Culinary Masters Winners

We eagerly plate-up nine positives to come from a chaotic year in hospitality – introducing the impressive class of 2021.

By Robb Report Staff 10/01/2022

What a year. After the most challenging 12 months in hospitality in living memory, Australian hospitality has – somehow – produced a bumper crop of alluring new places to eat.

The class of 2021 would be impressive in a regular year, but in the face of the havoc wrought by the pandemic, their achievements are even more remarkable.

Whether it’s veterans rolling the dice on another round or young guns sharpening their focus, whether paying homage to the Francophile classics (if not with the odd cheeky antipodean twist) or forging new ground with less familiar plays of flavour, the talent is running hot.

In acknowledging this heady collection of talent, we’ve made changes to the distribution of the coveted Culinary Masters crowns. No longer the reserve of just young chefs making inroads the past 12 months, we’ve expanded to include all behind the burners (whether new or established), extending further to the overseers and restaurateurs serving up exciting new ventures and without whom so many wielding the knives wouldn’t have an opportunity to flourish.

And so, introducing the Robb Report Culinary Masters of 2021…

Khanh Nguyen, chef, Aru and Sunda, Melbourne

Khanh Ngyuen. Credit: Kristoffer Paulsen.

Rare is the chef who has done a better job than Khanh Nguyen of diagramming the through-line from ingredients native to Australia to the food traditions of our nearest neighbours up in Southeast Asia. Fewer still have made that lesson taste so damn good. To eat his food at Sunda, or at Aru, the new fire-focused spin-off he opened in 2021, is to slap your forehead over and over – of course these flavours work together; this is all the same part of the world! – before diving back in for more. And the flavours we’re talking about are not small. Pepperberry and betel leaf frame grilled wagyu tongue in a nod to the bo la lot of Nguyen’s Vietnamese heritage, while a flurry of sweet spanner-crab meat and white kampot pepper make a luxury of fried rice. Desserts are no less lavish – pandan perfuming a roast-potato cream caramel, say, or coconut and cultured cream conspiring to take passionfruit pavlova in a bold new direction – and cocktails driven by that same more-is-more approach make for a meal that comes out swinging, whatever the occasion. 


Luke Burgess, chef/restaurateur, Seven and a Half, Hobart

Seven and a Half chef, Luke Burgess.

It wouldn’t be quite right to say Luke Burgess rebooted the Tasmanian restaurant scene on his own. But if you were looking for an individual who you could credit with transforming Hobart from a place of only passing interest to the destination diner into, well, a dining destination, he’d be right at the top of your list. Garagistes, the fine-dining restaurant Burgess ran to international acclaim from 2010 to 2015, raised the stakes for ambitious, locavore cuisine in Tasmania, and his brand-new project, Seven and a Half, has changed the game again. Perched in a jewel-box of a room on top of a tower in downtown Hobart, it offers rarefied omakase-style dining for just 10 diners at a time, once a week. Burgess works without a menu and without a parachute, just he and the guests and some excellent handpicked wine and sake. The intimacy of the setting gives him the freedom to tweak the menu as he goes and to showcase superb niche produce you’re not likely to see anywhere else.

Wild venison might appear as salami in an array of snacks alongside sashimi of banded morwong and a ‘sando’ of salted radish at one sitting, for instance; asparagus teamed with an ajo blanco made of hempseed and goat’s ricotta and with lovage and a sauce of nori and walnut the following week; a pecorino flavoured with native pepper makes the surprising accent for egg noodles with venus clams. There’s nothing quite like it, on or off the island, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most sought-after tables in town.

Rosheen Kaul, chef, Etta, Melbourne

Etta chef Rosheen Kaul.

