Hotel Week: DG Q&A With Mr & Mrs Smith's Tamara Heber Percy
After a crummy hotel spoiled their romantic getaway, James Lohan and Tamara Heber Percy didn’t just grumble to their friends or post nasty comments on a travellers website. They created their own guidebook for similar couples seeking seductive places to stay. And when nobody would publish it, they raised £180,000 and published the book themselves. It was an immediate hit.
Six years later, Lohan and Heber Percy are married and Mr & Mrs Smith is a well-established institution. From the original coffee-table guidebook featuring 41 hotels in the U.K. and Ireland, the company has expanded to cover the world, with five more books, an online directory or more than 500 hotels, and a membership base of 75,000.
“We handpick, personally visit, and then anonymously review every property in our collection. Our aim is to bring you a trusted insider guide, just like a good travel-savvy friend would,” says Heber Percy. (Once a reviewer has given some place a good report, the company does charge the hotel to be included.)
Along with well-known journalists and authors, reviewers include celebrities like Stella McCartney and Dita von Teese, who declared the Viceroy in Santa Monica exceedingly glamorous, indeed perhaps “the most fabulous hotel in Los Angeles.” (She did not, however, bring a Mr. Smith along for her weekend.)
Although still better known across the Atlantic, Mr & Mrs Smith is attracting American fans. “I have fallen in love, love, love with Mr & Mrs Smith,” gushes Lea Ann Fessenden of the L.A. Examiner. Whether you're planning a trip or merely fantasizing about one, the Mr & Mrs Smith website is an enticing place to start. (Check out their blog here.) We’re delighted to have Mr & Mrs Smith as our Hotel Week sponsor and to talk hotel glamour with Tamara Heber Percy.
DeepGlamour: What led you to start the company?
Tamara Heber Percy: When my husband and I were dating, we both led extremely busy lives. We were always on the lookout for special hotels to escape to, but no one seemed to know more than one or two – we knew the boutique-hotel movement was happening out there but we couldn’t find a guidebook we trusted. A few weekends away where the brochures failed to live up to their promises inspired us to create our own guide. After it sold 20,000 copies in the first three months, we realized we had to take it further. So here we are.
DG: Why are you called Mr & Mrs Smith?
THP: Mr & Mrs Smith is the front-desk pseudonym couples use when they are having a naughty weekend away – it’s a very English expression but one that when explained to anyone else puts a smile on their face! I think we were the first to recognize that couples don’t go away for the weekend to do their knitting!Mr & Mrs Smith is based on the idea that a couple is sneaking away for a romantic weekend.
DG: How do you extend the weekend getaway idea from a relatively small area like the UK to a continent-sized country like the U.S., or to the whole world?
THP: Busy Manhattanites also need to escape from the stress and strain of city life – you guys just have to travel greater distances sometimes. You also get shorter holidays than the Brits so getting the hotel address right first time is even more important for you. The principle is the same whether you are planning a weekend away or a week’s holiday – you want somewhere you can feel instantly relaxed, somewhere stylish and special. Your holidays are so important that ending up somewhere disappointing can be devastating. The good news is that we’re stating to see new boutique hotels springing up no more than a three-hour drive for Manhattan, and we’re sure there’ll be more. In the last six months, for example, we’ve found André Balazs’s Sunset Beach in the Hamptons, the wonderful Wheatleigh in the Berkshires, and off-the-wall Winvian in the Litchfield Hills. In truth, we’ve extended our global scope beyond just weekends away, we now cover longer breaks and honeymoon escapes too – always with our focus on the romantic potential of a place.
DG: Photographs of hotels are often glamorous and evocative. Can the hotel experience ever live up to the emotional expectations those photos create?
THP: Of course. Though we hope the images we use will inspire, we certainly don’t want them to mislead – a hotel photo should tell you immediately what the hotel has that makes you want to stay there, and your experience there should confirm that you were right in the first place to choose it. I can’t think of a single one of our hotels I’ve been to where I haven’t felt that the actual experience of staying there surpassed the pictures. The images get you excited; the stay should keep you that way.
DG: There are many ways a hotel can be romantic, depending on the couple and their mood. What are some of your favorite examples?
THP: The views from Hacienda de San Antonio in Mexico are some of the most romantic on the planet – across coffee plantations to the Colima volcano in the background. Breathtaking.Honeymoon-perfect Jade Mountain in St Lucia, where each room has only three walls and is open to the air – private but unenclosed. (The views of the Pitons poking out of the ocean and the private infinity pools help up the romance stakes even more).I love the grounds at Hotel Endsleigh in Devon – on the banks of the River Tamar with its own arboretum – stunning English countryside made for romantic ramblings. The bedrooms at Blakes Hotel in London are romantic because of the designer’s attention to detail: luxurious fabrics, zillions of cushions – the quintessential luxe boudoir (although Gramercy Park in NYC does a pretty good job in the sumptuous bedroom department too).
DG: What makes a hotel glamorous (as opposed to romantic)?
THP: Usually, the decor and style of service. It tends to be bolder, more striking – a bit ‘look at me I’m something, aren’t I?’ and more about the kind of clientele you’ll mix with there than squirreling yourselves away as a twosome. A romantic hotel can be a little more relaxed in style and softly spoken about its best features. It tends to let guests discover its charms rather than put them on show. Higher Westcott Farm – a four-room boutique B&B surrounded by wild Devon moorland – must be one of the most romantic places on the planet, but you wouldn’t call it glamorous. Both styles are great fun to experience depending on the occasion – our aim is to help you make the right choice for your mood.
The DG Dozen
1) DG: How do you define glamour?
An unquestionable, convincing, and inspiring level of confidence that creates a lasting impression. Nothing to do with money, all about mindset. I think this is applicable to everything: people, places, pashminas…
2) DG: Who or what is your glamorous icon?
3) DG: Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?
If glamour weren’t luxurious, it wouldn’t be glamour.
4) DG: Favorite glamorous movie?
5) DG: What was your most glamorous moment?
My wedding day at Ca’s Xorc Hotel in Mallorca.
6) DG: Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?
My Cartier watch.
7) DG: Most glamorous place?
Ibiza – I grew up there, got married there, and go back whenever I can.
Something in Formula One.
9) DG: Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't.
Travel – after six years of doing it for a living, the gloss does wear off.
10) DG: Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized.
Campari and soda – my mum used to drink it in the 70s.
11) DG: Can glamour survive?
Yes, as long as it has a humble side to it.
12) DG: Is glamour something you're born with?
Not necessarily, but you do have to love it to have it.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?Angelina
2) Paris or Venice?Paris
3) New York or Los Angeles?New York
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace?Princess Grace
5) Tokyo or Kyoto?Tokyo
6) Boots or stilettos?Boots
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau?Art Deco
9) Armani or Versace?Versace.
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?Anna Wintour.
11) Champagne or single malt?Neither – I am a cocktail girl.
12) 1960s or 1980s? 1960s
[Hotel photos courtesy of Mr & Mrs Smith. Spanish Grand Prix photo by Flickr user Mr. Mystery under Creative Commons license. Aston Martin DB7 V12 Vantage by Flickr user The Car Spy under Creative Commons license.]