Thursday, April 30, 2009

DOWN BUT NEVER UNDER THE WEATHER

Since I am not as wired as I should be when I travel, (sometimes I can't even find my own blog--like in China!) there will be no posts at least from 1-8 May when I will be in Sydney watching Kath and Kim and Border Patrol (my favourite Oz reality show).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

THERE IS A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING


There is a first time for everything and today was the first time I ever had a professional fake tan sprayed on. I usually do it myself using a cocktail of Clarins or Nature's Gate self-tanner and lotion. I know I posted a picture of Boracay but sadly, I am not going there. I'm going to another place where everyone and their boat is perennially tanned---Sydney. The other place is Los Angeles but since everyone is busy getting swine flu instead of a tan, Porky Pig might displace Zac Efron as king of Hollywood.
BUT I had to put up a photo of Boracay because something very important is happening there later this week. (Aside from the island slowly disappearing like Venice, Amsterdam and maybe Singapore....)
My friends at www.donavictorina.blogspot.com are hosting the FIRST BORACAY BLOGGERS ENCOUNTER which aims to educate people on the island's environmental destruction. Tsk, tsk, tsk..Did we have to ruin it???....(Yet another first!)
The highlight of this 2-day event (30 April and 1 May) is a forum moderated by my friend and lawyer for the right reasons, Atty Trixie Angeles. "Environmental Laws Affecting Boracay" will be held on 30 April from 6-9PM. Discussions will be live in person in Boracay and via Skype and YM.
As much as I would like to join, I won't be able to because a) my Skype is busted and b) how can I join anything tech-y if I can't even turn on our TV? Now you can add iPod to the list.
There will also be a party and commitment signing on the evening of 1 May.
Please call or text (63)2-332 1031 ext 107 or (63)920-902 6583 for more information.

Friday, April 24, 2009

THE WHORE NINE YARDS


Together with some things too fabulous to mention, I bought these two books on characters in supporting roles during the French Revolution. Or thereabouts.

These historical chronicles are being released at the time when TV comedy is heavily into the genre started by Entourage where the supporting cast is better than the show's 'star.' I also highly recommend the UK comedy Gavin and Stacey. The farthest from Entourage in subject matter but equally funny.

The whore nine yards and fashion arbiter, Pauline Bonaparte was Napoleon's sister and there is speculation that she slept with her famous bro'. She is also the model for the famous Canova nude sculpture.




Lucie de la Tour du Pin was a diarist who witnessed the two most important and turbulent times in French history. She kept notes and opinions both at the time of Marie Antoinette and Napoleon. I have yet to find out exactly what she was doing at court because her diaries have been referenced by all books I have read on the French Revolution.
After the fall of the monarchy, she fled to America (Albany, New York to be precise) where she ran a farm and sold butter.









RETAIL SEEKS ITS OWN LEVEL

Unfortunately, yesterday's retail expedition did not yield this many shopping bags for me.
However, some may have walked away with just as many bags...

MANY lined up at HnM waiting to shop Matthew Williamson's new line. Since I don't believe in lining up or getting on waiting lists, I went to my club for lunch.
OTHERS queued in front of Twist/Treshei because the store was 40% off on second hand designer labels and 50% off on house labels. I wonder if that includes the Hermes section. The line at lunch time was too long for me to bother finding out.
STILL MORE lined up on the second level of Ralph Lauren's Central shop for the employee 40% off sale.

HOWEVER, Stella McCartney's new store in Landmark had an 'exclusive event' so exclusive that there were only sales staff and no visible clients in the late afternoon for a sales event that was on all day.

MEANWHILE, the second (and last) day of the Mauboussin VIP sales event was so packed, the HK managing director couldn't even look at me from the corner of his eye.

Clearly business is good for those who have a loyal market whether cheap and cheerful or expensive and exclusive. Either that or good PR.

People outside fashion and retail have been asking me if retail is a good barometer of HK's economy. These days it is hard to tell because as much as luxury retailers are suffering, HSBC did a very successful USD 18 billion rights issue a few weeks ago.

Proof that if there is something good to buy (or at least something the public THINKS has value for money), people will pay for it.

Last month I was at Lanvin looking through the SS09 delivery and there was NOTHING that I wanted to buy even at 50% off for several reasons (this also applies to Lane Crawford and Joyce): First is that Lanvin's current line is so full of party dresses even Carla Bruni couldn't go through them if she had a state dinner every night. Second, and most important to me is that they have become overpriced beyond coloured contacts popping heights.

I have an example that says it all.