Blame it on the pork rib. Sure, when Rosheen Kaul landed at Etta she had plenty of other good things on her menu – the crunchy, spicy little pop-in-the-mouth fried school prawns with curry leaves, for one thing. But the pork rib, a foot-long hunk of a thing served on the bone, its smoky, succulent heft balanced by an oyster cream and pickled baby turnips – well, this was a statement of intent. It said ‘here is a chef who likes to cook with fire, who is clear-eyed enough to take inspiration from a dish like Korea’s bo ssäm, and remix it, riffing on that dish’s traditional accompaniments of kimchi and freshly shucked oysters, while making it completely her own’. It also said, ‘this person can really, really cook – this is ridiculously tasty’.

In landing on her feet at this hip, smartly appointed east Brunswick wine bar, Kaul has given diners the gift of a one-plus-one-equals-three situation. Owner Hannah Green keeps an enviable cellar and sets a lively, welcoming tone on the floor, and together with Kaul’s surfeit of bright, clever ideas in the kitchen, you’ve got a package that’s so much greater than the sum of its (formidable) parts.


Chris Lucas, restaurateur, Society, Melbourne

Restaurateur Chris Lucas.

The road to Society for Chris Lucas has been long, hard and paved with serious investment. But to see the room thronged with the good and the great of Australia, some serious table-hopping and people-watching playing out at the booths under the vast, glinting chandeliers, it must feel like the years of heartache, and the last-minute curveball of a parting of ways with Martin Benn, the former Sepia chef enlisted to open the restaurant, have all been worth it.

Take a look around Society’s elegantly muted Collins Street dining room and you’ll see diners laying down substantial cash for a wine list that goes long on Romanée-Conti and other five-figure bottles, diving deep into a cocktail bar rich in vintage offerings (hello $125 Martini made with 1950s spirits) and of course plunging into the menu with a fervour sharpened like never before by lockdown. And what does all that outlay get the happy guest? Plates that combine a tightly edited, almost Midcentury Modern aesthetic, sharpened with the occasional Japanese accent. Raw tuna has seldom been more melting than here, wrapped in buttery ribbons of jamón Ibérico, while crème fraîche shot through with wasabi, a plate of Japanese-style pickled cucumbers, and a shio koji jus accompany the epic smoked wagyu prime rib. Heady stuff. Culinary Masters might historically have been all about chefs, but in Society today we find the triumph of the vision of the restaurateur.



Nik Hill, chef/restaurateur, Porcine, Sydney

Nik Hill (left) and Harry Levy (right).

Speaking of Sepia, Nik Hill certainly can’t be said to be following blindly in the footsteps of his alma mater. After he left the Sydney fine diner, he got into smoking eels, then did a turn cooking pub food at Woolloomooloo landmark The Old Fitzroy, then swerved again with Anglo-Italian food at The Milan Cricket Club pop-up before settling at Porcine. You might struggle to find intimations of Sepia or anything Anglo-Italian in Hill’s menu, but his smoked eel appears right at the top – albeit in the form of a smoked-eel vinegar accompanying rock oysters.

A bistro above a bottle-shop, Porcine is as lusty as the name would suggest, channelling the gutsier side of the French culinary canon. Grilled ox tongue will appear one night au poivre-style in a glossy pepper sauce, and on another cooked en croûte, swaddled in pastry and foie gras. As rich as it all sounds, Hill has the palate and the technical finesse to keep it all in balance – and there’s always another dip into the exceptional drinks list if the occasion demands a corrective.



Ben Russell, chef/restaurateur, Rothwell’s, Brisbane

Ben Russell, chef Rothwell’s.

Who better to lead the bistro renaissance for the Brisbane CBD than Ben Russell? Having cut his teeth as a young chef in the 1990s at Est Est Est, the famously tough Melbourne restaurant known for producing some of the greatest kitchen talent of a generation, he did the obligatory stint in Europe before returning to Australia to become one of Matt Moran’s most trusted lieutenants. Russell moved to Queensland to open the Brisbane outpost of Moran’s Aria flagship, and after a stellar run at the top echelon of the city’s finer dining, he’s back with a bang at Rothwell’s.

Inside the Rothwell’s dining room.

