BlackBook Interview: Yigal Azrouël on His Architecturally Inspired Fall 2019 Collection

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Images by Robyn Dutra

 

We couldn’t have dreamed up a more inspired creative union than that between womenswear designer Yigal Azrouël and the late starchitect Zaha Hadid. And indeed, during this most recent New York Fashion Week, the former previewed his latest collection for Fall Winter 19 in Hadid’s striking new West Chelsea residential building. Located in Manhattan’s once-gritty-gone-glam neighborhood, abutting the Highline, its organic forms and graceful curves provided the perfect backdrop for Azrouël’s architecturally inspired collection.

The Israeli-American designer chose to showcase his work in a gallery setting, a stripped down presentation with no runway and no live models. Uniform racks of gorgeously modern clothes were accompanied by still photography (“…taken behind the scenes in my studio,” Azrouël reveals, when we catch up with him for a recent interview) and video projections that were shot during castings and fittings.

“I always like to take pictures, why not show the process, as part of the inspiration?,” he says of the films, adding that they are about “watching her movement, going from one frame to another, creating a vision. Not about showing a lot, but purely about the minimalism in the collection.”

This refreshingly laid back approach lent an air of timelessness to both the surroundings and the clothes at his NYFW show.

And to be sure, citing “the process” as his guide, Azrouël’s own organic tendencies – like Hadid’s – have guided his design work over a remarkable twenty-year career. “I’m not sure what I like, what I don’t like,” he confesses.

Judging from the receptivity of the crowd that gathered on a very cold, windswept evening, they too were letting the emotion of the clothes, paired with the intimate presentation, envelop them in a fantastical fashionable embrace.

We ran our fingers across creamy, chunky knits and geometric wool plaid (our personal favorite), deconstructed black leather and electric blue oversized corduroy. Unique palettes and the mixing of masculine and feminine design elements (much of it handmade) were all trademark Azrouël.

Unexpected combinations – think: tops and bottoms meant to be worn together or separate – all highlighted his talent for precision tailoring, sophisticated use of luxurious fabrics and excellent draping, making for a compelling presentation. One particularly exquisite jacket was constructed of leather with a sweater backing, allowing the shape of the bonded knit to show through, and creating a subtle reptilian effect. Overall the collection is entirely wearable, while enduringly elegant. Yigal Azrouël has again achieved such a fine balance that is sure to make well shod women swoon.

“By releasing control, trusting the energy,” he insists, “it feels much more real to me, more emotional.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Dune Bashing, Persian Carpets and a Spectacular Outpost of The Louvre: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part II

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(Continuing on from Part I of our Abu Dhabi story…)

 

Peckish from sightseeing, we headed back to The Grand Hyatt where we lunched at Verso, a stylish Italian trattoria, that serves outstanding pizzas, pastas like pappardelle ai gamberi, and squid ink risotto – and as New Yorkers, we’re not easily impressed with Italian food. The property will actually boast a total of six international dining options (just two were open when we were there), so you’ll never go hungry. Sahha, an “adventurous market,” is the spot for made-to-order and buffet breakfast and dinner options – don’t miss the big-as-your-head pastel-colored meringues at the dessert station. Pearl Lounge in the lobby provided a sophisticated little stop off when we were feeling parched, as our minibar seemed to be a work in progress (um, empty).

And for those feeling a little more motivated than were we, there was a Dynamic TechnoGym fitness center open 24-hours, with a steam room and sauna to sweat out the night-before’s partying on the hip and happening Yas Island. (N.B., you can drink openly at hotels and nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, but public drunkenness is of course very much frowned upon.)

Never hearing of dune bashing before we visited Abu Dhabi, the daytime sport courtesy of Land Cruisers and their agile drivers, provided some raucous fun. We were told to buckle up, because off-roading amongst the sand dunes gets hair-raisingly bumpy. If you book a tour with Abu Dhabi Desert Safari you’ll also get up close and personal with a herd of very cuddly camels, available for short rides and lots of petting. As part of our excursion, we got to partake in sand skiing, a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, belly dancing and Tanoura (traditional folkloric dance) performances, henna painting, and even the chance to hold a falcon for the ultimate photo op.

