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Inside Robb Report’s April 2024 Design Issue

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This issue began with a conversation about a pink tablecloth. But not just any pink tablecloth. You see, over a century ago, César Ritz, one of the grandfathers of modern hospitality, arrived at the genius notion to change the tablecloths at his hotel from stark white to a softer, rosier hue, the better to flatter the complexions of the well-heeled young ladies—and their mothers—who gathered for afternoon tea to see and be seen by high society. 

It was part of a customer-service revolution that included 24-hour room service and the ability to reserve a table for dinner, elevating the experience of being part of the already glamorous life of his hotel to new heights. It made his customers feel good, even if they didn’t quite know why. In short, it was a luxury. 

It was also the first item we considered for this issue’s landmark feature: “The History of Luxury in 50 Items.” In time, the pink tablecloth was joined by an eel, a turtleneck sweater, tulips, a set of bicycle handlebars, the elevator, amphorae, portholes, a hairy goat, bricks, the light switch, and 39 other rather unlikely items from the past several thousand years. Like the curation of a museum exhibition, the story has been long in the making, with numerous conversations and debates and, occasionally, the odd cross word exchanged in the pursuit of the most fascinating, curious, and often bizarre stories from around the world. I promise you’ll be surprised by what you read. 

It certainly got me thinking about not just the nature of products and services through the ages but also the role that intelligent design and unexpected thinking have in reframing what we consider valuable. 

While that story is by definition retrospective, much else here is decidedly future-facing, as we celebrate those whose gift is in rethinking solutions to old problems or in pushing aesthetic and practical boundaries beyond the accepted limits. In “Rising Up,” we profile a half dozen new designers who deserve greater recognition, from the rock star turned “clothes maker,” as he describes himself, to an architectural partnership known for a floating sauna. While those in this portfolio work in divergent disciplines, the connective thread is an instinctive willingness to do things differently. And in “Yachting’s Sea Change,” we explore how fashion creatives, architects, and big brains from other industries have begun muscling in on yacht design. What do they bring to the table, where are their blind spots, and how has their arrival altered how clients—and the industry—view what’s possible when living on the water? 

No design issue would be complete without a focus on where and how we live, so our home tour this month features an Italian architect who invites you into a former 14th-century convent in Bologna that she has transformed into a stunning contemporary residence for her family. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of old and new that has created multiple opportunities to enhance the character of the building, with its soaring ceilings, statement art, and subtle flourishes—including a metallic spiral staircase. 

We don’t neglect the outside space, either, as we see how a tech-forward California landscape studio is using drones and A.I. to reconfigure its practice. It’s an insight into how design protocols will inevitably advance in ways we might not anticipate. But there’s still a need for getting hands dirty, as the founders set great store in sustainability and the necessity of sourcing hyperlocal native plants as an almost political statement: the power of celebrating and enhancing what’s there rather than looking to a more European template of exterior design. 

Elsewhere, we meet Todd Snyder, a former J. Crew and Ralph Lauren designer who is taking his eponymous menswear label in new directions; witness the spectacular details of Bovet’s latest horological masterpiece; and ask whether blended-wing-body aircraft might be the aviation industry’s surprising solution to carbon neutrality. 

Enjoy the issue. 



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