Norbert Stumpfl: The Thinking Man’s Designer

The man behind Brioni’s re-emergence as the arbiter of elegance. And his timing is impeccable.

By Kareem Rashed, Photography By Ilaria Magliocchetti Lombi 14/10/2021

Norbert Stumpfl is standing on a rooftop terrace off Rome’s Piazza Navona on a scorching summer day, surveying the ancient cityscape with the critical eye of a designer. “Rome has a lot of beauty,” the Austrian-born transplant, who has also lived for long stretches in both London and Paris, concedes. But, unusually, he finds that the bounty of classical wonders can grow a bit stale: “They don’t really change a lot.” After all, it’s not called the Eternal City for nothing.

The Italian capital’s immutable nature may be its defining feature, but Stumpfl has brought seismic change to at least one Roman landmark. Since taking the helm as Brioni’s creative director in 2018, he has dusted off the colossus of Italian tailoring and steadily, subtly—but firmly—imbued it with new life. Rather than simply strip it down to studs and rebuild it without a thought for its place in history, as one of his predecessors attempted with disastrous consequences, he has faithfully restored the brand, managing to make elegance relevant for today.

“I want to innovate and continue the story a little bit, because I think there is so much there,” says the 44-year-old designer, who helped revive moribund menswear lines at Lanvin and Balenciaga. Speaking in a hushed tone almost drowned out by the cacophony of the streets below, Stumpfl may be reserved but he doesn’t lack nerve. At a time when four-figure sneakers and haute couture hoodies are luxury fashion’s North Star, understatement is a statement in itself.

His designs, combining exceptional craftsmanship with a casual, toss-it-on attitude, bridge the ever-widening gap between traditional tailor shops and what’s coming down the runway, speaking to both worlds without conforming to either. From double-breasted suits rendered with all the softness of pyjamas to precisely cut safari shirts in sumptuous silk twill, Stumpfl’s modernised wardrobe staples have won rave reviews from critics and attracted an influx of new patrons.

“Ten years ago, men like our clients had many more rules to follow,” he says. “I don’t think a 50-year-old needs to look like he’s not modern anymore.” The brand may be best known for outfitting masters of the universe in quintessential power suits, but Stumpfl is keenly aware that, today, power isn’t defined by a roped shoulder and a Windsor knot.

“If I just did classic men’s clothes, in the end, it gets boring,” Stumpfl says. Though acknowledging that exquisite tailoring is and always will be Brioni’s MO, he notes, “I don’t want to find myself at some point when fashion moves on and the lifestyle of our clients moves on.”

Stumpfl’s own outfit epitomises sartorial power circa 2021: what appears to be a standard work shirt, albeit a very handsome one, is crafted from a double-faced Super 150s wool-and-silk suiting textile, which is meticulously split by hand to become airy and lightweight before being fashioned into a shirt—a process that Stumpfl notes is even more complex than constructing one of the brand’s suit jackets. Paired with linen trousers in a matching shade of cadet blue, it’s worn with all the ease of an old T-shirt.

“It’s all about this personal luxury, which people don’t see but gives you a kind of comfort,” Stumpfl says, describing both his own style and his vision for the brand. “Something which doesn’t shout, but you still know it’s there.”

Stumpfl was installed at Brioni after the house had endured a particularly rocky period. In 2012 descendants of the company’s founders sold it to Kering, owner of perpetually buzzy labels such as Gucci and Balenciaga. Brioni then went through a string of four design directors in five years, with results ranging from snoozy to shocking. Justin O’Shea, a design novice and street-style fop who’d been handed the reins in 2016, notoriously recruited Metallica as the poster stars for his rocker-infused revamp. During his tenure, O’Shea managed to entirely reshape the brand in a play for millennial hype: the classic looping script logo was replaced with a punky Gothic font, the wood-panelled boutiques were transformed with Instagram-friendly marble and chrome, and the clothes skewed more pimp than presidential (think red satin shirts, crocodile coats and an abundance of chinchilla). This “new” Brioni survived for only six months, but it very publicly exposed the brand’s identity crisis.

That Brad Pitt is now the face of the label says all one needs to know about Brioni in the Stumpfl era. After years of the actor politely declining the company’s advances, he reached out after seeing Stumpfl’s new direction to commission a bespoke tuxedo. Pitt went on to collaborate with Stumpfl on BP Signature, a spring ’21 capsule collection of his favourite pieces—washed-silk utility jackets, a cashmere polo, a re-creation of the tux he wore to accept his Oscar for best supporting actor in 2020—and provided the designer with one of his proudest moments since taking the job.

