Trendy Tipple

His name may be familiar in the fashion world but this luxury goods mogul wants his name to be known for another passion

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Even though he lives in the concrete jungle of New York, Massimo Ferragamo – youngest son of Salvatore and Wanda, the power couple who built the legendary Ferragamo fashion house – keeps himself abreast of grapes growing continent away in Italy.

That’s because he wears two hats. The better known one is chairman of Ferragamo USA, the regional branch of his family’s luxury goods empire. The other is owner of the Tuscan estate Castiglion del Bosco.

Purchased in 2003, the 1,700-hectare estate is the fifth largest wine producer in the heart of Val d’Orcia – a locality known for its indigenous sangiovese grapes that gave rise to the famous red brunello di Montalcino.

Ferragamo does not farm the vines and make wine himself. He has hired a team of agronomists and winemakers to do that.

Yet, the fashion mogul is very much involved in the whole production process.

“Winemaking is a team effort, but in the end, it reflects the character and the desire of the owner in a way,” he said. “Like in every denomination, there are a variety of brunello wines. Personally, I don’t like heavy wines. I like wine that you can enjoy by itself.”

The private winery produces around 300,000 bottles per year. Around 20 to 35 percent of the production is reserved yearly for the Greater China region. China is the second largest market importing Castiglion del Bosco wines, Ferragamo said.

While everyday wine drinkers can also find Ferragamo’s wines in shops and restaurants, the top-quality ones, such as the Zodiac collection that can fetch at least US$1,000 (HK$7,800) per bottle, are brought to Hong Kong and auctioned off at charity dinners.

This month, Ferragamo was here to take charge of the second such auction held since 2013, bringing along 688 bottles of the 2010 Zodiac vintage, dedicated to the Year of the Rooster. The one-night-only event raised about HK$3.9 million for the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation.

“[Hong Kong] is a very important place for wine. It’s also the place we chose to do this special gala event. This year, we invited 310 guests. All the tables were sold out,” he said the day before the charity dinner.

“The wine is the best vintage of the last 20 years in Montalcino. It’s from the 2010 reserve, which is more sophisticated than that we brought to Hong Kong last time. It has been aged for a year longer so the wine is definitely fantastic.”

Ferragamo speaks of his wines with such enthusiasm that you wouldn’t believe he did not intend to buy the estate in the first place.

Granted, he had been searching for the perfect winery for three years. But the more than 800-year-old estate was too big, and had not been managed properly. Its stone buildings were in a sorry state. Only half of its wineries were in production.

“A friend of mine convinced me to take a look anyway. When I saw the vineyard, I saw beauty. It’s unbelievable not only from a beauty point of view, but also from a production point of view. My life changed completely that day when I saw the vineyard.”

He spent the next five years replanting the vines and building more facilities. He also turned the estate into a luxury resort by restoring the rundown buildings into a 23-suite hotel and 10 vacation villas, and adding a spa, two restaurants, a culinary academy, and the only private golf course in Italy.

“It was a big effort, much more than I intended to do. But I am so happy that I did it,” he said. “Real estate is second nature to my family. We love real estate not in the sense of owning it but, take stores as an example, that it is conducive to the business.”

The family owns the Hotel Lungarno in their hometown Florence, and Massimo’s elder brother Leonardo is its chairman. Ferruccio, the eldest of the six siblings and chairman of the Ferragamo fashion house, operates with his son Salvatore the Il Boro winery and boutique hotel in Tuscany.

Ferragamo’s family are frequent guests at his own luxury resort. Everyone is welcome for a short stay. But to claim the full bragging rights, you will need to fork out 60,000 euros (HK$491,828) upon joining, plus 5,000 euros per year as membership fees.

“Hospitality and fashion are a very similar business in a way because they are about service,” said Ferragamo, adding that the resort has all the elements of la dolce vita.

“Nothing in the countryside has changed since the 15th century. The villas are still the same because we can only restore them, not build new ones. So they are in the same shapes and materials as they were,” he said.

