The Good Life

By Ginanne Brownell

Cashmere... just the sound of it is enough to send shoppers swooning with visions of luxurious warmth, cozy softness and coveted style. This season, the wool--which comes from the underbelly fur of Mongolian, Chinese and Persian goats--is in higher demand than ever. Even mass-market stores like the Gap and Marks & Spencer are offering products made of cashmere. Partly, that's because cashmere has gotten cheaper and more plentiful, thanks to manufacturers' tricks like blending the high-quality short goat hairs with shorter ones. But true cashmere connoisseurs can tell the difference in an instant. "It is like comparing a cheap sparkling wine to champagne," says James Sugden, CEO of Johnstons Cashmere.

This season, more than the usual cashmere sweaters, scarves and gloves are fortifying people against the frightful weather. Bliss Spa is offering bright brown-and-blue-striped cashmere travel pillows ($98), which come with an eye mask ( www.blissworld.com ;$98).

Brora Scottish Cashmeres makes hot-water-bottle covers in white, and blue, both with a feminine Fair Isle pattern ( www.brora.co.uk ; 59 pounds). The American-based Garnet Hill catalog company ( garnethill.com ) ships worldwide--great news if you are hanging your cashmere stockings ($68) by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nick will stuff cashmere-lined slippers ($98), or bathrobe ($348), in there. Johnstons does a coat to keep your favorite canine warm (100 pounds). Or if your pooch is really posh (and tiny), carry her around in a cashmere-lined leather backpack from Cucinelli ( www.brunellocucinelli.it ; 1500 euros).

Italy-based American designer Rebecca Moses has created necklaces with felted cashmere baubles for Saks Fifth Avenue ( saks.com ; $200). The store also sells stuffed-animal toy goats whose fur is cashmere ($54 to $117). Or Browns of London has white cashmere teddy bears--perfect for a snuggle on a cold winter night ( brownsfashion.com ; 95 pounds).

Fancy yourself a bit of a royal dandy? Now you can spend your holiday schmoozing with duchesses, dignitaries and diplomats. Royal Connections, in conjunction with the London Season, which organizes debutante balls, offers tours to various exotic countries complete with a full-on diary of high-end socializing. Think sumptuous banquets in baronial castles, champagne receptions in private mansions and high tea on an ambassador's lawn. Previous trips have included Marrakech, supported by the royal household of Morocco with dinners hosted by honorary consuls in the city's palaces. Forthcoming trips include India, complete with a maharajah's feast in Mumbai, lunch at that city's Cricket Club and dinner with the glitterati of Delhi. The Oman itinerary includes six-star accommodations in the capital, Muscat; a reception hosted by the British ambassador, and a lavish dinner amid the sand dunes. Groups are capped at 20 to ensure intimate mingling and shameless networking. And you don't need a peerage to get onboard! Trips start at $8,500, but don't worry; all proceeds go to charity ( londonseason.net ).

Ready for a weekend in St-Moritz? Not with last year's skis you're not. Several ski makers have launched high-end versions that combine nostalgia with modern technology. Switzerland's Zai uses high-tech titanium as well as traditional ash wood. A set of skis, bindings and poles will run you well over 2,000 euros( zai.ch ). If you prefer heli-skiing, Germany's Bogner offers a ski set called Bigmountain, which consists of wide tailored skis--designed for deep powder--with a bamboo surface overlaying wood and titanium for 2,500 euros( bogner.com ). Fashionistas might opt for Kneissl's new Crystal line. The Austrian ski maker has teamed up with neighboring Swarovski to produce skis covered with millions of microcrystals and the five-pointed Kneissl star formed out of 77 crystals set in sterling silver ( kneissl.com ). You'll sparkle in the winter sun.

There's a new way to fly in private-jet style: pay by the seat. Rather than charge upwards of $60,000 to charter a plane, or $5,000 an hour in share programs, two companies are now offering per-seat prices on luxury flights. The Avion Private Jet Club, founded by L.A-based travel agent Gary Mansour, has private flights from New York to L.A. up to eight times a week (flyavion.com). Membership costs $12,500 a year, plus $11,000 for each round-trip flight. The Gulfstream IV and Challenger jets usually hold up to 13 people, but Mansour never books more than eight on a flight. It's a "country club in the sky," he says, where CEOs and stars can network. Members include superstar architect Frank Gehry and producers Norman Lear and Steve Tisch, as well as "those you see on the cover of celebrity magazines," says Mansour. Meals are provided by Wolfgang Puck. Mansour is looking at opening a New York-to-London run. In Europe, Club Airways, which opened last May, runs six flights a week from Paris to Geneva and is planning to start a Geneva-to-London flight in February. Membership is $600 per year, and each one-hour flight costs about $800 one way (clubairwaysinternational.com).

It's 29 degrees outside--autumn in L.A., after all--and I should be melting. But I've got goose bumps behind the wheel of the new Ferrari F430 Spider. I press the start button and all hell breaks loose. (Plus, the angels in heaven sing.) A deep, sultry riot of sound emerges from four exquisitely tuned exhaust pipes. And with 483 horses at 8,500rpm and a 4.3-liter V-8 engine, there won't be anything but an intense ride ahead. The F430's piercing physique, limitless power and surgically precise steering urges me to do naughty things, like take a warp-speed drive on a twisty road that would mean I'd never see my license again. But reason sets in and I steer into the mountains like a normal person, with the sweetest grin. The F430 has a top speed of 315kph--no, I didn't reach it--and it slings from zero to 100 in a DNA-rearranging 4.1 seconds. As for the interior, who cares? I mean, it's great, sporty, even luxe, with leather seating as supple as a Ferragamo bag. But the F430 is about driving.