Lifestyle & Culture

‘Sex and Vanity’ and a Whole Lotta Shopping

July 10, 2020

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YOU THINK you know what fancy-pants people wear and eat and think because you know your Loro Pianas from your Versaces, your La Prairie from your Mario Badescu? Ha! I say. And ha! again.

Enter, if you dare, the world brought to us by novelist Kevin Kwan. The Singaporean writer didn’t invent the world of Crazy Rich Asians and the other two books of his 2013-2017  trilogy; he survived it, well enough to satirize it.

Here, satirizing means dropping the names of designers and cafes and private schools three inches deep on every page, so the resulting new book, Sex and Vanity, can be something of a self-parody. But there’s fun to be had in this written version of a rom-com, set in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Capri, and a whole world of super-spending to wade through. There is an attempt to ennoble the world of self-consciously shabby old-money Social Register types, but the brash new-money gazillionaires do seem to have more fun. They certainly shop more.

Back when I read Crazy Rich Asians, I encountered names of jewelry and fashion designers—even a make of car—that I thought Kwan had simply invented. Oh, no: This middle-class gal, anchored to the Eastern Seaboard of the US, just hadn’t heard of them. This time the territory is a bit more familiar, but there are still worlds within worlds to be unearthed, deceptive sentences to be parsed, luxuries to covet (although sharing a meal with friends in a restaurant seems like a luxury these days). Here are a few “discoveries.”

—Nancy McKeon

The island of Capri is known for its sandal makers, and we get the message quite clearly from Kevin Kwan in Sex and Vanity that Da Costanzo is the one that really counts (as in, you know, Jacqueline Onassis). There are fancy-schmancier styles than these, or course, that run into the hundreds of dollars, but this style, the classic “Cuccurullo,” is 80 euros. You can order directly from the sandal maker’s website,

Some of the clothing in Sex and Vanity is outrageously expensive, and some of it is just . . . expensive.

LEFT: One character is admired for the way the pleats of her Tibi dress flutter around her. Yours could flutter too: The ruffled plissé-georgette midi dress is on sale for $268.50, down from $895, at

RIGHT: From Erdem comes the Celestina dress, made in England of ivory floral organza and embroidered lace. Though it’s being marketed as a wedding dress, it’s similar, I suspect, to one worn by Sex and Vanity‘s heroine. It’s $5,825 at

A relative newcomer to the palazzo-hotel scene in Venice, the Aman Venice inhabits the lower floors of the 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli, with the upper floors reserved for the owners, the Arrivabene family. The palazzo is trimmed out with all sorts of baroque details—frescoes, painted ceilings—as expected, but . . . 

. . . the Aman chain is known for its minimal Asian beach hotels, and the minimalism that shows up here contrasts well with the baroque. And be aware: There’s a half-price sale on now! Rooms are currently in the $1,600-per-night range . . . providing, of course, that Italy allows you to enter the country.

To hear Kevin Kwan tell it, wealthy Asian women wear jewels the size of Christmas tree ornaments, with price tags to match. Some of them surely come from Carnet, a Hong Kong jeweler whose designer, Michelle Ong, has spent two decades creating for those who don’t need to ask the price. The brooches shown above are, left to right, Iridescent Ocean Brooch 2, Oceans Fantasy Brooch 2 and Jade Embrace Brooch 2. It’s important to get the names right if you want to, you know, order one of them online at

The treats from La Maison du Chocolat are jewels of another sort. With shops throughout France and several in both Tokyo and New York, this luxury is even accessible, in its own way. The Twigs, a box of 16 chocolate twigs in three crunchy recipes, is $37. The individual Traviata (Almond and Hazelnut Praline Cake with a Whipped Crème Brûlée Interior and Coated in Dark Chocolate) is $9 but available only in Maison du Chocolat shops. There’s also a Traviata for 4 to 6 people for $52.

Show up with a case of Dugat-Py Mazis-Chambertin burgundy as an apology the way a Kevin Kwan character does? You’re forgiven, but it’ll set you back. The book says the 2014 vintage was $875 a bottle. I found vintages for only $300 or $350 per. Imagine that.

Back in the land of normal luxury, Moynat handbags feature in Sex and Vanity. This Mini Gabrielle, available in a number of colors and fabrications, is $4,062 as shown, available at

Now, who doesn’t want her boyfriend to notice that her Mini Cooper is 10 years old and therefore should be replaced . . . with an Aston Martin DB11 Volonte? And then have a rich Hong Kong woman laugh that it was so cheap at $268,000 because it would cost at least half a million back home? Ah, to live in Kevin Kwan’s world.

The world of the wealthy, at least in Kevin Kwan’s telling, includes tiaras. Of course. So my last discovery was the 400-year-old Maison Mellerio of Paris. The jeweler still makes tiaras as well as jeweled ceremonial swords for members of the Académie Française. Surely it would be more than happy to make a tiara or two for you or me. Price, no doubt, upon consultation and request.


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One thought on “‘Sex and Vanity’ and a Whole Lotta Shopping

  1. Nancy G says:

    Ahhhh, how the other half, er, top .05%, live. Thanks for the drool worthy finds.

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