Will we see a return of the Roaring ’20s?

(Originally published in Bond Buyer January 7, 2021)

What more is there to say about 2020? It was a year that brought us the worst public health crisis in more than a century, hundreds of thousands of deaths on U.S. soil, and the agony imposed by lost family members, friends, incomes, and our very way of life. Amidst such a profound human toll, it’s difficult to complain much about the damage inflicted upon our economy, but COVID-19 and its economic impacts will be felt for years and — in some cases — for generations, as family businesses were lost, homes were repossessed, careers were derailed, and breadwinners succumbed to a terrible disease.

In 2020 we witnessed significant market volatility and rapid interest rate cuts reminiscent of the financial crisis. Unemployment levels spiked and supply chains were disrupted. Domestic demand fell precipitously in the wake of lockdowns, oil prices cratered, and equity markets plummeted, only to snap back and reach new all-time highs. Bank balance sheets swelled by 20% in a single year – growing by an astounding $2.7 trillion, while the U.S. dollar was devalued, crypto prices reached new highs, and the gamification of stock trading whipped retail investors into a frenzy.

Who would have ever predicted any one of these events, let alone that they would all occur in a span of 12 months?

How did we get here? 
In an effort to stimulate the U.S. economy and counteract the effects of government-induced lockdowns, in March 2020, the Federal Reserve slashed rates twice in rapid succession, reducing the fed funds rate by a total of 150 basis points. In the most recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Fed indicated they would likely keep rates close to zero for the foreseeable future – experts say at least the next year. While the Fed seems unlikely to cut rates further into negative territory — instead suggesting that fiscal policy is the best tool for further stimulating the economy — the yield curve suggests that low rates are here to stay.

Beyond the Fed’s actions, lower consumer spending and a dearth of good lending opportunities for banks have swelled bank balance sheets, putting further downward pressure on rates. This low rate environment has impacted everything from capital investments, interest rates on loans, mortgages, and savings accounts, and equity valuations. Even cash alternatives — such as money market funds (MMFs), have lost their appeal. Leading government MMFs now yield a paltry 0.02%, and brokerage sweeps even less, typically just 0.01%.

Where do we go from here?
An economic recovery will depend on a resolution of the COVID-19 crisis, enabling a restoration of our consumer-driven economy. Such a recovery has the potential to allow a surge in consumer spending as pent-up demand is unleashed, with the beneficiaries being restaurants, entertainment sources, travel-related businesses and locations, and durable goods. Much as the Roaring ‘20s followed the devastation of World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic, it’s conceivable that a new period of social liberalization and economic excess could emerge by 2022, leading to inflation and a return to higher interest rates.

Those fortunate enough to have entered this crisis with excess cash on the sidelines may have already profited from the opportunity to follow Warren Buffett’s advice and “be greedy while others are fearful.” Others may have taken the opportunity to build up an emergency fund or a cash cushion to help withstand further shocks to the economy, which could still emerge.

For those holding cash, it’s important to make sure it is earning the most yield possible. Even in a low rate environment, it’s possible to eke out excess returns. For instance, while the average rate paid on savings accounts nationwide is a mere 0.05%, online banks are paying 0.40% to 0.50% on the very same FDIC-insured accounts. Online solutions such as MaxMyInterest can help investors proactively manage their cash and secure rates as high as 0.75% on bank accounts that are FDIC-insured and same-day liquid.

While earning an extra 70+ basis points might not seem like a lot, incremental return without incremental risk is the holy grail in finance. In the same way that investors would happily pick an S&P 500 Index fund that had lower fees, they should similarly seek options for their cash that pay higher returns. This may be the simplest and easiest way to pick up “alpha” in this market, with the simplest and most common asset class of all: cash.

As consumer spending picks up, we should see an increase in loan demand and banks’ wiliness to lend, which in turn should lead to an uptick in bank interest rates that may outpace a steepening yield curve. As a result, we expect the interest rates paid on online savings accounts should continue to outperform MMFs while the economy is rebounding.

Although this past year has been turbulent, to say the least, and interest rates appear range-bound, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Smart investors will position their portfolios to prepare for rising rates and ensure that their cash continues to track the highest interest rates in the market, while remaining ever vigilant for signs of inflation that could impact real returns.

If 2020 was a year most would prefer to forget, and 2022 may well be a year we will never forget, we can all hope that 2021 provides a safe and more sure-footed path to recovery.

What to Do with Your Extra Max Interest This Summer

Mackinac Island's celebrated Grand Hotel.

Mackinac Island’s celebrated Grand Hotel.

It’s summertime — and Max members continue to accrue extra interest on their cash in the bank. We’re taking a look at some of the fun things you can do with the money you earn, which you wouldn’t be earning without Max optimizing your cash.

If you keep $1 million optimized through Max, you’re going to earn about $2500 additionally this summer. Some ideas to consider:

  • Video Drone

Drones are a great way to see new terrain or get fantastic video from the sky. For the sport-minded, there’s also drone-fighting. This $2300 camera quadcopter has 4K video and 2 controllers, one for the remote pilot and one for the cameraperson.

  • The Perfect Chair

Is it time to update your decor? Coveted handmade furniture and pottery from Vermont’s husband-wife duo Charles Shackleton and Miranda Thomas always looks tasteful. The couple recently opened a new Brooklyn shop, giving their works access to elegant brownstone living rooms. A pair of walnut Ricardo chairs upholstered in green fabric is $2600.

