Feature

When Only The Best Will Do…

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Professionals who have earned a solid reputation among those who want the best
by Sue Cullen

You’re at a good place in life. You’ve earned it. Now you want to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

From your home to your money, to fabulous art and antiques, smashing gowns, the yacht or car of your dreams, to hosting sensational dinner parties, how do you make sure you’re dealing with one of the best or buying the best? Some decisions may be smaller, while some are life-altering, but you don’t want to settle for less. Why should you? Meet some locals who have earned a solid reputation for being among the best to many in the know.

MANAGING YOUR WEALTH
It’s one of life’s ironies that hard-won financial assets accumulated throughout a lifetime as a result of personal diligence, ingenuity and sacrifice are often placed in someone else’s hands to protect and grow for the future. If there ever were an area where only the best will do, this is most certainly it.

True, savvy investment strategies and portfolio management are key, but with the vagaries of today’s world, having access to trusted, credentialed professionals who bring passion and caring to their work makes all the difference. “We’ve had clients comes to us who have never had a conversation with a financial advisor. Maybe they want to preserve wealth for their children and grandchildren or to leave it to charities, and we see their portfolios are not directed to those goals at all,” says Aimee Cogan, Managing Director, Financial Advisor and co-founder of the Bellwether Group at Morgan Stanley.

“Our team is intent on keeping our client base small in order to be close with those clients and integrated with their entire wealth management picture,” Cogan says, “As a result, we become invested in their lives, their kids and their legacies. That means everything is custom-tailored to each family, and everything we do is specific to them and their needs.”

Wealth management is a highly specialized field and can be complex, particularly for ultra-high net worth families, so credentials are important. Cogan, who has her CFP® and CIMA® designations, also has encouraged team members to achieve designations in their areas, such as Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. “We are in the knowledge and trust business,” she says, “and we go beyond that to help clients with risk management in all areas in which they want to involve us.” This includes access to Morgan Stanley’s Lifestyle Advisory Services. These services offered by third party purveyors, includes property and casualty assessment, private health advisory, experiential bespoke travel, art advisory, private aviation, residential staffing, identity theft monitoring, and many other lifestyle areas that affect clients’ lives. Other services offered include life and long-term care insurance, discounts through the Reserved Program, and a well-regarded speaker series.

Cogan has earned recognition among Barron’s Top 1200 Financial Advisors in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and Top 100 Women Financial Advisors from 2011 to the present. She also has been named Financial Times’ 400 Top Financial Advisors in 2013 and 2016. “The most important thing is having a team so passionate about what we do,” she says, “Clients’ goals are our goals, and that helps them sleep peacefully at night.”

GASTRONOMIC DELIGHTS
There is little that is more satisfying in life than creating happy memories with those who are important to us. The more often we do it, the better. Right? But let’s face it, pulling off a great cocktail party or anniversary dinner – let alone an important business event or wedding day – takes a healthy dose of creativity, the organizational skills of HGTV whiz Jill Pollack, and celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s skills in the kitchen. Or, you could call Kara O’Neill, catering director of the legendary Café L’Europe on
St. Armands Circle.

Founded in 1973, this fine dining gem teems with Old World ambiance. Café L’Europe’s (941.388.4415/cafeleurope.net) quaint brick walls, rich wood beams, and graceful arched doorways create a comfortable yet elegant atmosphere – a picturesque setting for an enjoyable lunch or dinner, or for special private events ranging from a dinner party for 10 to a wedding with 150 guests. “I’m someone who likes to make things happen,” O’Neill says. “I’m right there with clients to make it as easy for them to enjoy their special event and not worry about a thing.”

Many catering customers are attracted by Café L’Europe’s unique fine dining menu featuring special dishes fit for royalty, gorgeously crafted food displays, and signature dishes prepared tableside in the restaurant. “We recently hosted a rehearsal dinner for 35 people and set up a crêpe Suzette station for dessert, and they loved it,” she says. “We don’t always have to stay with the menu, though. We can prepare anything our clients want, and our chef always delivers.”

Hand-in-hand with fabulous food are exquisite and perfectly paired wines. A broad but discriminating wine list ensures guests can find their favorite varietal, and having studied at the Court of Master Sommeliers, O’Neill is very knowledgeable about selecting wines that enhance each dish. Recent wine dinners featuring powerhouse vintners like Opus, Caymus, Silver Oak, and Insignia by Joseph Phelps, for which the entire restaurant was filled for the wine dinner, illustrates Café L’Europe’s access to premier wines.
Café L’Europe’s off-site catering brings fine dining into people’s homes for those who like to entertain and enjoy their guests without being stuck in the kitchen. Cocktail parties with heavy hors d’oeuvres, both displayed and passed, are popular right now, O’Neill says. She also enjoys large-scale off-site events and helping clients select the perfect venue.

“At heart, people are looking for a great experience from start to finish in genial surroundings with great food and wine,” she says. “At the end of the night, it is always our goal to be their hero who exceeded expectations and gave everyone a wonderful time at a fantastic event.”

