Style | The Aesthete

Yann Debelle de Montby talks personal style

Yann Debelle de Montby runs a consultancy from Shanghai and Hong Kong, specialising in luxury brand identity.

March 30 2010
Maria Shollenbarger

My personal style signifier is a tiny wooden mask from Benin, West Africa, circa 1920, which I bought five years ago from an antiquarian in Paris’s Saint Germain. I have it sewn onto a winter suit for winter and a summer suit for summer. It’s quintessential me. Objects have a soul, and I like to carry a bit of soul with me.

The last meal that truly impressed me was a dinner at Tom’s Kitchen – I love the easygoing-ness of the communal table. I had dinner with Tom and [his twin brother] Rob, and we ate organic steaks. 27 Cale Street, London SW3 (020-7349 0202; www.tomskitchen.com).

The people I rely on for grooming and style include David Saxby, owner of Old Hat in London – truly a man with a sense of style. His store is a source of inspiration to me. I never know what I’ll find, but it’s always a wonderful surprise. Also Donna at Dragonfly in Shanghai, who does my manicures and pedicures. Dragonfly, 20 Donghu Road, Shanghai (+8621-5405 0008; www.dragonfly.net.cn) and branches. Old Hat, 66 Fulham High Street, London SW6 (020-7610 6558; www.davidsaxby.co.uk).

The best gift I’ve given recently was a dove-grey Hermès Victoria bag, to my wife. It is, as they say, to die for. It was the first time, and perhaps will be the last time, I bought a brand-new Hermès bag. I almost fainted when I had to pay for it. From £2,130, Hermès, 155 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7499 8856; www.hermes.com).

And the best one I’ve received was my beloved Alvis, which I got from my sister and had been in the family for over 35 years. The dashboard is very beautiful – veneer wood – with the glove box actually in front of the driver and the navigating instruments off-centre.

The last music I purchased was Terry Callier and Paco de Lucia – one CD by each. They’re both very Spanish, classical and warm. Living here in China, I feel the need to infuse my life with a little rhythm. I never much liked guitar, but I find I want the things from my own culture more acutely.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Angkor Wat. I spent three days there with my children, exploring the temples. They were extremely bored, but me, no.

The last thing I bought and loved is a traditional Chinese bike gilded in real gold, by the artist Andy Hall. When I told him it was my dream bike to ride around Shanghai on, he found the idea so funny that he let me buy it. And I do ride it – very, very carefully. Andy Hall at ShanghArt, 50 Moganshan Road, Shanghai (+8621-6359 3923; www.shanghartgallery.com).

And the thing I’m eyeing next is an Alvis TD21 Series 2 convertible from about 1960. Or a vintage Bentley Continental R from 1955 – the thing I’ll treat myself to when I really succeed, because it’s from 1955, the year of my birth.

The last item I added to my wardrobe was handmade Maxwell riding boots, which last for life. I wear them daily, mostly with my bespoke suits. I get a lot of attention from my Chinese friends, even if this personal touch doesn’t fit in with what they know about Western style. From £4,500. 83 Jermyn Street, London SW1 (020-7930 5385; www.henrymaxwellcom).

If I didn’t live in Shanghai, the city I would live in is, in my heart, probably Granada; it has the flavour of Europe. But I’m happy in Shanghai. It could easily be a nightmare, as nothing works, services are terrible and it’s so polluted – but it falls just this side of a dream because of the amazing people and the history. And because it’s not politically correct; I can’t tell you how much I love that.

My favourite websites are Hermes.com, as I love the design, which captures perfectly the aesthetic and ethos of Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès, the soul of Hermès. I place Hermès above almost every luxury brand. I also like Cabinetofcuriosity.org – my constant inspiration for the past decade – and Continental.org.uk, dedicated to Bentley’s R-Type Continental, built from 1952 to 1955. Only 208 were built. www.cabinetofcuriosity.org. www.continental.org.uk. www.hermes.com.

See also

People, Interview