  • Pastry Chef Boot Camp

Learn to make better eclairs than you can buy in a fine French patisserie. A 3-day dessert boot camp at the ultra-serious Culinary Institute of America’s Napa Valley campus will show you how. $2600 for two people.

  • Make a Difference with Robinhood

Fight poverty by supporting Robinhood, the largest nonprofit in New York doing this work. Max members can set their Max accounts to donate some or all of the interest they earn directly to Robinhood.


A Max member with a $250,000 account will earn an extra $625 this summer. Some fun ways to spend it:

  • Luxury Fitness Classes

Boutique fitness studios are the new trend. They’re more personal and rigorous than a typical gym, with classes that make you work hard. SLT (Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone) has attracted serious fitness nuts in New York City and elsewhere. $680 for a 20-pack of classes will keep you in good shape all summer.

  • Championship Golf Clubs

Up your game with some of this year’s hottest new clubs.

Driver: Cobra King F6+ Pro $400

Fairway wood: Ping G $270

  • Historic Island Resorts

Off the coast of California south of Los Angeles is the celebrated Catalina Island, a historic resort long popular with Angelenos. At the Avalon, a top-rated hotel, you can recline on the rooftop terrace while looking out into Avalon Harbor.  Two nights in a king room with a garden view will be about $700 on a weekend this summer.

Or visit the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, an elegant resort where midwesterners have been vacationing since 1887. For about $700, a deluxe room at the hotel includes breakfast, lunch, and a 5-course dinner.

  • Meet the Animals

Why jostle with crowds to see the animals at the San Diego Zoo when you can meet them up close? The world-famous zoo’s exclusive VIP Experience is $599 per person, plus zoo admission, and comes with behind-the-scenes interactions, a personal tour guide, and lunch.

  • Leave Holding the Bag

Suede envelope clutch bags are sweeping the fashion magazines. The Christopher Kane studded suede clutch is $645 while Mansur Gavriel’s Flamma suede envelope flat clutch is $695.

  • Buy the Cow

For $500, the international nonprofit Heifer will donate a female cow to a needy family in the developing world. A cow yields milk for the family’s children as well as income, since they can now sell milk to others. The money they earn can pay for food, school, and housing, helping them climb out of poverty. Heifer is one of the most respected development nonprofits.

Know When to Jump: Q&A With Olympic Silver Diving Medalist Scott Donie

Scott Donie competes in the 1992 Olympics, high above the city of Barcelona. Photo Credit: Rol Donie.

Scott Donie competes in the 1992 Olympics, high above the city of Barcelona. Photo Credit: Rol Donie.

Many people work hard at a sport they love, but few achieve worldwide success. Why are these athletes different, and what can the rest of us learn from them? Max spoke with Olympic medalist Scott Donie, a diver who won silver at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Now the head diving coach for both men and women at New York University, Donie also runs a diving-lesson program at local swim club Asphalt Green in Manhattan. He serves as a mentor for United States Diving, as well as speaking to audiences around the country about his sport.

We asked Donie about his proudest and scariest moments as a diver, and what’s next for him.

– Many amateurs enjoy their sport but don’t feel they can take it farther. How did you get serious about diving?

One of my main motivations was always fear. I developed a severe fear of heights and water at a very young age. I still have a fear of heights!  But then when I was 8 years old three things happened that changed my life forever. The first was discovering the sport of diving. I was on the swim team at my local summer club and I didn’t like swim practice. I started sneaking out in the middle of practice to jump off the diving board. The swim coach saw what I was doing and suggested that I ask to join the diving team. The second was getting a trampoline. My brother and I had been to a friend’s house who had a trampoline and we begged our parents for one until they finally relented. It came with one condition: we had to have trampoline lessons. The next thing I knew I was on that trampoline every single day. 

The third was seeing the Olympics for the first time. It was the 1976 Olympics and I saw Bruce Jenner win the gold medal in the decathlon. I remember watching as he ran a lap around the stadium waving an American flag. I felt like he had unified our entire country and in some sense the world in that moment. I didn’t know what the Olympics were but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. From that day forward I started telling everyone that I was going to be in the Olympics for diving. Luckily I had parents who were extremely supportive and coaches who also believed in me.

– Aside from your Olympic medal, what’s your proudest diving-related moment? 

My comeback in the final season of my career. After winning the silver medal in 1992 I had a very difficult road back to the Olympics. I lost my way and became very disillusioned with everything. I suffered from severe depression and eventually I had a very public meltdown while competing at the 1993 Olympic Festival. I hadn’t been training properly and I was out of shape. In the middle of my handstand on the edge of the 10 meter platform I started to question everything. Why am I doing this? What is the point? Maybe I should do a spectacular cannonball! Of course the time to have such conversations is not while standing on your hands on the edge of a 10 meter platform. After about 40 seconds my arms pretty much gave out and I decided it was best to come down. I signaled to the referee that I was done and I walked down. I never competed again on the 10 meter. I ended up taking six months off and I got a job as a teacher. After a little time away I decided to come back to diving but to stay on the lower level of the 3 meter springboard. I was not ranked very high on this event but I worked my way up until I was among the contenders for a spot on the 1996 Olympic team. I ended up winning the Olympic trials and placing 4th at the Olympics. I am just as proud of that as I am of my season in 1992.  

