Ten mavericks and rebels who forever changed the way we look at luxury
Most of us succeed in mastering society’s rules — eventually. In fact, outward success is often measured by the degree to which we visibly conform to accepted standards. But some of the world’s most creative minds have forever changed our culture by breaking the very rules the rest of us embrace. As part of Robb Report’s 40th anniversary celebration, the editors take a moment to celebrate the innovators, thinkers, tinkerers, tastemakers, and troublemakers whose visions and viewpoints have permanently altered our perceptions of today’s luxury landscape.
In the ’90s, Christian Louboutin brought unabashed sexiness to women’s shoes with his signature red-lacquered soles and fierce 5-inch heels. Since launching his eponymous collection 25 years ago, the French designer has continued to redefine the look of luxury, creating everything from elegant sky-high stilettos to bags, cosmetics, and men’s footwear.
His artfully edgy products have garnered a loyal following, and many of his fans collect his designs the way some women collect jewellery. Guided not by trends but by the desire to make the wearers of his pieces feel attractive and empowered, Louboutin has set a higher standard for accessories. - Melissa Magsaysay
In his younger days, Ted Turner was often referred to as Captain Outrageous. The media mogul — who founded the world’s first 24-hour live news channel in 1980 — fostered a reputation for wild antics, from keeping a pet alligator and challenging Rupert Murdoch to a fistfight to declaring that CNN would broadcast “until the world ends”.
These days, the 77-year-old billionaire is more concerned with saving the world than reporting on its demise, devoting his life — and money — to issues including women’s rights and climate change. He spends much of his time at Vermejo Park Ranch, his 585,000-acre spread in New Mexico where in June he opened his newly renovated home, Casa Grande, as a wilderness lodge. - Lanee Lee
Francis Ford Coppola
No matter the market or medium, Francis Ford Coppola wants to tell you a story. “Whether it’s wine, hotels, movies, art — anything that involves offering people an authentic experience of pleasure — it’s like putting on a show,” says the 77-year-old filmmaker, winemaker, and hotelier. “It’s all show business.”
The Academy Award–winning director of the Godfather series and Apocalypse Now should know. His wine brands include Inglenook, Coppola (which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year), and Virginia Dare, and he owns five resorts in locations from Guatemala to Basilicata, Italy. - Lisa Sweetingham
When Thomas Keller began cooking in earnest in the 1970s, there was no clear and obvious route to becoming the United States’ greatest professional chef; he had to blaze that trail himself. He began the journey washing dishes in the restaurant his mother managed, where the outgoing chef mentored him to take charge of the kitchen after the chef’s departure.
His monkish dedication to his craft earned him the honor of being the first US chef to win three Michelin stars at two restaurants simultaneously — the French Laundry in Yountville, California (which was recently renovated), and Per Se in Manhattan. He holds one more star at Bouchon, also in Yountville. Keller continues to go his own way, flouting restaurant-business diktats and helping his best people to leave his employ. - Sheila Gibson Stoodley
Edie Rodriguez’s wanderlust blossomed at an early age. “When I was six, my great-aunt brought me a small geisha doll from Japan,” recalls Rodriguez, now the CEO and president of Crystal Cruises. “I loved that doll and learned all that I could about Japan. It made me realise I wanted to travel — not only to Japan, but to every country in the world.”
Travel she does, spending roughly 285 days on the road — and at sea — in her role at Crystal, where she has successfully turned the luxury cruising industry on its head. - Irene Rawlings
Independent watchmakers are now an integral part of watch-collecting culture thanks in large part to Max Büsser. During his successful career working with established Swiss watch brands, a combination of good instincts and a strong sense of fairness prompted him to begin openly promoting the cadre of exceptionally talented individuals who had labored anonymously at the leading houses for most of the 20th century.
This campaign to give prominent billing to contributing watchmakers began with the series of Opus timepieces he created under Harry Winston and continues with more fantastical designs he has created under his own brand, MB&F (Maximilian Büsser & Friends). - James D. Malcolmson
While growing up in the 1970s in Scottsdale, Arizona, Craig Jackson had a front-row seat as his father, Russ, and car collector and auto enthusiast Tom Barrett established and built Barrett-Jackson, one of the world’s first car-auction companies.
Now the chairman and CEO, Jackson continues to grow the business and adapt to changes in the car-collecting market. - Shaun Tolson
With an estimated net worth north of $US3 billion, Nayla Hayek could easily sit back and enjoy her personal pastime of raising Arabian horses. Instead, the horse-breeding authority and international judge also makes headlines in her other realm of expertise: watches and jewellery.
Hayek took over as the chair of the Swatch Group when her father, Nicholas G. Hayek Sr. — who created the conglomerate of brands that includes Blancpain, Breguet, and Omega — died in 2010. In 2013 she orchestrated the $US750 million purchase (and assumption of up to $US250 million of pro forma net debt) of the jewellery house Harry Winston, and a year later she acquired the world’s largest flawless blue diamond for $US23.8 million at a Christie’s auction.
Now 65, Hayek is known for giving, too: In 2015 she announced a corporate partnership with amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research — the largest sponsorship in the organisation’s history. - Jill Newman
After 15 years’ experience as a winemaker, Heidi Barrett was awarded a brace of accolades that most vintners rarely achieve in their entire career. In the second half of the 1990s, five of her wines scored 100 points in Robert M. Parker’s Wine Advocate. Among them were the 1992 and 1997 Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley’s Screaming Eagle that put the vineyard on the map and made its releases among the most prized in the world.
One of only a handful of female winemakers at that time, Barrett became one of the most sought-after consultants in Napa, rendering consistently beautiful and balanced wines for some of the region’s most prestigious names. She continues to bend the rules with her own labels, Barrett & Barrett and La Sirena, the latter of which sometimes celebrates underappreciated varietals. - Janice O'Leary
It’s no secret that Richard Branson rarely follows the rules. The self-made magnate dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to start his own business and, against all odds, made his first million by 23. More than four decades later, the headline-grabbing Brit is still blazing new trails, from bringing sexy back to the skies with his Virgin airlines to striking out into the next frontier — space — with Virgin Galactic.
Binding many of Branson’s endeavors is a singular love for travel. “I don’t think I will ever stop travelling,” he says. “It is because I travel so often that I am constantly inspired to do more — and do better.” - Jackie Caradonio