Brad Pitt, winner of Best Actor in a Supporting Role for “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”, poses in the press room during 92nd Annual Academy Awards.

During the photoshoot for the collection’s ad campaign, Pitt’s assistant summoned Stumpfl into the actor’s dressing room. “It was like, ‘Hmm, what did I do wrong?’ ” the designer recalls. “Then he’s like, ‘Norbert, I wanted to tell you: since I’m wearing Brioni, I look great but I feel amazing. I just wanted to thank you for doing these kinds of clothes.’ I was crying!”

Stumpfl displays an earnest wonderment at where he’s found himself, revealing glimpses of the boy who grew up on a farm in Austria. “I was a little bit of an outsider . . . not like the other boys who were more into football,” he says. “I always knew I would leave eventually.” Fate provided his ticket out.

A school close to Stumpfl’s home happened to have a vocational program dedicated to tailoring. He enrolled at 13 years old out of convenience and fell in love with the craft of menswear. At the same time that he was making his own suits to wear to school, Stumpfl began idolising the agenda-setting designs of Helmut Lang and Jil Sander. He tracked down the closest boutique selling Lang and took a job nearby, saving his wages to buy a Lang of his own. After moving to upstate New York to sharpen his English (and sneaking down to Manhattan to go clubbing), Stumpfl landed in London to attend Central Saint Martins, the influential design school.

“One of the first things I remember being amazed by was Norbert’s wardrobe. It was impeccable,” says fellow designer Daphne Karras, who met Stumpfl when they were students and has been his wife for 14 years. “He always had this taste of classic modernity; from the moment I met him, that aesthetic was there.”

Danielle Scutt, another classmate, similarly recalls being stunned to see Stumpfl show up one day with a Cartier Pasha on his wrist: “I mean, we were students! And then he has this watch with a sapphire on it?” As Karras points out, “He worked every weekend for this. His love of beauty wasn’t handed to him. It’s something he educated himself on. He really found pleasure in discovering this universe.”

Stumpfl says he’s always been enamoured of “extreme luxury”. He still wears that Pasha and has added further blue-chip timepieces to his collection, such as an early Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and a 1960s Heuer chronograph. A self-professed minimalist, he is diligent about buying only pieces with staying power, from Arne Jacobsen chairs to Ellsworth Kelly lithographs. It’s this obsession with quality that first led him to Brioni, becoming a customer before he would make the house his home.

From the beginning, Stumpfl’s tailoring background made him stand out from the fashion pack. While at Saint Martins, a friend working at Alexander McQueen called him when, the night before a campaign shoot, all of the clothes had to be taken down in size. Stumpfl delivered, and McQueen, himself a Savile Row alumnus, was so impressed that he enlisted Stumpfl to tailor pieces for his infamous runway shows.

Soon after completing school in 2005, Stumpfl was tapped by Lanvin creative director Alber Elbaz to be the number two on the team relaunching the brand’s menswear. The late Elbaz—whose womenswear was celebrated for being as wearable as it was imaginative—taught Stumpfl the importance of always staying grounded in reality.

“He would always tell me: ‘A lot of designers are making things that, in terms of food, would be like foie gras on top of caviar with mozzarella—really good ingredients but too much,’” Stumpfl recalls.

He left Lanvin in 2014 to head up Balenciaga’s menswear during Alexander Wang’s tenure. After two years, Wang was traded out and Stumpfl worked briefly with Demna Gvasalia, then moved to Louis Vuitton under Kim Jones, who’d been impressed by Stumpfl’s student designs when he was a visiting tutor at Saint Martins. Before Jones moved to Dior, he connected Stumpfl with Haider Ackermann, Berluti’s recently appointed creative director. “It was a breath of serenity when he entered,” says Ackermann, describing Stumpfl’s precision and “immaculate proportions” as his greatest talent. “He’s quiet but he’s confident, and that’s what luxury is about . . . this elegance o discretion.” Beautiful as Berluti was under them, fashion’s musical chairs struck again after barely one year.

Although he has been a repeat victim of the industry’s insatiable appetite for novelty, Stumpfl doesn’t harbour any bitterness. But he was weary enough to turn down several offers, uninterested in attempting to create next season’s hottest sneaker. When Brioni came calling, however, it instinctively felt like a match.

