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After two decades at the helm of How to Spend It, Gillian de Bono has stepped down as editor of the FT’s multi award winning luxury magazine. Readers will be familiar with the blend of designer brands, eclectic objects, fine writing and decadent getaways that feature on its glossy pages, enticing them to spend, spend, spend. But what they may not appreciate is the money-savvy nous of its creator.
Here, she reveals how she likes to spend her own hard-earned cash — and the luxuries that money cannot buy.
You have been the editor of HTSI for 20 years. Are we to assume you’re a shopaholic?
Far from it. As a baby boomer brought up in an era when waste was frowned upon, I still feel guilty if I buy something I don’t really need or love. But I do have a weakness for shoes, much to my husband’s bafflement. I also spend an inordinate amount of money on champagne, which is one of my great loves.
How good are you at managing your personal finances?
In the early days, I didn’t give my investments enough attention and made losses as a result. Once I exercised share options at above market rate — something I will never live down. It also took me a long time to realise that my financial adviser didn’t actually manage my funds, but merely took fees from policies he had recommended to me in the distant past that were mostly underperforming. I now have an adviser who actively manages my investments and I am very happy with the advice and returns I get.
You are always immaculately turned out. Do you spend a lot on clothes?
Because of my job, people tend to assume I dress expensively, but I’ve always mixed things up, and what’s interesting is that some of the things I get most complimented on are straight from the high street. I have been wearing a boat-neck, tulip-shaped dress from Zara for 15 years and it still gets comments, and I’ve lost count of the number of women who have asked me where I bought a mid-calf white, floral print dress, which was by Studio by Preen for Debenhams.
What about designer handbags? After all, some now consider these as an investment class in its own right.
Personally, I can’t imagine buying a bag for its investment value, not least because I would need to keep it more or less in mint condition. No, once I find a bag I love, I use it every day and when it shows too many signs of wear, I give it to a charity shop.
What, for you, is the real meaning of luxury?
It’s whatever is precious, and that isn’t always in the monetary sense. When I got my first editorship at the age of 30, I was asked to name my ultimate luxury. I said sleep because I always felt sleep deprived. Five years later, when I was juggling a family and a career, I would have said time. Now I think time is even more of a luxury — time to reflect, to recharge, to spend with loved ones, to just be. But I also regard good champagne as a luxury — even though there is always a bottle in my refrigerator — because it lifts my spirits whatever I am doing.
Office wear is becoming more casual, even in the financial sector. Should we still aspire to “dress for success”?
Image is important in my industry and there are certain expectations of how I should look. I also find “dressing the part” empowering when I have important meetings to attend. For years I had a “lucky” dress: if I wore it to an interview, I got the job. If I had to do some tough negotiating, I got what I was asking for. It was also the dress I wore on the day I met my husband. But on days I am working with my team, I prefer to dress casually.
You often write the Loose Change column yourself — finding stylish objects for under £100. Do you have an eye for a bargain?
I think I do but I also love a challenge, and to find things for this page that look perfectly at home with the rest of the magazine is certainly that. How to Spend It readers clearly love a bargain too, because the items we feature frequently sell out on the day they are featured in the magazine.
What is the most How to Spend It thing you possess?
A Cartier French Tank watch. My husband bought it for me very early on in our relationship. It is a beautiful, classic design that I will never tire of and it gives me pleasure every single day.
What is your most treasured possession?
A chain with three small pendants — two tiny gold ones encasing a diamond and an opal, and a larger asymmetric gold medallion studded with tiny diamonds. When I inherited my mother’s jewellery, I gave it to my daughter. Several years ago, she collaborated with a jeweller in designing three slightly different necklaces using the stones — one for me, one for her and one for the daughter she hopes to have, thus linking four generations of women in our family.
How far would you agree or disagree with this statement: wealthy people can also be the tightest?
I don’t believe tightness has much to do with wealth. It’s more about an individual’s generosity of spirit. I’ve met high net worth individuals who are very smart and driven but have little interest in personal possessions. That can give the impression of tightness, but it’s actually that spending lavishly is not in their make-up.
What are the things that money cannot buy?
Good friends, a loving family, personal fulfilment, so many things that are essential to a happy life. But there are two important non-material things that money can buy — a good education and, to a certain extent, health and longevity. And for my generation, the ability to help our children on to the property ladder.
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