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Designer Karl Lagerfeld - RIP

21 February 2019 - 09:42 PM

Fashion icon and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld dies aged 85





Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has died at the age of 85, his fashion label Chanel confirmed on Tuesday (Feb 19).   The announcement came just weeks after the icon of the global fashion industry failed to turn up at shows during Paris Haute Couture week for Chanel, which he has led since 1983. He had reportedly been in ill health.

"An extraordinary creative individual, Karl Lagerfeld reinvented the brand’s codes created by Gabrielle Chanel: The Chanel jacket and suit, the little black dress, the precious tweeds, the two-tone shoes, the quilted handbags, the pearls and costume jewellery," said Chanel in a statement after the announcement of his death.

The CEO of Chanel, Alain Wertheimer, added that Lagerfeld was "ahead of his time". “Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House Of Chanel’s success throughout the world," he said. "Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand.”

The House Of Chanel offered his family, relatives and friends its deepest condolences. Friends have always said that the prolific creator would die with a pencil in his hand, and just last week his own fashion line Karl Lagerfeld was still announcing new design collaborations.

The veteran German designer died on Tuesday morning after being rushed to a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine just outside Paris the night before, reported French celebrity online magazine Purepeople.

Lagerfeld, who simultaneously churned out collections for Fendi and his eponymous label – an unheard of feat in fashion – was almost a brand in his own right. Sporting dark suits, white, pony-tailed hair and tinted sunglasses in his later years that made him instantly recognisable, an irreverent wit was also part of a carefully crafted persona. "I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," runs one legendary quote attributed to him, and often recycled to convey the person he liked to play. "It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."


Dubbed "Kaiser Karl" and "Fashion Meister" among a whole host of media monikers – Lagerfeld was born in 1933 in Hamburg to a German mother and a Swedish father who imported condensed milk. He spent early childhood tucked away from war in the 1,200-acre family estate in Bavaria and had a French tutor. The big breakthrough came shortly after a move to Paris when, in 1954, he drew a wool coat that won a prize and landed him an apprenticeship with designer Pierre Balmain. Lagerfeld first found real success in the mid-1960s with Chloe, the fashion label now owned by Switzerland's Richemont. But it was Chanel that propelled him to rock-star status, as he sexed up the brand and lifted its profile with grandiose runway shows. In the past year these have featured a full-scale beach and an enormous replica ship.


Bernard Arnault, owner of the luxury giant LVMH - the most powerful man in fashion - said he was "infinitely saddened" by the loss of a "very dear friend" and a "creative genius". "Fashion and culture have lost a major inspiration. He contributed to making Paris the fashion capital of the world and Fendi one of the most innovative of Italian brands," the billionaire said.

News of his death led to an outpouring of emotion in the industry, and tributes began flowing in from politicians and fans. "It's a privilege to be able to say that you've worked with him, that you've listened to him speak, that you've talked with him, that you've been dressed by him," said the French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis on Instagram. "Karl Lagerfeld is an immense personality, someone out of the ordinary," French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told RTL radio.

Virginie Viard, deputy artistic director of Chanel, will become chief designer of the fashion house following the death of haute couture icon Karl Lagerfeld, a source at Chanel said on Tuesday.

All about American GMC vehicles

19 February 2019 - 12:25 AM

2020 GMC Acadia





2020 GMC Acadia First Look The Acadia Is Finally the SUV It Should Have Been at Launch

When GMC redesigned the Acadia a few years ago, it made a host of improvements to quality, comfort and technology. Unfortunately, the new Acadia retained the old six-speed automatic transmission, which hurt acceleration and fuel economy, and it came standard with a somewhat overmatched four-cylinder engine. The Acadia's fraternal twin, the Chevrolet Traverse, launched with a nine-speed automatic and the GMC's optional V6 as the standard powertrain. Coupled with the fact that it's larger and it offers more interior space, the Traverse seemed like the default choice for a midsize three-row SUV from General Motors.

In the years since, the GMC folks have come up with a few solutions that debut on the refreshed 2020 GMC Acadia. With a new look, better powertrain options, technology upgrades, and even an off-road-themed trim, the Acadia finally has an identity all its own.

Playing Catch-Up

The outgoing six-speed automatic got the job done, but we like the new nine-speed unit for 2020, and there's no denying that it offers an advantage in terms of fuel economy. Although the non-turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder (193 horsepower, 188 pound-feet of torque) remains the entry-level Acadia engine, higher trims now come standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (230 hp, 258 lb-ft) that's much more capable. Notably, the stout V6 engine (310 hp, 271 lb-ft) is still an option for buyers so inclined.

