easy rider

Shang­hai tang head hon­cho raphael le masne de cher­mont on don­key rides, wan­der­lust and polo’s re­turn to the city

Hong Kong Tatler - - Front Page - Pho­tog­ra­phy Olivia tsang Styling Harry Lam

Named af­ter the mon­key in the Babar chil­dren’s books and tele­vi­sion se­ries, Zephir was an ob­sti­nate ass that en­joyed an idyl­lic life on the ru­ral es­tate of the Le Masne de Cher­mont fam­ily just out­side Nantes in Brit­tany, France.

His dreamy ex­is­tence, how­ever, came at a price. Each week­end young Raphael, the el­dest of the four Le Masne de Cher­mont brothers, would re­turn from board­ing school in­tent on teach­ing Zephir to play polo, the thrilling sport played by his father. With a scaled-down mal­let and ball, and the any­thing-is-pos­si­ble at­ti­tude of a 12-yearold boy, Raphael would force the beast to trot up and down the grounds of the fam­ily’s cas­tle as he wal­loped win­ners into makeshift goals.

Per­haps luck­ily, the polo ponies of Raphael’s en­gi­neer father, the vice-mayor of Nantes and pro­pri­etor of a con­struc­tion busi­ness, were off lim­its to the tem­pes­tu­ous tween. “I learnt a lot from Zephir be­cause don­keys are im­pos­si­ble to ride,” says the charis­matic Bre­ton as we sip fruit punch on the ter­race at Dud­dell’s. Af­ter more than 22 years in Hong Kong, the af­fa­ble ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Shang­hai Tang has main­tained a re­mark­ably strong French ac­cent. “They’re so stub­born; you can’t move them un­less they want to be moved, and when they’ve had enough, they kick you off. When I fi­nally made it on to a horse, it was as if I was glid­ing.”

Af­ter a few years tor­ment­ing Zephir, Raphael grad­u­ated to horses. Flex­i­bil­ity and great bal­ance made him a nat­u­ral at showjump­ing and polo, and he com­peted in the sports with lo­cal teams. By the time he fin­ished school, he was de­ter­mined to be a pro­fes­sional. He dreamed of go­ing to Ar­gentina, the mod­ern-day heart­land of polo, and ded­i­cat­ing his life to this game of speed and agility. Noth­ing, it seemed, would shake his re­solve—not even a mal­let in the face, an ac­ci­dent that shat­tered his right cheek­bone when he was 16. “My eye was ba­si­cally fall­ing out of its socket on the field. All I wanted to do was fin­ish the match, but they forced me to stop and I spent three months in hos­pi­tal un­der­go­ing re­con­struc­tions. But there was no coma or any­thing,” he adds mat­ter-of-factly. The lig­a­ments in his right leg were also badly dam­aged. Un­sur­pris­ingly, his mother and his wife of 23 years are squea­mish spectators when he plays.

Polo is a vi­o­lent sport. Raphael whips out his mo­bile and plays a Youtube clip of the most nail-bit­ing falls and col­li­sions—of play­ers rid­ing each other off and horses crash­ing to the ground. I can’t help but won­der what brand of thrill trumps the fear of shattering one’s spine, so I ask why he al­ways gets back on the horse. “Okay,” he pauses. “Think about the best sex you’ve ever had.” He lets that per­co­late. “That’s the feel­ing you get ev­ery time you hit that ball.”

It’s no won­der, then, that he wanted to play pro­fes­sion­ally, but his father was adamant that he should at­tend busi­ness school first, which he did, gain­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions in fi­nance and man­age­ment. “It was a good de­ci­sion be­cause now I can do both.”

Both he does: as the chair­man of China’s first lux­ury brand by day and as a jet-set­ting polo player by week­end. Raphael is one of the orig­i­nal play­ers on the Hong Kong Polo Team, which came into be­ing just over a year ago. He and a hand­ful of die-hard play­ers, in­clud­ing Har­ilela Group chief Aron Har­ilela and banker Pa­trick Fur­long, have teamed up with David Sav­age, founder and pres­i­dent of Asia World Polo, to play in tour­na­ments around Asia, and, ul­ti­mately, to re­turn polo to Hong Kong. They are cur­rently lob­by­ing the govern­ment to pro­vide land to build a home for an of­fi­cial polo club in the city. “Hong Kong is prob­a­bly the only city in the world not to have a polo club,” says Raphael, list­ing Lon­don, Paris, Sin­ga­pore and even Bangkok as hubs for the sport.

game face Jacket, shirt and pocket square by Shang­hai Tang

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