Loot – Luxury Living, Goods, Services and Reviews

I Come to Bathe Like Caesar

Aire

“Are those people OK? Because they look kinda …”

"Dead, right? We get that a lot. No, they're just relaxed. They’re floating," says Silvia Barnett, communications manager at Aire Ancient Baths in New York. “Our bathhouses are based on relaxation through water.”

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Gentlemen, This Is Your Declaration of Independence

Folio

Slap as many whimsical animal patterns on your tie as you like. If you're dressed for the office, you're dressed for the office.

How to stand out? (In a good way?)

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Mommy, I Made You a Mug! You Got $65?

Cool Ceramics

There was a time when a coffee mug was only cutting edge if you dropped it. Now, fashion-forward boutiques from Williamsburg to Silver Lake are stocking what could almost be called cool pottery. And by the store owners' accounts, the more they stock, the more they sell.

"This has only been true for maybe a year and a half," says Lori Leven, the owner of Love Adorned, a boutique in New York's Nolita neighborhood. "I've definitely expanded the artists we carry, and each person has their own following. ... Many people are now making ceramics for a living, whereas it used to be what they did for a hobby."

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Because Nothing Says 'I Love You' Like a Hip Flask

Flask

A hip flask seems like the perfect gift, or so it must have to the three people who gave you one for Thanksgivukkah or who are about to give you one for Christmas.

It's a trend. "A hip flask is esoteric and easy to customize," they figured, "and I don't think he owns one."

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I've Got a $4,000 Suit On Under Here

Cold

Let it get cold enough in New York and suddenly it's businessman on the bottom, mountaineer on the top. The guys cast off their flimsy overcoats and cram themselves into high-performance Gore-Tex, turning the big city into the Olympic village. If every suit on the icy streets of Manhattan tore open his Velcro jacket at 9.30 a.m., it would obliterate the opening bell.

High-performance jackets are one solution to bone-chilling weather, but they're not an entirely practical one. An Arc'teryx might be windproof. It isn't designed to be worn over a suit.

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Nice Ski Jacket, but $1,600? We're Schuss Sayin'

Moncler

Moncler, a luxury ski-jacket company with 100 stores, ended its first day of trading Monday with a market value of $5.1 billion. Its 47 percent rise was the best first day of trading this year among European initial public offerings of more than $1 billion.

If you missed out on the IPO, don't worry -- you can still invest $1,600 in a jacket.

Now, should you? Loot looked at the rest of the ski-jacket market, using Moncler's Grenoble Orohena as a basis of comparison. The Orohena has a waterproof exterior and down insulation. It is trim, waist-length and, at $1,560, priced in the middle tier of Moncler's apparel. The alternatives are also waterproof and insulated with down:

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Taxidermy

A 165 million-year-old fossilized skeleton of a Diplodocus sold for $652,800 in late November at Summers Place Auctions, a small British auction house. But the real news was that a 19th-century diorama of stuffed card-playing squirrels sold at all.

"For many years of my life, this stuff was so absolutely out of fashion that you wouldn't have gotten a bid for it," says Errol Fuller, a specialist in extinct creatures who organized the auction. "Only in the past decade has there been a renewed interest. It was seen as bad taste, politically incorrect, or cruel to animals." Now such dioramas are collected as novelties.

Fuller, 66, says dioramas of squirrels playing cards were ubiquitous in Victorian England. "A German guy named Hermann Ploucquet exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition," he says. "He stuffed little animals -- mice, squirrels, moles -- in anthropomorphic positions, and that sparked a tradition. ... The other things you see from time to time are squirrels in boxing settings. Shaking hands, delivering a knockout blow, and so forth."

Of the two dioramas in the auction that depicted squirrels playing cards, the larger one, which Fuller describes as "more ambitious," sold for its low estimate of 4,000 pounds, or about $6,500. The second, which included only two squirrels (playing gin rummy, maybe?), sold for 1,000 pounds, or about $1,600.

The auction included other wonders, like giant vitrines full of exotic birds ("That's really what a wealthy Victorian would have had") and various insect and marine skeletons arranged in the "exploded" style. "Exploded lobsters are modern," Fuller explains. "They're done as didactic models to show you the actual parts that these creatures are formed from." An exploded lobster sold for $1,800, and an exploded beetle for $1,200.