“We Italians have a good way to relax. We start with really good food and wine. It’s nice to stay at the table with family or friends. It’s a very nice way of being together.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on November 25, 2016.

Why Mainlanders Love IB

For mainland Chinese parents, the issue runs deeper than the wish to sending their children abroad to study one day

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Middle-class families in China are becoming the money spinners for the country’s private education providers, particularly for kindergartens and primary schools offering the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

According to the latest figures from the official body that supervises the teaching of the curriculum, 105 schools in the mainland now follow one or more of the four IB programs for students aged three to 19 years.

China now has the largest number of IB schools in Asia Pacific – 86 of them private and 19 state schools.

“The number of private IB schools has doubled since 2014,” said Wesley Han Wei, chief operating officer of International Bilingual Experts – formerly IB Experts – Education Management.

Han’s Hong Kong-based consultancy firm specializes in helping education providers develop and implement the IB curriculum in the mainland, offering services from school design to operations, and teacher recruitment and training.

He added: “They are filling a market demand as local governments have announced measures to tighten the integration of Western-influenced curriculum at state schools. The surge was most evident in rich cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai.”

In China, IB schools can be categorized into two groups: international schools that only enroll children with a foreign passport (such as Dulwich College in Shanghai and Suzhou), and private schools that also accept domestic students, regardless of their place of residence under the hukou system.

The latter group is where wealthy Chinese parents are flocking to. These parents ultimately want to pave the way for their children to go to top Western universities. But the reasons why they opt for a foreign education during their children’s early to middle childhood stage are complicated.

“Middle-class families in China are turning away from the traditional curriculum because they think it places too much emphasis on teaching materials and examinations. They want an education that fosters an international perspective, problem-solving skills, and English proficiency. IB schools, coincidentally, can provide what they want,” Han said.

“Another is compatibility. The IB curriculum fits in well with the Chinese national curriculum. It encourages students to appreciate local cultures. Many parents who favor a foreign education don’t want their kids to lose their cultural identity. They also don’t want to send their kids abroad at an early age because that would mean depriving them of the guanxi network [of connections].”

Property developers are the main driving force for the opening of private IB schools in China. A case in point is the Guangdong-based firm Country Garden. In 2014, it opened a “through- train” private school in Huizhou, offering kindergarten to pre-university education.

The school is a popular destination for Hong Kong families who live in Huizhou.

The school is awaiting approval to teach the IB’s primary years program. It currently teaches Advanced Placement and A-levels program in the senior years. At full capacity, it can enroll 3,500 local and expatriate students.

Despite the hefty tuition – fees for non-residents are 55,000 yuan (HK$61,884) to 129,000 yuan per year – the school receives a high amount of interest from parents in Guangdong, having enrolled about 700 local students in under three years, Han said.

Private education is a lucrative business in China. The return on investment is higher than that of state schools, with profits reaching up to 20 percent per year.

That piqued the interest of many investors to join the game. Public universities in China are also enticed to expand into the sector to raise their profile. For example, Zhejiang Normal University has pledged 600 million yuan to open a “through-train” private school in the province. The IB school, which will open in September, will be separately run by independent managers from outside.

“We are expecting 20 to 30 schools to be opened every year in the major cities of China,” Han said. “Beijing and Shanghai are the obvious locations, but the trend has spread to second- and third-tier coastal cities, such as Kunshan and Zhejiang.”

While more choice is good news for parents, they also need to cautiously vet these private schools in times of an investment euphoria. A reason is the current shortage of qualified IB teachers in China translates into a disparity in teaching standards.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai government and the National People’s Congress were separately seeking to curtail Western-influenced curriculum at bilingual schools, Caixin reported last week. While the education sector said the news will not affect international schools that operate exclusively for expatriate children, private schools that target domestic students may bear the brunt of the policy.

The article first appeared in the Standard on November 22, 2016.

Art and Soul

Founder of the Asia Contemporary Art Show is an art connoisseur with a common touch

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Avid collector Mark Sanderson, a long- time Hong Kong resident from Britain, is known among local art circles for founding the Asia Contemporary Art Show – one of four principal art fairs that have transformed the SAR into Asia’s arts hub.