– What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you as a diver?

I was once asked to do a dive off a 50-foot high mast of a sailboat for a commercial. At this point in my career I was pretty comfortable with heights but climbing up the mast of a sailboat was another thing altogether. There was a stunt coordinator who had built me a tiny platform at the top of the mast. I hadn’t realized the motion of the boat would cause the mast to sway back and forth quite a bit at the top. It was terrifying. I was holding on for dear life as I swayed back and forth. When the director yelled, “Action!”  I had to time my dive correctly to make sure I wouldn’t hit the boat. After my first dive the director asked me how many times I could do it. I wanted them to get the shot so I said “I think I can do about five.” What I should have said was, “You actually want me to do that again?” 

– How do you use what you’ve learned in the pool in the rest of your life? What lessons can others learn? 

I have definitely learned a lot about fear. When I tell people that I am afraid of heights they always ask me, “How did you overcome it?” I tell them that I didn’t overcome it; I’m still afraid of heights. I felt that fear every time I climbed up to the 10 meter platform. And don’t ever ask me to join you for a hot air balloon ride! I think the key is to allow yourself to feel the fear.  Fully acknowledge it. But never let that fear stop you from doing whatever it is that you want to do. Fear is actually there to help you and protect you. If you let yourself feel it you can use it to help you sharpen your awareness and your focus. If you are completely focused on what you’re doing the fear begins to work for you instead of against you. The same lesson can be applied to nerves. The thing I miss the most about diving? Getting nervous.

In the beginning I would fight the nervousness and try to control it. That never worked for me. Then I came to understand that getting nervous was my body’s way of preparing for battle. I began to welcome the nerves and eventually I came to depend on them.    

– What’s next for you? 

We have a 9-year old daughter who keeps us pretty busy. She is into a lot of stuff and really enjoys gymnastics. She just joined the team at her gym so I will be supporting her on whatever path she chooses. I am excited to learn more about the gymnastics world as it is so directly related to diving. There is nothing a diving coach likes more than getting a student who comes from a strong background in gymnastics. I’d love to help foster better relationships between gymnastics programs and diving programs.  I’d also like to start my own club program here in Manhattan. I’d like to help make the sport of diving available to everyone.

Starting Early in Social Enterprise: Q&A With Resolution Project Chair Oliver Libby

The Resolution ProjectJust as entrepreneurship is now becoming increasingly attractive to younger and younger people, social enterprise is increasingly a goal of college students. Max Luxe spoke to one of the founders of the nonprofit Resolution Project, a program that identifies and funds undergraduates who want to start a socially-conscious project. Oliver Libby, the co-founder and managing director at consulting firm Hatzimemos / Libby in New York City, is the chair and co-founder of Resolution. Libby talked to us about the innovative ways the Resolution Fellows are trying to change the world and how the project is helping them get there.

Max: What is the story behind the Resolution Project?

Oliver Libby: The co-founders of the Resolution Project, Howard Levine and George Tsiatis and myself, we used to run a big Model United Nations conference at Harvard. There was always a keynote speaker up there saying, “You guys are the future and some day you’ll make the world a better place,” but implicit in that was: not yet. It took us a few years after graduation to get our heads around this. We decided to build an alumni network around World MUN in 2007 and 2008. We even ran a mini-case competition because we heard from these students that they had ideas that could change the world but no one was giving them the resources to do it.

We were just blown away. We said, we have to come back to this conference and fund these ideas. We also have to give these students the resources an emerging social CEO would need.

The model hasn’t changed. With youth summits, we run a Social Venture Challenge that plugs right into the existing summit. It gives us an amazingly diverse group of students. We do this about eight times a year. They win a Resolution Fellowship and get assigned mentors for two years minimum. They get access to partners, peers, advisors, anything you would need to get a social venture off the group. We now have 220 fellows in 54 countries and 25 states. Those people have helped around 350,000 beneficiaries.

– Do these social enterprises become careers for the students?

We only have six years of data, but a couple dozen of the 130 that have started will be scalable full-time work for their founders to go the distance. The vast majority had impact, worked, and may not have been scalable but were a worthwhile pursuit. Every single fellow who has gotten the fellowship has started something that helped people. We don’t take equity from our students. This is a youth development program, not a social venture capital firm.

– Why fund students?

We could have found other charities to support, and we do support other charities regularly. There’s a very interesting dynamic here. There’s a grave need for a social responsibility project and business model in communities around the world. More importantly there’s this phenomenon of students who want to start changing the world. Who is out there helping them really get started at that early stage? Being enrolled in a college of some kind — we’re not just talking about Ivy League schools here, it’s students from all around the world — you are old enough to run a venture, you can open a bank account and travel on your own, but you are not so formed that it won’t change your life.

There are a lot of places that do bits and pieces of what we do, but Resolution is all of those things on an open-ended basis for a young social entrepreneur at the earliest stage. We don’t fund anything that has received prior funding.

They must go to one of the conferences. It’s tens of thousands of people who attend these conferences every year. Some of the conferences are Harvard World Model UN, the Youth Assembly at the UN, the Clinton Global Initiative University, and we’re starting a competition with the One Young World Summit in Bangkok in November. Plus four to five more. We’ve got kids whose first plane ride was to come to that conference.

