Board games and stiff drinks. Hedgehog enjoys his evenings…
BEG, BORROW AND DEAL
Normally, if someone offered to sell me a fruit stand in China as long as I’d give them half the future revenues from my pharmaceutical company and wouldn’t kill their president, I’d think they had been released from the Goldman Sachs Home for the Extremely Disturbed too early. However, that sort of offer has become a common cry in the Spear’s office, where we have become obsessed with Billionaire Tycoon.
This board game, devised by two young Mayfair-based entrepreneurs, lets you play the role of an entrepreneur whose fortune has been swept away by the recession. You start with a loan of $100,000 and need to buy cash-generating businesses across the world, moving from those fruit stands and coffee shops to private jet firms and oil rigs, until you have a billion in the bank. The fun starts when you have to trade with your opponents: you end up with agreements so complicated even the devisers of CDOs-squared are left scratching their heads. From leveraging your businesses to staging military coups, nothing — however devious — is barred.
Co-creator Shameek Upadhya says the game has a didactic purpose which is more important than ever in a tough financial climate: ‘We always wanted to share the skills, secrets and know-how to become seriously business-savvy while having fun. Many people assume entrepreneurs are allergic to recessions, but they’re times of tremendous opportunity and growth.’
The regular version of the game is available from Harrods and billionairetycoon.co.uk, but — as befits tycoons and would-be tycoons — there is a luxury version. Made from Swedish super-car hide (as used on Lamborghinis) and Italian leather, with nickel-plated playing pieces and black-suede-lined dice cups, this will sell for £5,000 — except to Spear’s readers, who will receive £500 off if they order by 25 November. (This is also the last date for a Christmas gift, as they take four weeks to make.)
Let Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have their games of bridge: Billionaire Tycoon is taking the boredom out of board games.
To order a luxury version of the game, email firstname.lastname@example.org
UNDER THE HAMMER
Old-fashioned antiques buyers — those who want a complete Louis Quatorze room or are planning on decking their house out with nothing but Chippendale tables, chairs and desks — are like ‘dinosaurs roaming the plains — their days are numbered’. And Thomas Woodham-Smith should know: he’s the managing director of Bond Street antiques stalwart Mallett. ‘People want one or two very special pieces. Eclecticism is the new style.’
As we wander around Mallett, which sits just across from Sotheby’s, it becomes precisely clear what he means. Here is an 18th-century sofa, which required extensive restoration using the skills of Mallett’s south London workshop. There is a case with a dozen Art Deco vases, with sharp incised patterns and deep colours. And looming over there is a contemporary wardrobe, made out of cocobolo (a sustainable West African rosewood).
Woodham-Smith, who started as a porter at Mallett in 1985, is sanguine about the changes he has seen, such as the rise of a new wealthy class who do not value as highly provenance or uniformity, who are ‘captivated by the shape, not because they are engaging with the history’. Nevertheless, rather than seeing an influx of Russian, Arab or Chinese buyers, Woodham-Smith says his buyers are ‘very much the traditional ones, which is English, European and American’.
Mallett has definitely adapted to the 21st century, he says. Instead of a crowded Victorian stockroom, everything is spread out, fewer objects creating a calmer atmosphere. Clients now expect ‘full service’: taking the goods to them, repairing them, shipping them wherever. ‘It is no longer about the goods — it is about the clients. Many dealers I know now are actually looking for clients rather than looking for stock.’ Expensive premises can no longer be justified, and a move out of Mayfair may be on the cards.
He also feels fairs are the future, as many have foreseen, so his co-founding of the Masterpiece fair (covered in Spear’s 15, available on spearswms.com) is a clever move. By bringing together all buyers and collectors under one roof, prising open their wallets with some fine wine and chat, Masterpiece may be the future Mallett needs.
SUNSHINE AND SOMERSET
As she curls up kittenishly on a sofa at the Bluebird café, basking in the sunshine, with her sunglasses irremovable, it’s hard to believe that Lady Cosima Somerset was practically the inventor of concierge services. A glamorous matron in between King’s Road sorties, perhaps, but a prime fixer? Too glamorous for that.
Concierge London, Lady Cosima’s company, which she founded in 2000 with Nina Norman, trades on what Lady Cosima says she does best: ‘I’m a real fixer. I get a real buzz out of it; putting people together was always my thing.’ You sense that her black book — compiled with skill and every social grace over the years — is one of Concierge London’s chief attractions. And now New York: Lady Cosima’s partner has strength and depth of contacts there and they are expanding.
What her company does is service a maximum of 100 HNW clients — both English and foreign HNWs living in or coming to England — by ‘setting them up with the infrastructure’: so a family coming to London from the Middle East might need a beauty parade of lawyers, a trip to four schools, a pre-selected and vetted nanny or housekeeper, and so on. She has preferred relationships with different specialists but will always countenance others. Concierge London will also take on one-off projects, from arranging a 50th-birthday party in Morocco (true story) to wrapping presents.
Much of Lady Cosima’s experience with managing households comes from her own earlier life: raised as the daughter of the 9th Marquess of Londonderry (although Lady Cosima has claimed her real father is Robin Douglas-Home), then married to (and divorced from) Lord John Somerset, she knows what it is like to have to find the best staff, how much trust a family must have in its servants, what standards will be expected.
