Sounds, smells, stuff and mathematical equations. Join us as we hunt for the most luxurious things in existence
Luxury in 2018 isn’t a chromed shoe horn or a jewel the size of Andre The Giant’s clenched fist. Well, not to me, anyway. And, presumably, not to you, either.
Luxury is having the time to queue for a particularly good cup of coffee. Luxury is somehow making room in your life to play Red Dead Redemption 2 for five hours on a Sunday. It’s a bar that does an old fashioned the right way but doesn’t make a big deal about it, a book shop with a genuinely good recommendations section, a cinema in which you can utterly forget you exist for two hours.
Luxury, to me, is that night once a year when the stars align and I can have a pint with my dad. It’s not about overt displays of affluence or extravagance. A luxurious experience, even the ones that are free, are experiences for which you would pay a little bit more. Because they are, by their nature, a little bit better.
Interviews: Alex Christian, Andrew Dickens, Kirstie Finlayson, Chris Mandle, Dan Masoliver, Chris Sayer, Josh Williams
Illustrations: Rui Ricardo
Best luxury vehicle
Tom Jaconelli, head of buying and marketing at luxury car dealer Romans International, on what people look for when they buy a luxury car
Brand is the first thing people look for when buying a luxury car. Most people have an idea of what they want when they come in, whether it’s Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Land Rover or Mercedes.
The other main question is whether they’re going to drive or be driven. If they’re going to be driven, they look at comfort and space of the rear seats.
They always want the highest spec. They’ll never have, for example, the bog-standard Mercedes S-Class. Status is a big thing. When it comes to the top league, it has to be the best.
Details are important. A panoramic roof is a key option on all luxury cars these days. It lets light in and also lets you look up at the stars. Rolls-Royce has something called a Starlight Headliner, which puts fibre-optic ‘stars’ in the roof of the car. Most manufacturers also offer things like different grades of leather.
They like the best stereos. When it comes to music, people always want an upgrade. They’ll want to put in the Bang & Olufsen or the Burmester stereo. You can spend £6,000 or more on a sound system.
Style is subjective. Some of our foreign clients have a very different idea of style to me, but they say there’s a bum for every seat.
They’re less into the stats. Performance figures are for performance cars. When it comes to luxury, they’re more interested in whether a car looks good, is spacious, and has the very best tech.
For me, the 5.0-litre V8 supercharged Range Rover SVAutobiography LWB is the best all-rounder. It’s British-made, which a lot of people like, and it does everything. It’s luxurious, it drives well, it’s spacious, it has great tech and features, and it’s as much at home in the city as it is up a mountain.
Best luxury animal
Bobby Palmer heads to Purplebone dog groomers, where no amount of poochy pampering is off-limits
If you think you’ve ever been truly doted on, you’re wrong. You’ve experienced nothing compared to the dogs at Notting Hill’s Purplebone. The upmarket west London groomers promises ‘maximum care’ for its four-legged clients – which is why it attracts so many big-name owners. “Orlando Bloom brings his little poodle in, and David Beckham brings his cocker spaniel,” says retail director Charlie Payne. “Gary Barlow’s pomeranian, Hugo, comes in every month or so. And we’ve had Greek royalty, too.”
Head groomer Billy is Greek, and one of his three poodles is almost royalty – she’s called Princess Jasmine, at least. Today, he’s snipping away at a customer’s toy poodle, a tiny little madam called Isabella, while his colleagues get to work on a schnoodle called Monty and a cavapoo called Poppy behind him. “Every dog has to have a bit of poodle,” Billy explains. “Otherwise it’s not trendy.” Ears are cleaned, coats are shampooed, fur is coiffed. After a while, Poppy is put into her designer raincoat and trots out through the door. The same door swings open again, and a well-pruned little cloud floats in and splays herself on the floor, awaiting the scratches she knows will come. This is Eggy, a lhasa apso, which is sort of like a shih tzu with the fluffiness dialled up to 10.
“A lot of our dogs come in to be groomed weekly,” Charlie says. “We have a lot of Afghan hounds, who have really long flowing hair so require a lot of upkeep. We have an old English sheepdog called Maisie who is part of a local London cabaret show, so she gets pampered every week, too.” As for the most pampered dog he’s ever seen? “We had some Russian customers who claimed their dog had its own flat in Knightsbridge.”