ULTRA LUXE RIDES
Once we’re at a certain place in life, the pleasure of stepping into an ultra-luxury vehicle is not necessarily about making a statement – but it just does make a big statement. Let’s face it. Driving a Rolls-Royce, Bentley or
Aston Martin is an absolute treat for the senses from the throaty purr (or testosterone-y roar) of the engine and the feel of fine leather, to eagerly responsive handling and the meticulous attention to detail that surrounds us. These worthy chariots allow us to continue enjoying life’s finer experiences away from home.

For more than a year, luxury auto enthusiasts have found a home at Dimmitt Automotive Group’s Sarasota Studio located downtown on State Street (941.256.2825). “The Sarasota Studio is an extension of our entire portfolio and gives us the opportunity to showcase to Sarasota what we’re all about,” says Eric Shepherd, Executive General Manager. “We believe in being part of the community and felt responsible to become part of the Sarasota community because so many people here have done business with us.”

Amid walls lined with art from local galleries, the Sarasota Studio houses a host of pre-owned, high-end luxury automobiles. As part of its concierge-style service, Dimmitt will deliver vehicles to the Studio from its St. Petersburg facility for test drives. The Studio’s location is in the heart of the Saturday Farmers Market and the automotive beauty within draws a host of drop-ins who want to mingle with the Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and other luxury nameplates on the showroom floor. “That leads to a community atmosphere. People come in from the market, and we let them enjoy the automotive works of art we have here,” Shepherd says. “They enjoy the personal nature of our process so much, they want to share that with their friends and will bring them in from the Farmer’s Market to introduce them. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that.”

Although the Sarasota Studio is a newer location, Dimmitt Automotive Group has been around since 1924 and is in its fourth generation of family leadership. Its ability to make an automotive dream come true with a memorable luxury experience for discriminating buyers has helped build that success. “You don’t get to this place without a servant heart culture that includes taking care of customers, employees and the community,” Shepherd says. “Anyone can sell a car, but what can’t be duplicated is an organization that truly cares.”

BREATHTAKING GOWNS
Whether we’re going to the prom, a gala or another of life’s very special events, here’s the fantasy. We arrive in a gown so exquisite and so uniquely us that there is a momentary hush followed by an excited buzz as our inner princess is revealed. If you think this is merely fantasy, you haven’t strolled Main Street lately and been captivated by the breathtaking O’Blanc gowns in Parker Robinson’s windows.

These gowns are a tribute to feminine beauty, with delicate floral motifs and acres of lace, as well as a bit of sexy sheerness ranging from flirty to downright daring, and Parker Robinson (941.363.3343/parkerrobinson.net) is the official U.S. showroom. “Olga Blanc is a young designer whose line is very fast-growing. Her gowns are elegant and feminine with a classic beauty and sophistication, but also a little bit sexy. We also have very special gowns that are signed by the designer,” says Liliya Kent, who is bringing the Italian-made gowns to the U.S. market and who also offers ready-to-wear lines from France, Italy and Germany.
O’Blanc has made a splash worldwide, having recently been invited to International Fashion Week in China and Fashion Week in California. Its designs have been lauded in Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and InStyle magazines, displayed in beauty pageants worldwide, including Miss World and Miss Universe, and worn by international celebrities Nancy O’Dell, Irina Shayk, and Aria Crescendo.

Parker Robinson Interiors, which carries O’Blanc’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and bridal lines, has been a downtown Sarasota mainstay offering luxury home furnishings and interior design services by Erik Kent. In addition, Liliya Kent, a talented musician who always has had a creative bent, has offered pearl and fine diamond jewelry and, because of her connections with European manufacturers, has imported beautiful costumes for professional ballet companies and schools. She met Olga Blanc at a red carpet event in Miami and offered to use her expertise to market O’Blanc fashions in the U.S.

“People are flying here from all over for these gowns, including an opera singer from New York. The young generation loves them, and so do mothers of the bride or groom. O’Blanc also has high-end everyday wear with wonderful fabrics,” Kent says. “I’m so happy to bring O’Blanc to my local clients because it’s exciting to hear them say they had a dream of what they wanted and were able to find it here.”

FLOATING DREAMS
When the sea sounds her siren call, that means only one thing. It’s time for a new boat, and boat dreams come in many forms. Maybe it’s slicing powerfully through the waves with snap of sail or roar of engine. Perhaps simply cruising, letting curiosity drive an exploration of a secluded bay or an uninhabited island to view a fiery sunset. And there are definitely cocktails to bid the sun goodbye.

Finding just the right yacht is an exciting and joyous adventure. “A boat gives you freedom. Buying a boat is a fantastic moment in the life of a person,” says Piero Rivolta of Rivolta Yachts (941.954.0355/rivoltayachts.com). “We custom build the boat they want and give them that moment.” The company offers a portfolio of yachts starting with the ship that launched the company – a majestic and swift 90-foot sailboat for serious sailors with a 140-foot carbon fiber mast and 14-foot keel that is retractable to 6 feet, which Rivolta originally built for himself. Powerful, wave-slicing PT Runners boast dual 480 horsepower Cummins engines and luxury living quarters below, and a selection of 40-plus foot, richly appointed Coupe motor yachts easily accommodate both casual cruising and longer journeys.
“I used to sail to so many countries, but people use their boats differently today,” says Rivolta, who is known for exceptional design from exotic automobiles to local real estate developments such as Longwood Run and The Oaks. “The world is not so simple any more. People don’t want to take long trips so much. They may go for a day or for a weekend. Usually they want to take their boat out for a swim, show their faces to the sun and enjoy time with friends.”

