We will frock you

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2012, 12:00am


The word 'luxury' is tossed around with abandon these days, and increasingly knowledge, taste and sophistication display a superior appreciation of the high life. Expertise, after all, takes time - something that high-flying locals and international jet-setters often have too little of to allow them to gradually nurture connoisseurship of life's finer things.

Luxury hotels in the city, with a series of new programmes, have set out to address this conundrum. Lifestyle 'master classes' have diversified from wine appreciation to chocolate, caviar, whisky and even fashion, style and music.

One of the most comprehensive is The Peninsula's Lifestyle Academy, billed as a set of master classes 'to finesse the finer things in life'. Launched last month, the classes cover gastronomy, fashion, golf and etiquette - and even table manners for children.

The hotel's group executive chef Florian Trento and chocolatier Marijn Coertjens run master classes in caviar and chocolate appreciation. A 90-minute guide to the history of sturgeon roe is led by Trento, who introduces subtleties in taste, colour and smell, gives advice on how to judge best quality and pair caviar with different champagnes.

The Peninsula's public relations director Olivia Toth says the programme does not just target wealthy mainlanders, but that some classes, such as international etiquette will appeal to a newly rich, time-strapped set. Luxury fairs such as the Hainan Rendezvous and Shanghai Millionaires' Fair are already offering a taste of the finer (and sometimes ostentatious) things in life.

At The Peninsula, however, they hope to keep things more low key: HK$11,888 buys a half-day private session, or HK$23,888 a one-day makeover with its two expert style advisers. The style master class provides a private, personalised educational experience, coupled with some good old retail therapy - travelling in one of the hotel's chauffeured Rolls-Royces.

'I think the best client that we could possibly get is someone with a sense of style but who doesn't quite know what it is yet,' says Sam Roseman of Style Academy. 'So all we are doing is enhancing what's there and bringing it forward and playing with the balance of their existing style.'

Roseman and Nick Troedson's tailored programme is open to non-guests too, and they hope to establish long-term relationships with their clients.

'The first thing we do is ask about their lifestyle; what they do, what they wear and how they wear it. That will give us the biggest clues as to what their needs are,' says Roseman.

They are keen to point out that the sessions are not sales driven but more about advice, and they hope to open clients' eyes to more niche brands that will suit them. The style advisers are both Shanghai Tang veterans, and say years of experience in luxury and fashion have lent them a degree of expertise in reading people.

'Body shape is very important,' says Roseman, as is their insider knowledge of the different fits of different brands and what works for each individual. The relationships that the pair have built up with high-end brands means private appointments, pre-emptive checks of stock, and general VIP treatment for the client. 'We don't just browse,' says Troedson.

This month, the Langham Place hotel in Mong Kok also launched a whisky appreciation programme with the opening of Tokoro, their new whisky bar, as part of the I Love Mongkok initiative.

Zachary Yu, the hotel's officially designated 'wine guy', is spearheading the 'private whisky and chocolate' master class, bookable for private groups, where vintage Glenrothes is paired with the hotel's house-made chocolates, as well as charcuterie and robata.

'I often see business professionals in their 30s and 40s joining our master classes,' Yu says. 'We've been seeing more male than female - male guests are eager to learn more about whiskies in a proper class, while female guests tend to hang out in our whisky bar, appreciating the drink with a group of friends.'

Yu says that attendees come from diverse backgrounds and industries. The hotel also runs a weekly one-hour class in wine appreciation with Yu at Ming Court.

'Yes, we see this trend in hotels running master classes continuing,' says Alka Datwani, communications director at Langham Place. 'We plan to host more whisky tastings and classes so that guests are in the know as to where to go for a new whisky on the market. We also plan to organise a sake-tasting class in our Japanese restaurant, Tokoro.'

The W Hotel's general manager Peter Hildebrand is another who sees the trend gaining momentum. 'Nowadays, guests usually look for a personalised service when they travel and that might explain why the master classes are getting more popular,' he says.

The W Hotel also runs tailored, private lifestyle lessons, which range from dim sum-making lessons and mixology classes to DJ coaching by some of the city's up and coming talents.

Hildebrand says that this August, the hotel's new W Insider will be joining the Hong Kong property to provide guests with insider access to the 'latest, newest and coolest' experiences the hotel and the city have to offer.

'Guests stay with us for a lifestyle experience, not just for the facilities.'