I first really paid attention to Charlie Siem while flipping through the September issue of Vanity Fair magazine. Its legendary annual best-dressed list featured the smiling young man dressed in a dapper cream Ralph Lauren suit, Eterno shirt, and black Dunhill tie. But after scanning his handsome features (he draws an uncanny resemblance to Orlando Bloom), my eyes were quickly drawn to his left hand. Siem, a classical violinist, was naturally holding his instrument. On closer inspection, I read that this violin was none other than a Guarneri Del Gesù; made in 1735, it is one of the rarest violins in the world and insured at upwards of ten million British pounds.
I was intrigued that such a young man—Charlie Siem is twenty-seven—would behold such a violin, which once belonged to the Prince of Prussia. Not that Siem is your typical rags-to-riches story. A former Eton College student, Charlie Siem is the son of a billionaire Norwegian shipping magnate. His career has thus far featured collaborations with the likes of Dunhill, Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, Lady Gaga, and photographers including Mario Testino, Bryan Adams, and Bruce Weber, to name a few (incidentally, Siem highlighted the Bruce Weber collaboration for Dior Homme as his favorite thus far). Fashion industry heavyweights such as American Vogue Editor in Chief, Anna Wintour, and Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozzani are among his admirers. And, from the look of a September 2013 Vogue Italia spread, featuring Siem styled in a crimson suit and lying on a plush sofa, violin nestled between his legs, one could only assume that the top cats of the fashion bibles had fallen hard.
But while upper-crust society Americans and Europeans have long had a love affair with the classical arts and are known to frequent the Met or the Palais Garnier, their Gulf counterparts do not have home turf access to classical culture. To wit: the Sultanate of Oman’s orchestra is the only one in the region. And while foundations are being laid for some stunning opera houses, which will no doubt play host to internationally renowned artists, will that be enough to transform Dubai (and neighboring cities) into esteemed classical cultural capitals?
Sometimes, all it takes is one raw talent to inspire a new generation of cultural aristocrats. And with that in mind, I made it my mission to meet the current owner of the Guarneri, also known as the Red Violin.