There’s something about dogs that invites ostentatious displays of luxury, excessive spending on tiny mohair jumpers and artisanal dog treats when we all know they can’t even tell the difference. But it’s all about love, the kind of pure adoration that makes you want to spoil your best furry friend rotten. It’s an instinct, clearly, even the millionaires can’t resist.
For more information visit purplebone.com
Best luxury word
Andre Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name, on the most lavish language
“The most beautiful thing for a writer is to make the reader the author of the passage they’re reading. You want to steer them without giving all the information they need, and so you use all sorts of tricks to imply things you’re not going to explicitly say.
“One word I use to achieve this is ‘almost’, which to me is the most luxurious word in the English language. For a word to be luxurious it has to give a particular flavour to the word that’s following it – ideally a touch of vagueness. It’s like adding fog to a sentence, so that when that clears in the reader’s mind, they realise: ‘Oh my God, so that’s what he was saying.’
“‘Almost’ means absolutely nothing on its own, but in tandem with other words it gives a mythic quality to the description of a moment. It speaks of something that is about to happen. ‘They almost got naked’ – what does that mean? Did they get naked? I am using it to poison the jury, as I like to say. I’m trying to get the jury to think something sexual was there.
“It is a tantalising word. Writers are supposed to tease people into feeling things without confirming that they’ve happened.
“Another word that helps a sentence do exactly what I want it to do, and so is luxurious, is ‘enduring’. ‘He had an enduring smile.’ It gives a flavour to the smile. It has an affect but you don’t know what it is that you’ve been told. You just know there’s something there.”
Enigma Variations is out now (Faber & Faber)
The most luxurious smell
British parfumier Roja Dove reveals the olfactory ingredients that elevate scents to the luxe level
“Luxury starts with the raw material. In perfumery there is an odd raw material called ambergris. If a sperm whale swallows a squid and the squid’s beak cuts the whale’s respiratory tract, the whale makes a wax paste around the wound, which is eventually expelled. When that paste is oxidised in sunlight and saltwater for two years: that’s ambergris. It costs £100,000 a kilo, and it gives a soft sensuality to a perfume.
“The nearest, more readily available, raw material to it is called labdanum – a natural resin from the cistus plant. A whisper of labdanum makes you think of being near warm skin; use a lot and it takes you into a world of leathery perfumes.”
Resin Sacra eau de parfum £155 for 100ml by TOM DAXON, tomdaxon.com
Montabaco Intensivo parfum (poured at 42%) £295 for 120ml by ORMONDE JAYNE LONDON, ormondejayne.com
Fetish Parfum Pour Homme £375 for 50ml by ROJA PARFUMS, rojaparfums.com
The best luxury material
Kobe is better than Red Angus; Gibson is better than Tokai. Not opinion, but fact. What’s the fabric equivalent? It’s cashmere’s sumptuous cousin vicuña wool. And to show just how much finer it is – for every 250,000 tonnes of globally produced cashmere, just 12 tonnes of it is vicuña. The Peruvian camelid native to high regions of the Andes produces half a kilo of wool per year per animal, costing £350-£500, compared to £50-£75 for cashmere.
Vicuna Joe scarf £1,500 by JOHNSTONS OF ELGIN, harrods.com
Vicuna hazelnut ribbed socks £499 by FALKE, harrods.com
The best luxury haircut
Ralph Jones spends a decadent afternoon with high-end hair
I must have the hair of a wealthy man. I want to know, however briefly, what it feels like to ooze confidence, charisma and cash. The look I have in mind could be described as a mélange of Gordon Gekko, Homer Simpson in the episode ‘Simpson and Delilah’ and Patrick Bateman.
In order to achieve this effect I place my locks in the hands of Larry King, the man The Telegraph called “hairdresser to the most handsome men on the planet”. (King’s client list includes Chris Hemsworth and Davids Gandy and Beckham.)