For anyone who might be wondering where Whistler’s Mother is currently on view, it was right there at the spectacular, Saadayit Island located Louvre Abu Dhabi. The name is on loan from its Paris counterpart, which was incidentally paid $525 million to license the name for 30 years. Here, the Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel has again outdone himself – the sprawling design is actually comprised of 55 detached buildings.

With a giant overhead canopy ‘woven’ out of 7850 metal ‘stars,’ the structure ingeniously anchors sand and sea. Waterfront views from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s many terraces are breathtaking, while visiting day or night promises dazzling light shows under the dome. And the art? We especially loved the cosmography room and the well-curated collection of artifacts from early civilizations. Currently showing is Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, through the end of February.

Of course, when they go big in the U.A.E., they always go really big. And the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was no exception. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdekly, the glistening white-marble stunner is one of the world’s largest. A massive undertaking at over 20 years to build (2007 saw the completion), a collective of highly skilled artisans using only the finest materials were enlisted from around the globe, coming from India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia…the list goes on.

It should be noted that visitors are required to respect the dress code, traditional Abaya dress for women, or Kandura for men. For us ladies, this meant loose pants (so please do leave your athleisure at the hotel), loose tops covering arms and chest, and head scarf with no hair showing. Our Isabel Marant tunic was deemed too sheer by staff, so we were loaned a hooded, pinkish-colored Abaya, which are available before entering the mosque. And after all, who doesn’t look good in mauve?

Resplendent with the world’s largest Persian carpet (woven by women, we were told by our lively guide, with 2,268,000,000 knots) and the third largest, brilliantly colored crystal-encrusted chandelier in existence, the humbling, grandiose main hall can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. Its benefactor, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted to establish a structure uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, and its historical and modern values of architecture and art. His Highness’ final resting place is actually located on the grounds beside the mosque.

Before we departed from Abu Dhabi, we were determined to visit one of its beaches (and not one of the many man-made ones). Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the shores of Saadiyat, boasted an invitingly pristine, natural beachfront, where gentle waves beckoned us in. A quick dip provided perfect refreshment before winding down and washing up before dinner. The sleek, minimalist rooms here offer our favorite Le Labo products, which will soon become standard across all of the Hyatt properties, we were told.

Reserving a table under the stars at the award-winning Park Bar & Grill, we were thankful for the simplicity of a menu of charcoal-grilled seafood and fine steaks. Dining al fresco on a clear, we took in one last magnificent view, before normal life would take us back to Gotham.

(N.B. ideal travel times to the UAE are December through March, before it gets too hot and humid.)

The S/S 19 Virgil Abloh Campaign for Louis Vuitton Instills Youth With a Visionary Idea of Beauty

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Leave it to Virgil Abloh to reimagine the very possibilities of fashion advertising. In his first multi-media campaign as Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, the Off-White designer created three chapters that investigate “ideas of individual perception and evolvement through lenses of inclusivity.” A heady mission indeed.

The campaign launched this month with “Infancy, Childhood and Adolescence.” Shot by exalted Dutch fashion photogs Inez & Vinoodh, key pieces from Spring-Summer 2019 are worn by boys of various ages and ethnicities. We love the weirdly wonderful, colorful tableaux, bathed in poppy and rainbow motifs central to The Wizard of Oz allegories.

The still and moving imagery invites viewers to experience infancy, pre-teen-hood and teenage life set against abstract and dreamlike landscapes. Challenging our perceptions of the expected is something Abloh is certainly known for, while revealing essential human truths. It’s all pretty trippy, in in the best possible way.

Phase two of the campaign (images have not yet been released for two and three), “The Painter’s Studio”, releasing February 1, was shot by Mohamed Bourouissa, using photography to cleverly recast the 1855 oil-on-canvas work by French realist Gustave Courbet. Notably painted the year after Louis Vuitton established his House, the original depicts Courbet working on a painting, flanked to his left by people from all levels of French society, and to his right by members of high society. The campaign imagery’s contemporary spin shows Abloh fitting a look from Spring-Summer 2019 surrounded by members of his team, social circle, and models, each clad in the collection.