Lanvin has a self-lined black silk habutai (the cheapest silk in the universe aka parachute silk in the 80s) jacket with its signature fraying treatment on a breast pocket for ---hold on to your trophy necklace---25,000 HKD (or a little OVER 3000 USD, or for me, CLOSE to 3000 USD with discount).

Does this make sense to you? Silk Habutai is like technology where it gets cheaper every year. It is in fact, cheaper than cotton. In 2003, when Alber Elbaz first started at Lanvin, I was thinking of buying a LEATHER COAT for abour 4000 USD. At that time, I thought it cost too much.

NOW?? What do I get for 4000 USD? A dress with a zipper.
MEANWHILE at Yewn (Peninsula, Landmark and Bergdorf Goodman), you can get beautiful diamond drop earring for 21,000 HKD (or USD 2600)

My salesperson asked me if I wanted to try anything on. I told her I wasn't coming back even for the sale until it was 95% off for the two reasons I mentioned above.

Then she said...All our customers said the same thing.
And where are they now?

It seems like HK shoppers and retailers are waiting to see who will give in first.
Your guess is as good as mine.
(I did cave in and buy something that WAS NOT on sale but that will be a secret to everyone including my husband. Until he gets the bill. It was in fact so secret even to me that I didn't know I left the parcel at the shop until they called me.)

THE PRICE OF HAPPINESS
Last week, my friends and I were talking about--what else? the price of goods---Someone said she accompanied a friend to the Kowloon Louis Vuitton shop where her friend bought a pair of plastic earrings for about 4000 HKD (about 500 USD) and 'they weren't even real gold!" (someone has been talking to my husband....)

But then, another woman in our group piped up, "But was she happy?"
(Of course the answer is 'yes' because I ain't getting dressed and leaving the house and going all the way to Kowloon for something that will not make me palpitate with excitement and breath in our pollution----this is why I DON'T go to Kowloon)
SSSSOOO-----does it simply boil down to happiness?
What do you think?

Being identified with a brand has become so important in contemporary society because it probably gives many a feeling of acceptance or having a 'certain status' or a certain 'level of taste' (this is not for sale, I'm afraid).

It can even be a means of identification. Some websites use "What is your favourite brand?" as a security question. When you forget your locker password at my gym, the attendant will ask you what's inside your locker before letting you access it. "A black bag with straps and a snap" is not a good enough answer. These days, they ask for the brand. Maybe it's time for me to get an Hermes gym bag.

But fashion for me has always been about being different, which is what people are looking for today. You-s kids will never believe how out of place I have felt in the last few years because I wasn't chasing or hankering for every "It' bag.

For some of us, "It' never really happened. Luckily, the time for individuality has finally come!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

JUDGING BY COVERS

What did you kids think of this US Vogue May 2009 issue? I am asking about the ISSUE, not the cover. (Personally, I don't care about covers. You can give me the table of contents as cover and I'll be just as happy)

Aside from looking at the pictures, didja read anything? I didn't. In fact, I HATED this issue. I didn't even bother with the pictures because I didn't get any interesting information (or even good clothes) from them. The only thing this issue did was remind me to buy peonies (from Norwich Notes).

Who cares about who these models are dating if you can't tell one from the other? Plus the boys look like girls. Why do I want to read about pregnancy when that's my biggest nightmare? I don't need tips from models because they are miles taller and 1000 times prettier than me.

I want tips from Daphne Guinness and Amanda Harlech!!!

The only feature I liked was the excerpt from "The Bolter" by Frances Osborne (aka Mrs George Osborne, Mr. being UK shadow chancellor of the Exchequer from the Osborne and Little family of decorative furnishings).

I've never appreciated actors, models and reality TV celebrities because they got there on luck or looks or both. Not ability, effort or intelligence. (I also hate talent shows because talent, like beauty and luck, is God-given and I think people who receive gifts from God already have a leg up over people like me who went to the bathroom when those talents were being handed out)

Give me Ari Gold's and Lloyd's hardworking Hollywood ways any day. And as much as people hate bankers and lawyers.....They really work hard, hokay???


NOW THIS, I really enjoyed reading. Lots of information on the environment (topics like eco-cosmetics, product quality standards, the good-looking Cousteau family, sustainable fashion and beauty businesses, water therapy) and also the feature on the top 13 water experts. Don't say you didn't hear it from me but water is going to be what the next war will be on.

I didn't read the cover feature on Drew Barrymore because I don't read about celebrities. I wait for people to tell me....like oral history.