– Can you share a few success stories?

Annie Ryu has a venture called Global Village Fruit. Annie travelled to India when she was at Harvard and saw jackfruit rotting on the side of the street. She asked what they were and was told, people don’t really want to use them around here. She did some research and there were a number of cool products that can be made from jackfruit, including flour and a meat substitute (which is pretty awesome). Annie started a company that empowers small farmers in India and Sri Lanka, employs about 40 people in the packaging plant that she has in India, and sells at Whole Foods and other places. She has raised $1 million in funding. That’s a social business, structured as a for-profit. She started it after she was a Fellow in 2012.

We also have a young man named Derrius Quarles, born in Chicago, whose father was killed and whose mother went to jail. He was resigned to not go to college, but a teacher in high school told him he should go. He raised $1 million in scholarships, went to Morehouse, did well there, and created a venture called Million Dollar Scholar, a web platform and educational product that helps underprivileged students like himself to unlock scholarships. He has served thousands of people so far and has raised several million dollars in scholarships for them. He’s now at the University of Pennsylvania.

– What’s next for the Resolution Project?

We’re focused on three key things: we’re strengthening our own infrastructure. We have a staff of five  now, raising money to build the program. We’re deepening the fellowship, with 60 to 70 new fellows coming in every year. We’re adding training materials and enhancing training for our mentors. Resolution was very conscious of having real impact evaluation metrics. Now we’re in a position to talk about the impact numbers and enhance the visibility of our fellows.

Of Slope and Screen: Q&A With The Banff Mountain Film Festival’s Tour Coordinator

NA_Ad Slick-vert colWhen winter is on the horizon, we at Max start anticipating one of our favorite film festivals of the year: the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Kicking off in the Canadian national park known for its ski slopes, the festival has toured the world for the last 3 decades, visiting 450 locations and seating 400,000 viewers. (Team Max has attended the tour screenings annually in 3 cities over 15 years.)

Max Luxe spoke with Suzanne White, the program coordinator for the festival’s world tour, about life in a ski resort and which films she likes best.

As you gear up for this year’s festival, what are you most excited about? 

I’m excited to share another amazing lineup of speakers, books, music and film with the festival goers. I’m especially excited to see how many great films could be on our World Tour and our Radical Reels tour. This seems like a banner year for great mountain films.

What are a few of your favorite films that have won at recent Banff Festivals? 

Last year, a film called Tashi and The Monk won Best Film for Mountain Culture and it went out on the World Tour. It’s a wonderful story about the life at an orphanage high in the Himalayas and it really touched everyone who saw it. Crossing the Ice was another stand out film from the past couple of years. It’s got adventure, friendship and humor all rolled into one big snowball.

What’s changed about festival-winning films over the years? 

The technology with which the filmmakers capture their stories has certainly changed, but the stories themselves haven’t changed. The films still have the same heart, courage and humor as they always have.

What’s your favorite thing about Banff itself? What sport do you most like to do there?

Banff is an exceptional place to live if you like being outdoors. Climbing, hiking, mountain biking, road biking, camping and paddling are all the summer activities available to you. In the winter, more climbing, mountaineering, all types of skiing and watching great films are the best things to do! My favorites are mountain biking and skiing.

If you could visit another mountain location, where would it be? 

I would love to visit Patagonia. The mountains there are so different than other mountain ranges I’ve visited.

Traveling in Style: 4 Luxury Travel Blogs We Love

Wendy Perrin's blog showcases interesting places and smart ways to get there.

Wendy Perrin’s blog showcases interesting places and smart ways to travel.

What do you do with all the extra interest – found money – that you earn from your Max membership? Many Max members put it toward their travel itineraries. We’ve put together a list of our favorite luxury travel blogs and sites.

Wendy Perrin’s Blog
Travel expert Wendy Perrin — you know her from her years at Conde Nast Traveler — shares her experiences and those of her husband and kids on this blog. Aimed at families who want to travel in style with a twist, Wendy’s blog spotlights destinations you hadn’t considered and other tips from travel pros: “Would You Take the Plunge Into an Icelandic Volcano?” Wendy’s team of writers and photography contributors also gives you the inside scoop on adventures that look too crazy to try: “I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler.” The blog is a smart traveler’s guide to issues such as what to do in Barcelona and the best places to go in September.


Bringing a new dimension to luxury travel is Equitrekking, which discusses horse-related travel of all kinds. Darley Newman, a rider and journalist who hosts the Equitrekking TV series, blogs about trends in equestrian excursions, from Assateague Island in Maryland and Virginia, famous for its herds of wild horses, to the Dublin Horse Show. Max Luxe did a Q&A with Darley on what she’s seeing on horseback, including Botswana riding safaris. Whether or not you have experience riding, a trip by horse can be a fun and novel way to see the world.

