Nick Foulkes

Stories by Nick Foulkes

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    Fabrics Even Finer Than Cashmere

    The shift toward lighter, softer fabrics is changing the precious-wool market. In addition to improved milling techniques and an increased appetite for novelty, changing lifestyles have wrought a dramatic transformation in the fabrics that high-end consumers are looking for.
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    Luxury Jewelry: Not Just for Women Anymore

    Earlier this month, news leaked that rapper Jay-Z was looking into launching a line of male jewelry. Of course, there is nothing new about pop musicians wearing jewelry, whether it’s rapper bling, goth skulls, hippie beads, or heavy-metal chains. But changing from customer to jeweler is a big step, and Jay-Z is not the first musician to take it.
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    London Gardens Where Smoking Is Encouraged

    They are called COSAS—an acronym for Comfortable Outdoor Smoking Area. And according to Jemma Freeman, the sixth-generation owner of the London-based Havana cigar importer Hunters & Frankau, “They are opening up in London at the rate of one a week.”
  • Haute Couture Shows Embrace Jewelry Designers

    For those who order their year by the fixed calendar of fashion, late January and early July are synonymous with Paris couture. To be allowed to use the term “haute couture,” a fashion house must maintain an atelier and show twice a year in Paris, present a minimum number of outfits to the fashion press, and make garments to measure with fittings for individual clients.
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    Racing Through History at Britain's Epsom Derby

    As the colorful 19th-century Whig politician Lord Palmerston put it, “Epsom week is our Olympic Games.” That was back in 1847, when both houses of Parliament adjourned for most of the week of the Derby, then the world’s most famous horse race. The way Palmerston saw it, the holiday was “part of the unwritten law of Parliament.”
  • Basel Watch Fair Report

    The Basel Watch Fair, or Baselworld, to be precise, is the second great horological gathering of the year. The Geneva fair comes first, but while the January fair in the lakeside city is ritzier, the Basel undertaking is bigger.I have been attending the Basel fair for most of the past 20 years, and it is testimony to the hold that watches have over me that I still feel a frisson of excitement as I enter the grand hall each year. I am always amazed by the ways the industry manages to innovate and surprise, and this year was no different. Though the scars of the financial crisis remain apparent—CEOs have been replaced and jobs lost—many stalwarts created opportunity out of the misfortune. When the high-profile movement-maker BNB failed, for instance, the irrepressible Hublot boss, Jean-Claude Biver, hired 30 of its staff, at a stroke creating an in-house haute horlogerie division. In Basel, Biver proudly displayed the fruits of that new endeavor, including a minute repeater.The...
  • Where Books Are Treated Like Works of Art

    The first sight to greet those exiting the recent must-see show of Anish Kapoor's work at London's Royal Academy was a large poster promoting "the most comprehensive monograph on the celebrated sculptor." This was not a Royal Academy ploy to separate art lovers from their money; rather it was an enticement to enter the stand-alone Phaidon bookstore across Piccadilly, one of four pop-up shops the publisher has opened in recent months, including in New York's SoHo neighborhood.Founded in Austria in the 1920s, Phaidon moved to England to avoid the Anschluss at about the same time it started to publish large-format art books. Seven decades later it is one of a number of art-book publishers that are borrowing the retail tactics of the luxury-goods trade and opening high-end monobrand stores. That may seem counterintuitive at a time when independent bookshops are closing and big chains are hawking bestsellers. But inspired by an "explosion of interest" in art books, Phaidon CEO Richard...
  • Remaking Tweed for the Modern Era

    I recently made a cameo appearance in a three-part BBC documentary about tweed; I was wheeled in to give a bit of historical context and to enthuse on the subject. The documentary dealt specifically with Harris tweed, a unique hirsute cloth made in Scotland's Outer Hebrides Islands. Its pretext was the changes being wrought in what is, quite literally, a cottage industry, with individual weavers working in their homes or garden sheds to make a cloth that is then returned to the mill, where it is finished and shipped all over the world. Its character owes much to an image thick with peat smoke and Gaelic, gently tinted by a thousand hues of lichen dye.But even the most ardent tweed enthusiasts, among whom I count myself, will admit the industry has been declining since a peak of production in the late 1960s of about 7 million yards per year. It was with a view toward reviving the industry that a couple of years ago a Yorkshire textiles magnate called Brian Haggas bought the largest...
  • Raising Caviar on the Farm

