From F1 to fashion - fast-living businessman Flavio Briatore's journey

Billionaire Couture's Flavio Briatore on the name of his label. He has a daughter with supermodel Heidi Klum and is now married to ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci (above, left). -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Billionaire Couture's Flavio Briatore on the name of his label. He has a daughter with supermodel Heidi Klum and is now married to ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci (above, left). -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSEPHOTOS: DESMOND WEE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Billionaire Couture's Flavio Briatore on the name of his label. He has a daughter with supermodel Heidi Klum (above) and is now married to ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Billionaire Couture's Flavio Briatore on the name of his label. He has a daughter with supermodel Heidi Klum (above) and is now married to ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSEPHOTOS: DESMOND WEE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Billionaire Couture's Flavio Briatore (above) on the name of his label. He has a daughter with supermodel Heidi Klum and is now married to ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci. -- PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Billionaire Couture's Flavio Briatore (above) on the name of his label. He has a daughter with supermodel Heidi Klum and is now married to ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci. -- PHOTO: DESMOND WEEPHOTOS: DESMOND WEE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Italian Flavio Briatore's Billionaire Couture is now available here, with prices from $300 for a silk tie

The definition of "international playboy" may vary, but Flavio Briatore once fitted the common understanding of the phrase.

Not too long ago, an average day for him would read like a bucket list for other men. He used to manage a Formula One team and own a football club, and was linked to models both super - Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum, among them - and ordinary grade, all of course much younger than him.

Now married, the Italian still roves the world, but it is to keep an eye on a nightclub, fashion, restaurant and resort empire.

The 64-year-old businessman (worth US$150 million to US$200 million, or S$190 million to S$250 million, depending on who you ask) is here to launch a 88 sq m shop in Marina Bay Sands, the second single-brand outlet in Asia after Macau for Billionaire Couture.

He created the men's clothing brand in 2005 and the Singapore store joins 30 other outlets around the world.

"Yes, it's all Billionaire," he says, pointing to his clothes. Jeans, dark T-shirt and blazer, grey suede shoes - they are all understated, elegant and, most of all, comfortable, he tells Life!.

In pursuit of comfort, he ditched business suits a decade ago. No suit and tie, not even at his 2008 wedding with former Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci, he says. He has one daughter, born in 2004, from his relationship with Klum and a son with Gregoraci born in 2010.

"You see the shop - it's simple. The name, it's a little bit arrogant, if you want. But this name, it helps people remember," he says.

Well, if they do not remember the name, they might remember the prices. They start at $300 for a silk tie to about $1,200 for a shirt, $1,700 for a pair of jeans and, at the top end, $18,200 for a calf leather jacket lined with chinchilla fur.

As Briatore explains the cost - craftsmanship, fabric treatments, fine materials such as Japanese cotton, furs and leather all add up - it all begins to sound very reasonable.

But then, to someone who is a fixture on the Monaco celebrity circuit, it would be. Home is in Monte Carlo, which is also home to Force Blue, his superyacht.

The word "flamboyant" crops up a lot when looking into the Briatore biography and he does very little to discourage the reputation.

In his home country, he says, he is in the top three of the most well-known business executives. According to a survey, his name has an 89 per cent recognition rate in Italy, he says.

Briatore is also known in Germany and France, chimes an assistant.

What has probably helped propel the Briatore myth is how, despite several scary legal challenges, he has always rebounded, often to greater heights.

For example, in the early 1980s, after he was sentenced to jail in an Italian court for gambling fraud, he became a fugitive in the United States Virgin Islands. "We were just young men, playing cards. It was forbidden in Italy to play for money in a house. We got into some trouble, it was not a big deal," he says.

While in exile, thanks to a close relationship with the Benetton family, he opened the first Benetton apparel store on American soil, which grew into a chain across the United States.

That first legal challenge and subsequent ones have been fought and quashed by Briatore.

His fame happened incidentally through his success as a Formula One team manager - he is credited with giving drivers Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso their breaks - as well as his past association with models and starlets.

He has courted and used his celebrity status, such as by appearing as the boss on Italy's version of The Apprentice.

But ask him about how celebrity has fed his success as a businessman and you will be met with a casual, almost dismissive reply. "No, I don't use my celebrity. In business, what makes people stay is if they make money. You can be a celebrity but if your record is no good, nobody invests in you," he says.

"I don't use my celebrity. People use me," he adds, smiling.

johnlui@sph.com.sg