Where Courbet’s painting interpreted the different stratas of French society for the eyes of the cultural elite, Virgil Abloh portrays an all-encompassing exchange that defines his vision for Louis Vuitton: diversity, inclusivity, and unity.

The third and final phase of Abloh’s imaginative campaign, “School Teens,” releases March 22nd. Shot by Raimond Wouda, it depicts the formative communication between teenagers in group situations, nodding to the evolution of boys into men. Students dressed in block-color t-shirts evoke the Spring-Summer 2019 Louis Vuitton show, for which Abloh invited 1500 teens wearing similar garments to form the color spectrum of a rainbow.

A modern take on the schuttersstukken of the Dutch Baroque, the images were photographed around schools in Los Angeles, capturing the nuanced interactions between teenagers. There’s the desire to belong, contrasted by the need for individuality. In this third phase, Abloh’s own brand of constant evolution is front and center. The images work to highlight the tensions between uniformity and diversity, identity and wardrobe, that all at that age experience in the schoolyard, and within the larger culture.

To say Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton campaign is intelligent isn’t doing it justice. Rather, it evokes the most visceral essence of growing up, offering an enlightening look back into what it meant, and still means, to be young in this contemporary world.

 

Plush Palaces, Maseratis & Women’s Handicrafts: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part I

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Images by Robyn Dutra

 

Few places have held so fast in our cultural imagination as Abu Dhabi. So when New York winter temps quickly plunged, we booked the first plush Etihad flight to the sunny, exotic – and just 47 years young – capital of the United Arab Emirates, to at last satisfy our curiosity.

Sitting pretty off the mainland on an island in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, Abu Dhabi has decisively eclipsed neighboring Dubai as the current hottest travel destination in the Middle East. And our visit neatly coincided with the year-long celebration of the father of the U.A.E., Sheikh Zayed, which gave the whole place a palpably festive vibe.

Checking into the Andaz Capital Gate (notably the brand’s first hotel in the region) made for the perfect grand entrance. The design-focused Hyatt property is actually a Guinness World Records certified structure, and inclines an unparalleled 18 degrees – a dizzying sight! Equipped with expansive Gulf views, our very modern suite (one of 22, along with another 189 guest rooms) was so chic and spacious, we had to work to convince ourselves to get up and get out.

Andaz’ notably gracious staff steered us post-haste to the complimentary Arabian coffee (which is more like tea to us Westerners) and fresh dates at reception to stave off the usual jet lag; and it was just those kinds of little touches that make the hotel so singularly special. To wit, we lingered in the lobby at an art exhibition dedicated to the aforementioned Sheikh Zayed, the founder of Abu Dhabi and a widely revered humanitarian; his legacy was interpreted in all manner of painting styles, adding an homage-like feel to the cool ground floor design.

Also, we couldn’t say enough about the sumptuous breakfast buffet, where scrumptious Middle Eastern (like, the best labna ever) made nice with more Western fare, fueling us up for a day of sightseeing. (And later, a treatment at the property’s heavenly Rayana Spa, as well as a spot of lounging by the gorgeous infinity pool.)

Speaking of filling up, we noticed every other car on the road in Abu Dhabi seemed to be a Range Rover or Maserati. So it’s certainly no secret how this cosmopolitan city-state enjoys such unbroken prosperity – no surprise, it’s those steady oil exports, especially those of an Occidental nature.

We rolled up to the ultra lavish Emirates Palace in the West Corniche district for a midday coffee fix. The landmark five-star property overlooks its own private natural bay – but is also well known for its 24k gold-flecked cappuccinos, served up regularly to its power-broker-and-royal clientele. With a sweet, metallic mustache on our lips, we then got a chance to peep a few of the 92 opulent suites. Rivaling any seven-figure New York City penthouse, bottles of gold-flecked water flowed freely and, of course, the views stretched far and wide before us.

Since Emirati Dirham, the local currency, is preferred for tipping, we then made use of the gilded ATM machines in the hotel’s very posh lobby. Though late lunch at the exceptional Mezlai Emirati restaurant was suggested, we politely demurred on the menu’s offering fresh camel meat and milk.

