Ultra-modern cityscape makes Dubai look quaint

Propelled by a lust for luxury and beauty, this megacity has become a new capital of culture.

By Jack Smith 30/11/2016

Propelled by a lust for luxury and beauty, South Korea's ultra-modern megacity has become a new capital of culture.

Of the many enigmatic sights in East Asia, perhaps none are as indicative of a cultural creed as South Korea's burial mounds. For hundreds of years, the structures — hillocks constructed over clay-sealed timber coffins — were filled with gold, jewels, and other valuable items to accompany the deceased on their voyage into the hereafter.

The practice lasted until the sixth century, when the adoption of Buddhism, which mandated cremation as the standard posthumous ritual, prompted a change of heart. Soon the custom of burying treasure with the deceased all but disappeared; instead, the ancient Koreans erected ornate temples and opulent palaces adorned with precious metals and stones. What followed was a golden age that lasted for centuries.

Today South Korea has entered a second golden age. The country's capital is as formidable as it is fashionable, with a booming economy, a lofty cityscape that makes Dubai look quaint, and the most image-conscious population on the planet.

"Ours is a glamour culture," says Sunny Kim, my tour guide in Seoul. "Everyone is a celebrity waiting to be discovered. It's all about beauty and fashion and trend."

Dressed in a tailored pantsuit and Doc Martens and lounging comfortably in the back of an Equus limo, Sunny indeed looks the part of an aspiring A-lister. The car — a luxury offshoot from Hyundai with a six-figure price tag — slowly rolls away from the new Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, where I spent the previous night absorbing the floor-to-ceiling vistas of a glittering city centre. The hotel is a fitting starting point for my day with Sunny, who plans to show me just what makes this city of 10 million Asia's new capital of luxury.

From the vantage point of its traffic-snarled streets, Seoul appears to have been built in a hurry. There is no unifying look to the downtown streetscape, in which high-rises jostle cheek by jowl with tiny restaurants, bars, and boutiques topped with colourful pennants flapping in the wind.

Most of all there are cafés and coffee shops: every doorway seems to lead to one — some of them intimate spots tucked away in hidden alleyways, others large, multitier spaces packed with stylish 20-somethings gripping cups of coffee.

According to Sunny, coffee itself has little to do with it. "Koreans don't usually drink coffee as a morning pick-me-up," she explains. "As with so many other institutions in Seoul, the cafés are places to see and be seen. For the cost of a coffee, you can spend two hours or more seeing what everyone else is wearing and what they're saying. For some women, a cup with the Starbucks logo is the equivalent of a Gucci or Prada bag."

If labels are the definitive currency in Seoul, then Gangnam — the glamorous shopping district immortalised in the record-breaking song "Gangnam Style"—is the city's epicentre of status. The district is home to flagship boutiques from Hermès, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada and Cartier, to name but a few.

But the social value of a label can change quickly in these parts. Louis Vuitton was until recently the most popular luxury brand — so much so that its handbags became known as "three-second bags," because that was how often you would see one. But that's so yesterday, says Sunny. They have since been replaced by brands like Givenchy and Céline.

Following Sunny's keen eye for the label du jour, we head to Gangnam's new Burberry store, a 13-storey wonderland at the Cheongdam intersection marked by an oversize tartan facade. Inside, we move to the scarf bar for a moment of cashmere fondling before entering a room playing British rock music. "This is a VIP room," says Doy Wi, the store's senior private-client consultant. "The music has been personally selected by our CEO, Christopher Bailey, for the enjoyment of our VIPs."

And who, I wonder, are the VIPs?

"Anybody with money," Doy says.

A short stroll away, Dior's flagship store opened its doors last summer in a sculptural structure by the French architect Christian de Port-zamparc that resembles a giant tulip. I wander inside to find an ethereal landscape designed by Peter Marino, where curved mirrors and glass create a sleek backdrop for the fashion house's latest trends. The fabulous illusion, however, is shattered when, in an attempt to make my way down the spiral stairway, I nearly miss the reflective steps, catching myself before bouncing down and out into the street. "Everybody does that," says a nearby sales assistant with a smile.

