Luxury isn’t a price tag. But it is an expression of value. Often, luxurious things cost a lot of money. But often they don’t. A simple cup of fine tea, carefully brewed and shared with a friend is inarguably luxurious, despite its modest price tag. Then again, so is a perfectly balanced $30,000 golf club custom hewn using materials from outer space.
For this year’s Luxe List we’ve chosen objects and experiences distinguished not by their cost, but by their value. These are the types of items you’d grab if your house were on fire; the irreplaceable objects you’d carry to safety while the wedding albums burned.
As we increasingly seek to invite fewer, but finer things into our lives, the nature of luxury is being redefined. 2014 luxe lasts longer. It’s often made close to home, or at least derives from traceable sources. The fact that you get what you pay for is an inexorable economic reality and many items on this list cost a lot. But price alone is never a guarantee of luxury. To earn a spot on our lofty list, an object had to be much, much more than just expensive.
No Children, Please
Although stepping barefoot on a Lego is among the most painful experiences in the known universe, playing with the little interlocking bricks is a treat kids (and adults) have enjoyed for decades. These days the Lego company is embracing its more mature clientele with the release of its Architecture Series—a collection of nearly 20 sets encompassing landmarks like the Space Needle in Seattle and Big Ben in London as well as visionary buildings like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater® and the Sydney Opera House.
A delight both to build and to admire once completed, this collection is really intended for the grown-and-sexy set. In other words, secure your toys out of sight when your sister brings her kids over for the afternoon. Trust us, the stately flagstones of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel lose a lot of their luster when they’ve been gummed by a two-year-old. Sets sell for under $200.
ValGrine with Envy
Blurring the lines between golf equipment and high art, the House of ValGrine, founded by luxury entrepreneur Grégory Moreau, is turning out a series of putters they’re calling “aerodynamic sculptures.” Precision crafted of the most exceptional materials, ValGrine’s putters marry the science of engineering with the artistry of jewelry making to produce golfing tools of unmatched fluidity and balance. Completely customizable, ValGrine’s putters make use of luxe metals including platinum, gold, silver, aluminum, nickel and even meteorite extracts.
The clubs are available in three pricing tiers: Numbered, limited edition putters produced in quantities under 20 start (and we emphasize start) at around $15,000; unique putters, which are individually customized to suit their owners’ tastes in finish, grooving and engravings cost more than $20,000; and ValGrine’s “haute creations”—dream putters beset with gemstones and inlaid with precious metals—are a steal at $33,000 and up.
The clubs are not only striking to the eye, of course. They must also strike the occasional golf ball. And while a ValGrine can’t sink a putt independent of a golfer, the clubs at least give their owners the confidence that their gear—if not their game—is of the highest quality.
Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
The first step in developing an appreciation of absinthe, said Huntington’s resident aficionado Scott MacDonald, is to let go of all the mythology surrounding the anise, wormwood and fennel aperitif. “The biggest myth is that absinthe is narcotic and dangerous,” MacDonald said. “People still think Van Gogh cut his ear off under the influence of absinthe. That’s all myth. It’s been scientifically proven now that absinthe is just a nice, social drink.”
Cheryl Lins, owner of the Delaware Phoenix Distillery in Walton, NY, agreed, adding that she believes the drink is best appreciated by mixing in four parts ice-cold water to one part liqueur. “Some people like to pour their absinthe through a sugar cube, but I think it’s sweet enough naturally,” said the distiller, who has been making it since 2009.
MacDonald, who began his study of absinthe four years ago and whose book, Absinthe Antiques, focuses on the subject, suggested the uninitiated buy genuine absinthe, not one of the many off-brand imitators that seek to take advantage of the drink’s undeserved notoriety. (He offered wormwoodsociety.org as a good informational starting point.) MacDonald also said a leisurely approach is vital to consumption, suggesting that newcomers enjoy the drink in the company of friends.
Shown here: Delaware Phoenix Absinthe set. Walton Waters and Meadow of Love packaged in hand-sewn bags with satin cord ties, about $150 for the pair. An even wider selection of absinthes can be found at catskillcellars.com.
Owning a kayak is enticing for Island dwellers. It’s an activity that’s challenging without being overly intimidating, and rugged without being, as the kids say, x-treme. The realities however, tend to have sharper edges than our soft focus imaginings. Most kayaks are unwieldy and weigh close to 100 pounds. They’re hard to store, hard to transport, and if you don’t own a tandem, you can’t share the experience with anyone who doesn’t have his or her own boat.
Enter the line of modular vessels from the design-oriented Swedes at Point65n. Starting around $800, both the Apollo and the Mercury break apart into small sections that are easy to handle, move around and store. Just as sturdy and zippy as their one-piece counterparts, Point65n boats offer a versatility that the competition can’t match. When taking your significant other out for a paddle, leave the tandem installed. When on a solo mission, break the boat apart to lighten the craft.
Another advantage of the multi-piece construction is that lifting three individual sections of kayak into a trunk or back seat is a lot easier than lashing an entire boat to a car’s roof—especially for the occasional hobbyist who doesn’t tackle the task more than a few times a year.
Fit to a Tea
Tea, carefully prepared and consumed, is a drink that unites the world. Scalded tea carelessly sloshed into a mug is, sadly, little more than weak leaf juice. For an eye-opening tea experience that will help expand drinkers’ appreciation, a tea tasting course can be the start of a rewarding, lifelong love affair.