Founded in 1945, Brioni pioneered menswear as we know it. The Roman tailoring firm was the first to put men on the catwalk, in 1952, thumbing its nose at the industry’s sobriety and giving men permission to have fun with fashion. Press at the time heralded Brioni as menswear’s Dior, its influence as widespread as the French couturier’s New Look was for women. As guys traded in their fatigues for body-skimming suits, Brioni became the bellwether for a new breed of male refinement.

“The founders were using fabrics that were unheard of in menswear,” says Stumpfl, an astute student of the archives. “It was completely going in a different direction of what was happening at the time . . . almost like Demna at Balenciaga, something really on the edge,” he continues, referencing Balenciaga’s current creative director, a primary architect of the high-fashion hoodie craze.

While such enfants terribles claimed the mantle of cool, Brioni’s early reputation for trendsetting settled into one for beautifully made, if a bit uninspired, business suits. In today’s fashion landscape, a bastion of tailored sophistication risks going the way of the frock coat, but, perhaps counterintuitively, taking over a collection in crisis has its appeal. “It’s kind of nice to step into these companies where people don’t expect anything of you,” Stumpfl says, comparing Brioni’s muddled identity to Lanvin’s dormant menswear before he started. “You see the change that you can bring as a designer.”

Stumpfl has not only righted the ship, he’s steered it into new waters. Fitting bespoke clients in London last year, he was surprised to find guys as young as 19 coming in alongside the captains of industry he’d expected. Perhaps more impressively, a range of equally successful women have joined the ranks of Brioni shoppers since Stumpfl took charge. “He brings a nobility to Brioni,” says Ackermann, who notes that Stumpfl has a knack for making “the perfect piece”, such as Pitt’s tuxedo.

Heady as Brioni’s wares may be, Stumpfl isn’t too precious about them—a point that has been underscored by his fashion-week presentations. For his spring 2020 collection that was revealed to the media a year earlier, he staged an assortment of tableaux with mannequins cheekily acting out a day in the life of the Brioni man, from soaking in a bath drawn by a woman wearing boxers, to crashing on the couch after a black-tie gala, with numerous high jinks in between.

“He’s practical but he has a more playful, fun side,” says Mattias Karlsson, a stylist who’s known Stumpfl since his Saint Martins days and has worked on every Brioni presentation since the designer started. “When we’re working, it’s very spontaneous. It’s a joyful process.” Avoiding self-serious fashion shows with Adonises strutting down a catwalk is very much intentional. Stumpfl sees it as a typically Italian attitude: “They just put the clothes on and go on with their life. The clothes can be a little creased, it doesn’t matter.”

It’s Stumpfl’s lack of pretension that gives once-buttoned-up Brioni a sense of levity and, more vitally, modernity. “I have both sides in me,” the designer reflects, his measured expression curling into a grin. “I’m quite quiet and traditional, but then on the other side, I’m also quite fearless.”

The latter has been most apparent in Stumpfl’s eccentric eveningwear, such as the 24-karat-gold-plated tuxedo that Leslie Odom Jr. sported at this year’s Academy Awards. While it may seem counter to the subtle elegance of his daywear, Stumpfl points out that avant-garde dinner jackets are what first put Brioni on the map: “Having this history, I’m allowed to dare.”

That tuxedo is one of countless examples of the painstaking textile development that has become Stumpfl’s signature. (The electromagnetic technology that yielded the gilded yet supple fabric has been employed by only one other firm: the Vatican.) Karras, who is now a consultant designing Brioni’s knitwear and serving as Stumpfl’s unofficial right hand in R&D, says that although he favours classic silhouettes, “where he gets really creative is in how things are made. He’s almost working more as an architect than a designer.”

While Stumpfl expected some of the more outré pieces, such as a dinner jacket in an opulent floral jacquard, to be eye candy for store windows, he reports that the item sold out—and this was during the height of the pandemic. Explaining the allure of this particular piece—its fabric is woven on a Venetian loom dating back to the 17th century, requiring three months of milling to produce enough yardage for a single jacket—Stumpfl visibly tears up.

“It was, like, 20 tailors around, looking at this jacket being made, and they were like, ‘Wow, this is Brioni,’” the designer says. “This is what I love.”

