Horses for courses
Showjumping champions are joined by polo pros at this year’s Longines Hong Kong Masters
The Longines Hong Kong Masters always delivers exhilarating showjumping, but this year it also promises nail-biting polo. The Shanghai Tang Polo Cup, Hong Kong’s first ever international indoor polo exhibition tournament, will see some of the world’s best professional polo players face off in three matches. The matches are to be held on each day before or after the showjumping competitions, with two teams of two players competing against each other. The final match will be held before the Longines Grand Prix on February 21. For full details see longinesmasters.com the handover, it was clear Shanghai Tang needed to rethink its raison d’être. Mainland China’s economy began to boom and, simultaneously, its manufacturing capabilities blossomed. Suddenly it was possible to produce all kinds of highquality apparel on the mainland. Disposable incomes grew and a budding sense of national pride following the 2008 Beijing Olympics gave birth to a desire to embrace ethnic identity in the way people dressed.
If the brand was to make a genuine appeal to the sensibilities of an increasingly sophisticated, cashed-up consumer cohort, it needed to cut the clichés and reposition itself as a modern, wearable brand. So Raphael developed a pool of designers from all corners of the globe, including the mainland, and recently installed Raffaele Borriello (formerly of Tom Ford, Gucci and YSL) as creative director. “We are not trying to make people look ‘interesting,’” says Raphael. “We are trying to make people look good. We are trying to bring an alternative elegance from this part of the world to the global market.”
These days Raphael counts Tory Burch, Max Mara and Ralph Lauren as the brand’s key competitors, at least in terms of price. As for aesthetic and ethos, however, “we don’t have much competition— perhaps Vivienne Tam, but no one else.” What about other designers of Chinese descent, like Phillip Lim? “Phillip is way more edgy and he doesn’t design as per his [Chinese] culture. He could be Western.” Raphael says Shanghai Tang will be making some major moves in the next few years. “We have come to the end of the building phase of the brand and have a very good distribution network in Asia. We are just about to present the brand for the first time to wholesalers in the US and Europe.”
Perhaps it was destiny that Raphael ended up in one of Asia’s key port cities. “The Bretons have strengths and drawbacks. Our best quality is that we travel. Bretons have always been seamen, fishermen and traders. We have always been by the sea.” But his wanderlust stretches far beyond leaving his hometown. “I am a free man. You can’t restrict me. I have built my life on a need to feel free—i think because I was constrained in boarding school for so long.”
Aside from polo, Raphael loves to go on walking expeditions with his wife and two children. They spent last Christmas in the mountains of the Indian state of Kerala exploring tea plantations. When his son and daughter were less than five years old, he took them hiking in Nepal through the foothills of the Himalayas. “My children walked for six hours a day, but they
“I HAVE BUILT MY LIFE ON A NEED TO FEEL FREE—I THINK BECAUSE I WAS CONSTRAINED IN BOARDING SCHOOL FOR SO LONG”
had Sherpas to help them. Some of their best memories are from that trip.” Trekking in Bhutan was another highlight.
The dynamo’s style of letting off steam is very different from the adrenaline-seeking, boxticking mentality of so many of today’s type-a business personalities. “I’m not the type of guy who is going to climb the highest mountains. That doesn’t interest me. What I’m interested in is walking. If you do it for long enough, it becomes like a drug. I love reconnecting with nature. Cities have a tendency to alienate us and disconnect us from who we really are. I spend all my weekends either hiking or at sea, and I couldn’t live in Hong Kong if I wasn’t doing this.”
Raphael’s wife, Marie, a Belgian journalist who reports on the watch and jewellery sectors, sounds like a calming presence in his life. “The Belgians are the French in a good mood: easygoing, gentle, generous, spiritual. Marie puts the whole world into meditation.” The couple met during an interview (“just like this,” he notes, raising his eyebrows) when he was launching Piaget in Brussels more than two decades ago. We laugh at the thought of love blossoming over a Dictaphone. I ask which of Marie’s interview questions won him over. “I don’t remember—we didn’t talk much,” he smiles, his eyes twinkling. The couple have been married for 23 years and it’s clear Raphael is thoroughly enchanted with his life partner. As well as walking, he loves having a project to share with Marie. Lately they have busied themselves building a holiday house in Bali. “Having a project together is the healthiest way to keep life interesting.”
I ask what personality trait he thinks is most underrated these days, assuming he’ll say something suitably managerial, like perseverance or diligence. “Kindness,” he responds. “Without a doubt. My relationship works because I am with a very kind person. It’s the only thing that lasts. Nothing else is important.” For a highprofile businessman in the fickle world of fashion, the answer seems wonderfully substantial.
The sun has sunk low in the sky and is getting in Raphael’s eyes. I glance at my watch and realise the afternoon has flown by. It’s time to wrap things up and let him and his chic Mandarin collar get back to the office. “The office? No, no,” he says and smiles. “I’m going to hike the Twins before sunset.”
Polo shirt, trousers, belt, gloves and mallet, all Raphael’s own