South Korea's affinity for the biggest and best extends far beyond fashion. Seoul's Internet service is the world's fastest, its innovative subway system the longest. The golfing options — and, more important, golfers — are great; the republic's 200-odd courses have produced 38 of the world's current top 100 female players.

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza, completed in 2014 as one of the last buildings by the late Zaha Hadid, created a new style standard in the city's futuristic skyline thanks to a gravity-defying shape and rooftop park. For locals, of course, it is essential to note that the building is the largest asymmetrical free-form structure in the world.

Particularly subject to Korea's competitive nature is personal appearance. "Koreans aren't willing to settle for inherited beauty; they see good looks as something to be attained," Sunny tells me as our limo pulls up to the curb along the so-called Beauty Belt, a row of more than 500 clinics specialising in plastic surgery.

Inside the ID Hospital — a high-tech clinic where many of the country's actors and K-pop stars are rumoured to be clients — an attendant explains that Korea's beauty imperative is not restricted to women; about one-third of the hospital's patients are men. She gives me an appraising look and whispers something to Sunny that draws a laugh. "She says they are sure they can help you," my guide relays.

Given Seoul's quest for perfection, it is no surprise that South Korea has claimed a prominent place on the global stage, emerging as a major exporter of popular culture and style. But the Korean Wave, as it is known, is no random phenomenon. According to Euny Hong, author of The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World through Pop Culture, South Korea is the first country in history to make "cool" a national priority, investing billions of government dollars in promoting local music, film, television, fashion, and cuisine overseas.

The impact on neighbouring countries, and even farther abroad, has been massive. A "made in Korea" label now approaches the kind of cachet that "made in France" and "made in Italy" possess. Korean skin-care brands such as Sulwhasoo and Amarte have become coveted names in the beauty industry worldwide. And in 2014, when Microsoft unveiled its newest tablet to the US market, it was with a commercial featuring a song by the Korean band 2NE1.

Of course, Koreans still covet the creations of Europe's luxury stalwarts. "We see that in the cars in Seoul," says Vince Kim, a sales manager at the Ferrari showroom in Gangnam. Standing in front of four new models from Maranello, he attests to the South Korean preference for imported cars. "For McLaren, Korea is the world's fifth biggest market. Lamborghinis sell well, too, but Ferraris have the greatest demand of all," he says. "But we only sell new Ferraris. This is Korea — our customers don't want a used car."

Still, adds Vince, Korean-made cars sell much better than Japanese cars. "Korean carmakers are very quality conscious," he says. "The people who build Hyundai and Kia represent a tradition of high standards. They won't tolerate shoddy work." Indeed, it was a source of glee and pride to Korean car buffs when the 2015 J.D. Power ratings listed Hyundai over Toyota in initial build quality.

On this note, Sunny and I rise to continue our tour through the city, climbing into the capacious rear seat of our shiny dark-blue Equus. Seeing us off, Vince leans in the window and looks around approvingly.

"Now that's a nice car," he says.

Seoul's Newest Stunner

The South Korean capital's luxury-hotel scene heated up with the October debut of the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. Located just a short stroll from the 14th-century Gyeongbokgung Palace, the 317-room property is a modern marvel in the historic Gwanghwamun district. A collection of contemporary Korean art and pottery decorates the public areas and guest rooms, the latter of which feature floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of the north-bank cityscape and distant mountains of Bukhansan National Park.

Though central to Seoul's business centre, the hotel is equally suited to leisure, with amenities that include a golf simulator and a 5350-square-metre spa complex. Locals and in-the-know guests end their evenings with a nightcap amid the tufted leather banquettes and velvet tapestries at Charles H., a speakeasy-style bar located behind a secret entrance hidden beneath a staircase.

Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, fourseasons.com


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First Drive: The Porsche 911 S/T Is a Feral Beast That Handles the Road Like an Olympic Bobsledder

The commemorative model borrows underpinnings from the GT3 RS and includes a 518 hp engine.

By Basem Wasef 23/10/2023

The soul of any sports car comes down to the alchemy of its tuning—how the engine, suspension, and chassis blend into a chorus of sensations. The secret sauce of the new Porsche 911 S/T, developed as a tribute to the 60th anniversary of the brand’s flagship model, is more potent than most; in fact, it makes a serious case for being the most driver-focused 911 of all time.

Sharing the S/T designation with the homologation special from the 1960s, the (mostly) innocuously styled commemorative model borrows underpinnings from the more visually extroverted GT3 RS. Yet what the S/T, starting at $290,000, lacks in fender cutouts and massive spoilers it makes up for in directness: a flat-six power plant that revs to 9,000 rpm, a motorsport-derived double-wishbone suspension, and a manual gearbox. It’s a delightfully feral combination.

Rossen Gargolov

Whereas the automatic-transmission GT3 RS is ruthlessly configured for maximum downforce and minimum lap times, the S/T is dialed in for the road—particularly the Southern Italian ones on which we’re testing the car, which happen to be the very same used by product manager Uwe Braun, Andreas Preuninger, head of Porsche’s GT line, and racing legend Walter Röhrl to finalize its calibration. The car reacts to throttle pressure with eerie deftness, spinning its 518 hp engine with thrilling immediacy, thanks to shorter gear ratios.

The steering response is similarly transparent, as direct as an unfiltered Marlboro, and the body follows with the agility of an Olympic bobsledder. Some of that purity of feeling is the result of addition through subtraction: Power-sapping elements including a hydraulic clutch and rear-axle steering were ditched, which also enabled the battery to be downsized for even more weight savings. The final result, with its carbon-fiber body panels, thinner glass, magnesium wheels, and reduced sound deadening, is the lightest 992-series variant on record, with roughly the same mass as the esteemed 911 R from 2016.

Driver engagement is further bolstered by the astounding crispness of the short-throw gearbox. The S/T fits hand in glove with narrow twisties and epic sweepers, or really any stretch that rewards mechanical grip and the ability to juke through hairpin corners. The cabin experience is slightly less raucous than the 911 R, but more raw than the wingless 911 GT3 Touring, with an intrusive clatter at idle due to the single-mass flywheel and featherlight clutch. Porsche cognoscenti will no doubt view the disturbance in the same way that hardcore Ducatisti revere the tambourine-like rattle of a traditional dry clutch: as an analog badge of honor.

The main bragging right, though, may just be owning one. In a nod to the year the 911 debuted, only 1,963 examples of the S/T will be built. Considering the seven-year-old 911 R started life at$295,000 and has since fetched upwards of $790,000, this new lightweight could bring proportionately heavy returns—if you can be pried from behind the wheel long enough to sell it, that is.

Images by Rossen Gargolov

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Gentlemanly Restraint 

Art and science collide in the the newly released BR03A watch collection by Bell & Ross.

By Belinda Aucott 02/11/2023

In keeping with the brand’s design salute to aviation and military equipment, the pared-back face of the Bell & Ross BR03 Automatic takes its cue from the instrumentation in cockpits. It’s unabashedly minimal and confidently masculine style is set to make it a future classic.

Faithful to the codes that underpin the brand’s identity, the new utilitarian offerings sit within a smaller 41-mm case (a slight departure from the original at 42 mm Diver, Chrono or GMT.) and has a reduced lug width and slimmer hands. The changes extend to the watch movement, which has been updated with a BR-CAL.302 calibre. The watch is waterproof to 300 metres and offers a power reserve of 54 hours.

While the new collection offers an elegant sufficiency of colourways, from a stealthy black to more decorative bronze face with a tan strap, each is a faithful rendition of the stylish “rounded square, four-screw” motif that is Bell & Ross’s calling card.



