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Interview: High-Design Superstar Jean-Michel Gathy

The high-design superstar on geography, romance and staying where everybody knows his name.


Interview - Jean-Michel Gathy

Hometown Brussels
Home Base Kuala Lumpur
Claim to Fame Principal designer at Denniston, responsible for hotels for Aman Resorts, Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt and Shangri-La.
Current Projects Thirteen properties in construction, “from Australasia to Brazil to Mexico to Europe to the Middle East to Bali,” and another dozen in development. Travel Essential “I always travel with a Loro Piana cashmere scarf because it’s light and warm.”

You travel more than 200 days a year. How does that influence your work?
I have a very critical eye. I spend my time abroad measuring, assessing, exploring and critiquing things constantly, and finding inspiration for ideas. For example, when I was in Milan the other week, I saw a wall treatment that I thought would be perfect for the Mandarin Oriental I’m working on in Bali.

What’s still romantic about hotels to you?
Unlike designing a high-rise building for offices, where it’s all about efficiency and selling square footage, hotels sell a lifestyle as well as premium values. I like that. And as a guest, it’s all about discovery. I like to analyze the decor and materials used to create the spaces where people meet. And I love calling room service.

Can you share Any insider hotel tips?
When you book a hotel, always be explicit about what room you want: away from the service lift, great light in the morning, with a garden view or with a terrace. If you don’t ask, someone else will.

Do you have a favourite Memory from your travels?
I was at the Four Seasons in Florence on my anniversary and my wife and I were having dinner on the roof. The GM came over and offered my wife a bouquet of flowers. It was so personal and impressive.

You’ve lived in Kuala Lumpur since 1992. What brought you there?
After my divorce I was alone and I liked Malaysia a lot because I felt very integrated. There are so many different people – the Malay, the Chinese, the Indians, the Eurasians – that you never feel like an outsider since everybody is a foreigner to each other already; this mixture is fantastic. Malaysians are the nicest people in the world because the only way to get along is to be friendly.



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