At Stumpfl’s home, an appreciation for craft, both old and new, extends to all corners of his life. The wisteria-clad townhouse in Rome’s bohemian Monti district combines ancient architecture with sleek midcentury furnishings in the same unfussy style that marks his creations. In bare feet, the designer glides about the open kitchen, vetoing candles for the table setting while preparing a simple supper of pasta with fresh tomatoes like a true Italian. (The chocolates served for dessert show he hasn’t lost his Austrian sweet tooth.)

Modernist that he is, Stumpfl still marvels at the beauty he encounters on his daily walk to Brioni’s headquarters—passing the majestic fountains of Piazza della Repubblica and the gilded mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore—saying, “Sometimes I feel like I’m on a holiday which continues.”

After more than a decade in Paris, Stumpfl has come to appreciate the relaxed pace of Roman life. “It’s like a little village,” he says. “It kind of suits me now.” And although he’d been concerned about relocating his two daughters, they’re happy to have traded a concrete playground in the Marais for the gardens of Villa Borghese. (“Every day, they come home dirty—like, full of mud.”)

While this is the first time that Stumpfl and Karras have been on the same design team, it’s something of a reunion—the couple met sharing a worktable at school. “She’s somebody who I can trust completely. I think she’s much more talented than I am,” he says. “Because there is a lot of stress, if you can trust someone a hundred percent, you have more eyes on everything.”

But that’s not to say Stumpfl doesn’t have deep respect for the wealth of knowledge in Brioni’s atelier. “He’s really a collaborator,” Karras says of his leadership. “When he likes something, he likes it. And if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. But even when he disagrees with you, he’s doing it in a way that’s soft and considerate and eloquent.”

Stumpfl is just as exacting when he’s off duty—he can spend hours tending to his orchids or his aquarium. The meditative upkeep of bonsai is a particular passion; he purchased one upon his arrival in Italy and, after three years of careful monitoring to ensure it would survive sweltering Roman summers, he only recently allowed himself to buy another. (“Super nerd!” he exclaims.) Discussing his horticultural pursuits, the otherwise sedate Stumpfl is as animated as he is when detailing technical tailoring feats. It makes sense: the invisible artistry of bonsai pruning isn’t all that different from the stealth luxury he’s brought to Brioni.

“I want people to recognise a Brioni man on the street and say, ‘Oh, he looks great,’ but they shouldn’t know it’s Brioni,” he says, in what marketing executives everywhere would see as blasphemy. Stumpfl is an adherent to the if-you-know-you-know school of chic, favouring clothing that is most appreciated by wearing it. “These guys don’t need to say they’re in Brioni—they’re not choosing it for that.”

He’s aware that the brand’s exquisitely understated offerings—and dizzyingly high prices—are not for everyone, and he wants to keep it that way. “It might be completely different from what my colleagues, other designers, are thinking,” he says, acknowledging that an instantly identifiable product is the Holy Grail for most brands—even Hermès has its Birkins. That might be the conventional logic, but “I’m the opposite.” Quiet as he may be, Stumpfl’s strategy has been validated. He has seen Roman style and conquered it.

This piece comes from the new Spring Issue – on sale now. Get your copy or subscribe hereor stay up to speed on all things with Robb Report’s weekly luxury insights.


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The 10 Best Omakase in Sydney

Sydney’s best Japanese chef’s-table dining experiences.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 06/06/2024

In Japan, where food is a cultural art form, omakase stands for traditional Japanese foods made with seasonal ingredients. A good omakase meal, prepared with purity and mindfulness, can make an unforgettable imprint on the culinary memory. Yet in a land defined by seasonal traditions, omakase is a relatively new concept.

Omakase originated in Japan in the 1970s as affluent Japanese began to dine more regularly at first-rate sushi counters. Bowing to the expertise of the sushi master, omakase loosely translates to “I’ll leave it to you.” In a setting where money is no object, letting the chef decide was designed as a chic way to take the awkwardness out of ordering.

In Australia where there’s an abundance of fresh seafood, omakase menus have experienced a recent rise in popularity. Today omakase is any series of small dishes served directly by the chef to the diner. Each part of the meal is presented on beautiful ceramics and lacquer wear, with a great —and somewhat— intimidating reverence for elegant details. It’s a chance to see a chef’s knife skills up close and get a feel for their cooking style.