Opened with Dan Clark, of the celebrated Addley Clark Fine Wines import company and 1889 Enoteca, the restaurant is the kind of meeting of kitchen talent, a building with great bones and a backer with a frankly exceptional wine cellar that big-city diners dream of. Is Rothwell’s going to stake the sort of claim on the big end of town that Rockpool Bar & Grill holds in Sydney? With Russell plating up perfectly polished renditions of steak tartare, prawn cocktail and a seafood platter worth pushing the boat out for, the indications are positive. And if the offering from the grill – a full chorus of big, juicy rib-eyes and T-bones complemented by onion rings, watercress salad and a full battery of condiments – doesn’t get you reaching happily for the Barolo section of the wine list, the beef Wellington, resplendent in a golden jacket of fine pastry and served to share, will definitely get you over the line.


Daniel Pepperell and Michael Clift, chefs/restaurateurs, Bistrot 916, Sydney

Michael Clift (left), Daniel Pepperell (centre) and Andy Tyson (right) by Jason Loucas

Daniel Pepperell is the master of the knowing twist. You wouldn’t call him a deconstructionist – not for Pepperell the blobs, foams and smears. No, his signature move is more a savvy spin. The dish he plays with will remain recognisable, true to its roots, yet the flick Pepperell (and now his friend and chef-at-arms Michael Clift) gives a given classic as it leaves his pass makes it distinctively, recognisably his own. At 10 William Street he enriched his Bolognese with a swig of fish sauce, and daubed caviar on his carpaccio. At Restaurant Hubert he plated his escargots with XO sauce butter and laid a shimmering maple-syrup jelly over his satin duck liver parfait. And now, here at Bistrot 916, the venue he opened with Clift and sommelier savant Andy Tyson, that same joie de vivre remains at the fore. There’s a zesty, give-the-people-what they want spirit here that’s entirely fitting for the bistro genre and for the raffish Potts Point setting. Among the main courses Clift and Pepperell offer not just a classically crowd-pleasing steak frites – there’s also a duck frites, a mushroom frites and, for the truly OTT option, a market-priced lobster frites to boot. It’s exuberant, it’s packed with flavour, and it’s a lot of fun.


Blaze Young, chef, Nieuw Ruin, Perth

‘Good food. Good cocktails. Weird wine.’ Nieuw Ruin’s name might seem a bit curly on first glance, but the mission statement is very straightforward. And while the wine part of the equation will elicit different reactions depending on which side of the minimal-intervention fence you stand, Blaze Young’s brief is to the point and a delight to all. She fashions garfish into rollmops, serves her crudités with French onion dip and curries her fries. Her gift for handling offal has brought many a formerly hesitant diner into the fold, not least for her Wagin duck livers, which she serves on toast, tossed in a cream sauce spiked with a dose of hot mustard that judiciously cuts the livers’ intensity. Best of all, her food is wine-friendly, even the spicy stuff, from the oysters and mignonette (just made for a lush Fanny Sabré aligoté) to the Torbray asparagus and zucchini with goat’s curd (the perfect alibi for a bottle of Sebastien Riffault Sancerre). Here’s a young chef very much on the up – and you’ll want to be there for the ride.


Clare Smyth, chef/restaurateur OnCore, Sydney

Michelin starred chef, Clare Smyth.

How do you follow up a career that takes in experience under Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay at their respective peaks, that has earned an MBE, and the first and only three-star rating from Michelin for a restaurant run by a woman in the UK, not to mention being named The World’s Best Female Chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants? If you’re Clare Smyth, your encore is OnCore, planting the flag in Sydney with a sister restaurant to London’s Core.

What sets Smyth apart from the rest of the Franglais fine-dining pack? There’s the clever, playful weave of British classics and Australian ingredients, for one. Playful, that is, but underpinned by serious craft. Fans will be thrilled to learn that ‘potato and roe’ has made the journey with her. The Core signature dish pays homage to Smyth’s Northern Irish roots with a potato cooked long and slow to a perfectly luscious texture before being topped with roes of herring and trout. Not for nothing did Bloomberg call it “the world’s best potato”. The plush room commands views across the harbour to the horizon, and while the ‘casino’ setting might put cynics in mind of a cash-grab from a chef domiciled on the other side of the world, dishes this flavoursome and elegant can only be executed by a team with total commitment. It’s the real deal.

