Meet the Editor Who’s Changing How We Talk about Luxury
Town & Country’s Stellene Volandes talks style, jewelry, and what makes things #VeryTandC.
How does a 170-year-old magazine stay at the forefront of the contemporary zeitgeist? Just ask Stellene Volandes, editor in chief of Town & Country, which has been spotlighting all things glamorous, exclusive, and sophisticated in American life since 1846 and is still going strong.
Volandes credits the title’s enduring appeal to the fact that its mission has always been “very, very clear”—namely, to instruct, refine, and amuse. In the beginning, that meant chronicling the toing and froing of capital-S Society. These days, the magazine takes a wider, more diverse view of what it should cover.
Born and raised in New York, Volandes is a fixture around town, and served as T&C’s style director before taking the helm in 2016. She spoke with Rosewood Conversations about some of her favorite topics: luxury, jewelry, travel, and New York City.
ON MODERN LUXURY
Being the editor of a magazine that covers the most exceptional in everything from wine and jewelry to travel and culture has its perks. “You’re invited in to all of these treasures, sometimes behind closed doors, so you have access to the best the world has to offer,” says Volandes. When asked how she defines luxury, she stresses the importance of uniqueness and experience. “I call the world today a monogram economy. Feeling ‘luxury’ is about feeling special. For some people, luxury is just total silence and the ability to go far, far away and not have phone service for a week. For some people, it’s having a Golconda diamond.”
ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION
Part of keeping Town & Country relevant is connecting with readers on social media and the web. “I can see something in Milan and share it instantly with our readers on Instagram, and then decide what I can take deeper to show them in the print magazine, or write about in a column for our website,” Volandes explains. “We have a popular hashtag, #VeryTandC, and we look at everything through that lens.”
Jewelry has been a passion for Volandes since childhood, when her family would stop at a Lalaounis boutique in Athens on their annual trips to Greece. Years later, she moved into an apartment above Primavera, a jewelry gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “The owner, Audrey Friedman, really taught me to look at jewelry as cultural artifact, more than just a pretty, sparkling thing,” she says, highlighting its connections to history and geopolitics. (Amethyst, for example, enjoyed a surge in popularity during World War II, when stones were easier to source from South America than from war-torn Africa.) “Since the beginning of time, jewelry has been used as a symbol of power and protection, and status,” she says, explaining that “the drive to adorn ourselves is bigger and more important” than we often assume.
Volandes’s book Jeweler: Masters, Mavericks & Visionaries of Modern Design, published by Rizzoli in 2016, spotlighted today’s most talented independent designers, including Hemmerle, Antonia Miletto, Lauren Adriana, and James de Givenchy. “In almost 20 years of writing about it, I’ve never seen a broader interest in jewelry, in jewelers, in where they get inspirations, and in where stones come from. Understanding the value of jewelry is hopefully part of my contribution to the conversation.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAVEL
“When you travel, it’s amazing to see everything that’s new—the excitement of forward-looking architecture and groundbreaking art,” she notes, “but also the time-honored traditions of taste and refinement and civility that now mean more than ever. All that moves forward in the world and all that remains—those two things are what excites me most about travel today.”
ON FINDING #VERYTANDC IN NEW YORK CITY
“We talk about this idea of finding moments of civility in cities,” Volandes says. “In New York, the list of places that do that for me create this oasis of calm.” What’s on her list? Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel. “There is only one, and it’s such a cocoon of elegance. I also can’t imagine not including La Grenouille,” she says of the flower-filled bastion of French haute cuisine. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volandes makes a beeline to the Sargent Gallery, where the artist’s 19th-century portraits of American and European high society exude elegance. She is also an ardent fan of Shakespeare in the Park, at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. “I can think of nothing more inherently glamorous than going to see Shakespeare outside on a perfect summer night.”
Downtown, “Le Coucou and Augustine are new classics,” says Volandes of the two French restaurants, the former a warmly-lit ode to formal dining, the latter a brasserie with tiled floors. “They provide that sense of timelessness but are absolutely of the moment. It’s the environment that we try and recreate in the magazine as well.”
Bemelmans: The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, 35 E. 76th Street; +1 212-744-1600
La Grenouille: 3 E. 52nd Street; +1 212-752-1495
Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1000 Fifth Avenue; +1 212-535-7710
Delacorte Theater: 81 Central Park West; +1 212-539-8500
Le Coucou: 138 Lafayette Street; +1 212-271-4252
Augustine: 5 Beekman Street; +1 212-375-0010