A new Coupe 4.5 being introduced this spring by Rivolta Yachts reflects this shift in use. While the new 44-foot yacht can comfortably handle longer voyages with its lushly appointed living quarters that sleeps four, the exterior design is more open, providing additional room to hang out topside. “You come to us, and we build the boat for you. We have four or five interiors to choose from or can design a custom one, and we can modify some of the exterior design,” Rivolta says. “My son, Renzo, likes to design everything. He will come up with 20 solutions for the boat that you want.”

HOUSE HUNTING
Maybe it’s being home to the top-rated beach in the country; or to a vibrant arts and cultural community — which never fails to astonish newcomers, as well as longtime locals, by its sheer variety and breadth. Or, it might simply be the idea of forever trading winter’s icy grip for Sarasota’s dependable warmth, sunshine and active year-round lifestyle.

Whatever your reason for wanting to find your dream home or condo, whether it’s a cozy cottage, cool modern digs, or waterfront flat, Stephanie Church has been the professional chosen by many in the know.

“Discovering the ideal Florida home is about more than simply identifying properties with the right number of bedrooms, baths and square footage. My objective in working with buyers is to orient them to the neighborhoods and types of housing that are most in sync with their lifestyle aspirations and property buying goals,” says Ms. Church, a Broker-Associate in the Longboat Key office of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate (941.724.5448/stephaniechurch.com). “This means listening very intently, then asking the right questions, before identifying properties to preview together.”
Church is just as effective at listing and selling properties. Although she works with buyers and sellers across the area’s entire price spectrum, she frequently ends each year as one of its highest-producing agents.

“Because of several higher-profile sales, I am often thought of as working in the upper tier of the market. But I am very knowledgeable and experienced at every price point. More important to me is that I have a solid connection with every client.”

What truly makes Church a perennial top achiever are her abilities to listen, learn, negotiate, and communicate effectively with everyone close to the transaction. She also credits her capacity to serve her customers to nearly 25 years as a real estate professional, a personal commitment to exceptional communication, and a willingness to provide objective advice.

Stephanie enjoys extensive international sales and brokerage relations, which provides her with a broad network of worldwide contacts. An avid boater, she has firsthand knowledge of the area’s waterways to better help her buyers differentiate between waterfront properties.

When you work with Ms. Church, you are hiring a pro with a deep commitment to serve those who entrust her with such an important life decision. “When clients hire me, they get me, which is often not the case with many top producing agents,” she says. “I am in this business to help my clients succeed, and by doing so, to earn their trust, friendship and referrals.”

INTRIGUING FINDS
There’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt. What gets the heart pumping like relentlessly tracking down that which we desire – you know we’re talking about shopping, right? Whether looking for the perfect adornment for ourselves or for our not-so-humble abode, finding just the right one-of-a-kind piece doesn’t get any better unless that flawless find comes with a bit of a storied past for story-telling around the fire pit table.

Coming across those rare finds locally often starts with a trip to Sarasota Trading Company on South Pineapple Avenue in the heart of the historic Burns Court district. Stepping inside is a feast for the senses with treasures at every turn. “We have a collection of important 18th Century continental furniture and paintings as well as edgy abstract art and contemporary furniture design that represents 250 years of English, Italian and French design influence,” says owner Andrew Ford. Regulars make a point of stopping in weekly because there’s always something new.

Working in harmony with Sarasota Trading is its sister company Sarasota Estate Auction (941.359.8700/sarasotaestateauction.com). “Most objects come from local collections,” Ford says. “Sarasota attracts people from across the country and the world, and they bring the best of their things here. At some point, they go through a downsizing process, and we help them assess what they have and connect them with collectors locally and internationally.”

Ford stays on the look out for intriguing finds like a commissioned sterling tea service from the former collection of Portugal’s King Charles I and Lalique sculptures and glass collected by a countess from Monte Carlo. One lucky buyer walked away with an important fine Chinese gilt lacquer Qing Dynasty signed cabinet from the Imperial collection, which Ford acquired along with fossils and other objects once owned by the late fossil hunter and explorer Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews.

Other buyers have acquired a rare, signed Tiffany paperweight vase, paintings by early Sarasota art colony artists Syd Solomon and Hilton Leech, an Egyptian funeral mask from Dynasty VI, and a set of signed Ralph Lauren leather chairs. “We also have a large collection of sculpture, which has become very popular locally,” he says. “The higher profile pieces seem to sell more easily today.” Asian pieces are also hot right now and being snapped up by collectors in India, China and Southeast Asia. “Our collector base is primarily local,” Ford says, “but our reach is international.”

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