Luxe City Guides
We love these petite and chic city guides, which fulfill their promise of telling it like it is about the some of the world’s most interesting places. Not only do they tell you where to go, they tell you where not to go, which is often more valuable. You can buy or download the guides or get the app, but the site also features takeaways like where to shop in Miami for hot shoes (Del Toro) or how best to see the Great Wall of China: “Its status as one of the 7 new wonders of the world (and its sheer magnificence) means this stone fortress is a must see… But it doesn’t mean you have to put up with busloads of yelping tourists and queueing with the hordes to climb the endless steps.” This signature tone — like a snarky but always in-the-know friend — imbues Luxe’s work. If you typically reach out to your besties for this kind of advice, Luxe is a site for you.

Monocle Travel
The luxury-lifestyle magazine Monocle has a line of paper travel guides which get you from city to city with verve. Online, the site also offers quick takes on individual destinations to read or download. In Aspen, for instance, Monocle tells you where to buy unique boots (Kemo Sabe) and offers advice on restaurants by occasion, including “Leisurely breakfast,” “Lunch on piste,” or “Big dinner with friends” (Matsuhisa, naturally). Each destination has five “Essentials,” the top things to know, and an archive of related magazine articles, posts, and podcasts from Monocle.

What Not to Miss in Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah

Dubai's skyline.

Dubai’s skyline.

Dubai, the Arab world’s financial hub, is also a high-end destination attracting a growing number of world travelers. The tiny Persian Gulf city-state promises a luxury urban vacation between the desert and the beach. Home to an ever-increasing number of tall towers and over-the-top developments, Dubai is a destination for royalty, celebrities, and travelers seeking architectural fantasies and unique experiences. Nearby Ras al-Khaimah has yet to make it onto many itineraries, but it provides a rare look into Bedouin culture in an upscale oasis setting.

We asked a friend of Max Luxe to fill us in on the highlights from her travels in these Gulf destinations.


Dubai’s skyline is iconic, including as it does the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower. From the Atlantis The Palm hotel on the Palm’s manmade resort island, visitors can take in the panorama. Atlantis itself is a luxury waterpark resort, a cousin to the Bahamas showplace of the same name. Other high-end hotels include the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which also boasts a waterpark. The Burj al-Arab, known as the world’s first seven-star hotel, is also situated on its own specially-constructed island and was designed to look like a sailing ship.

The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa.

The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa.

Dubai Creek, which splits the city in two, is where visitors can find dhows, an authentic form of Arab trading vessel that still supplies a small fraction of the emirate’s now huge volume of port traffic. The Dhow Wharfage is the place to see the boats in action as they take on freight; visitors can also get a tour of one of the boats or ride on one that’s been repurposed as a harbor-cruise ship. Little remains of old-time Dubai’s economy, and the dhows are one reminder of the city’s origins as a desert trading outpost.

Barrels of spices at a spice vendor's shop.

Barrels of spices at a spice vendor’s shop.

Shopping is one of Dubai’s major draws. Two enormous malls, the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates, offer nearly every luxury brand, including brands that don’t typically have their own boutiques in other countries. Shoppers can also go skiing and ice skating — a novelty in the middle of the desert — as well as visit an aquarium within the complex.


The Bastakia Mosque in old Dubai.

To step back in time, visit one of Dubai’s market districts that hearken back to early trading days. In the Bastakia Quarter, where Persian merchants built homes with distinctive wind-towers for cooling, shops and galleries set on winding alleyways sell spices and art. The souks are street markets where haggling is expected; visit the well-known Gold Souk for stalls piled high with jewelry.

From the observatory at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the view is unparalleled. A museum explains how the tower was constructed, answering visitors’ questions about how one can build safely on sand. The tower complex’s fountain show, in the mall at the building’s base, is also well-attended.

For cultural appreciation, stop in at the Jumeriah Mosque, the only mosque in Dubai that non-Muslims can visit. (Be sure to dress appropriately.) Also visit Majlis Ghorfat Um Al-Sheef, a former sheikh’s summer home in the Jumeirah district that’s been restored to glory with a beautiful garden.

Ras al-Khaimah:

Bedouin-style villas with infinity pools at the Banyan Tree resort.

Bedouin-style villas with infinity pools at the Banyan Tree resort.

A smaller member of the United Arab Emirates, Ras al-Khaimah is a short drive from Dubai. Its low profile among tourists makes it a perfect place to see the desert, our correspondent notes. One place to find quiet relaxation is the Banyan Tree Ras al-Khaimah Beach resort, where the tented suites offer an opulent take on traditional Bedouin life. While in the emirate, make sure to take a camel ride, go off-roading on the sand dunes, or try your hand at sand-boarding.



Skin Deep: Q&A with Charlotte’s Book Founder Robin Shobin

Robin Shobin left a Wall Street desk to become a startup founder, launching Charlotte's Book, a thinking woman's guide to beauty services.

Robin Shobin left a Wall Street desk to become a startup founder, launching Charlotte’s Book, a thinking woman’s guide to beauty services.

Beauty is visible, but a woman’s beauty rituals, and the doctors and other providers who manage them for her, are usually a secret. How is a busy professional woman to find the best places to go when she wants beauty services? Robin Shobin faced this dilemma in her work on Wall Street, where women are expected simply to look good, without ever discussing how they get that way. Her solution: leave the world of finance and launch a website, Charlotte’s Book, to showcase vetted providers, with a focus on beauty and dermatology. The site centers on New York City now but is expanding to other areas, Shobin told us.

Max Luxe spoke with Shobin about her own beauty routines and what new trends she’s seeing in skincare and wellness.