    "The trouble always is," explains James Bond to his female companion, "not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it." That might have been true in 1953, when 007 was getting his first outing in the novel Casino Royale. Today the reverse is true: toast may be plentiful, but caviar, at least the kind Bond ordered for dinner, is in crisis.The sturgeon has been around for a couple of hundred million years, and over time this fish and its roe—which, when brought into contact with salt, becomes caviar—have caught the attention of everyone from Aristotle to Peter the Great to Ian Fleming. But this year there has been no caviar from the Caspian Sea, at least no legal caviar.Poaching, pollution, and overfishing have caused once plentiful stocks to dwindle to levels that have caught the attention of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This year the shortage is especially severe, thanks to an administrative cock-up. For CITES to agree to...
  • The Gun Makes the Grouse Hunter

    Autumn is the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" and—as John Keats omitted to mention—the sound of shotguns and the thud of birds falling to the ground. From Aug. 12, the date on which grouse come into season, until the beginning of February, which sees the end of the partridge and pheasant seasons, the rituals of game-bird shooting play themselves out in Britain as they have more or less for centuries.Ever since the Georgian gunsmith Joseph Manton, who perfected the double-barreled shotgun, opened his shop on Davies Street in London's West End in 1789, the shotgun has been a part of British life. More than 200 years later a "Best London" gun is still the ne plus ultra of sporting firearms and is exactly what it says: a shotgun made in London to the exacting standards born out of craftsmanship perfected over generations. Even the accomplished northern Italian gunsmith Franco Beretta, who opened an eponymous London showroom in 2005, goes so far as to describe the British...
  • Elton John Slept Here and You Can, Too

    Staying in Cannes for this year's film festival, I was amused to see that the InterContinental Carlton hotel had inaugurated a Sean Penn suite. In an enterprising take on the notion of the presidential suite, each year the president of the Cannes jury is asked to give his or her approval to an eponymous hotel room. During the 2008 festival, the Milk star "insisted on inaugurating the suite that carries his name," the hotel said.Penn is just one of a slew of stars whose names have been appended to various Carlton hotel rooms: the list includes another Sean—Connery—as well as Sharon Stone, Sophie Marceau, Alain Delon, Uma Thurman, and Cary Grant. These names carry an aura, even though the suites that bear their names are not decorated by, or in any way pay homage to, them.Among travelers who tour the world collecting suite experiences, one presidential suite—with its dining rooms, cavernous bathrooms, and aircraft-carrier-size terraces—merges into another. Having invested in these...
  • Artists Give Luxury Brands a Little Respect

    It is not often that the world of haute horlogerie vouchsafes a moment of artistic epiphany. But that is what happened recently at New York's Metropolitan Museum. When I sat down to a dinner hosted by Geneva watchmaker Vacheron Constantin in the majestic Temple of Dendur, all I knew about the sculptures of Africa and Oceania was that they had ethnographic interest. But that was before the sprightly septuagenarian Monique Barbier-Mueller got up and talked about how her father, struck by the 1930s financial crisis and no longer able to afford pieces by Kandinsky, Picasso, and Matisse, moved into collecting African masks and ivories, and funeral canoes from the Solomon Islands. Her story was so compelling that I was forced to reappraise my understanding of the works on loan to the Met from her Geneva museum.The exhibition culminates a three-year collaboration between Vacheron and the Barbier-Mueller Museum, which has resulted in a series of watches known simply as the Masks. Bold and...
  • Shoes For Men to Love the Way Women Do Jimmy Choos

    The psychology of the shoe is a fascinating field of study. In the female pantheon, the shoe's quasi-magical ability to empower and embolden is well rehearsed. For women, just hearing the name Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik can cause a quickening of the heart and awaken the sort of devotion that most men experience only in the context of football teams or Scotch.The relationship a man has with his shoes is utterly different. But it shouldn't be. Men's shoes are certainly capable of leaving just as lasting an impression as women's. "You can get away with a pair of worn jeans or the most rough-and-tumble suit, and if the shoes are well fitting and well cared for, the whole outfit passes," explains Hilary Freeman, who runs British shoemaker Edward Green. "But even if you are wearing the best Savile Row suit and the shoes are not up to the mark, well …" Her voice trails off ominously.The pinnacle of men's footwear, of course, is the handmade shoe. Having brogues and Oxfords made to order...
  • Hotspots: Where to Stay and Dine in Basel