Being restless traveler types, we switched mid-visit over to the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Residences Emirates Pearl (yes, that’s a really long name). With 428 rooms, and 36 luxury suites (naturally, including the Presidential and the Royal), this very grand property was only a short walk to the sprawling, breath-stopping Presidential Palace, and the Founder’s Memorial celebrating the life and legacy of Zayed.

We do highly recommend familiarizing yourself with a little Abu Dhabi history (hey, the city-state might be younger than you) at the visitor’s center before strolling through the Heritage and Sanctuary Gardens. Leading to the site’s epic centerpiece, we were mesmerized by “The Constellation” by artist Ralph Helmick, housed in a massive cubic pavilion. When illuminated at night, a collection of 1,327 geometric shapes suspended on 1,100 cables becomes a three-dimensional silhouette of Zayed’s reassuring countenance.

Back at the Grand Hyatt, we were absolutely smitten with our water-facing room, sending us into an Instagram frenzy before it was time to head to the Women’s Handicraft Centre. A creative initiative run by the Abu Dhabi Women’s Association, traditional crafting here is largely dominated by women, who have passed on their skills from generation to generation. It was a far better choice for picking up authentic souvenirs than the slightly gaudy Heritage Mall (a fake souq-type set up), where most tourists frequent.

As part of the General Women’s Union dedicated to promoting the status and position of women in the U.A.E., it was fascinating to observe the creators together in small groups, practicing the arts of textile and palm tree frond weaving, embroidery, sewing and tailoring, basketry and sado (weaving cotton and wool into elaborately designed patterns used to make Bedouin tents, much like we suppered in during our desert excursion).

Marveling at the elaborate embroidery adorning the sleeves and collars of women’s robes, ‘teli’ is woven from gold, silver and colorful string, on a wooden block. It’s an impressive sight, the robes only worn on special occasions and ceremonies. To remember, as Abu Dhabi is an Islamic state, you should ask permission from the ladies before you start shooting away on your iPhone. And of course, leave your shoes at the door the Centre’s bungalows.

Read on to Part II

The Missoni Man Winter 2019 Collection Draws Inspiration From Sculptural Forms

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This season Missoni transformed it’s pristine white Milan showroom into, well, a pristine white gallery for its latest men’s collection. On display, a sublime counterbalance between the brand’s savvy reconstructs of tailored classics including its signature, luxuriously colored knitwear, and the organic sculptures of the U.S.-based Swedish-Chilean artist Anton Alvarez.

Angela Missoni, always a fashion maverick, continues to explore and draw her inspiration from the contemporary art world. So the pairing of the label’s colorful heritage with the influence of Alvarez – whose creativity reflects a process that oscillates between tradition and innovation – results in a an entirely new vision for the men’s collection. Indeed, the sculptor’s extruder-produced pieces turned out to be the perfect complement. However the eclectic use of color and material across all the looks – a demonstrated playfulness between designer and artist – are all unmistakably Missoni.

 

Ensembles created for the modern jet set, the Missoni finesse with a dash of effortless cool is ever present this season. Structured silhouettes are narrow and elongated, the refined color palette of soft gradients enchants, and the house’s foray into evening wear delights with its take on the ho-hum tuxedo (think lamé and loom-knit fabrics, very 70s soigné). The smartly tailored blazers and high-waisted tapered trousers almost serve as the sensible foundation for the Alvarez-influenced cable knits: sweaters flecked with mohair to create abstract motifs and handmade roll-necks with whirling relief patterns that have been embroidered by hand. Each unique piece, a dynamic interplay of pattern and texture, reinterprets the sinuous whirls and undulations of his sculptural forms.

Reverberating with artsy charm, chic informality and cultural cues, Missoni has done it again. Luxuriously soft knitwear in cashmere, fleecy wool to envelop the body, chunky bombers with velvet collars, reversible dégradé cardigans and crewnecks and shawl collar and roll-neck sweaters. Missoni Man has ensured that there are reimagined staples here for every gent looking to stand out, yet stand out in a slightly more subtle fashion.