Max Luxe: Tell us why you founded Charlotte’s Book

Robin Shobin: I wanted to create a resource that spoke to busy professional women who care about looking and feeling their best. There have been so many advancements in the world of cosmetic health and wellness, and quite frankly it’s just getting very confusing not only to find the right doctor or expert, but also to learn about treatments and products. Skincare and anti-aging are the fastest-growing segments in beauty, and I wanted to create an easy to use resource for women to educate themselves and find experienced experts.

I think many of the best rely on word-of-mouth, but in an increasingly more digital and online environment, people are searching online for reviews and advice. These topics are also still quite personal and sensitive, and to be honest, many women still lie and fib about work done. It isn’t quite done to lean over to your deskmate and say, “I am thinking of getting botox.”

What’s your personal go-to list for wellness? Things you do, places you go?

It’s all about routine and you have to stick with it. Every 6 weeks I like to either get microdermabrasion or dermaplaning. I also get the Clear & Brilliant laser a few times a year. And honestly, one of the best things you can do for your skin is eat right, sleep, and maintain stress levels. I get acupunture regularly with Stephen Cohen and it is a life saver. Almost everything that’s going on inside you shows on your skin. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and a bad diet and stress show quickly. Conversely—good diets and good habits can really give you that inner glow. I struggle from hormonal and stress breakouts when I am working myself too hard. A great acupuncture session coupled with a good night sleep can work wonders for these issues. Of course, it is important to take steps to make sure that you are getting the best possible quality of sleep too. This can be difficult if you live with aches and pains or common back problems, but investing in a new mattress can often make a big difference. You can find the perfect choice for a new mattress for you by doing some research online if you are due a replacement. Ultimately, in my opinion, getting enough sleep is fundamental. Obviously a great skincare routine is essential, but I believe in a 360 approach. This is why we have nutritionists and other wellness experts on Charlotte’s Book.

If you could go on a wellness retreat, which spa or destination would you choose?

One of my favorite places is the Mii Amo Spa inside the Enchantment Resort in Sedona. You can stay inside the spa, separate from the rest of the resort. It’s inside these gorgeous red rocks where you can hike during the day. The health food is great and the spa treatments are amazing. I love the fact that you can come out of the spa and be served perfectly delicious health food while sitting in your robe. And this is after you had a great day hiking the red rocks or relaxing at the pool drinking customized health juices. Also, cell phones don’t work, which forces you to really zone out. On my wish list is the Como Shambhala Spa in Bali.

How can an office-based professional sneak in wellness and beauty treatments?

Being a professional woman, you are always expected to look your best, but to never talk about it or spend time catering to it. It’s very difficult. The treatments with the least downtime that you can actually sneak in during lunch or after work are dermaplaning, microdermabrasion, and micro-current.

The professional women I know find a lot of value in booking facials with medical or private aestheticians rather than at a traditional spa or full fledged physician. These professionals are often hidden inside a doctor’s office, but to book with them, you don’t have to be a patient of the dermatologist. These aestheticians give advanced, noninvasive facials that incorporate several therapies like ultrasound, microcurrent, and LED light therapy. Patients are able to try medical-grade products with services that are just more customized and results-oriented. You can come in quickly during lunch, after work, or on a Friday afternoon for these no-frills services and come out glowing. Also, something as simple as having a cream to hand in the office and applying it regularly can help to keep the glow. A few people have recently started trying CBD cream and I know of a CBDistillery Promo Code that will get you a discount if that’s what you want to try.

What are the big anti-aging trends you’re seeing at the moment?

Cosmetic acupuncture and topical botox products. I always get asked, “What can I do without getting injected?” I have seen a big surge in interest in both of these areas. There are a lot of places that offer Botox procedures to anyone who is interested in them, and we are looking at some topical botox products now that are about to be on the market that is really exciting. It is fairly easy to get Botox all over the world now due to it’s popularity, but just make sure you are getting the best out there. For any readers in Australia, I would recommend botox in melbourne with VCI if you are looking to get some work done. Also, cosmetic acupuncture is a great treatment that works by stimulating the facial muscles. This might be the best option for some people instead.

What questions should you ask your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to make sure you’re receiving the procedures you need?

Don’t get “glamoured” or overwhelmed by public relations placements and “heavily circulated” doctors who have a celebrity clientele. They aren’t all as caring and won’t all give you the same attention and care. And be aware that doctors are more specialized now, so make sure you are seeing the right person for your specific needs. I like to ask potential doctors (1) who else is in their referral network (2) what do they consider their areas of speciality and (3) whether they are active at industry conferences. You want to make sure your doc is at the forefront and that they are looking at all the options, not just pushing on you the equipment that they have invested in their office. Also, check your doctor’s certifications. You would be shocked at the number of fake certifications right now. It is scary. There are literally 8 hour courses that certify one in Botox. Don’t be fooled. At Charlotte’s Book we only select dermatologists who are members of the American Academy of Dermatology and/or the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often this gets overlooked. You can read more about Charlotte’s Code here.

It’s now possible to buy machines and tools that previously were only available in doctors’ offices. Which ones do you like best?