For extra slickness, the all-black Phantom and Nightlum models have a stealthy, secret-agent appeal, offering up a new take on masculine restraint.

Yet even the more decorative styles, like the black face with contrasting army-green band, feel eminently versatile and easy to wear. The 60’s simplicity and legibility of the face is what makes it so distinctive and functional.

For example, the BR 03-92 Nightlum, with its black matte case and dial, and bright green indices and hands, offers a great contrast during the day and emits useful luminosity at night.

A watch that begs to be read, the the BR03-A stands up to scrutiny, and looks just as good next to a crisp, white cuff as it does at the end of a matte, black wetsuit.

That’s a claim not many watch collections can make. 

Explore the collection.

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Timeless Glamour & Music Aboard The Venice Simplon-Orient Express

Lose yourself in a luxury journey, aboard an Art Deco train from Paris

By Belinda Aucott 03/11/2023

Watching the unseen corners of Europe unfold gently outside your train, window can be thirsty work, right? That’s why Belmond Hotels is once again staging a culinary train journey from Paris to Venice, aboard the glittering Art Deco carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient Express.

To celebrate diversity and inclusion in the LBTQ+ community, another unforgettable train ride is slated for 2 November.

On the journey, ample servings of decadent cuisine will be served and live entertainment will play looooong into the night. Trans-DJ Honey Dijon and Dresden’s Purple Disco Machine are both part of the disco-house line-up.

Passengers are encouraged to dress in black-tie or cocktail attire, before they head to the bar and dining carriages to enjoy their night, where they are promised ‘unapologetic extravagance’,.

Negronis, martinis, spritzes and sours will all be on offer as the sunlight fades.

So-hot-right-now French chef Jean Imbert is also in the kitchen rattling the pans for guests.

Imber puts a garden-green-goodness twist on Gallic traditions. He regularly cooks for the who’s-who. Imbert recently co-created a food concept for Dior in Paris, worked with Pharrell Williams to present a dinner in Miami, and he’s even been invited to Cheval Blanc St-Barth to cater luxe LVMH-owned property.

The young chef is vowing to create no less than ‘culinary perfection’ in motion with his own passion for fresh seasonal produce. There’ll be plenty of Beluga caviar, seared scallops, and lobster vol-au-vents.

“I want to create beautiful moments which complement the train, which is the true star,” says Imbert of his hands-on approach to delectable pastries and twists on elegant Euro classics.

“Its unique legacy is something we take pride in respecting, while evolving a new sense of style and purpose that will captivate a new generation.”

Check the timetable for the itinerary of lush inclusions here.

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From Electric Surfboards to Biodegradable Golf Balls: 8 Eco-Conscious Yacht Toys for Green and Clean Fun

Just add water and forget the eco-guilt.

By Gemma Harris 18/10/2023

Without toys, yachts would be kind of sedentary. There’s nothing wrong with an alfresco meal, sunsets on the flybridge and daily massages. But toys add zest to life on board, while creating a deeper connection with the water. These days, there are a growing number of options for eco-friendly gadgets and equipment that deliver a greener way to play. These eight toys range from do-it-yourself-propulsion (waterborne fitness bikes) to electric foiling boards, from kayaks made of 100 percent recycled plastics to non-toxic, biodegradable golf balls with fish food inside. Your on-water adrenaline rushes don’t always have to be about noise and gas fumes. They can be fun, silent, and eco-conscious.