Exclusive Images: Louis Vuitton Menswear Debuts Virgil Abloh’s S/S 2019 Collection at Chrome Hearts

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Images by Robyn Dutra

 

Virgil Abloh is everything. And more. For the highly anticipated debut of his Spring/Summer 2019 menswear collection for Louis Vuitton, the designer has transformed the neo-gothic Chrome Hearts shop in the West Village into a high-fashion-meets-streetwise altar of beyond cool. Indeed, entering the cavernous second-floor showroom where leather, leopard and iron crosses usually rule, one is immediately struck by how Abloh has re-concepted the space to reflect his own singular aesthetic.

It’s fresh, it’s fun, and it is very, very fabulous.

He’s arguably ushered in a new vernacular for men’s fashion, in eye-popping colors and jaw-dropping cuts. Sneakerheads can also rejoice, he’s even issued his own sleek, monochrome high-tops. Judging by the enthusiastic crowd of well and wildly shod individuals, Abloh has ensured his place beside the likes of Kim Jones and Marc Jacobs (and in our opinion, even superseded those designers’ respective work for Vuitton).

 

We were only too happy to worship Abloh’s bright selection of LV-embossed duffle bags and belts, psychedelia-inspired knits and scarves, and even a silver foil cape that wouldn’t be out of place on P-Funk’s George Clinton. Our faves? The ghostly white and deepest black versions of traditional luggage pieces, now with neon-hued plastic chain accents, only serving to reaffirm the 38-year old American designer’s trendsetting genius, which he has until now cultivated via his hugely successful Off-White label. In this debut, he’s proven you can reinvent the classics.

Audacity is part of Vuitton’s story, the brand now known for merging the up-and-coming with the tried and true. And Abloh doesn’t disappoint. His monogram mashups in this first men’s collection blend heritage and craftsmanship with a certain cultural currency to buzzworthy effect. Given the reception at the opening and giant LV shopping bags on almost every guest’s arm, you may want to get there sooner than later – before it’s all gone, and you have to wait for his drop at retail. (Quelle horreur!) Alas, this short-term residency only runs from January 10 through the 17th.

Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2019
New York Temporary Residency
42 Bethune Street
New York, NY 10014
Tel. +1 917 281 1755

 

 

 

Paris’ Glamorous Les Bains Hotel + Nightclub is Popping Up at Papaya Playa Project in Tulum

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Les Bains Club

 

In the span of only a decade or so, Tulum, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, has become the fashionable sun-and-sand destination par-excellence, currently drawing the cognoscenti in seemingly unstoppable waves.

So it’s particularly intriguing that Paris’ newly revived celeb-magnet Les Bains (where over the years everyone from Jack Nicholson to Johnny Depp, Kate Moss to Davie Bowie have partied) would be setting up temporary home there, teaming up with the experimental Papaya Playa Project (both are members of the Design Hotels group) for a groovy wintertime pop-up. Indeed, the French hotel’s founder Jean-Pierre Marois, and PPP co-creator/owner Emiliano Heredia have collaborated to conceive a pair of particularly sybaritic temporary venues.

The first, Les Bains Rivage, will be a daytime epicurean refuge, with stylish loungers, a signature Mediterranean menu and oyster bar – plus DJs spinning from morning until evening…tapping decisively into that “daytime decadence” zeitgeist we love so much.

 

Les Bains

 

But when the sun disappears from view, Les Bains Cabaret will bring the salacious suggestiveness of Parisian cabaret to the Caribbean. Curated by Scott Bagley, the renowned Master of Ceremonies at Casino de Paris and Crazy Horse (where Dita Von Teese did a celebrated two week run in 2016), it’s slotted into a site-specific palapa designed by Denis Montel of RDAI – who also put his magic touch on the revamp of Les Bains itself.

So, if you find yourself aching for post-holidays escape from the winter chill, but tend to be wracked with overwhelming FOMO after just two days of lounging on the beach, this is where you need to be. Please note, however, that its short run is from December 29 to March 3 – so book now, to avoid disappointment.