Join us for an exclusive evening of fine dining at Society Melbourne – a Robb Report Culinary Master for 2021. To secure your ticket, book now via the Robb Report Shop.


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Escape from the Ordinary

Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean.

By Robb Report Team 19/02/2024

Not all cruises are created equally. Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean. From the stunning Amalfi Coast to the pristine Greek Islands, the narrow Corinth Canal to the picturesque Dalmatian coast, historic Istanbul and beguiling Malaga, each destination is a unique adventure waiting to be unravelled. With Ponant, these aren’t just locations on a map; they’re experiences that come alive with the intimate knowledge and insight that their expert guides provide.

Ponant’s luxury cruises are renowned for their individuality, with no two journeys the same. This is not by chance. Itineraries are scrupulously designed to ensure that each passenger is left with a feeling of having embarked on a journey unlike any other.

Athens-Venise. Photograph by N.Matheus. ©PONANT

In 2025, their fleet will set sail for a combined 56 departures from March to October, exploring the dreamy locales of Greece and the Greek Islands, Malta, Italy (including Venice and Sicily), Croatia, France, Turkey, Spain and Portugal. These European Journeys offer an intimate encounter with the Mediterranean, its people and culture. As you cruise in luxury, you’ll dive deep into the heart of each destination, exploring historic sites, engaging with locals, sampling scrumptious cuisine and soaking in the vibrant atmospheres.

The company’s small, sustainable ships, which can accommodate from as few as 32 to 264 guests, have the exclusive ability to sail into ports inaccessible to larger cruise liners, affording privileged entry into some of the world’s most treasured alcoves. Picture sailing under London’s iconic Tower Bridge, crossing the Corinth Canal, or disembarking directly onto the sidewalk during ports of call in culturally rich cities like Lisbon, Barcelona, Nice and Venice, among others.

Photo by Tamar Sarkissian. ©PONANT

This singular closeness is further enriched by destination experts who unravel the tapestry of each locale’s history and traditions.

Onboard their luxurious ships, every guest is a VIP and treated to refined service and amenities akin to sailing on a private yacht. Whether at sea or ashore, their destination experts guarantee a fascinating experience, immersing you in the rich cultural and historical diversity of each region.

Indulge in the finest gastronomy at sea, inspired by none other than gastronomic virtuoso and Ponant partner, Alain Ducasse. Each voyage offers an expertly crafted dining experience, from a-la-carte meals with perfectly matched wines by the onboard Sommelier at dinner and lunch, to a French-inspired buffet breakfast, featuring all the favourite pastries, fresh bread and quality produce.

Chef Mickael Legrand. Photograph by NickRains. ©PONANT

For a more intimate discovery, consider Le Ponant, with its 16 high-class staterooms and suites—perfect for private charter—sailing eight exclusive routes between Greece and Croatia, offering guests unparalleled experiences both onboard and ashore. Ponant’s commitment to crafting unforgettable experiences extends beyond itineraries. Aboard their ships, the luxury is in every detail. Unwind in opulent cabins and suites, each offering private balconies and breathtaking views of the azure water and destinations beyond.

Ponant’s upcoming European Journeys are more than just cruises—they’re your passport to a world of cultural immersion, historical exploration, and unrivalled luxury. Don’t miss this opportunity to embark on the voyage of a lifetime: the Mediterranean is calling.

To book European 2025 sailings visit; call 1300 737 178 (AU) or 0800 767 018 (NZ) or contact your preferred travel agent.


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Saint Laurent Just Opened a New Bookstore in Paris. Here’s a Look Inside.

The chic new outpost is located on the city’s arty Left Bank.

By Rachel Cormack 14/02/2024

Saint Laurent is taking over even more of Paris.