Fuller's favorite pieces in the sale? "I liked the head of a Gaur bison," he says, citing a piece that sold for $1,300. "It was an absolute masterpiece of the taxidermist's craft."

He also speaks glowingly of a 200 million-year-old fossil of an Ichthyosaurus, a sort of prehistoric dolphin that was estimated to sell for $82,000 to $130,000 but failed to find a buyer, and an iridescent green,100 million-year-old fossil of an Ammonite, a type of mollusk, which sold for $4,700. Assuming the mollusk started life with a dollar value of nothing, that would mean it accumulated its worth at 0.000047 cent a year.

"I kept comparing these prices to the price of a Ferrari," Fuller says. "One just sold for $28 million, I believe." He paused. "But that Diplodocus was 55 feet long and 14 feet high. Which do you think would impress your friends more to have in the garden?"

James Tarmy writes the Loot blog for Bloomberg.com's Good Life channel.

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Sunchokes Roasting on an Open Fire: The Bedford Getaway

Sunchoke

One hour north of New York, there's a mushroom with your name on it.

And a 6-foot-4 hobbit named Jeremy McMillan darting about the woods to fetch it for you.

McMillan is executive chef of the Relais & Chateaux hotel/yoga studio/restaurant also known as the Bedford Post Inn, in Bedford Hills. On a late-autumn evening, Loot’s plate bore the fruit of his foraging -- not a mushroom, in this case, but a potato. Make that a sunchoke.

"What is a sunchoke, anyway? No one at our table can figure it out," I ask the chef, not waiting for the answer to devour it.

"It’s also called a Jerusalem artichoke," McMillan says with a smile. "It's the tuber of a type of sunflower, similar to but creamier than a potato. And the skin has an amazing truffle flavor. But it's a little briny, which is why I paired it with the monkfish."

The monkfish-sunchoke number is delightful. But that’s not what’s striking. It’s McMillan's look-what-I-found wonderment that pervades the dishes, which are almost all wood-fired and displayed on either cut slate or slabs of wood, and copiously garnished with local foliage. Who knew smoked rose petals were so tasty?

"Bringing nature in has to be the intention. It’s our biggest asset," says McMillan, 36. "Where I grew up [in the Arizona desert], weather extremes were a big part of life. I learned there are two ways about this. You either need to shut it out and provide an oasis, or you need to bring the outside in." McMillan's been busy hiring local farmers who help him keep things fresh.

There are years of nurture behind all this nature. McMillan got his start in Scottsdale, Arizona, working first as a line cook at Michael’s and then at Zinc Bistro as chef de cuisine. But it was at Manhattan’s A Voce Columbus where he was discovered and wooed by Bedford Post owners Richard Gere, Carey Lowell (yep, those guys) and Russell Hernandez, co-owner and contractor. They built the inn in 2007 as a place of refuge and reflection -- cue the Namaste greetings, the cashmere blankets, the candlelit stone pathways.

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Kennedy Center

Maybe it was the Haribo gummy bears we ate on an empty stomach. Maybe it was the anemic last act of "Parsifal," conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. But as Loot sprinted across a median for one of the few cabs that ventured near the Kennedy Center's silent parking lot, the visit left a sour taste in our mouth.

We've been to the palace on the Potomac several times, without much luck. So the announcement of a new president, Deborah Rutter, can only improve matters.

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Personal chef

Having a personal chef sounds as extravagant as owning a private jet. Someone in your kitchen to whip up filet mignon and beignets while you lounge on the couch? Great. Once Loot has a functional kitchen, or a couch, send him over.

Some personal chefs want to change that perception (as you might imagine). "I've got a handful of very wealthy clients, but it's certainly not the default," says Uri Attia, who runs a company called Portable Chef in New York. "They're working professionals, the New York middle class."

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About Loot

Loot chronicles everything from culture to luxury goods. It's not about being rich but leading an enriched life. Commentary or analyses in this blog are the views of authors and/or commentators, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg News.

Contributors

  • James Tarmy
    James Tarmy
  • Jennifer Parker
    Jennifer Parker