At a glance, it looks like GMC is simply bringing the Acadia in line with the Traverse, but take a closer look and you'll see that what it has actually done is differentiate it even more.

Identity Crisis No More

The Traverse only offers its turbo motor in the "sporty" RS trim, where the engine is tuned to make more torque than the V6. GMC has opted for a different application of the engine, slotting it into a logical place in the Acadia lineup and making for a logical trim-level breakdown. For 2020, the SLT and Denali trims will both come standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 230 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. This lineup offers a sensible progression and adds value for shoppers at every trim level. It also distinguishes the Acadia's value proposition from the Traverse, making it feel more like a unique product offering.

The more aggressive exterior design only helps on that front. The squared-off headlights and big grille are welcome changes for 2020, making the Acadia look more like a GMC truck. We're fans of the tougher appearance, and we're glad to see GMC separating itself and establishing a strong identity.

AT4 Ever

Speaking of tough, GMC has added an AT4 trim to the 2020 Acadia. With some added cladding and dark accents on the outside, the Acadia AT4 certainly looks the part. While AT4 is meant to be GMC's "off-road" sub-brand, the Acadia AT4 doesn't get any unique trail-busting features. However, it does come standard with AWD and the V6 engine, and it will slot in between the SLT and top-tier Denali trim.

That should mean you'll get more power and AWD for less money than the Denali, provided you're willing to forgo some of the Denali's additional luxuries. Add in the styling elements and we think the AT4 makes for an attractive package.

Upgrades and Updates

Beyond the exterior refresh and powertrain improvements, the 2020 Acadia gets some new technology. The 8-inch touchscreen receives a software update, granting the ability to save drivers' preferences into unique profiles. There are also upgrades to the satellite nav and the inclusion of two USB-C ports.

Wireless charging is now available, and the high-definition camera that's standard on higher trims has been updated for better image quality. GMC also reports a redesigned center console that allows for more storage space and some suspension fiddling to improve ride quality.



Pricing and Release Date

GMC has been smart with the 2020 Acadia, and we think shoppers will take note, especially with regard to the improved value proposition from the SLT trim on up. The official MSRP range hasn't been released, but we don't expect it to deviate much from the existing pricing structure. The 2020 GMC Acadia should hit dealerships this fall.

Vandal One Is An American Track Car

13 February 2019 - 11:11 PM

Vandal One Is An American Track Car With 560HP Civic Type R Engine



The British may be the masters of building lightweight and exceptionally quick track cars, but U.S. firm Vandal wants in on this action – This being their first model, dubbed Vandal One.

Underpinning the Vandal One is a carbon fiber monocoque chassis that’s adorned with body panels also made exclusively from carbon fiber. All up, the track car weighs a mere 1,224 lbs (555 kg) and will be sold with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine of the current Honda Civic Type R.

This engine typically delivers 306 hp, yet Vandal has managed to bump that up to 340 hp in entry-level guise. For those that want even more grunt, Vandal will sell an upgrade package that increases grunt to 560 horses. As if that wasn’t enough, Vandal says this version of the Civic Type R engine will rev to 9,000 rpm despite the use of forced induction. Unlike the Civic Type R, the Vandal One will be sold exclusively with a six-speed sequential transmission supplied by Sadev.

The Vandal One has all the right ingredients to be an absolute ball.

Don’t for a second think that Vandal has simply slapped a Honda engine into a carbon chassis, however. The small Detroit company has also developed pushrod front and rear suspension for the sports car that uses JRi adjustable dampers and sway bars. The vehicle’s spring rate can also be customized, while various drive modes adjust the ride height from five inches above the road to just two inches.

Each and every Vandal One built will also come complete with a telemetry system which allows for real-time monitoring of vehicle data from the pit lane, while the driver is putting in fast laps.

Vandal will sell the base 340 hp One for $119,700 but has yet to release pricing for the more powerful versions. Pre-orders with a $1,000 deposit will open later this year.













What happened to Venezuela?

02 February 2019 - 01:42 AM

The Forces That Could Plunge Venezuela Into Chaos



From Juan Guaidó and U.S. sanctions to a starving population and protest, the country is rushing toward a breaking point.