The French fashion house, which only just opened an epic new flagship on Champs-Élysées, has launched a chic new bookstore on the Left Bank. Located in the 7th arrondissement, Saint Laurent Babylone is a mecca of art, music, literature, and, of course, fashion.

The new outpost is a tribute to the connection that Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Bergé had to the Rue Babylone, according to Women’s Wear Daily. (In 1970, the pair moved to a 6,500-square-foot duplex on the street.) It is also inspired by the house’s original ready-to-wear boutique, Saint Laurent Rive Guache, which opened in the 6th arrondissement in 1966.

The exposed concrete in contrasted by sleek marble accents. SAINT LAURENT

With a minimalist, art gallery-like aesthetic, the space is anchored by a hefty marble bench and large black shelves. The raw, textured concrete on the walls is juxtaposed by a soft blue and white rug, a wooden Pierre Jeanneret desk, and sleek Donald Judd stools.

The wares within Saint Laurent Babylone are the most important part, of course. Curated by Saint Laurent’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello, the collection includes everything from photos by British artist Rose Finn-Kelcey to books published by Saint Laurent itself. Some tomes on offer are so rare that white gloves are required for handling.

The store also offers an enviable selection of records that are no longer being pressed. Highlights include Sade’s Promise, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and the debut studio album of electronic band Kraftwerk.

Other notable items on the shelves include Leica cameras, chocolates made in collaboration with pastry chef François Daubinet, prints by Juergen Teller, and brass skull sculptures. You’ll also find an assortment of YSL merch, including pens, lighters, and cups.

To top it off, Saint Laurent Babylone will double as an event space, hosting live music sessions, DJ sets, book readings, and author signings over the coming months.

Saint Laurent’s latest endeavor isn’t exactly surprising. With Vaccarello at the helm, the Kering-owned fashion house has entered new cultural realms. Only last year, the label established a film production company and debuted its first movie at Cannes.

The space is fitted with a Pierre Jeanneret desk and Donald Judd stools.

Perhaps Saint Laurent film reels and movie posters will soon be available at Babylone, too.

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The Best Watches at the Grammys, From Maluma’s Jacob & Co. to Jon Batiste’s Vacheron Constantin

Music’s biggest names sported some outstanding watches on Sunday evening.

By Rachel Mccormack 08/02/2024

Weird yet wonderful watches punctuated this year’s Grammys.

The woman of the moment, Taylor Swift, who made history by winning Album of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time, wore an unconventional Lorraine Schwartz choker watch to the annual awards ceremony on Sunday night. That was just the tip of the horological iceberg, though.

Colombian singer-songwriter Maluma elevated a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds, while American musician Jon Batiste topped off a stylish Versace ensemble with a sleek Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon. Not to be outdone, rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a rare Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for the occasion.

There was more understated wrist candy on display, too, such as Jack Antonoff’s Cartier Tank LC and Noah Kahan’s Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo.

For the rest of the best watches we saw on the Grammys 2024 red carpet, read on.

Maluma: Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon

Maluma busted out some truly spectacular bling for this year’s Grammys. The Colombian singer-songwriter paired a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds. The sculptural wrist candy sees a four-arm movement floating in front of a breathtaking dial adorned with no less than 257 rubies. For added pizzaz, the lugs of the 18-karat rose-gold case are invisibly set with 80 baguette-cut white diamonds. Limited to just nine examples, the rarity is priced at $1.5 million.

Asake: Hublot Big Bang Essential Grey

Nigerian singer-songwriter Asake may not have won the Grammy for Best African Music Performance for “Amapiano,” but did wear a winning Hublot Big Bang at Sunday’s proceedings. Released in 2023, the Essential Grey model is made purely of titanium for a sleek, uniform feel. The 42 mm timepiece was limited to just 100 pieces and cost $37,000 a pop.

