As Pride celebrations were in full swing around the globe, we were reminded of the hard fight still ahead at the unveiling this week of the stunning new (RED) Suite at the Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel.
It was also a privileged opportunity to meet face to face with the legendary designer and one-man-zeitgeist Sir Terence Conran, who had put his inimitable aesthetic stamp on the impossibly groovy new three-room space in East London’s most stylish hotel. The project was initiated by Sheila Roche, Creative & Communications Officer with (RED), the AIDS charity founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006. Conran and Partners, who had redesigned and reopened The Great Eastern Hotel on the same site in 2000 (it became the first Andaz in 2008) were at the helm once again for its recent makeover – and the result is a new paradigm of the founder’s signature modernist style…sublimely represented in the new suite.
Indeed, after years of faux-Victoriana, old-timey barnyard-chic, and, well, far too many stag’s heads, it felt like there was a palpable sense of electricity in revisiting his always forward-looking aesthetic. It’s a style infused with the unshakeable optimism of the man himself, at a time when optimism actually seems exceedingly hard to come by.
“I think ‘modern’ is what makes people comfortable,” he casually philosophized.
Significantly, Roche reminded all of the urgency of the (RED) mission, especially as the larger media focus has perhaps shifted to other exigent crises, like the opioid epidemic.
“(RED) is a small cog,” she conveyed, “but an important one. A sustainable way to drive funds to the AIDS cause. It’s a preventable disease, yet it has killed 35 million people – while the treatment costs just 20 cents a day, and also reduces the spread of the AIDS by limiting transmission.”
As it turned out, Sir Terence and the U2 frontman actually had bit of a history…though it didn’t really seem all that surprising.
“I know Bono,” he said matter-of-factly. “We did a hotel for him in Dublin – he’s passionate about hotels.”
But it was Conran’s passion that was shining through in the whimsical yet carefully considered details of the (RED) Suite. For one, he had commissioned photographer Nobuyuki Taguchi to take 5000 shots around the East London area – and 50 of the best are now displayed on its walls, in a fascinatingly narrative fashion. There are also shelves of (RED) signature products; a particularly groovy rust-leather lounger/rocker; clever, Picasso-referencing pillows; and a very vibrant fuchsia couch, which was actually a happy mistake – Sir Terence thought he’d ordered it in red. Yet it looked as if nothing else could possibly replace it.
Notably, there is a sleek, “figure-eight” light fixture above the dining room table, which the designer joked “was like two haloes, for the founders of (RED).” Bono’s critics could have had a field day with that one, to be sure.
Still, our favorite moment was when Conran recalled the first time he walked into the then down-at-heel Great Eastern Hotel in 1997, before his initial renovation: “When I approached the receptionist, she asked ‘How many hours do you need?'”
21 years later, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else in London (or the world) that has the soul of the exalted designer more thoroughly woven into its walls, floors and, well, everything else. But the (RED) Suite also seemed to represent a new standard in hotel activism, and hopefully will inspire more such creative advocacy.
For now, though, we couldn’t recommend highly enough just going ahead and booking it, for how utterly cool you’ll feel when you plop yourself down into one of its timelessly fabulous Eames chairs – and how good you’ll feel knowing a good portion of the rate goes directly to (RED), in the continuing fight against AIDS.
Sir Terence himself said it best: “I hope I’ll actually get to spend the night here.”