A game of golf isn’t just for land. Guests can play their best handicap from the deck with Albus Golf’s eco-friendly golf balls. The ecological and biodegradable golf balls are 100 percent safe for marine flora and fauna, and manufactured with non-contaminating materials. The balls will biodegrade within 48 hours after hitting the ocean and release the fish food contained in their core. For a complete golfing experience, add a floating FunAir green. From $3100 (FunAir Yacht Golf) and $315 a box (golf balls). funair.com

Fliteboard Series 2.0

The future of surf is electric, and Fliteboard offers an emissions-free and environmentally friendly electric hydrofoil. Flying over the water has never been as efficient and low impact, using new technologies with less than 750 watts of electric power. This second series boasts various performance factors for all riding styles. It also features an increased trigger range from 20 to 40 degrees for more precision and control. Fliteboard designed this series for every possible foiling ability, from newbies to wave-carvers. From $22,000. fliteboard.com

Manta 5 Hydrofoiler XE-1

Hailing from New Zealand and using America’s Cup technology, Manta 5 offers the first hydrofoil bike. The Hydrofoiler XE-1 replicates the cycling experience on the water. Powered by fitness-level pedaling and assisted by the onboard battery, top speeds can reach up to 19 km per hour. The two hydrofoils are carbon fibre, and the frame is aircraft-grade aluminium. The onboard Garmin computer will relay all the stats. The effortless gliding sensation will accompany you through a workout, exploration or just circling the boat. From $950. manta5.com

Mo-Jet’s Jet Board

Imagine five toys in one: The Mo Jet delivers just that. From jet surfing, bodyboarding, and e-foiling to scooter diving. This versatile, German-built toy is perfect for those who cannot decide. The Mo-jet uses a cool modular system allowing you to switch between activities. Whether you want to stand, be dragged around or dive, you can have it all. It even has a life-saving module and a 2.8m rescue electric surfboard. Made from environmentally friendly and recyclable polyethene, it also ticks the eco-conscious boxes. Complete with an 11kW electric water jet, it charges in 75 mins, offering up to 30 mins of fun. Adrenaline junkies will also not be disappointed, since speed surges from 0 to 27 knots in 3 seconds. From $18,000. mo-jet.com

Silent Yachts Tender ST400

Driven by innovation and solar energy, Silent Yachts recently launched its first electric tender, the ST400. The 13-footer has clean-cut lines and is built with either an electric jet drive or a conventional electric outboard engine. The ST400 reaches speeds above 20 knots. From $110,000. silent-yachts.com

Osiris Outdoor ‘Reprisal’ Kayak

Kayaks are ideal for preserving and protecting nature, but they’re usually manufactured with materials that will last decades longer than we will and therefore not too eco-friendly. Founded by US outdoor enthusiasts, Osiris Outdoor has created a new type of personal boat. “The Reprisal” kayak is manufactured in the US entirely from recycled plastics (around 27 kgs) that are purchased from recycling facilities. The sustainable manufacturing process isn’t its only selling point; the lightweight Reprisals have spacious storage compartments, rod holders and a watertight hatch for gadgets. Complete with a matte-black finish for a stylish look. From $1100. osirisoutdoor.com

The Fanatic Ray Eco SUP Paddleboard

Declared as the most sustainable SUP, the Ray Eco is the brainchild of the Zero Emissions Project and BoardLab, supported by Fanatic. Glass and carbon fibre have been replaced with sustainable Kiri tree wood. And you can forget toxic varnishes and resins; organic linseed oil has been used to seal the board and maintain its durability. This fast, light, and stable board is truly one of a kind, not available off the rack. This craftsman’s love for detail and preservation is another first-class quality of the board. From $10,000 boardlab.de

Northern Light Composite X Clean Sailors EcoOptimist

One of the most popular, single-handed dinghies in sailing’s history, the tiny Optimist has undergone a sustainable revival. Northern Light Composites and not-for-profit Clean Sailors have teamed up to launch the first sustainable and recyclable Optimist. Using natural fibres and eco-sustainable resins, The EcoOptimist supports a new circular economy in yachting. OneSail also produces the sail with a low-carbon-footprint manufacturing process. From $6000. ecooptisailing.com

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The 50 Best Cocktail Bars in the World, According to a New Ranking

The World’s 50 Best organisation gave the Spanish bar Sips top honours during an awards ceremony in Singapore.