John Legend: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding

Multihyphenate John Legend wore a legendary Audemars Piguet with silky Saint Laurent on Sunday evening. The self-winding Royal Oak in question features a 34 mm black ceramic case, a black grande tapisserie dial, and striking pink gold accents. The watchmaker’s signature is also displayed in gold under the sapphire crystal. The piece will set you back $81,000.

Jon Batiste: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

American musician Jon Batiste received four nominations but no wins at this year’s Grammys. The “Butterfly” singer can take solace in the fact that he looked ultra-sharp in Versace and Vacheron Constantin. A tribute to the spirit of travel, the Overseas Tourbillon features a 42.5 mm white-gold case, a bezel set with 60 baguette-cut diamonds, and a blue dial featuring a dazzling tourbillon cage inspired by the Maltese cross. Price upon request, naturally.

Fireboy DML: Cartier Santos

Fireboy DML’s outfit was straight fire on Sunday night. The Nigerian singer paired an MCM wool jacket with a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet, several iced-out rings, and a sleek Cartier Santos. The timepiece features a steel case, a graduated blue dial with steel sword-shaped hands, and a seven-sided crown with synthetic faceted blue spinel.

Noah Kahan: Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo

Best New Artist nominee Noah Kahan wore one of Panerai’s best new watches to Sunday’s festivities. The Luminor Quaranta BiTempo features a 40 mm polished steel case and a black dial with luminous numerals and hour markers, a date display at 3 o’clock, and a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. The timepiece can be yours for $14,000.

Busta Rhymes: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Legendary rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a chic Audemars Piguet for this year’s Grammys. The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in question is distinguished by a 42 mm rose-gold case and a matching pink méga tapisserie dial with an outer flange for the tachymeter scale. The face is fitted with three black subdials, large black numerals, and a black date display at 3 o’clock. You can expect to pay around $61,200 for the chronograph on the secondary market.

Jack Antonoff: Cartier Tank Louis Cartier

Producer of the year Jack Antonoff took to the red carpet with a stylish Cartier on his wrist. The Tank Louis Cartier in question appears to be a large 33.7 mm example that features an 18-carat rose-gold case, a silvered dial with black Roman numerals and blued steel hands, a beaded crown set with a sapphire cabochon, and a brown alligator strap. It’ll set you back $19,900.

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This 44-Foot Carbon-Fiber Speedboat Can Rocket to 177 KMPH

The new Mayla GT is available with a range of different powertrains, too.

By Rachel Cormack 03/02/2024

We knew the Mayla GT would be one of the most exciting boats at Boot Düsseldorf, but a deep dive into the specs shows it could be downright revolutionary.

The brainchild of German start-up Mayla, the 44-footer brings you the blistering performance of a speedboat and the luxe amenities of a motor yacht in one neat carbon-fiber package.

Inspired by the go-fast boats of the 1970s and ‘80s, the GT sports an angular, retro-futuristic body and the sleek lines of a rocket ship. Tipping the scales at just 4500 kilograms, the lightweight design features a deep-V hull with twin transversal steps and patented Petestep deflectors that help it slice through the waves with ease. In fact, Mayla says the deflectors decrease energy usage by up to 35 percent while ensuring a more efficient planing.

The range-topping GT can reach 185 kph. MAYLA

The GT is also capable of soaring at breakneck speeds, with the option of a gas, diesel, electric, or hybrid powertrain. The range-topping GTR-R model packs dual gas-powered engines that can churn out 3,100 hp for a top speed of more than 100 knots (185 kph). At the other, more sustainable end of the spectrum, the E-GT is fitted with an electric powertrain that can produce 2,200 horses for a max speed of 50 knots. The hybrid E-GTR pairs that same electric powertrain with a 294 kilowatt diesel engine for a top speed of 60 knots (111 km/h/69 mph). (The GT in the water at Boot sported two entry-level V8s good for 650 hp and a top speed of over 70 knots.)

The GT is suitable for more than just high-speed jaunts, of course. The multipurpose cockpit, which can accommodate up to eight passengers, features a sundeck with sliding loungers, a wet bar and BBQ, and a foldaway dining table for alfresco entertaining. Further toward the stern, a beach club sits atop a garage with an electric transom door.