Events are moving fast in Venezuela, and not in President Nicolás Maduro’s favor. Scattered protests in Caracas the night of his second inauguration, on Jan. 10, quickly grew into organized demonstrations as thousands heeded opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s call to march against the regime. At press time, Maduro remains in office, but he faces a litany of threats: the economy, which has been devastated by low oil prices; powerful international interests, including the U.S., which condemned his 2018 reelection as illegitimate; Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, who’s claimed the title of interim president until new elections can be called; and the military, whose loyalty Maduro needs above all else to hold on to power. The president made a show of courting the armed forces’ support and has sent security forces into areas of unrest. But every day Guaidó roams freely in Caracas, holding rallies and building a government in waiting, Maduro’s grip on power becomes more tenuous.


The Military

Guaidó supporters first fanned out to military bases and national guard stations around Caracas in the days after he declared himself president on Jan. 23. They carried copies of a law from the National Assembly granting amnesty to any member of the armed forces who defects to the anti-Maduro cause. So far the top brass has stood behind the commander-in-chief, who long ago secured their loyalty with lucrative prizes: the reins of Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the state-owned oil company; control of the ports; contracts for housing projects; and the rights to valuable mining and oil-services concessions.

It would be a surprise if military leaders broke ranks and moved against the authoritarian regime, says historian Tomás Straka of Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas: “Their economic interests and vision are completely fused with Maduro’s.” Despite the outreach from the Assembly, they’ll be in trouble if he falls. Several high-ranking officers have been sanctioned by the U.S., accused by American prosecutors of graft, drug running, and other crimes.

Many in the rank and file also remain behind Maduro, at least publicly. More than a few were photographed burning the amnesty documents. Still, dissent has simmered since before Maduro’s tenure. A military coup deposed his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chávez, for a few days in 2002. The mood among the soldiers has only soured since, as the economy has crumbled, with those down the chain of command struggling along with the rest of the population. They, too, have to deal with desperate shortages of food and medicine, blackouts, and water taps that run dry. There have been reports of desertions. Asked for their reactions to the amnesty offer over the weekend, some men in uniform patrolling the city, rifles slung over their shoulders, gave a wink or a thumbs-up.


The World

While key allies Russia and China continue to support Maduro, the pro-Guaidó faction swelled in just over a week to more than 20 countries, including Canada, Israel, and the U.K. In Latin America, 11 countries lined up to follow President Trump’s lead in pushing for regime change.

Among their motivations: More than 3 million people have fled Venezuela, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, mainly to neighboring lands. “This isn’t merely a question of applying democratic principles, this is a question of countries bearing the brunt of the negative consequences,” says Benjamin Gedan, a former South America director at the White House’s National Security Council.

Not all in the region are on board. Mexico and Uruguay have called for de-escalation; Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua have reiterated their support for Maduro. The European Union stopped short of giving Guaidó the nod, though it signaled it would do so if Venezuela didn’t schedule “free, transparent, and credible presidential elections” by the beginning of February.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been assisting Guaidó in a kind of smoke-and-mirrors game of brinkmanship, insinuating that it may be building up a military force in Colombia to invade if necessary. Addressing the UN Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was blunt. “Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side,” he said. “Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”


The Money

The Trump administration dealt its hardest blow yet to Maduro when it put new sanctions on PDVSA. Once Latin America’s largest producer, Venezuela is pumping less than North Dakota does these days, but oil sales remain its main source of revenue. Sanctions will effectively block the national oil company from exporting crude to the U.S. and crimp the regime’s cash flow. Its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, will be allowed to continue operating, but all revenue will be held in accounts the Maduro regime can’t access. Guaidó has vowed to appoint his own boards to PDVSA and Citgo—a mostly symbolic gesture for now, but one that nevertheless adds to his aura of authority.

Pompeo took another step toward starving out Maduro on Jan. 29, granting Guaidó control over Venezuelan assets and property in U.S.-insured banks, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (The State Department has declined to say how much money is in the accounts.) American officials also successfully lobbied the Bank of England to deny Maduro access to $1.2 billion in gold the Venezuelan government holds in London, stymieing its efforts to pull in funds from abroad.

Maduro’s government owes Russia and China billions of dollars in loan payments, but that’s unlikely to faze the sitting president. Since the Trump administration began slapping sanctions on Caracas in 2017, the government has defaulted on more than $9 billion in debt owed to bondholders, yet both creditors have been staunch so far in their support.

