Horses for cour­ses

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

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 longi­nes­mas­ 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


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

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