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February 26, 2019

Talking Cars With Yasmin Le Bon At Cartier’s ‘Travel With Style’ Concours D’Elegance 2019

Interview by Nitya Arora. Text by Sadaf Shaikh

The former supermodel, who is a judge at the biennial automotive spectacle, talks about her love for cars and why the event is so special to her.

Last weekend, the grounds of Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace were decked with classic and vintage cars and motorcycles. Cartier’s Travel With Style Concours d’Elegance held its 6th edition on the 23-24 February and the event was attended by some of the biggest names in the world of culture, cars and fashion. The biennial extravaganza is one of the most coveted events to be spotted at and saw participation by owners of 86 classic automobiles from nine distinctive classes and 26 motorcycles from three signatures classes. This time around, Concours d’Elegance announced three new automotive categories — Ford Thunderbird, Sports Cars and Pre War Classics Transportation — in addition to the established categories Pre-War, Post-War, Indian Heritage, Preservation, and Roadster.

We caught up with Yasmin Le Bon who was one of the highest-earning models during the ’80s and shot one of the first campaigns for Karl Lagerfeld. Having been a part of Travel With Style since its inception at the Royal Turf Club in Mumbai 10 years ago, Le Bon has continued to occupy a prestigious position on the panel of judges that has the job of selecting the winners from the glittering parade. The model has a special interest in cars and has participated in some high-octane rallies in Italy besides mothering three daughters who grew up on a steady diet of watching Formula 1 races on television.

The 54-year-old model spoke about the variety of automobiles that were being showcased at the event and even went on to educate us on the Preservation Class which presents original unrestored cars and the Indian Heritage Class that has become very popular for giving a new lease of life to cars built in early independent India.

Excerpts from our conversation….

How did you come to be associated with Cartier Travel With Style Concours D’Elegance?
“To be honest, I think I talked my way into it by charming the directors at Cartier. I heard that they were going to be introducing this first-of-its-kind event in Mumbai from three completely unrelated people and I felt like the universe was trying to give me a sign. I really wanted to be a judge and I convinced them that there should definitely be a woman judge on the panel. This passion was not unfounded or sudden. People want to be doctors and firefights when they grow up, I’ve always wanted to be a racecar driver.

This is my 6th time judging this event and I have to say that it’s the most wonderful gig. When you get the call to come and do this, you willingly clear your schedule because it’s such an easy thing to say yes to. To be here in Jaipur for the first time is really exciting. There is so much to do here; so many trinkets and treasures to buy that I’m almost afraid to look at my bank balance when I get home.”

How different is the 6th edition of Cartier Concours D’Elegance from the first one?
“Massively. I can remember the first time vividly and it was much smaller. The cars and their owners were very passionate but maybe there wasn’t enough knowledge about knowing what to do or how to go about it. At times, the judges would have to go around telling guests to not touch the car. Sometimes, owners would also restore the cars for the sake of it and I would almost want to tell them, “when you take a car apart, do it properly, strip it apart bit by bit, don’t compromise on the quality of the parts and if you can’t do it, don’t do it.” All that’s changed now. The level of detail across the board now is extraordinary. You can’t get this level of specificity anywhere in the world because nobody works quite as hard as Indians do. When someone here turns around and says they restored a car in four months, it makes my jaw drop. If someone says it took four years, I’d say, “I can see that”, but four months just never happens in the West.”

Tell us about the time you competed in the Mille Miglia rally in Italy.
Mille Miglia is a legendary rally of around 400 qualifying cars competing across 1000 miles from Brescia to Rome and back, passing through some of the most beautiful cities of Italy. I had a little incident too. The driver next to me that I was attempting to overtake had no idea about my presence and decided he was going to overtake the car in front of it. I tried to salvage the situation by allowing one wheel to go into the mud, but before I knew it the car had taken a lamppost down and ended up in a ditch. We had racing seatbelts on so we were fine. The team came over, towed the car out, jacked it up and simply said, “Back in the car, guys. Off you go!” We just had to keep going in spite of being furious about the turn of events but I ended up having the best drive of my life.

Do you own a vintage or classic car yourself?
“I do have a vintage car, but I’m about to jump in and buy another. I really like the Porsche 120. There is also a beige standard vanguard somewhere around here which is adorable and I’ve got my eye on the Rolls Royce Phantom 2 as well. It’s hard to choose because in every category, you move from one world to another and find that there is something you love in each one of them. For example, I’m not really drawn to American cars but there are some here that I really like — the Thunderbird classic is quite cool.”

What do you think about Indian automobiles and engineering?
“You’ve got more mathematical geniuses here than anywhere else in the world so it’s not surprising to see the incredible skills at play here. The Germans are known for being pioneers in the automobile realm but the world is in a constant state of flux. I wouldn’t be too shocked if we saw a shift in favour of India being the next automotive superpower very soon. Personally, I love the Ambassador. We were just talking about the possibility of doing a rally with them for the Elephant Family in India. It’s just nice that it’s a people’s car. It is meant for Indian roads and would, therefore, last twice as long in any other part of the world.”

Talking about memories, you’ve had the honour of working with Karl Lagerfeld. Can you share some of your experience’s of working with fashion’s Godfather?
“I first met Karl in 1985 while I was shooting for the Karl Lagerfeld campaign at his apartment in Paris. Karl was incredibly shy, kind and funny. He had the quickest wit and the sharpest mind and never forgot anything. I was very lucky to have done shows at a time when we were quite brazen — we’d go in for fittings at Chanel and there would always be the same kind of familial atmosphere there. I would say that Linda (Evangelista) would look better in my outfit and Linda would say that I’d look better in hers. There was no fear about voicing our opinions because we knew Karl was listening. It was a very interactive process and even when it wasn’t, he really made us feel like it was.”

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