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Cruising at altitude, edgy Rio and Bowie’s London boys

GQ's Dylan Jones gets out and about.

Not having been to Beijing for six years I was staggered by how much it has changed. It used to be said that skyscrapers (what an old-fashioned term) would be erected from start to finish during a five-day trip; well, the city I saw two weeks ago has so many new buildings that it is unrecognisable from my last visit. The most extraordinary building is the Loop, the Rem Koolhaas-designed $900m new headquarters for China Central Television, which is two colossal towers joined by an angular bridge. Structures like this only get built in China, as this is the nation that values scale over all else. The vast shopping mall opposite the Ritz Carlton now has as many Chinese brands as western labels, and it is no surprise that the French luxury goods group PPR is in preliminary talks to buy a Chinese luxury brand. It’s not all oneway traffic as far as luxury is concerned – as you can see from the way the middle class here (and there really is a middle class here, unlike in Russia) increasingly consumes home-grown designer brands.

Rio days and nights

Luxury was one of the topics discussed at the Diageo Reserve World Class gathering in Rio, where I recently spent three days talking about the vagaries of the sector, and the various western luxury brands that are “now at 37,000 feet” – that is to say, cruising at altitude but soon to drop like a ruptured 747.

I’d never been to Brazil before and was intrigued to see the place before the World Cup and the Olympics get hold of it, although I have to say I spent most of my four days in Rio looking over my shoulder.

The first thing I was given when I arrived at the airport was a “risk matrix”, an “impact/likelihood” graph broken down into “manageable”, “major” and “critical”, spread across “remote”, “possible” and “likely”, and listing express kidnapping (where you are mugged, kidnapped and delivered back to your hotel in time for cocktails), carjacking, prostitution, purse snatchings and, bizarrely, employee binge drinking. I was told that on no account should I leave the hotel alone at night, nor should I wear my watch. And we were staying right on Copacabana Beach, one of the major tourist destinations in the city.

On my last day I had a few hours to kill before my flight, so I hired a car – the driver said I was to sit up front next to him, because if I sat in the back we would both be targets, particularly at traffic lights. Whenever I think of Rio in the future, I won’t be thinking about Astrud Gilberto or the bossa nova. No, I’ll be thinking how lucky I was that I didn’t have my Timex pinched.

Save all your kisses

Political gossip is shared all over London these days, and not just in those fusty old restaurants in Westminster and Victoria. Last week I spent a hugely enjoyable lunch with a mole at Brasserie Zédel, Jeremy King and Chris Corbin’s new restaurant just off Piccadilly Circus. Topics included the changes at the heart of News International (who’s in, who’s out), the jail terms of those about to serve them, and what evidence was left out of Leveson.

The most interesting things I saw were the transcripts of various text messages from the Prime Minister – including many with lots of small kisses at the end of them – none of which made the cut at Leveson. I have to say that even I have become circumspect about little kisses at the end of emails and text messages to men, although with women I still think it’s fine. As, obviously, does the Prime Minister.

Tom Ford loves us

Last month I helped organise London Collections: Men, the city’s first proper men’s fashion week. We were not only trying to create a proper bespoke men’s week, a rival, if you like, to the traditional destinations for fashion weeks (Milan, Paris and New York); we were trying to generate an event that would benefit Londoners directly, principally due to the hundreds of journalists, buyers, designers, show producers and publicists who visited the city for the four-day event. The British Fashion Council and I have been overwhelmed by the response, and, having hosted a week that included Paul Smith, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Richard James, Dunhill, Calvin Klein, Belstaff and more than 50 other brands (as well as a launch at St James’s Palace hosted by HRH the Prince of Wales), we found out a few days ago that Tom Ford liked the event so much that from next season (January) he’s going to be showing his men’s clothes exclusively in London. Chapeaux aloft!

Catalonia’s flames of the forest

We’ve just come back from Catalonia, and saw first-hand the terrifying forest fires on the Spanish/French border. We watched them burn for hours as our car was trapped in a stationary convoy, and saw the huge water-bombing aircraft and the dozens of incoming fire trucks. These are the worst forest fires in decades here (probably started by a cigarette thrown out of a car window), and we were lucky to have got away in time.

Best of Bowie

Having just written a book about David Bowie’s appearance on Top of the Pops in July 1972, during which he performed “Starman” and corrupted an entire generation of pop consumers (including myself), I’ve spent the past six months listening to little else. But having exhausted the Seventies “canon” (The Man Who Sold the World through to Scary Monsters), as well as his much-and-unfairly-maligned later years, I keep returning to a song that Bowie released in the mid-Sixties, when Ziggy Stardust wasn’t even a twinkle in his one good eye: “The London Boys”, one of the greatest evocations of urban angst:

Now you wish you’d never left your home,
You’ve got what you wanted but you’re on your own,
With the London Boys.

God, it’s good

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ and the author of “When Ziggy Played Guitar” (Preface, £20)

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The London Issue