Meanwhile, I have cancelled my subscription to W, preferring to read it in the bookstores because last year they had all these issues with 'artistic' type photography of Angelina by Brad, Brad by Brad, an opera singer who looked like a man and other blurry-type photos.

I'd rather go through a catalogue where I can see clothes clearly anyday.

Now excuse me while I go TRY TO BUY something today if there is anything good at retail.
Will report from behind the racks later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

IT TAKES ONE, NOT TWO


I put aside the book I was reading on Marie-Therese, France's last Madame Royale (or Princess Royal to the British monarchy) in favour of "Mrs Astor Regrets," by Meryl Gordon, the story of Brooke Astor, New York's last official queen of society and the last Mrs. Astor at least on the American side. (The Astors are like the Rothschilds who have family scattered all over Europe and/or America with members dominating and contributing positively into every society they settle into)
Last year I also read Frances Kiernan's "The Last Mrs. Astor" which was also very well-written and informative but 'Mrs. Astor Regrets' concentrates on the last few years of Astor's life and the public court battle that ensued (and still continues) after her death. Astor died on 13 August 2007 at the age of 105.
It all started when one of her grandson's Philip Marshall, one of the two sons of her only son Anthony Marshall, decided to take matters into his own hands by questioning the living conditions and medical care his multi-millionaire grandmother was getting from his father.
(The court heard every issue from medicines being replaced, the firing of her French chef to the quality and number of flower arrangements she required weekly and why the dogs were not walked regularly)
Not even his twin brother would support him in challenging their father. How did Philip Marshall think he will get support from New York society?
But here is where truth is better than fiction. David Rockefeller, Annette dela Renta and Henry Kissinger did.
In the last few days, I have realized that many times, when you blow the whistle or you unmask fraud, it usually just TAKES ONE. As they sang in Chorus Line, "One. Singualr sensation."
Harry Markopolos on Bernie Madoff (but the SEC didn't believe him in 2005), Oliver North and the Iran-Contra Affair, closer to home and my life, The Angel of Debt in Hong Kong and in the Philippines, Australian Brian Gorrell blogs it all on DJ Montano, the social swindler now on the run in America BECAUSE of Gorrell's blog!
Aside from being a major philantropist, flirt and best-dressed lister, Astor was a novelist and poet. "Mrs. Astor Regrets" quotes one of her poems, Discipline, which I think many of us can find inspiration whether under the drinking age or between 65 and death:
I am old and I have had
more than my share of good and bad
I've had love and sorrow, seen sudden death
and been left alone and of love bereft.
I thought I would never love again
and I thought my life was grief and pain.
The edge between life and death was thin,
but then I discovered discipline.
I learned to smile when I felt sad,
I learned to take the good and bad.
I learned to care a great deal more
for the world about me than before.
I began to forget the 'Me' and "I"
and joined in life as it rolled by:
this may not mean sheer ecstasy
but it is better by far than "I" and "Me."
It also helps to be left with USD 200 million, a huge Park Avenue flat, two country houses and full staff including a loyal butler who was a former footman at Buckingham Palace.
Now where are those dogs that need to be walked?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

HISTORICAL ANGEL OF DEBT.....

NOW PLAYING AT A U.S. ECONOMY NEAR YOU.....

This month is French Revolution month at least on my nightstand. A few weeks ago, I finished "Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution" by Caroline Weber and now I am reading "Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter" by Susan Nagel.

In between I am also reading Gems of Wisdom from the Seventh Dalai Lama (Of which my husband says, 'I could have told you all of that and you had to go out and buy a book?"). When I am feeling poor and unloved, I skim through a beautiful book, "Le Grand Frisson: 500 years of Jewels of Sentiment," published to accompany the ongoing stellar Chaumet exhibition at the museum in its Hong Kong boutique.

Piers Morgan's "God Bless America" and "Luxury Brand Management" by Michel Chevalier and Gerlad Mazzalovo will have to wait. In the case of the latter, I think retail is gonna have to wait a LONG TIME for a recovery. If Lane Crawford offered the local media 40% off selected new merchandise last weekend, you know the same offer to the general public will not be far behind....(But sadly, there was really nothing to buy because stuff in the stores are UGLY!!)
However, at the Celine 'friends and family" (read: 70-90% off) I managed to get 2 4-ply cashmere sweaters for 3000 HKD. My friends got shoes for 700 and dresses for 1500. Buy five items and get an extra 10% off---not even Giordano could give you a better deal.