After having make-up applied to ensure I look as though I’ve recently returned from my second home in the Maldives, I go to King’s studio in South Kensington. He sets about creating an exaggerated, luxurious bouffant, applying mousse through my hair before blow-drying it with a Dyson Supersonic. Along the way he uses a brush to add more volume, my hair rising thrillingly higher and higher. He trims my sideburns and applies what feels like a can of volumising spray to my head.
My hair has never been lavished with this much attention. The experience is a glimpse into the treatment the wealthy can afford, as well as testament to the rejuvenating, metamorphic power of a hairdresser’s chair.
When it’s over, I take a look in the mirror. It is what I would call “quite a sight”. Not even I realised there was that much hair on my head. When King has finished laughing, he says, “It screams wealth.” And this is the point: to maintain this look, you would need to spend money constantly. King says you’d have to blow-dry your hair daily and go to the hairdresser every three weeks, spending £150-£200 each time. (That’s about £3,000 a year.)
The impact of my new look is seismic. To say it turns heads is an understatement. My whole demeanour changes: I seem more sure of myself. I understand that if wealth has already inflated your self-esteem, you could look like this and feel supremely assured. No wonder Richard Branson looks so happy all the time.
The best luxury maths
Numbers genius Hugo Castillo Sanchez on a delicious 200-year-old equation
“Talking about the Navier-Stokes equations means talking about money. Developed in the 19th century to describe the flow of fluids, they’re applied today in physics and engineering, from predicting ocean currents to designing F1 cars.
“However, working out the equations is extremely challenging. Above is an underline notation, used to represent a long, three-part system of partial differential equations. To get an answer, you have to solve the whole system – along with mass conservation – to obtain the velocity field and pressure at any point at a given time.
“The equations are so complex that it’s rare an analytical solution can be written on paper – most derived answers describe turbulence which, to this day, remains one of the big unsolved problems in physics. Instead, people use computer simulations to derive an approximate solution, which can take days, weeks, even months. Highly sophisticated and extremely expensive computers are required to reduce calculation time. Research is funded by the likes of Nasa and billion-dollar companies trying to crack aerodynamics. It’s why the Clay Mathematics Institute has declared the Navier-Stokes to be a Millennium Prize Problem. Prove a solution exists and you’ll win $1m.”
The best luxury flavour
Ben Tish, culinary director of the Stafford, London, on how the food industry’s definition of luxury has changed
Luxury flavours used to translate as exotic. Think caviar, something that’s considered luxury because it’s expensive and rare. But it doesn’t taste luxurious; it’s just quite salty. It’s desirable because people associate it with wealth.
My idea of luxury is something I can’t have as often any more. And as our diets have changed, that’s come to mean things like bread or meat – things we used to eat every day. We shouldn’t eat them often, so when people do eat bread, they want really good bread, or to go to a butchers for a great piece of meat.
What we consider luxurious is what we consider special, almost sacred. Bread is a treat, we [are told that we] shouldn’t eat carbs, and so bread has become a luxury.
I think we’ve started considering everyday items more luxurious. Pasta is incredibly popular now, for the same reason bread is. Fresh pasta in a cacio e pepe or carbonara, with good parmesan – that’s sophisticated.
Good butter is a real luxury. I get mine from Neal’s Yard Dairy. It does one that’s almost sour and a little funky; it’s made with natural milk. It’s so creamy and delicious. A sliver of that butter on fresh, toasted sourdough? That’s perfection.
People think truffles are luxurious. Some are worth the money and some aren’t. A white truffle in its prime? There’s nothing like it. Black truffles are fairly bog-standard.
With truffles, the luxury is in the smell. Not about taste; the smell is such a unique thing. There’s really nothing like it.
The best luxury chord
Ivan Hewett, Academic Professor at the Royal College of Music, on the richest sounding sound
“A luxury sound should be ruffled with texture, which is easier with a full orchestra than a single instrument. Rich sound comes from blending: the softness of a flute, the glow of a horn…
“You’ll find it in Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé: luxurious sounds with gorgeous ripples create the feeling of a spectacular sunrise. Or, more recently, in the scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens where we’re introduced to Rey on her home planet. The score uses a shimmer that works with the panoramic views.