The garage has an electric transom door. MAYLA

The GT is even fit for overnight stays. Below deck lies a cabin with a double bed, sofa, wardrobe, vanity, and en suite. You can also expect a high-tech entertainment system with TVs and premium audio.

As for price, the GT with the entry-level powertrain will cost between $2.7 million and $2.9, depending on the final configuration. (You can fine-tune the layout, hull color, and interiors, naturally.) Interested buyers can set up a sea trial with Mayla, with test-drives set to begin this spring in Europe.

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Red Centre

First Nations artist Shaun Daniel Allen joins forces with Chopard to create a timepiece inspired by the Australian landscape.

By Horacio Silva 29/01/2024

Shaun Daniel Allen does not look like your typical collaborator on a prestige watch. For one, Shal, as he prefers to be known (“There are many Shauns but only one Shal,” he explains), is more heavily tattooed than your average roadie. His youthful appearance, bad-boy ink and all, belies his 38 years and leads to a disconnect. 

He recounts being recognised on the street recently by a journalist, who, unable to remember his name, shouted out, “Chopard!” “I was with a friend,” Shal says, holding court in his apartment in Sydney’s inner city, “and he’s, like, ‘What the hell? Does that happen to you often?’”

Perhaps because of his body art, he reasons, “People don’t put me and Chopard together.” It’s not hard to understand the confusion, Shal adds; even he was taken aback when Chopard reached out to him about a potential collaboration a little more than a year ago. “When I first went in to see them, I was, like, I don’t know if I’m your guy. I’m not used to being in those rooms and having those conversations.”

He’ll have to adapt quickly to his new reality. Last month Chopard released Shal’s interpretation of the Swiss brand’s storied Alpine Eagle model, which in itself was a redo of the St. Moritz, the first watch creation by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (now Co-President of Chopard) in the late 1970s. 

Previewed at Sydney’s About Time watch fair in September, to not insignificant interest, and officially known as the Alpine Eagle Sunburnt, the exclusive timepiece—issued in a limited edition of 20—arrives as a stainless steel 41 mm with a 60-hour power reserve and a burnt red dial that brings to mind the searing Outback sun. Its see-through caseback features one of Shal’s artworks painted on sapphire glass.

When the reputable Swiss luxury brand approached Shal, they already had the red dial—a nod to the rich ochre hues of the Australian soil at different times of the day and gradated so that the shades become darker around the edges—locked in as a lure for Australian customers.

Shal was charged with designing an artful caseback and collectible hand-painted sustainable wooden case. After presenting a handful of paintings, each with his signature abstract motifs that pertain to indigenous emblems, tattoos and music, both parties landed on a serpentine image that evoked the coursing of rivers. “I have been painting a lot of water in this last body of work and the image we chose refers to the rivers at home,” he says, alluding to formative years spent at his grandfather’s, just outside of Casino.

It says a lot about Chopard, Shal points out, that they wanted to donate to a charity of his choosing. “Like everything else on this project,” he explains, “they were open to listening and taking new ideas on board and it actually felt like a collaboration, like they weren’t steering me into any corner.”

In another nice touch, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the watch will go to funding programs of the Ngunya Jarjum Aboriginal Corporation—an organisation, established in 1995 by Bundjalung elders, whose work Shal saw firsthand after the 2022 eastern Australia flood disasters ravaged their area. “Seeing Ngunya Jarjum suffer from the floods,” he says, “and knowing how much they do for the community on Bundjalung Country was heartbreaking. I want to see Bundjalung families thriving and supported.”

So what’s it been like for this booster of Australian waterways to be swimming in the luxury end of the pool? “I’ve done a few things with brands,” he offers, referring to the Louis Vuitton project earlier this year at an art gallery in Brisbane, “but nothing on this scale. It’s definitely fancier than I’m used to but I’m not complaining.” Neither are watch aficionados.

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