry,” quips Klaus. “Everything we do is engineered. And today a wristwatch for a man is like diamonds and jewellery for a woman. There is a fascination surrounding them, especially those watches with complications. I have maintained very good contacts with IWC collectors – they are almost like a club – they meet every year to discuss their watches. It’s more than what their watches look like; these people are interested in what’s inside.”
Can he see another “quartz crisis” on the horizon, with the advent of the smart watch? He thinks not. “I see some IWC clients who wear Apple watches during the day for fun, but a mechanical watch when they’re out for dinner in the evening. It is a luxury not everyone can afford, so the world does need quartz watches and smart watches but, having said that, I see increasing numbers of young people not wearing a watch at all, just using their iPhone to tell them the time. But as these ones get older that fascination with mechanical things tends to take a hold. A mechanical watch is a luxury, something people save up for and never sell, handing it down through generations. That will always be the case.”

* Kevin Hackett

Wearable technology

Panna Munyal rounds up five pieces of intelligent apparel, from a tee that cleans the air around you to a phone-charging tote

 The IT bag

Say goodbye to bulky cables, adapter plugs and power packs – the stylish and functional Gianoi handbag comes with phone-charging technology, so you never have to worry about running out of battery again. Simply plug your smartphone into the USB squirrelled away in the bag’s internal pocket, and it will connect to your iPhone via Bluetooth and charge as you go, as well as notify you about incoming calls, messages and social-media updates via a pulsating light that beams up on the external logo. You can even check how much juice you have left in your bag – just tap on the logo firmly, and it will show the lights as red, yellow or green. To repower the bag, simply place it on the flat plate it comes with when you get home and it will charge wirelessly overnight. The bags are handcrafted in Italy and, discreet hardware aside, come in luxury materials such as snakeskin, python leather, embossed crocodile and suede. An Android version is also in production.

Clothing that senses how you feel

Meant for hypo- or hypersensitive people who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorders, and are consequently overwhelmed by colours, textures or sounds, Sensewear apparel aims to provide comfort and protection. Prototypes include a biteable necklace as a replacement for those who relieve their stress by gnawing on their finger nails; an aromatic scarf for when one is assailed with smells that bring up negative memories; a musical poncho to direct the ears to and away from certain sounds; and a jacket that can be inflated to create a squeezing sensation around the body, a technique that has been shown to provide solace to autistic children. The clothes are soft and easy to put on, with no chafing seams or tags, and all are designed to minimise the everyday stress of SPD sufferers. Sensewear is the brainchild of couple Emanuela Corti and Ivan ­Parati, both of whom are engineering lecturers at Ajman University; the concept swept the Grand Prix title at the 2015 Lexus Design Awards in Milan, and is currently at the testing stage.

A self-heating coat

Cold weather may seem like a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start planning your next winter wardrobe. Consider the Emel and Aris coat. It has self-heating, battery-operated technology concealed in the lining to provide warmth on the shoulders, lower back and front lapels. The heating system uses a lightweight polymer (sans wires), which has been treated to evenly spread the warmth at a pre-set temperature. The emitters keep the coat warm for up to nine hours, and are powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery or power bank, which sits within a hidden pocket. A USB connection means you can also charge your phone on the move. The tailored designs include a trench and wrap-coat for women, and a mackintosh and overcoat for men, created with high-quality water- and wind-repellent cotton and cashmere blends by Italian label Loro Piana. The coats are equipped with Far Infrared, otherwise known as “healthy heat” for its therapeutic qualities. It’s a no-brainer, really.

A fitting room for online shoppers

Ill-fitting clothes are the stuff that online shoppers’ nightmares are made of; there’s nothing more disappointing than receiving your next favourite dress, skirt or shirt, only to find it doesn’t sit quite right. Enter the Zozosuit. Akin to a diving suit, the full-body garment has 150 Bluetooth-enabled sensors that gather accurate measurements, with room for half sizes and in-between lengths. The information is logged in an app, which you can send with your next order, allowing you to purchase clothes that fit well. According to Japanese company Start Today, which ships the Zozosuit across the world, in addition to cutting down the need for returns, the sensors record data about motion and posture, which can be used to invent technologies to help people move better. For now, though, you can have your Zozosuit shipped to the UAE and, hopefully, benefit from that elusive perfect fit.

A T-shirt that targets air pollution

Redefining the concept of green fashion, the RepAir T-shirt can cleanse the air around its wearer of certain pollutants and bacteria. Manufactured by the Italian start-up Kloters, the zero-impact tee uses a patented material called The Breath. The garment is composed of two external layers – the pocket and the insert – made from a water-resistant, anti-bacterial fabric. These enclose a core, made of dioxin-absorbent carbon mesh on a polyester substrate enhanced by nano molecules. The air passes through the pocket and flows over the insert. The ISO-certified technology is then able to identify, separate and absorb nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx), as well as eliminate unpleasant odours. The pollutants and smells are held in the inner layer, releasing clean air, while a micro-zip eases the removal of the easy-to-wash insert.

Dh50,000... the price of this tea humidor. Here's why connoisseurs will consider it a worthy investment

Tea has five major “enemies”, air, light, heat, moisture and odour, according to Lotusier, a British brand specialising in high-end tea humidors. In Lotusier’s creations, tea is stored in dedicated, hand-blown crystal containers, each fitted with four air channels to maintain an even distribution of humidity. In addition, a humidity pack is located in each container’s stainless steel base, to create a two-way humidification system.

Also packed into the humidor are German-made hygrometers, which provide a measure of the relative humidity level within each individual container (most tea varieties are optimally preserved within a 55 to 70 per cent relative humidity range). These removable instruments are placed on the inside of the container’s lid, so they can be easily read.

It may look like a simple box, but the tea humidor consists of 20 components, crafted in 12 workshops in four different countries. Woods are sourced from ecologically sustainable forests that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Measuring 30 centimetres by 25cm and standing 14.5cm high, the humidors took four years to develop and are available in two different configurations – a version fitted with four crystal containers also has room for a selection of tea-related accessories, including a stainless steel tea scoop and four chrom-capped glass sand timers. An alternative version features six crystal containers, and not accessories.

Lotusier’s collections reference the world’s five major tea-drinking cultures: there is Cha Jing for China; Saicho for Japan; Indus for the Indian subcontinent; Andalus for the Middle East; and Deco for “the Euro-American Occidental”.

A new addition to the Japan-inspired Saicho collection is the Kyoto Sakuro humidor in a powdery hue of baby pink. “Our delicate colour palette of soft pinks, muted greens, soothing lilacs and creamy lilacs is evocative of renewal and vitality, as well as a gentle nascency so closely connected to spring,” says Lotusier founder Åsa Eriksson-Ahuja.

Lotusier offers a free personalisation service for each of its humidors – removable stainless steel plaques that are magnetically fitted onto the humidor’s inner lid can be engraved with the names of your favourite teas, your name or initials, or, if it’s a gift, those of the recipient.

The company is currently researching charitable causes relating to global tea plantation workers, to which it will donate 10 per cent of profits from sales of the Lotusier Tea Humidor.