The NuFACE Mini Facial Toning Device This tiny little FDA-cleared gadget has two spheres that deliver 335 microamps of gentle stimulation just under the sensory level, so you feel little to no sensation-and the included gel primer prevents any pinching or stinging. You can adjust the intensity to any one of the three settings at any time during treatment — although the device should not be used around the eyes or mouth. As aesthetician Georgia Louise says, “If you can’t get in to see me, then this is the next best thing!”

The Baby Quasar: If you suffer from acne or breakouts, this portable aluminium wand uses 24 100% blue LED lights You can spot treat a specific problem area anywhere on your body. Treat skin three to five times a week for optimal results.

The War on Terroir: A New Benchmark for Brunellos

Valerie Bilgri and Ben Hammer of DC's VBH Wines.

Valerie Bilgri and Ben Hammer of DC’s VBH Wines.

We invited Ben Hammer and Valerie Bilgri, passionate wine drinkers and foodies, to contribute this guest post on how to think about wine choices. Ben and Valerie are the cofounders of VBH Wines in Washington, D.C. They offer personalized wine consulting, tastings, and events, and introduce small-lot wineries to new consumers. 


By Valerie Bilgri and Ben Hammer

Looking for a wine that’s drinkable now and will be even better if stored properly for several years? Look no further than the crop of 2010 Brunellos that have just come to market.

“This is the new benchmark for Brunello. It’s the vintage of a lifetime,” says Jared Prager, a Culinary Institute of America grad, and manager of Bell Wines in the Dupont Circle area of D.C.

Brunello di Montalcino is one of Tuscany’s classic wines, along with famous cohorts Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti.  Brunellos are made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes grown on the slopes around Montalcino, a Tuscan hilltop village 20 miles south of Siena.

Weather-wise, 2010 was described as a near-perfect for growing conditions.  Now, after the required five-year aging period, the vintage is finally hitting the market.  Industry experts are describing the 2010 Brunellos as full of more character and finesse than in years past.  Brunellos characteristically are known for their dark fruit, tannic, and earthy characteristics. All are still present in the 2010s, but with added layerings of spice and aromatic characters.

Jared Prager, manager of Bell Wine & Spirits in DC, and Ben Hammer of VBH Wines, review some of the 2010 Brunellos that have just become available.

Jared Prager, manager of Bell Wine & Spirits in DC, and Ben Hammer of VBH Wines, review some of the 2010 Brunellos that have just become available.

Brunellos are terrific for aging, and most of the new releases are recommended for cellaring at least a few years before popping the cork.  That said, many of the 2010s are quite open and drinkable even now, eliminating the anticipatory wait to see if the vintage lives up to its reputation.

Here are a few recommendations:


2010 Argiano – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – James Suckling from Wine Spectator rates the Argiano 98 points, describing it as a “powerfully structured wine with fabulous grilled-meat, granite, dried-berry and flower-petal character. Full-bodied, chewy and intense. Great structure. Extremely long and intense. Sexy austerity.”

2010 Fossacolle – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – Wine Advocate rates the Fossacolle 93 points, noting that the wine is “bursting” with dark fruit but also displays good aging potential.  Will be even better in five years.

2010 Valdicava – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – James Suckling awards this Valdicava 99 points, with the promise of a bright future:  “Absolutely stunning aromas of nectarine, orange peel, sweet black cherry, plum, flower, licorice and mushroom. Full body with layers of ultra-fine tannins and hints of tangy acidity. Such beautiful length and beauty to this wine. It’s powerful and structured but shows a gorgeous finesse and length. Truly wondrous. So long and refined. The texture is phenomenal. Better in 2016.”

Art the Way You Want It: Q&A with Bespoke Artists

Art by Ruth Cisse

Art by Ruth Cisse

If art represents how the artist feels about a subject, the most personal and meaningful art is art you create yourself. If you’re not an artist, bespoke art can achieve the same goal. This goes beyond decor and into the realm of art made with your message.

Max Luxe spoke with two New York City-based artists, Lisa Waltuch and Ruth Cisse, who specialize in working with clients to design custom pieces.

Ruth Cisse

– How long have you been making custom art?

While completing my BFA in Drawing and Painting at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design in 2001, I became fascinated by the connection between art and wellness. I also delved deeply into the study of the Hebrew alphabet and its symbolic meaning as part of understanding my own heritage. I researched cross-cultural symbols and visual traditions to understand the role of the artist in society and to find how I could create art in a meaningful way.

I came across the art of the ancient mandala, which psychologist Carl Jung used as a tool for repairing fragments of the psyche. A mandala is a radial, symmetrical, circular design used cross-culturally for meditation and representation of sacred themes. As the daughter of a father who was an ER doctor turned psychiatrist and a mother who was a physical therapist turned holistic counselor and Kabbalah teacher, I knew that the intricate connection between the mind, body, and spirit was something that I wanted to explore.

I began interviewing people in my community to make Custom Fine Art, often with a focus on mandalas. Like a portrait that sees into the multi-faceted world beneath and beyond the surface of the skin, I asked people to share with me their goals for health and wellness in all aspects of their life, along with colors, symbols, scenes from nature, flowers, trees, traditions, design aesthetics, and anything else that brought meaning to their lives. By giving them a work of art with a personal intention, it could help them to focus on what they wanted to create in their lives. I began writing notes to each client, explaining the symbolism and how it applies to accompany each custom piece. I am very much inspired by people’s stories and strive to reflect back to them their best selves, the innate beauty of their human experience with each shadow and light representing the bigger “picture,” or painting of their lives.