The real problem for Maduro is losing the ability to dole out money. The more of the economy Guaidó gains control over, the harder-pressed Maduro will be to keep key allies on his side. The military, for instance, is unlikely to stick around if he loses the power of the purse.


The People

Hungry, broke, and exhausted, Venezuelans are angrier than ever with Maduro. And after more than a year of silence in the wake of the mass demonstrations of 2017, Guaidó has reignited their passion for protest.

Almost two years ago, millions turned out and encountered tear gas and violence at the hands of security forces. Thousands were arrested during months of demonstrations, and hundreds died. This time the protests have been mostly peaceful. Security officers were out when Guaidó supporters again took to the streets of Caracas on Jan. 30, but they largely kept ranks as protesters marched past.

Earlier, Maduro launched a series of nighttime raids in the working-class neighborhoods and slums that were once rock-solid Chavista bastions but have begun to shift away from him. There, under the cover of darkness, members of the deadly Special Action Force used tear gas, guns, and even grenades against demonstrators. “Maduro won’t let go of power easily,” says Jesus Gonzalez, a motorcycle taxi driver in the vast Petare slum. “He doesn’t mind pumping anyone who protests against him full of lead.”

Through all of this, Guaidó hasn’t been arrested. Although Maduro has prevented him from leaving the country, he’s so far been free to travel locally, meet with foreign leaders, and speak to the press. Social media blackouts have curtailed his reach at times, while Maduro has been touring the country’s military installations trailed by a TV crew filming generals as they swear their allegiance.

At press time, Guaidó was still leading marchers and planning further protests for Feb. 2, when the EU’s deadline runs out.



Venezuela is ‘disease threat to America’ as measles and diphtheria cases soar in crisis



The South-American country has plunged into economic ruin and political chaos following almost 20 years of price control and stringent policies launched by socialist leader Hugo Chavez. The meltdown has profoundly affected Venezuela’s health system, whose current state has been compared by experts to the ones of war-stricken countries such as Syria and Yemen. Diseases such as measles and diphtheria, which could be contained with widespread vaccinations, have re-emerged in the country, putting its neighbouring countries at risk of contagion as millions flee to Brazil and Colombia for a better life. 


A paper in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases said: “The ongoing diphtheria and measles epidemics in Venezuela, and spill over into neighbouring countries, evoke the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases observed in Syria and Yemen and the consequent threat to regional, and potentially global, public health.”

Measles, a highly infectious viral illness which can be fatal, and diphtheria were thought to be under control in Venezuela, but its chronic shortage of medicines and vaccines and the general poverty of the country fuelled their return.

Moreover, medically trained workers are among the millions who have left the country, according to the paper written by academics led by Alberto Paniz-Mondolfi, a Venezuelan infectious diseases pathologist.

He said: “The continued mass exodus of around two million persons from Venezuela since 2014, not only to Colombia, but also to Ecuador, and Brazil, represents an ongoing risk that vaccine-preventable diseases will be carried with them.”

Venezuela now contributes to nearly seven out of 10 cases of measles in the Americas, just 11 years after the country believed to have stamped it out.

Diphtheria, a potentially deadly disease affecting nose, throat and sometimes skin, was first spotted again after 24 years in 2016. 

Skoda Kamiq SUV revealed ahead of Geneva debut

31 January 2019 - 09:32 PM

These are the first sketches of the Skoda Kamiq






Right, let’s sort this out early on. The new Skoda Kamiq will be the smallest of the Czech brand’s three SUV offerings, putting it below the medium-sized Karoq and larger Kodiaq. Its rivals will be the likes of the Hyundai Kona, Nissan Juke and fellow Volkswagen Group little’uns the Seat Arona and VW T-Cross.

For the sake of even more confusion though, Skoda is hoping to make the Kamiq slightly bigger than its competitors in order to score a point on interior space.

So, it’s a big little SUV. Got it? 

Anyway – model minefield aside – based on the initial sketches that Skoda has released it’ll be a great looking thing. The front end is tall and imposing for a small (big) car and the split headlights have been flipped from the Karoq and Kodiaq – with sharp daytime runners above the main lights.

The angular theme continues towards the back, where all lines converge to create a sporty-looking rear-end with Skoda spelt out along the boot. Whatever happened to logos?

We don’t know anything more about what’s under the skin yet, but based on its sister cars from Seat and VW we can probably expect to get 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel versions here in the UK. 

The Kamiq will be officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in early March. Like it, or will it fade into SUV obscurity? Let us know below…