 

Above images: Les Bains, Papaya Playa Project 

 

Catalonia Chic: BlackBook Weekends at Barcelona’s Glamorous Hotel Arts

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There are the obvious reasons why Barcelona is the 6th most visited city in Europa. It’s temperate climate, of-the-moment cultural institutions, renowned architecture, and exceptional Catalan cuisine add to its general play-over-work spirit to make it a sybaritic dream for epicurean travelers. But what keeps us returning again and again is that Barcelona never rests on its marquee attractions, yet rather has a spirited taste for the new and challenging.

We were recently beckoned to the sea-facing Hotel Arts, a Ritz Carlton property, to take in its “hotel within a hotel experience” called The Club. Encompassing a selection of rooms and suites located on the highest floors, we were able to bypass the ground floor lobby and head straight up to a private reception and check-in. (N.B. If you’re in possession of the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, and have reached Platinum Elite Status, The Club is at your service in every way. And by the way, the card earns 6x the points for each dollar of eligible purchases for staying at the Hotel Arts, one of the 6,700 participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels).

The lounge area serves – no kidding – five gourmet buffets (and bottomless champers) throughout the day. So when we were feeling peckish, but didn’t need a full meal, it was the perfect stop in between sightseeing, spa visits and dips in the infinity pool – which sits right alongside Frank Gehry’s surreal giant fish sculpture (pictured above).

 

 

Needless to say, Enoteca Paco Pérez, the hotel’s signature restaurant from exalted, eponymous chef (a two-time Michelin Star recipient) is not to be missed. With an emphasis on locally-sourced produce and the freshest seafood, the tasting menu began with a medley of prawns, razor clams and octopus. And we could hardly resist the langoustines in a creamy rice (think: Spanish risotto), while the Mediterranean tuna and squab in thousand-day mole sauce with dumplings entrees quickly vied for our attention.

A unique plate of truffled brie crunch was something utterly new to our taste buds – and oh so magically delicious. And it perfectly represented what we like most about dining in Barcelona: gastronomical twists on traditional dishes. Enoteca’s extensive cellar of over 700 “Protected Designation of Origin” Spanish wines made it a thoroughly holistic experience.

We were then given a sneak peek at the penthouses located on Hotel Arts’ very top floors, light-drenched and obviously boasting the most breathtaking of views. For those with an entourage, they feature up to three very tastefully appointed bedrooms (and zero paparazzi access). The suites’ extraordinary services include your own personalized concierge, and even the use of a Mini Cooper Cabrio. What could be cooler than that?

 

 

But we did manage to tear ourselves away from the hotel. And while seeing a Antoni Gaudí creation for the first time makes a breathless impression, returning again (like us) to the architect’s most hallowed works, never tires. This time we carved out an afternoon at Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s major accomplishments, alongside what is considered his masterpiece, the still-under-construction but nonetheless spectacular Sagrada Familia cathedral. The surreal park’s abundant gardens, signature tile-work and whimsical flourishes seemed to fuse effortlessly with an intentional functionality.

It can’t be forgotten that Park Guell (named after its promoter, Count Guell) was originally designed as a residential development which never got off the ground. Gaudi himself moved his family into one of the two model homes on the property – which he actually did not design – and lived there from 1906 to 1926, when it was officially opened as a public park. In 1984, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Hire a guide, so you won’t miss any of the park’s unique design details and the stories that go with them.

 

 

We later meandered through the hip Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), for a little historical immersion. But tired from a day of walking, we booked restorative treatments at the hotel’s exquisite 43 The Spa. (BTW, they use only our favorite Natura Bisse, Barcelona skincare products.) We can genuinely highly recommend the Sublime Diamond Journey Treatment; it’s a body scrub with, you guessed it, actual diamond dust (oh, the luxury). We loved how our skin really looked brighter and firmer afterwards.

The spa is located atop the hotel, with two separate bathing areas for men and women. We were delighted to discover the hydrotherapy pool, dry sauna, steam bath, shower, relaxation area, and another dazzling outdoor terrace.