“Mad Men is a show based on creating desire, and it is punctuated with music that suggests luxury. None more so than Nat King Cole’s The Very Thought Of You, which he recorded with Gordon Jenkins and his orchestra. The song starts with soft strings, flutes and swirling silky harps. It’s got a pastoral, floating feeling. It uses the most delicious chord: an added sixth – a major tribe, with the sixth degree of the scale added for extra bite.
“The added sixth is also used on Radio 4, in a piece called Floating By, which plays after the shipping forecast. It makes you think of a sunny day and sailing. There’s a modal innocence about it. An escape so far away from modern life. If the function of luxury is to blot out life’s cares and make you feel momentarily that you’re in a better place, then this chord is the definition.”
The Royal College Of Music holds more than 500 free and low-cost public concerts and events each year; rcm.ac.uk
The most luxurious colour
Spoiler: it’s red. So here’s a load of brilliant red stuff
“Red is adored around the world, dating in popularity from the Victorian era to the present,” says Charlotte Cosby, head of creative at Farrow & Ball. “It’s warm and welcoming, and associated with power and wealth, love, seduction and good luck. Baroque reds are deep and opulent, perfect to layer with gold.”
1. Houndstooth double-breasted wool coat £1,075 by PAUL SMITH, paulsmith.com
2. Cashmere scarf £129 by HARRODS, harrods.com
3. Red: Architecture In Monochrome £29.95, uk.phaidon.com
4. Large flat pouch £95 by ASPINAL OF LONDON, aspinaloflondon.com
5. Top-stitched leather belt £130 by PAUL SMITH, paulsmith.com
6. Satin bomber jacket £385 by APC, harveynichols.com
7. City luxe umbrella £145 by LONDON UNDERCOVER, londonundercover.co.uk
8. Sports crepe trousers £595 by ALEXANDER McQUEEN, alexandermcqueen.com
9. Wool and viscose jacquard crew neck jumper £810 by GIORGIO ARMANI, 020-7235 6232
10. Mezzo leather and silver bracelet £350 by TATEOSSIAN, tateossian.com
11. Soft-grain leather Rivington backpack £650 by COACH, 020-7734 847
12. Leather Ianthe notebook £50 by LIBERTY LONDON, libertylondon.com
13. The New Yorker Encyclopedia Of Cartoons £75, thamesandhudson.com
14. Hybrid-upper trainers £179 by HUGO, hugoboss.com
15. Grosvenor six-card wallet £215 by SMYTHSON, smythson.com
The other most luxurious smell
“The current market price for the finest jasmine available – from Grasse in the south of France – starts at £34,000 per kilogram. That’s more than the price of gold.
“Jasmine has 900 molecular parts, a level of complexity that gives a luxurious feel. One of these molecules is indole. Your body is producing it right now, wherever you have pubic hair. Subconsciously you will pick up on the indole in jasmine and think of sex.”
“Inexpensive jasmine fragrances tend to be cloying. Good ones should be sweet and sensual, with a hint of freshness.”
Jasmin Angélique Cologne Absolue £115 for 100ml by ATELIER COLOGNE, selfridges.com
Jasmin Fauve eau de parfum £240 for 100ml by EX NIHILO, harveynichols.com
Tuscan Creations La Corte eau de parfum £195 for 100ml by SALVATORE FERRAGAMO, exclusively available at harrods.com
The other, other most luxurious smell
“A lot of men love the freshness and dynamism of the citrus bracket, so citrus is used a lot in men’s perfume. And the finest of all the citrus is bergamot. Lemon, for example, is beautiful but very one-dimensional: Sharp, thin, acidic. Grapefruit is fresh and sour. But bergamot has an incredible complexity to it: slightly woody, slightly sweet, floral and aromatic. It’s very multifaceted.
“To make one kilogram of the raw material required in perfumery, it takes approximately 1,500kg of the fruit. Think of how many trees that is. And this material only comes from one region: Calabria in southern Italy.”
Cologne Pour Le Matin £160 for 200ml by MAISON FRANCIS KURKDJIAN, libertylondon.com
Private Blend Venetian Bergamot eau de parfum £162 for 50ml by TOM FORD, tomford.co.uk
Eau Du Sud eau de toilette £110 for 100ml by GOUTAL PARIS, harrods.com
(Images: Pixeleyes, Alice Griffiths)