Lady Cosima is not keen on those who just want Formula One tickets or entry to the Cuckoo Club, like most concierge services seem to offer, flash without substance: ‘We do lifestyle management.’ She emphasises that the quality most precious to an HNW is time, and with the time of her twenty ‘girls’ starting at £40 an hour, it is cheaper for the wealthy to engage her service than do it themselves. (The joining fee is £10,000 for Concierge London, $20,000 for New York.)
Her girls are what Lady Cosima seems proudest of, and she describes quite a particular type: ‘The girls that work at Concierge are very special,’ she says, half Mary Poppins, half Miss Jean Brodie. ‘They have manners. Softness. Intelligence. But a real warmth and attention to detail.’
Only the smartest — girls or HNWs — need apply.
THE VIRGIN STURGEON
Caviar comes from virgin sturgeon;
Virgin sturgeon’s a very fine dish;
Very few sturgeon are ever virgin;
That’s why caviar’s a very rare dish.
It’s a sign of how far we have fallen into barbarity that it’s practically impossible to get a boiled egg with a generous spoonful of caviar at a London restaurant any more. It’s just too prelapsarian, a taste of the good times. But thanks to modern technology, you can re-create this wonder at home: all you need is an egg, a saucepan and some caviar.
Ah yes, the caviar. Unless you own a sizeable sturgeon farm on the banks of the Caspian Sea (and a very sharp knife), you’ll probably obtain your caviar from one of London’s major retail emporia, or perhaps — as is increasingly becoming popular — through mail order. (If your postie can lug an entire round of Stilton to your door, there’s no excuse for not putting a tiny tin in the mail.) That’s why Spear’s has struck a deal with King’s Fine Foods, Britain’s largest importers of caviar and suppliers of provisions to Fortnum & Mason and Buckingham Palace.
Laura and John King founded their business on caviar, though they soon diversified into Amedei chocolates and Boyajian oils and other luxury foodstuffs. Despite Russian and Arab HNWs still jonesing for caviar, Laura King says we ‘don’t consume huge amounts. Years ago it was normal for one person to buy a kilo of caviar. Today this is very rare.’
Those Spear’s readers thinking of stocking up on Christmas gifts, or even just embellishing their quotidian egg and soldiers, can obtain a 15 per cent discount on King’s farmed beluga caviar, Royal Belgian caviar and Riofrio caviar (the world’s only organic caviar) in 30g, 50g and 100g tins. Just quote ‘Spear’s’ when you call King’s Fine Food on 020 8894 1111 to receive your discount (valid until 30 November); this offer cannot be redeemed online.
See kingsfinefood.co.uk for the full range
GIN’LL FIX IT
In the financial crisis, many people turned to drink, but none in quite the same way as Ian Hart. He was a derivatives trader until the Long-Term Capital Management collapse in 1998, and his subsequent quant head-hunting business fell apart when Lehman et al ceased hiring in summer 2007 (a prophetic sign few were able to read).
It was back to the drawing board: Hart decided to combine his childhood love of chemistry with his adult love of Bordeaux and divide a wine into its constituent parts. With a coil condenser, a vacuum distillation system and some liquid nitrogen, he broke up the wine into its bouquet, its colour, its alcohol and some water, an experiment worthy of Heston Blumenthal, which allowed the distiller to remix it to his own taste. (Hedgehog was treated to a 1985 port, first in bits, then as a whole.)
Next came gin, and a luxury brand which is shaking and stirring drinks aficionados. Unlike most gins, each ingredient of Sacred Gin is produced individually through this vacuum distillation process (it allows a lower boiling point), then combined to Hart’s recipe. Fresh citrus, rather than dried, then gives Sacred Gin its zing.
Hart currently makes and sells 1,500 bottles a month, although he says he has the capacity to expand to 6,000–10,000. He’s hit the market at the right time: ‘There was an explosion in the vodka market about three years ago, and gin was waiting for something similar. I happened across this line of business by accident, but it turns out it’s a lucky coincidence because gin is certainly undergoing a revival.’
The rise of vodka tended to the tawdry, with faux-Russian brands tartily exploiting the boom years, while gin is altogether more civilised. Sacred Gin’s customers, who include Dukes Hotel bar, Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Fortnum & Mason, are proof of this (pun intended).
Over lunch at Quo Vadis with Soho gallerist Steven Lazarides — if you want to get to Banksy, you may have to go through him — it emerges that a Los Angeles gallery is on the cards.
‘LA has always been good to me: we have a great bunch of collectors out there, and an amazing support network,’ he says. ‘It is such an open-minded and helpful place, which really isn’t what you expect. Also, the thirst for art out there at the moment is vast.’
From the gargantuan artistic philanthropy of Eli Broad to Jeffrey Deitch taking over at MoCa (a trailblazing move from private to public) to (whisper it) a certain Hollywood actor best known for wearing scrubs planning to organise a show, it seems that LA — whose sole cultural advantage, according to Woody Allen, was that you could turn right on a red light — is about to have a cultural efflorescence. According to Laz, ‘It just seems to have an energy and excitement that is missing from London and New York at the moment.’ Better start working on that Cali tan.
The Hedgehog is sponsored by B Capital