Palais Des Thes in SoHo offers introductory courses in tea as well as tea tastings several times per week. According to Aurelie Bessiere, a Palais tea teacher, the sessions can make connoisseurs of people who already enjoy tea, as well as initiating newcomers. Comparing the experience to the cultivation of wine appreciation, Bessiere explained that her sessions provide, “insight into the different types of teas, how to best prepare them and how to taste them like a professional. In the end, you appreciate tea more because you have context.”
Classes cost $45 per person and are capped at four participants to ensure an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. The 90-minute sessions can include tastings of fine green teas, black teas or a general introductory experience. Background and anecdotes about each individual tea are shared to enhance the experience. Group and private tastings can also be arranged by request.
A custom-blended, bespoke perfume or cologne is, for many, the last word in luxury. Knowing a fragrance is yours alone is the reason truly stylish women have been combining and blending their own perfumes for years.
Up-and-coming scent stylist Anne McClain is an artist in more than one sense of the word. She once produced a sculptural “perfume fountain” for display in Brooklyn’s McGlorick Park and seeks to imbue each scent she blends with its own “story.”
McClain launched her unisex scent line, MCMC Fragrances, from her elegant scent studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 2010. A graduate of the highly selective Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France, McClain’s small batch perfumes, oils and candles are sold in boutiques like Paris’ Collette, and she also creates custom blends for a handful of fortunate (and fragrant) clients every year. These entirely unique fragrances are the result of a close collaboration between client and designer and start at $3,500. Expensive? Yes. But having a couture fragrance in your scent wardrobe offers a curated feeling nothing else can replicate.
The words “tailor made” are used so often it’s easy to forget where they come from: Things that are made by tailors. A bespoke suit is a luxury few of us treat ourselves to, but it’s actually one of the areas where a little extra expense begets a lot more quality. A suit that’s literally tailor made will fit in a way nothing off the rack can even approach. It will last longer, too. And, since the buyer can choose his own details like fabric, buttons and linings, the suit is a summit in self-expression.
Sebastiano Montella, owner of Montella Custom Tailor, began his apprenticeship at the age of seven in his hometown of Visciano, Italy. Learning at the feet of a master, Montella studied both pattern making and design in Naples and, by the age of 17, opened his first tailoring business—although it didn’t last very long. A year later he was required to join the army. He decided to make use of his skills and eventually worked his way up to a position as head tailor for the Italian military’s central command in Rome.
Montella moved to the US in the early 1980s and honed his craft for the American market with both Saks and Armani in New York City before opening his own shop in Bellport. That’s where you’ll find him finishing each of the 30,000 stiches it takes to tailor a suit by hand. He’ll spend about two weeks on one jacket and trouser set investing nearly 700 stiches for the lapel alone. In 2012 Montella became the first expatriated member of the Italian National Academy of Tailors and was also honored by Stony Brook University for “50 years in the art of custom tailoring.”
Of the difference between custom haberdashery and off-the-rack merchandise, Montella laughed, “Oh!” he said, surprised at the question. “The main difference is quality. Some off-the-rack suits will last only a few months, then they’re done. A hand-made suit, because of the fabrics, the workmanship, they have a much longer life. The fit is also completely different. It’s a different world.”
Montella’s custom suits begin at $4,000.
Photo of Sebastiano Montella by Rick Wenner
On the Fly
The hottest thing currently in the sky—with all due respect to the sun—is the Bristell light sport aircraft. Featuring an expansive bubble construction that allows for a wide, panoramic view of the sky, Bristell also treats pilots and passengers to a spacious 51 inches of legroom—a sprawling enormity compared to the 36 inches available in comparable cockpits.
Lou Mancuso, President of Sport Flying USA and New York Jet, is part of a family that’s been running a flying business on Long Island since 1946. He recently flew a Bristell and was more than enthusiastic about the experience. “I flew from Lakeland, Florida to Wilmington, North Carolina,” he said, going on to relate that after almost five hours in the air, he landed feeling refreshed and relaxed. “It’s like sitting in your living room chair. It’s really phenomenal.”
Bristell light sport aircraft start around $125,000.
Veni, Vidi, Vertu
Why do we even call them “phones” anymore? The new generation of mobile devices still technically allow for telephonic communication, but those rare handsets that are actually being used that way might as well be equipped with rotary dials and run on coal. The modern mobile phone is a digital assistant, a BFF, an entertainment system, a research library and a social circle all in one. It’s also an increasingly important fashion accessory, since, for many of us, our phones spend nearly as much time at the end of our arms as our self-winding chronographs or our chic cocktail rings.
At the vanguard of this phone-as-fashion-movement is Vertu. The trio of handmade British phones—the Signature, the Ti and the Constellation—aren’t more complex in the technology department, but the devil (and the dollars) are in the details. The phones can be customized with ruby call buttons, for example.
A human concierge is available 24 hours per day, not only to put Siri to shame, but also to provide restaurant recommendations, make impossible-to-get reservations and have the brown M&M’s removed from the candy dishes in their clients’ hotel suites (seriously). Vertu also maintains a Life services division to keep members in the know about exclusive parties, clubs and closed-door shopping events.
Vertu phones start around $7,000 and climb swiftly into the five and six figures. It’s a lot of money for a phone, sure, but good luck using a prepaid device to arrange for an elephant escort to meet your plane in Dubai.
Vertu is available at London Jewelers in Manhasset and at the Vertu Boutique on Madison Avenue.
Pictured: Vertu Signature