Meanwhile, back in bed with all my books and all the news fit and not fit to print, I noticed similarities between the France of Louis XVI (Mr Marie Antoinette to you and me) and the America of Barack Obama (Mr Michelle Obama to you and me) go beyond their wives' fashion leadership. (But don't you think Mrs Sarkozy is so much chicer especially in that pale grey suede??/silk?? shirtdress she wore in Strasbourg?)

Of course I wanted to bring up the similarities with you-s but because a) I didn't have any solid references except the books and my own news analysis and b) I am neither a graduate of economics or history, I couldn't. I knew you-s peeps would have gone up in arms against my views like in, hold your Selle Francaises (horses)...the French Revolution.

Et voila...deniere fin de semaine there was a column by a visiting professor at Harvard University (great minds think alike!) which I have copied below. For you-s ADD-internet generation caption-only readers, I have highlighted what I think are the main points that will help impress your parents or Tim Geithner, in case you sit next to him at dinner (I heard he's hiring..)


What the French revolution can teach America
By Dominique Moïsi
Published: April 2 2009 18:13 Last updated: April 2 2009 18:13

“Eat the wealthy.” The ferocity of the words used by some demonstrators in London on the eve of the Group of 20 summit evokes the worst excesses of the French revolution. Anti-capitalist anger in the west is not confined to Europe. Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Ancien Régime and the Revolution is as relevant to understanding today’s America as his deep and eye-opening thoughts on the young American republic in his Democracy in America.
Of course, America in 2009 is not France in 1788, the year before the fall of the Bastille (the prison that embodied the oppressive nature of the monarchical regime) and the symbolic beginning of the French revolution. The fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 has nothing to do with the fall of the Bastille; symbols of wealth should not be confused with symbols of oppression. There is no guillotine around the corner and it would take a lot of imagination to compare President Barack Obama to Louis XVI, or Michelle Obama to Marie-Antoinette.
Yet as a European living in America – watching news on television every night, talking to friends, colleagues or my students – I sense fear, anger and a deep feeling of injustice reminiscent of the climate on the eve of the French revolution. Just replace bread shortages with foreclosures, aristocrats with bankers, and privileges such as the right not to pay tax with stock options. Add to that support for the king but rejection of many of his ministers, and the comparison looks less far-fetched.
The explosion of populist rage that has accompanied the AIG scandal, amplified by an opportunistic Congress and by media that play to the tune of their audiences when not reinforcing their passions, reflects the depth of suffering in the US. Main Street, like much of France at the end of the 18th century, is outraged. Fear for its own present and future is combined with anger at those it considers responsible, and who are much less affected than they. Are not senior bankers today like the aristocrats of yesterday, their privileges no longer justified by their social functions – to serve the king with their swords or to contribute to the creation and dissemination of wealth?
The problem with the economic team of the new president is that, like the court of the king of France in pre-revolutionary times, it has inherited all the bad reflexes of the ancien régime, mixing excessive sympathy for the outdated logic of the world of finance, which it helped to create, with insensitivity to the emotions of the ordinary people, which it tends to ignore. This sympathy is perceived to contrast with the harsh treatment of carmakers.
Bankers and financiers have to reinvent not only their trade but also their way of life and, above all, their value system. In the Madoff scandal, just as shocking as the crime of an individual was the behaviour of many of his rich customers, who combined greed with a lack of financial common sense.
An interesting incident was reported by CNN last week. A group of protesters – very few, to be honest – rented a bus in Connecticut and stopped in front of the mansions of AIG executives to express support for those who had returned their bonuses and outrage against those who had not and were still living in grand style, in contrast with the many more who had lost nearly everything. (writer's note: I bet the 'bad guys' all happen to not be home because they were on a fact-finding mission in the Bahamas)
The greed of some was tolerated as long as most of society continued to progress. But today’s combination of fear and humiliation with a deep sense of injustice leads to anger that is potentially irrepressible. The strength of the American republic has been bolstered by the popularity of its new president. This capital should not be squandered on reliance on a media-savvy communication culture. As can be seen so often in history, less is more. The president of the US simply speaks too much.
Revolution is not around the corner; at least, not in America. But there are lessons Mr Obama can learn from the French king’s failure to manage dissent. He must not fall prey to populism. His goal is to save the economy, not punish the bankers. At the same time, he must not be seen to have too much sympathy for the world of finance and its excesses or to cut himself off from the suffering of his people. If he fails, the corporate laws of today will face the same fate as the ancien régime rights of yesterday.
World leaders’ agreements, substantive or superficial, will not suffice. It is the trust of their respective citizens, translated into hope and confidence, that will make the difference.

The writer is a visiting professor at Harvard University and author of the forthcoming The Geopolitics of Emotion
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009