Omakase menus are based on whatever is freshest at the market and can be influenced by the chef’s mood, expertise, and response to the guest. They can be slowly paced like a ceremony—hushed and reverential—but they can also be rowdy, humorous, and personal.
Here we give you 10 of the best to try in Sydney.

Yoshi’s Omakase at Nobu Crown Sydney

Crown Sydney, Level 2/1 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo. Open: 12–3 pm, 5:30–9:30 pm Phone: 02 8871 7188 Reservations: F&; $380 per head (including matched wine and sake).

Sushi Oe

16/450 Miller St, Cammeray; Tue – Sat. SMS only 0451 9709 84 E: Phone: 0426 233 984 $230 per head.

Kisuke with Yusuke Morita

50 Llankelly Place, Potts Point; Tuesday – Saturday: 17:30 – 10.45 (closed Sunday/ Monday) $185-200 per head


102/21 Alberta St, Sydney. Lunch, Friday to Saturday 12 -2:00 pm Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday 5:45 pm – 8:1 5pm (closed Sunday & Mondays) P: 0408 866 285                                     E:; $150 – $210


Shop 04 2/58 Little Hay St, Sydney, Lunch: Fri-Sun 12:30 pm. Dinner  Tue-Sun 5:15 pm or 7:45 pm sittings.  Reservation via SMS at 0488 688 252; $220 per head @kuon.omakase


The Darling, Level G, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont. Open dinner Monday to Thursday from 5:45 pm P: 1800 700 700 $300 per head


368 Kent St, Sydney; Open Tue – Wed – Thur: 6 pm Fri & Sat: 5:30 pm P: 02 9262 1580, $220 per head.;

Choji Omakase

Level 2, 228 Victoria Ave, Chatswood —upstairs from Choji Yakiniku. Every Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm. One seating per day only. $295 per head.

Gold Class Daruma

The Grace Hotel, Level 1/77 York St, Sydney; 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–9.00 pm Phone: (02) 9262 1190 M: 0424 553 611·$120 – $150 per head


Besuto Omakase, Sydney Place precinct, 3 Underwood Street, Circular Quay. Omakase is available to book for dinner – Tuesday to Saturday. 5:30 pm & 8pm sittings. From $250.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is no soy and wasabi offered during my omakase meal?
Even though sushi and sashimi are being served, the chef is serving each piece of sushi so quickly and directly that the chef is applying the wasabi and soy to the sushi themselves. Watch as they brush the top of the fish with soy and dab a tiny amount of wasabi on the rice, under the fish. You should not need to add extra, and in fact, it can be insulting to the chef to add more. Bathing the bottom of the rice of your sushi in soy sauce is considered bad manners, as it is seen as detracting from the flavour of the fish.

Nobu, Sydney

Can an omakase experience accommodate my dietary needs?
Although there is often little variation once the chef has set the daily menu, some customisation is possible. Advise the restaurant when you book and remind them of allergies or aversions again as you sit down. They will let you know when you book if your allergy is possible for the chef. Japanese menus feature a lot of seafood and dashi so accommodating a no seafood request can be genuinely tricky.

What are the golden rules for chopstick etiquette?
Use your chopstick holder in between eating, rather than putting chopsticks on your plate. Don’t use your chopsticks to gesticulate or point; if offering food to someone to try, never pass food directly from your chopsticks to theirs. Rather place the food onto a small plate and let them pick it up.
Never touch communal or shared food with your chopsticks. The longer, slightly larger chopsticks are like sharing cutlery, never put these in your mouth.

Without a menu, how can I know what I am eating during omakase?
Omakase is often a no-menu situation, and you are expected to try new things. Attending an omakase experience with an open, trusting mind yields the best results.
There are Wagyu and tempura omakase that reflect the chef’s personal predilections and training, but in a standard luxury omakase, the format will include a lot of freshly caught seafood and will usually kick off with a delicate appetiser. This will be followed by a sashimi and sushi course, a savoury egg custard (chawanmushi) with meat and seafood, a cooked or blow-torched market fish, a soup course, and dessert.

Can I talk to the chef during omakase? What is the protocol?
Guests at an omakase experience are welcome to ask questions of the chef; in fact, interacting with the chef is part of the experience. It is considered polite to ask questions or inquire about the food so they can explain.

