Lady of Luxury Featured

Luxos is granted an exclusive audience with first lady of design Anouska Hempel (a.k.a. Lady Weinberg), the most influential female hotelier in the world
by 18 June 2010

Your name is synonymous with luxury. What does it represent to you?
Luxury is the freedom of time. The biggest luxury is to have the time to do something well and have the freedom to do it. It’s nothing to do with money, it’s nothing to do with the rich, sensuous fabric of life – it’s to do with time and freedom. That’s it.

What is a typical day for you?
I’ve either overslept and am running late, or I can’t sleep at all. I’m either travelling or working all hours: it’s very demanding at the moment.

Speaking of which, you are a fully international creature. Tell me a little about how your wanderlust is reflected in your designs…
It depends on where I am in the world and what stage I am at in my career. The Hempel has a Japanese influence, while Blakes has more of a Thai and Indian feel. Warapuru also has Japanese undertones, because their largest ex-pat population lives in Brazil. At the moment, I’m designing Beirut’s Grand Theatre with Richard Rogers. It’s set on an archaeological site of great importance so we’re working from below the ground upwards – that will be more influenced by the Middle East, with global overtones mixed in. I’ll be taking my boat from there to Alexandria for holidays although, as my husband will tell you, no trip is ever truly a holiday with me.

When you created Blakes, it was the first luxury boutique hotel in the world. What was the inspiration behind it?
I think it was just a lovely idea that people could come to stay at a place they could call home. It was 1978 and I’d spent years wandering like a gypsy from place to place, and there wasn’t a tiny luxury hotel. My friends were a crazy group of rock and roll stars, writers and poets who didn’t want to be in a big stuffy hotel or a tiny bolt hole either. It was my ‘growing up’, in those days when you thought you could do everything… And I did.

The Hempel Hotel marked a departure for you, and also the world, by introducing minimalism to the UK. What led you to create it?
All around me was chaos and confusion and I felt I had to create something for the world that was cool and calm, with contemporary Eastern orientations, and so I set off to do this. This was the beginning of Anouska Hempel Design on a serious architectural level. It was the changeover when the world took us seriously as architects.

And your much-vaunted Brazilian residence, Warapuru, is finally being unveiled to the world. Please tell me about the concept behind it.
It’s all clean stone, clean wood, clean sheets and clean sky: very, very honest and very, very real. It was about making a green space cocooned by jungle, with these standout, minimalist, strict houses, like precious little tiffin boxes cantilevered out of the pulsing rainforest. 

Your projects influence the world. As a designer you are a purist, yet each of your properties indelibly bears your signature while standing alone, totally unique to what has come before it. Are you yourself the unifying force behind your projects? 

It’s my life. It’s what I am. I can never explain it. Work is a discipline, architecture is a discipline: my designs are my own discipline, and I like discipline. Blakes remains a warm, intimate, womblike experience, but once I’d done that I needed to move into the contemporary world with Blakes Amsterdam, and then I had to try the minimalist world with The Hempel. It’s a discipline I have, and an eye, whether it’s about a volume of space or a clutter of things. Perhaps each design comes as a statement, a signature.

You famously designed the Van Cleef & Arpels boutiques throughout the world. How did you integrate the concept of jewellery and precious stones into the designs?
I wanted the effect to be akin to living inside an amethyst, tourmaline or sapphire – how it might feel if you were to step into an exquisite, precious stone and lie down in it, bathing in the refracted light from the jewel.

You’re noted for your rich, sensuous fabrics. Which is your favourite?
Silk, linen, wool, cashmere, felt, double duchesse satin, muslin… You can’t answer that question if you’re in couture, it’s too difficult. I like everything!

You’ve led an incredible life: how do you look back upon all of your achievements?

I could have done more and I should have done more, but I’ve only just started so it doesn’t really matter. Seriously? With very few regrets, and only a very few.

Further reading:
A-listed - Architectural heritage and luxury shopping combine for the ultimate retail experience
Designing your Culture - Luxos talks to Ebru Çerezci

London FW 2010