Of course, Catalonians know how to live. And the city’s restaurant scene is at once vast yet invitingly intimate. Full of hole-in-the-wall tapas joints and sidewalk cafes, we opted for something a bit more grandiose in Marea Alta. Occupying the top floor of the Torre Colom, it’s designed to resemble the interior of a ship, in bright whites and blues. The maritime-heavy menu proved a seafood-lovers paradise. (Squid and oloroso tartare, Luis Mari’s wild turbot…).

 

 

On our last evening we were called to experience something new to Barcelona’s already booming nightlife scene – and W Hotel’s Wake Up Call music festival series was gearing up just as we arrived. Before diving in though, we fueled up with tapas on the outside deck at BRAVO24, indulging enough delectable, locally-produced jamon to carry us on into the night. (N.B. the W is another fabulous beachfront SPG + Marriott property).

The Wake Up Call evening’s lineup brought together some of the world’s best DJ talent, drawing an eclectic, dressed-to-impress party crowd. Martin Solveig got things going, with electrifying sets also by the likes of Cassius, Pete Tong, Edue Natored, Kunta K and Melvo Baptiste, revving up all three of the hotel’s buzzy nightlife venues.

Ebulliently drained from dancing all night, we retired back to Hotel Arts for an inspired nightcap by the talented mixologists at the elegant P41 Bar & Coctelarium…marveling at how we could never possibly tire of this glorious city.

 

Cynthia Von Buhler’s ‘The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini’ Explores the Legendary Magician’s Darkest Secrets

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We’re big fans of Cynthia von Buhler and her Speakeasy Dollhouse productions; and so naturally jumped at the chance to catch her latest immersive show, “The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini.”  Based on the noir comic book series and graphic novel exploring the death of the famed illusionist, the performance unfolded at the historic Theater 80 and adjoining speakeasy and townhouse on St. Mark’s Place in NYC’s East Village. Buhler has geniusly transformed the space into a Prohibition-era time capsule, with whimsical touches like an actual live rabbit that audience members got to pet at the start of the show.

“The ’20s were a time when freedom roared, especially for women,” she says, “They chose to keep their war-time jobs, drank booze, bobbed their hair, threw away their corsets, and finally won the right to vote. The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini revels in this era of loosening gender roles and free-flowing, yet illegal liquor – and Minky Woodcock transports audiences into a time capsule where they can live fully in her world.”

 

Handed our passports and assigned to a lead character (the luck would have it, we got Houdini himself), we explored the events leading up to the world-renowned magician’s mysterious death on Halloween. The charming lothario Houdini is convincingly played by Vincent Cinque (the star of The Illuminati Ball and Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic – the latter of which we also loved in its staging off Times Square a few years back). Woodcock is the sexiest private eye we’ve ever seen, as she unravels Houdini’s untimely death.

Secrets are uncovered, as there are nine and counting ways to experience the show itself – which we love about all of Buhler’s productions. The clever Minky is played by Pearls Daily (burlesque star and actress who recently appeared on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) as she sleuths through the final days of great illusionist. Woodcock’s investigation has her crossing paths with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – who believes Houdini is not merely a magician but has supernatural powers – and with Bess Houdini, who (rightfully) suspects her husband is cheating on her.

 

 

Experiencing the event through Houdini’s point of view, we delightfully found ourselves assisting the magician’s rehearsal backstage, sipping absinthe in a speakeasy, and spying on his affair in a hotel room. In a macabre twist, we witnessed an attempted murder, attended a séance, visited Houdini in his hospital room, and even viewed his body in the morgue; there is even a spine tingling recreation of Houdini’s famous water torture chamber. (It should also be noted that the William Barnacle Tavern at Theater 80 was formerly Scheib’s Place, a speakeasy where the New York City Council drank during Prohibition.)

With incredible magic tricks and authentic recreations of spiritualist demonstrations such as tarot readings and spirit photography, Buhler’s production offers up a meticulously detailed slice of history. Audience members are encouraged to come back to follow other key players and see alternate facets of what actually led to Houdini’s fateful death.

Evidence is revealed…but the truth is left up to the theatergoer to decide.