Over the past year, I have also begun to incorporate custom jewelry created from a detail of a client’s painting along with gemstone beads and charms. This allows them to wear it close to their body as a comforting reminder of their special goals and dreams.

– What sort of art do you do as custom pieces?

In addition to interviewing individual clients, I really love collaborative custom art. I recently worked on a custom piece with a local Girl Scout troop, where they helped me tear and collage handmade paper around a painting of a sunflower that they had planted on the roof of their school. Much of the cafeteria food is planted, grown, and harvested by the kids. The finished piece is hanging in Chop’t Creative Salad Company in Upper East Side Manhattan to show the connection between community building and delicious food.

I also loved working with a local family when they moved into a beautiful new Upper East Side apartment. After seeing my work as chair of children’s art with their school’s annual auction, they asked me to create a handmade paper collage with their children. Choosing greys and teals to reflect their color scheme, with other accenting shades of handmade paper, they wanted it to feel calming yet energizing, while strengthening their family’s bond. We had a blast working with their 2 year-old and 7 year-old, tearing and collaging the paper on a large canvas. I pulled it together visually at the end, and we put each family member’s handprint with their name and the date on the back.

I wound up creating a second oil-based colored pencil drawing of a banyan tree with the many twists and layers of branches and roots symbolizing the strength and beauty of their family tree. We are currently working on a 3rd Mark Rothko-inspired oil-painting to bring a vivid pop of color to their grey walls.

Another special piece was commissioned by a client for the 70th Birthday celebration of her aunt who had lost her twin sister (the client’s mother) 20 years ago. In addition to celebrating her milestone, it also was to commemorate and honor her sister’s life and passing. My client wrote a beautiful poem about her mother as her butterfly that we incorporated into the note explaining the symbolism. When she spoke of her mother, a butterfly often landed on her, so the painting was filled with beautiful butterflies in flight. Her aunt was deeply touched by the love and connection the painting held as a reflection of her family’s story.

– What’s the most unusual request you’ve had from a client?

One time, my neighbor, who was a grad student, wanted to give a special gift to her professor upon the completion of their research on Greek and Roman History. She asked me to draw a paused scene from a black and white film where a woman was pleading with a Roman emperor who was about to throw her to the serpents. A portrait of the student and her professor watching this scene was to be inserted in the background architecture. This was quite a bizarre request, and I would’ve loved to have seen the professor’s reaction!

– What do you charge?
A custom painting starts at $450 for a 12×12 canvas. Prices are determined based on a personal interview where size, special requests, and materials are discussed. I require half down at the start of the piece and half upon completion. A mid-session review can be scheduled to make sure the client is happy with the direction of the piece. My medium is mixed media and can combine any of the below mediums or could use just a single medium: oil-based colored pencil, black and white pencil drawing, acrylic or oil paint, tree-free Japanese handmade paper, and Swarovski crystals. Custom jewelry based on a detail of a painting with gemstones can be created for an additional charge, starting at $75.

– Why do clients want custom art?

Clients want art that they can deeply connect to on a personal level, that holds the heart and soul of their family traditions, that makes them feel peaceful after a long day at work because it has their chosen colors or symbols, and that gives vibrancy, life, and energy to their goals and dreams.

I see beauty in each person’s story and all that they have overcome to be the person they are today. I see beauty in the flaws, the struggles, the losses, and the pain as well as in the strengths, the victories, and the joys. To be able to support someone on their journey through life by enriching their visual space with a painting that holds special meaning is truly my privilege and pleasure.

A family crest created by Lisa Waltuch.

A family crest created by Lisa Waltuch.

Lisa Waltuch

– What’s your background?

I have a background in graphic design and creative direction, a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. I have worked with interesting clients including technology CEOs, Ivy League professors, and even a Sudanese refugee who was the subject of a bestselling book. I have done work all over the US and in Europe and most recently exhibited in Miami during Art Basel.
– What sort of art do you do?

My custom pieces are inspired by the people who commission them and can take any form including a sculpture, a book, a film, an installation, a performance, a garden, a piece of furniture, or a more traditional two-dimensional piece of art that can be hung on a wall.

My exploratory process with my clients guides the choice of medium. Typically I work through a few directions with my clients until we settle on a medium and a concept. Once the idea is finalized, I find the right artisans to collaborate with to execute the piece.

– What’s the most unusual request you’ve had from a client?

One of my clients asked me to create a visual and aesthetic representation of a decade’s worth of genealogy research. He and his father had spent years researching six generations of their family history, contacting relatives, working with a genealogist, visiting graveyards, and searching for documents. At the end of this personal odyssey, they came to me to commemorate their efforts. We re-designed their family crest, made two family fonts, a family tree and a hand-made, hand-bound book that chronicles every person in their family tree.

– What do you charge?

Since the projects are so customized the charges depend on the scope, collaborators and materials for the project and can be in the range of $10,000 to $100,000.
– Why do clients want custom art?

My clients aren’t looking for custom art per se; they are looking for a piece or experience that tells a personal story. The focus on the personal always produces powerful emotions in my clients. This is art that goes beyond the aesthetic and investment value and to something that becomes a revered and meaningful keepsake.