    Basel at fair time gives me a good impression of what the Klondike must have been like during the gold rush: if you haven't booked a topnotch room or table way in advance, then you are in trouble. Latecomers are relegated to floating hotels, fairly bleak riverboats moored on the Rhine and a far cry from the city's ritziest lodgings: the Drei Könige, or Three Kings, hotel. The Drei Könige is well worth a visit even if you are not staying there; the river view from the main lounge is stunning, and the vaulted private dining room, where I dined on shrimp ravioli with curry sauce and fillet of turbot with Hublot boss Jean-Claude Biver, has a door that opens right onto the river.Similarly high-end, but without a river view, is Stucki Bruderholz, fine-dining central for this German-speaking city, which serves up exotic starters such as chili-baked octopus as well as an impressive cheese trolley. But these days my favorite restaurant in Basel is the St. Alban-Stübli, in the charming...
  • Silver To Make the Dinner Table Shine

    Perhaps the most pleasing arm of les arts de la table is the splendidly named orfèvrerie, which encompasses the gastronomically inclined work of gold- and silversmiths. The silversmith Buccellati, on the Via Condotti in Rome, is known for its brushed-looking gold jewelry for women, and also produces some dazzling silver tableware, including truly arresting centerpieces made of naturalistic forms—from game birds to mollusk shells.The best-known names are from France. One of the greatest is Christofle, a company that supplied orfèvrerie for both King Louis Philippe and the man who replaced him, Napoleon III—as well as the Ritz in the 1890s, the liner the Normandie in the 1930s and President Pompidou's official jet in 1970. Christofle makes all the normal things that you might need for the table (salt cellars, pepperpots, etc.) and several items that you could definitely get along without, such as the marvelous paquebot centerpiece—an ocean liner in miniature for the table, a worthy...
  • Decor: The Well-Laid Table

    At times of economic crisis, the first and most obvious casualty is often eating in restaurants. So if we are likely to see a rise in entertaining at home, then perhaps we will see a rebirth of what the French call les arts de la table, a wonderfully swanky way of alluding to cutlery, crockery, stemware and all the other bits and pieces that find their way onto the dining table.I was pondering this the other day as I was touring the Meissen factory in the eponymous medieval town near Dresden. Meissen, which celebrates its tercentenary next year, was the first European porcelain maker to crack the puzzle of making porcelain the Asian way, back in early-18th-century Europe, when a craze for an exotic foreign stimulant had swept the continent. Called coffee, it was drunk out of porcelain cups imported from Asia, since the Europeans had not yet mastered the technique of making the "white gold." Augustus the Strong, who ruled Saxony and Poland at the time, was a porcelain nut; he...
  • Style: Fountain Pens for Writing the Right Way

    As someone who looks deeply beneath the surface of things, I have been obsessed for some years by the great philosophical question: when did expensive pens become "prestige writing instruments?" I trace this development to the early 1990s, when two things happened. On a macrocosmic plane, the Internet and e-mail created a seismic shift in the way we communicate. Reason would suggest that the arrival of the Internet would have pealed the pen's death knell. But the world of luxury goods operates according to an almost perverse logic, whereby the moment technology threatens obsolescence, the law of elegant futility kicks in. So the proliferation of e-mail has been fabulous for ultraluxury pens, turning them into prestige writing instruments by liberating the correspondent from the need to communicate on paper and thereby making the use of a pen a choice.On a microcosmic level, the other event occurred when Hamburg-based Montblanc, run by Norbert Platt, opened a stand-alone shop in Hong...
  • There's More to Geneva than Watches

    Even a serious horolophile like me tires of looking at watches at some point. So thankfully, the SIHH is held in elegant Geneva, where I managed to have a mighty good time even when I wasn't at the fair.For dining, I recommend Roberto, a local landmark that offers Italian classics done exceptionally well, in a setting that seems untouched since the early 1960s. The celebrated steakhouse L'Entrecôte draws carnivorous worshipers from all over the world. And at Lion d'Or, the traditional exterior belies a modern dining room and a menu that is as interesting as it is satisfying; do not leave without savoring the cheeseboard and the view over Lake Geneva.There is plenty of excellent shopping in Geneva, but cigar aficionados won't want to miss Davidoff, which sells impeccably maintained Havanas and Dominicans, as well as many accessories. The service is faultless, and even buying a single cigar is a retail experience to remember.The Patek Philippe Museum is worth a visit for its...
  • At the Geneva Watch Fair, a Return to Simplicity