By Tori Latham 18/10/2023

If you’re looking for the best bar in the world, you better head to Barcelona.
Sips, from the industry luminaries Simone Caporale and Marc Álvarez, was named the No. 1 bar on the planet in the latest World’s 50 Best Bars ranking. The organisation held its annual awards ceremony on Tuesday in Singapore, the first time it hosted the gathering in Asia. Sips, which only opened two years ago, moved up to the top spot from No. 3 last year.
“Sips was destined for greatness even before it rocketed into the list at No. 37 just a few short months after opening in 2021,” William Drew, the director of content for 50 Best, said in a statement.
“The bar seamlessly translates contemporary innovation and technical precision into a playful cocktail programme, accompanied by the warmest hospitality, making it a worthy winner of The World’s Best Bar 2023 title.”
Coming in second was North America’s best bar: New York City’s Double Chicken Please. The top five was rounded out by Mexico City’s Handshake Speakeasy, Barcelona’s Paradiso (last year’s No. 1), and London’s Connaught Bar. The highest new entry was Seoul’s Zest at No. 18, while the highest climber was Oslo’s Himkok, which moved up to No. 10 from No. 43 last year.
Barcelona may be home to two of the top five bars, but London has cemented its status as the cocktail capital of the world: The English city had five bars make the list, more than any other town represented. Along with Connaught Bar in the top five, Tayēr + Elementary came in at No. 8, and Satan’s Whiskers (No. 28), A Bar With Shapes for a Name (No. 35), and Scarfes Bar (No. 41) all made the grade too.
The United States similarly had a good showing this year. New York City, in particular, is home to a number of the best bars: Overstory (No. 17) and Katana Kitten (No. 27) joined Double Chicken Please on the list.
Elsewhere, Miami’s Café La Trova hit No. 24 and New Orleans’s Jewel of the South snuck in at No. 49, bringing the Big Easy back to the ranking for the first time since 2014.
To celebrate their accomplishments, all of this year’s winners deserve a drink—made by somebody else at least just this once.
Check out the full list of the 50 best bars in the world below.
1. Sips, Barcelona
2. Double Chicken Please, New York
3. Handshake Speakeasy, Mexico City
4. Paradiso, Barcelona
5. Connaught Bar, London
6. Little Red Door, Paris
7. Licorería Limantour, Mexico City
8. Tayēr + Elementary, London
9. Alquímico, Cartagena
10. Himkok, Oslo
11. Tres Monos, Buenos Aires
12. Line, Athens
13. BKK Social Club, Bangkok
14. Jigger & Pony, Singapore
15. Maybe Sammy, Sydney
16. Salmon Guru, Madrid
17. Overstory, New York
18. Zest, Seoul
19. Mahaniyom Cocktail Bar, Bangkok
20. Coa, Hong Kong
21. Drink Kong, Rome
22. Hanky Panky, Mexico City
23. Caretaker’s Cottage, Melbourne
24. Café La Trova, Miami
25. Baba au Rum, Athens
26. CoChinChina, Buenos Aires
27. Katana Kitten, New York
28. Satan’s Whiskers, London
29. Wax On, Berlin
30. Florería Atlántico, Buenos Aires
31. Röda Huset, Stockholm
32. Sago House, Singapore
33. Freni e Frizioni, Rome
34. Argo, Hong Kong
35. A Bar With Shapes for a Name, London
36. The SG Club, Tokyo
37. Bar Benfiddich, Tokyo
38. The Cambridge Public House, Paris
39. Panda & Sons, Edinburgh
40. Mimi Kakushi, Dubai
41. Scarfes Bar, London
42. 1930, Milan
43. Carnaval, Lima
44. L’Antiquario, Naples
45. Baltra Bar, Mexico City
46. Locale Firenze, Florence
47. The Clumsies, Athens
48. Atlas, Singapore
49. Jewel of the South, New Orleans
50. Galaxy Bar, Dubai

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