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  1. Wealth
December 10, 2010

2010: A Luxe Odyssey

By Spear's

After spending the year eating, drinking and sleeping with the best the world of luxury has to offer, John Arlidge rounds up the good, the bad and the utterly marvellous

After spending the year eating, drinking and sleeping with the best the world of luxury has to offer, John Arlidge rounds up the good, the bad and the utterly marvellous
ANOTHER YEAR OVER. Another chance to play Ultra Heroes and Villains. Who did the most to create luxe that kill in 2010? And who blew it?

Round one: airlines. The legacy carriers have been having a turbulent time of late, squeezed by the budget airlines at one end and the shiny new Gulf-based operators at the other. The challenge is to improve service for all short-haul passengers and for long-haul premium passengers who want to fly point-to-point, not via Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi.

Virgin Atlantic continues to fly on alone in tough times — no alliances with other big carriers for now — and retains its essential British sense of style and humour and modern design. Its brand is stronger than many dared to think. Its new hotels, based on the still-class-leading Heathrow Clubhouse, can’t come soon enough.

British Airways, which once led the world by pioneering flat beds in business class and premium economy but then fell behind the pack, is now — at last — investing in new products. The UK flag carrier’s new first class is as good as it gets, a reminder of the days when you actually looked forward to the journey. The improved Club World product on BA’s business-class-only flight from London City to JFK and the new World Traveller Plus also augur well.

In the Gulf, Emirates wins — again. The showers, the large bar and the bathrooms on the Airbus A380 are better than anything else in the commercial sector. The airline has a brand-new airport, rising from the dusty desert scrub in Jebel Ali. Best of all, Emirates has created a new — and miles better — kangaroo route. Going from Europe to Australia, you do the short leg first to Dubai and the long leg second. You arrive in the morning in Oz after a long sleep feeling odd, for sure, but rested and ready to start the day. It’s as close as any airline has come to banishing jet-lag.

Ian Schrager’s first Edition hotel, in Waikiki, Honolulu
Villain of the year? British Airways unions for failing to realise that a job is a job and right now that’s a good thing.

A ‘boutique’ or bespoke design hotel chain might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it has been the theme of the hotel sector this year. Starwood’s W and Aloft and InterContinental’s Indigo brands continue to expand — but it is Hyatt that has really nailed it. The firm’s Andaz brand, notably on Fifth Avenue and Wall Street in New York, is proof that a big brand can learn that small is beautiful.
THIS WAS ALSO the year when Ian Schrager decided to create a boutique hotel chain of his own. He launched Edition in a £2 billion joint venture with Marriott. Only one has opened — in Waikiki, Honolulu — but if it is anything to go by, the man who crated the Royalton in New York, the Delano in Miami and St Martin’s Lane and the Sanderson in London has not lost his touch.

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Villain of the year? Too many to mention, but all committed the same offence: charging for things that should be as free as air, notably mineral water, the internet and gym access. You know who you are.

It is rare that luxury travel destinations feature in Ultra, but 2010 has been a year of great change for two places in particular. Thrill-seeking in Singapore used to be a contradiction in terms — and illegal. Not any more. Whether it’s the best fixture in the Formula One calendar, the casinos at Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa, the small and perfectly formed Fullerton Bay and Capella hotels or the food, Singapore is now a world-class airline with a world-class city attached.

Woody Allen joked that the only culture in Los Angeles was yoghurt. However, the revamped and enlarged Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Lacma, has added 100,000sq ft of gallery space. A few miles away, collector Eli Broad is creating a new space to display pieces from his collection of 2,000 works. Art dealer Larry Gagosian has doubled the size of his Beverly Hills gallery. In June, Jeffrey Deitch, one of New York’s most powerful gallery owners, relocated to LA to become the director of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art

The Jaguar XJ

The owners of the Armory Show, New York’s largest art fair, are putting together a major art fair to debut in downtown LA next year. With all this to add to the Getty Center and the Norton Simon gallery in Pasadena, it’s no wonder that Agnes Gund, the prominent New York-based art collector, declares LA ‘is more than catching up to New York — in some ways it’s moving past it’.

Villain of the year? London. For failing to realise a third runway at Heathrow or a new mega-airport in the Thames estuary is vital to its future as a world city.

When it comes to cars, there can be only one winner — and not before time. A few years ago Jaguar looked dead, killed by retro designs and badge engineering imposed by one careless owner, Ford. But then the big cat began to twitch.

The XK sportscar was an improvement, if not a cure for its ills. The XF sports saloon convinced sceptics that the feline could roar again. The new XJ, launched this year, is proof that Tata got the bargain of the century when it snapped up the firm. The XJ is not just the finest Jaguar to roll out of the West Midlands in a generation, it is also the car that sent the BMW 7 Series, the Mercedes S Class and the Audi A8 to the back to the garage for a thorough re-tooling. Now stand by for a facelifted XF and an all-new XF estate.

Villain of the year? BMW, for giving up on the radical aesthetic of outgoing design chief Chris Bangle and sending out cars that are so similar they are hard to tell apart — except for the uniformly hideous rear lights.

Menswear is a fickle mistress — or should that be master? Many did well in 2010: Dunhill, Frida Giannini at Gucci, Louis Vuitton. But the loudest shout must go to Zegna. Not only do the Zegna family produce the finest fabrics and luggage under the signature Ermenegildo Zegna label, but this year the Z Zegna diffusion line has come into its own. The slim-fit shirts, distressed jackets, one-button navy tuxedos and jeans pick up where Miuccia Prada left off when she abandoned Miu Miu menswear.

Villain of the year? Italian politicians who voted for a new law that decrees that if two stages of manufacturing of a fashion product are carried out in Italy, it can be labelled ‘Made in Italy’. Made in Italy should mean just that. Not ‘Made in the Far East and stitched in Italy’ as all too many products now are.

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