    The watchmakers at last week's Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva were in a philosophical mood. Georges Kern, chief executive of IWC, quoted Darwin in presenting his company's new line of diving watches—and its sponsorship of the Darwin Foundation in the Galápagos: it is not the strongest nor the most intelligent but "the one that is most adaptable to change" that survives. Elsewhere I heard echoes of Eco, Sartre and Calvin—as well as homespun philosophy along the Newtonian lines that what goes up has a habit of coming down. Jasmine Audemars, the proprietress of Audemars Piguet, told me that in recent years, "we had the feeling that everything could be sold, even hot air."Well, the hot air has gone and the balloon is deflating. This, the 19th edition of the Geneva watch trade fair, was the most subdued that I can remember. But while sober, the mood was far from suicidal. Indeed, the consensus was that things are not as bad as feared. Cartier CEO Bernard Fornas even...
  • 'Tis the Season for Perfume Pageantry

    One of the great harbingers of Christmas is a sudden spike in fragrance advertising. Images promoting eaux de toilette are an important and, for me at least, much loved part of the year-round adscape, but at this season the assault on our olfactory nerves is stepped up, with many firms seeing 50 percent or more of their business done at the end of the year.Every now and again a big-budget advertisement with the production values of an Academy Award winner streaks across our screens. I remember being terribly impressed the first time I saw Baz Luhrmann's film for Chanel No. 5 starring a couture-clad Nicole Kidman in Paris. Chanel also produced Joe Wright's "Coco Mademoiselle" with kittenish Keira Knightley, who later worked with the director on "Atonement." And next year I look forward to "Amélie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's new film for No. 5 starring French sex bomb Audrey Tautou.I love perfume and all its pageantry, which has taken a product intended to mask the quotidian odors...
  • Cuba's Best Cigars Come in Limited Edition Runs

    I was being driven around Havana the other day when the taxi driver told me a joke. A Cuban descending into hell finds it divided by nationality. The torture of the day involves beatings with sticks sporting nails at their ends. Members of all the other nations fill the air with cries of pain. But the Cuban section is oddly quiet, and a queue has formed outside. "What is the matter?" asks the new arrival. "It is the same old story," responds an old-timer with a shrug, "shortage of wood, shortage of nails."This joke sprang to mind a couple of hours later when I was watching the drum of white ash form at the tip of my cigar in the VIP tasting room of the Partagas factory, opposite the Cuban capitol building. The air was blue with fragrant smoke as a dozen people—including the director of the Partagas factory, a feisty woman named Hilda Barros, her staff and the board of directors of Britain's Cuban cigar monopoly Hunters & Frankau—sampled a new cigar: the Gloria Cubana Gloriosos....
  • Foulkes: Handmade Objects Are True Luxury

    If you have ever wondered how much more pleasure is to be derived from a handmade luxury object than from a machine-made piece with pretensions to luxury status, I am in a position to tell you. I can even put a figure on it. The order of satisfaction is up to ten times more. Happily you don't have to rely on my say-so. This ratio was calculated back in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen.Veblen, you will need no reminding, was the philosopher and economist who bequeathed us the term "conspicuous consumption"—one of the many pithy epigrams to be found in his best-known work, "The Theory of the Leisure Class." Coming as it did at the end of the century that had spawned the theories of Malthus and Darwin, Veblen's book sees the conspicuous leisure, consumption and wastefulness of the late 19th- and early 20th-century elite as having an evolutionary inevitability about it. However, it is also a satire on the mores of the rich—and it is interesting to see how little has changed in what Veblen...
  • Brewed By Lamborghini

    Rolex's Oyster watch fits the 25-meter rule: it is recognizable long before the brand name is visible.
  • Old Brands, New Tricks

    Venerable names are opportunities. The trick is to know when to reinvent.
  • In Praise Of Competitive Urges

    Luxury goods may come in the form of boats, cars, watches and mansions, but they're really scorecards.
  • There Will Be Flamboyance

    Alas, the designers were unable to build the king a microwave capable of cooking an entire sheep.
  • When Older Means Better

    A real bottle from a modest vintage can be fitted with a trophy label, dramatically increasing its value.
  • Try Accounting For Taste

    Savoring Cheval Blanc 1982 in your cellar is far superior to guzzling champagne in a VIP lounge.

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