What is best to pair with omakase  in terms of drinks?
In general, wine and sake are a perfect match for omakase. Aged fish and vinegar have strong umami flavours so depending on which course you enjoy, different wine and sake will pair well. Dry chilled sake is a great choice. Amazing sakes are imported into Australia, so trust the restaurant to advise you and take you on a sake journey at the same time.  If you don’t like sake, drinking chardonnay, a crisp young riesling, or even a dry complex Riesling is also totally acceptable. All three styles help bring out the flavour of the fish. Champagne can also be good. Try a blanc de blancs— 100% chardonnay —for a great way to start the meal. As you progress, remember that sake is good for dishes with a strong taste, such as uni and eel.

Nobu, Sydney

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The Sonos Ace Headphones Are Music to the Ears

The audio giant has (finally) revealed its foray in the personal listening category.

By Josh Bozin 20/06/2024

In the ever competitive market for premium headphones, few brands have captured the hearts (and ears) of audiophiles, professionals and enthusiasts alike. Bowers & Wilkins, Bose, Sony, and even Apple come to mind when debating great audio brands in 2024. Then there’s Sonos.

For over 20 years, the American audio manufacturer has been lauded for its high-end capabilities, particularly in a home setting; Sonos changed the game for the integration of home entertainment. But it had yet to venture into the realm of headphones.

Until now. Earlier this month, the company marked its long-awaited entry into the personal-listening category, with the launch of its highly anticipated Sonos Ace over-ear headphones.

“Fans have asked us for years to bring the Sonos experience to headphones,”says Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos, “and we knew our first foray into the category needed to champion the type of innovation and sound experience Sonos has become synonymous with.”


On paper, the Sonos Ace is an enticing proposition: a premium over-ear headphone featuring lossless and spatial audio, intuitive Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), and Aware Mode. Most appealing, however, might be its new immersive home theatre offering; the Sonos Ace can pair to compatible Sonos soundbars with just a tap of a button. The new TrueCinema technology, which arrives later this year, will precisely map your entertainment space and then render a complete surround sound system for an unparalleled listening experience.


Retailing at $699, they aren’t exactly cheap, and there more affordable headphones that compete with Sonos in terms of audio output and high-fidelity sound. But where Sonos thrives is in the details. Available in  stealthy black and pure white, the Sonos Ace are sleek and stylish right out of the box. Sure, there is some resemblance to the Apple Air Max Pro—arguably its greatest rival in the over-ear headphone segment—but Sonos has also added its own design touches, and it’s clear the Ace was made to look and feel as good as it sounds.

Its distinctive, slim profile elegantly blends metal accents with a sleek matte finish, and thanks to the use of lightweight, premium materials like memory foam and vegan leather, you get an airy fit that isn’t overbearing, even after extensive use. The design of the Sonos Ace is also intuitive; tactile buttons make controlling the headset a cinch, and pairing with Apple or Android devices is also straightforward. The dedicated Sonos App is also helpful for customising (somewhat) your listening experience, from altering EQ to turning on certain capabilities, like Head Tracking.


It does fall short on a couple of key fronts.  I was expecting more from the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) for over-ear headphones of this price point; there’s no way the ANC as it stands will filter out the sounds of a plane engine, for example. I also found the Sonos Ace has an issue, albeit subtle, with the mid-bass, which can sound muddy and lack punch at times.

But these are small nits. The Sonos Ace only adds to the company’s impressive standing as an unimpeachable innovator in the audio industry.

For more information, visit Sonos.


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Wake Up To World Martini Day 19 June

Cocktail legend Dale de Groff talks Grey Goose, World Martini Day and getting wet.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 18/06/2024

Dale de Groff knows his way around a bar. Back when late nights and heavy drinking were a badge of honour, he presided over one of New York City’s most legendary venues, The Rainbow Room, and is credited with reviving the classic cocktail across Northern America.

To promote World Martini Day on June 19 he’s teamed up with vodka company Grey Goose, for which he has served as a brand ambassador since 1997, to make a winning case for the classic Martini everywhere. He is even lending a hand at the opening of Le Martini bar at Crown Melbourne. 

We asked de Groff about his time serving stars like Michale Douglas, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood and, of course, how he likes his martini.

Dale for the uninitiated, please describe the Rainbow Room.

In the 1980s Rainbow Room was situated high atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. Back then, it was just the pinnacle of glamour.