But before he joined the swanky insider’s club whose membership includes Art Basel, Art Central and Affordable Art Fair, he had his fair share of 15 minutes of fame.

“It was 1983, a year after I arrived in Hong Kong. I was then 23,” Sanderson recalled. “I had a drink late at night with some friends, and we spotted a familiar face with white hair across the room. It was Andy Warhol.”

“I couldn’t let the moment go by without saying hi to him. So I walked up and said hi. I didn’t ask for his autograph. But that encounter, for me, was probably why I bought my first piece of artwork – a Warhol – five or six years later. That was my motivation.”

Over the decades, he has expanded his collection to 120 pieces of artwork, including prominent artist Damien Hirst, British-born, Hong Kong-based painter Simon Birch, British visual artist duo the Chapman Brothers, and Japanese artist Rei Sato.

“The best part about collecting is you can change the personality of a space with the art. I recently bought a new home in Manila, and I designed the apartment around my art,” he added. “I have more than I can hang so I rotate.”

Sanderson accidentally ventured into the gallery and art exhibition scene while he was the president of Global Sources, a Hong Kong-based business- to-business media and sourcing fair company.

In 2006, he met a fellow collector from Britain who wanted to offload his Banksy collection at a dinner party. The collector consigned 40 pieces of original and additional works to Sanderson.

Acting on a hunch, Sanderson flew the entire collection, which was worth 6 million (HK$57.75 million), into Hong Kong.

“We presented the works for a week at the Hong Kong Art Center, and then for another three weeks at Schoeni Art Gallery on Old Bailey Street. We sold 23 or 24 pieces during the entire show,” he recalled. “At the opening night, more than 1,000 guests showed up.”

His hunch was right. Banksy became a household name overnight. The morning after the opening, the talk of the town was a graffiti on a bridge outside the Art Center.

“Everyone thought Banksy was there and had painted it,” Sanderson recalled.

“As it turned out, it was a bunch of kids from the French International School who painted the bridge, and, of course, six hours later the Leisure and Cultural Services Department came along and got rid of it.”

Sanderson subsequently started the Fabrik Gallery in 2007. And after his retirement from Global Sources in 2012, he organized the first edition of the Asia Contemporary Art Show with an intention to accelerate the social awareness of art in Hong Kong.

The biannual event just wrapped up its ninth edition, bringing the works of about four dozen artists from around the world to Hong Kong. The show in September attracted 12,000 attendees – half of which had been there before.

A highlight of the fair is that all the artworks are displayed in hotel rooms to make the experience more authentic and less intimidating compared to seeing art in a gallery with four white walls.

In terms of quality, range of experience and price, the show and Art Central both target the mid-range market, but the former has a slightly different following.

The four principal art fairs in Hong Kong are well defined enough to avoid an overlap, despite them all happening in the same week, he said. “If you go around our fair, you will see works anywhere from HK$25,000 to HK$30,000, up to HK$115,000. There will be works over that range as we feature artists who have some history, and who show commitment.”

In January, Sanderson brought his fair to Singapore. He is also expanding a digital art gallery and marketplace, called Asia Contemporary Art Buyer, that caters the information desire for young art buyers.

The site allows viewers to search and view a library of more than 12,000 artworks. With close to 40,000 regular visitors, the site generates about 200 inquiries per month and a 6-percent of sales conversion rate.

“There are 120 or so galleries in Hong Kong. Each puts on about eight to nine shows a year. So there are about 1,000 exhibitions per year in Hong Kong,” he said.

“The problem with that is there is much more output than how much the galleries are capable of showing. One of the most difficult things for any Hong Kong artist is to get representation.

“With the internet, whether I put 20 or 80 works online, the only cost involved is effort. So for the artists, it means instead of their works being buried in a storeroom, it can be exposed. Consumption only happens because people are exposed to the availability and opportunity to experience.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on November 11, 2016.