It has stunning views of the city from way up on the 65th floor. Being situated in the same building as NBC Entertainment, still pretty synonymous with late night TV,  it was and still is the home of Saturday Night Live. You can imagine the kinds of people we’d be getting in each week—from celebrities, musicians, even governors, you name it. 

Robb Report ANZ: What was one of your favourite memories from that time?

Dale de Groff: In ‘88 we held the 30th anniversary Grammys afterparty at the Rainbow Room which I’ll never forget. The event took place over multiple floors, but in the bar itself, the three tiers that go up from the dance floor were taken over by the who’s who of the time. I remember roping off a zone just for music legends like Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, and Madonna—who was no stranger to the bar during those times. Not bad for a Wednesday night.

RR: What role do cocktails play in making a good venue truly great?

DD: A venue’s popularity ultimately comes down to the bartender or team behind the bar. How they interact with people, size them up as they walk through the door, talk to them over that three feet of mahogany, I mean, it’s everything.

RR: What’s the trick to becoming a great bartender, one who can easily impress guests, friends and family?

DD: Knowledge behind the craft. Let’s face it, understanding how to create a really high degree of deliciousness is required, but getting deep into how beverages are made is a massive skill in drink making. The research and innovation behind it is just mind-blowing.

RR:What three cocktails should every sophisticate know how to make?

DD: Well, a martini obviously! I personally like mine 50/50—equal parts vodka and vermouth. I used to drink my martinis for the power, but now I prefer a wet martini. Then I think a classic spritz is a must—always effervescent, lower in alcohol, really it’s the preprandial libation. Then thirdly, it’s gotta be an Old Fashioned.

RR: How do you make a solid martini at home?

DD: If I’m making a classic martini at home, I’m adding Grey Goose, vermouth and bitters to a mixing glass with ice, stirring then straining into a chilled glass. Garnished with lemon twist of course.

Le Martini, the world’s first standalone Grey Goose bar, is now open and will welcome guests in time for World Martini Day on 19 June. You can follow:  @LeMartiniBar 

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Can Italy’s Lake Garda Finally Compete With Como—or Will It Become a Victim of Its Own Success?

Crowded, cacophonous Lake Como is overflowing, filling its nearby villages and lakes with new luxury hotels and savvy, in-the-know travellers.

By Jake Emen 17/06/2024

The sun is shining down and your wooden Riva Aquarama boat is slicing through the lake. The crowd is beautiful, well-tanned and they like their spritzes. Sound like Lake Como? Almost. You’re about 150 kilometres southeast on the larger, yet less frequented, Lake Garda.

As the popularity of Lake Como has grown thanks to non-stop celebrity endorsements filtered down via social media, an in-crowd is discovering that Garda offers the same glitzy perks of its neighbour with far fewer headaches.

“Giorgio Clooney is to Como what Tom Hanks is to Garda,” says Katie Parla, author of “Food of the Italian Islands” and a tour leader across Italy. “Sure, Como is beautiful and charming, but Garda is equally talented, and some would say, more versatile and well-rounded.”

Grand Hotel Fasano, which turned 135th anniversary, is welcoming a new crowd.
Grand Hotel Fasano,

Long the preferred destination for Italians and other continental families, the secret of Garda has now well and truly been leaked. Investment is pouring in at Ferrari speeds.

On the hotel front, historic, legendary properties such as Grand Hotel Fasano (from USD$470)—which celebrated its 135th anniversary in 2023— are joined by a flock of newcomers. There is the new family-owned spa hotel Cape of Senses, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World member (from USD$628). Conti Thun (from USD$225) debuted as an on-vineyard wine resort last year. And this spring, Borgo Tre (from USD$640) opened a small collection of luxury apartment suites in a converted 18th-century farmhouse. (If you haven’t noticed already, a stay here is still considerably cheaper than say, Lake Como’s Passalacqua at USD$2,660 a night).

The region’s established properties are doing their best to stay ahead of the new arrivals, too. The mountain-top wellness haven Lefay Resort & Spa (from USD$460) is famous for encouraging its guests to wear their plush robes across the grounds from morning to night, as the saunter from treatment to treatment. It’s just unveiled a new, elevated room category dubbed Sky Suites that will speak to Como expats. These top-floor units are 1,500 square feet and come with a terrace hot tub, a private in-suite sauna and, of course, unimpeded views of the lake, mountains, and valleys beyond.

Lefay Resort & Spa is drawing wellness activists to the region.
Lefay Resorts

But change like this always comes at a cost. Locals and long-time visitors worry that the region’s newfound popularity puts it in danger of losing its distinctive atmosfera. Ironically, even the new guard hotels are concerned.

“We don’t want that, we’re not a mass tourism product,” says Cape of Senses general manager Alina Deutsch of any attempt to clone Como at Garda. “What is luxury today? It’s what people are missing from their lives, and that’s space and time.”

“Locals, like me, really hope that our beautiful destination will remain as authentic as it is now, even if international tourism is booming and new luxury properties are going to continue opening in the next couple of years,” added Alice Lancini, Grand Hotel Fasano’s sales and marketing manager.

But the scene in Lake Garda’s is already shifting. Lancini says that in the last three to four years, U.S. travellers have made the lake hotel the brand’s second strongest market after Germany. “Lake Garda is becoming more popular in the States as it’s much cheaper than Como, less crowded—still, for now—and it’s a completely different experience than Lake Como.”

Parla adds that the 50 kilometre-long Lake Garda has a natural protection from “becoming a Disneyland” overnight: its massive size makes it feel more like a sea than a lake at times.

“Como the town, Bellagio, and all the fancy hotels are beyond overcrowded and have become the playground of influencers generating their FOMO-inducing content,” she says. “I don’t see a way to enjoy the lake if you stick to those two towns, which most do…Lake Garda is so much bigger.”

Its other protection? Garda isn’t a first stop for first timers. After all, would you tell someone to skip the Eiffel Tower on their first trip to Paris, or forgo the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco? Icons are icons and that includes Lake Como.

The new family-owned spa hotel Cape of Senses just opened on Lake Garda.
Cape of Senses

“Lake Como is for romance and honeymoons, and lounging around on a boat and never leaving the confines of a luxury hotel,” adds Parla, noting that other lakes and villages attract a more active, creative and adventurous crowd.

So will Garda ever become Como? Lancini thinks it’s likely, and that’s why you should get there sooner rather than later. “Lake Garda is going to boom as a destination in the next three to five years,” she says. “Now is the time to take advantage and come to this beautiful destination before it becomes too crowded.”

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Kyoto Has the Most Michelin Restaurants per Capita: Report

There are 100 Michelin-starred spots in the Japanese city, serving some 1.5 million people.

By Tori Latham 17/06/2024

The residents of Kyoto, Japan, are positively swimming among Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Japanese city is home to the highest density of eateries ranked by the French tire company, including five three-starred restaurants, according to a new report from website Chef’s Pencil. With 100 Michelin-ranked spots and a population of almost 1.5 million, Kyoto has one restaurant for every 14,637 people.

Coming in a close second is—unsurprisingly—Paris: The city’s 122 Michelin-starred restaurants serve 2.1 million residents, resulting in one spot for every 17,235 people. (Paris also has the second-highest absolute number of Michelin-starred restaurants, behind Tokyo.) Third place may come as a shock: Washington, D.C., has ranked highly, with 25 restaurants for 690,000 residents, or one for every 27,582 people.

Of course, there are some caveats for the Chef’s Pencil report. The website looked only at cities with 500,000 or more residents. And the restaurants had to be located within the city limits, rather than the larger metropolitan area. The Michelin Guide itself often includes eateries in a broader region, so this list may be slightly more abbreviated than the official selection.

To address some of that disparity, Chef’s Pencil has also released a ranking of Michelin density in midsize cities, those with 100,000 to 500,000 residents. At the top of that list is Nara, Japan, which has 23 starred restaurants for a population of just 367,000 (one restaurant for every 15,972 residents). That’s followed by Maastricht, Netherlands (six Michelin-starred restaurants and 120,000 residents, or one restaurant for every 20,038 people), and Geneva, Switzerland (eight starred eateries and a population of 204,000, or one spot for every 25,494 residents).

And while France is the country with the most Michelin-starred establishments, Switzerland actually has the most starred spots per capita. The country’s 134 Michelin-starred restaurants serve a population of almost 9 million, or one for every 66,872 residents. The much smaller Luxembourg, with just 672,500 residents, comes in second for this metric: With 10 Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s one for every 67,250 people.

While many people travel to the areas with the most Michelin-starred restaurants, they may be better served by going to the areas where they’re the densest. Neither Kyoto nor D.C. may be called its respective country’s culinary capital, but both are teeming with Michelin-ranked spots relative to their size.


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