Kate Whitehead

Hong Kong-based journalist

Rob Wagemans

Founder Rob Wagemans’ designs are changing perceptions of how hotels, shops and now a Hong Kong residential tower should be

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How do you go about bringing a fresh approach to hotels, restaurants and retail? “Our designs are very close to who we are ourselves. At [Netherlands-based hotel chain] CitizenM, the owner says, ‘Rob, you are the living DNA of our brand.’ Our best designs are the ones we can identify with. We like hotels and restaurants, we need to go shopping and to bars, that’s why we do retail and hotels. We see the hotel industry as boring and see an opportunity to change that. We like break­ing into these industries and changing the perception of how hotels should behave, how residential or retail should be.”

What do you most enjoy about working inter­nationally? “I love travelling. I’m a mobile citizen. I see a lot of things that can be improved. I’m redoing the lounge of [Dutch airline] KLM, so now when I am travelling from Amsterdam I can sit in my own lounge. I just need to do an aeroplane. When I come to Hong Kong for this project I try to stay one day longer, go to new restaurants, meet new chefs and learn something for next time, and increase my database of what’s happening in the world.”

Tell us about your first project in Hong Kong, Vi Cool, in Harbour City. “We created, with chef Sergi Arola from Madrid, a brasserie concept – easy, simple, honest Spanish food. We shipped hundreds of colourful cans of famous Spanish foodstuffs – olive oil, sardines – to line the walls. It worked really well as an experience. Unfortunately, the target audience shopping in Harbour City wasn’t interested in Spanish food, so it closed [in 2014] after two years.”

What are you working on now? “We are building three cruise ships with Virgin. Richard Branson invited eight designers who have never done ships. We divided the ship into eight portions and Concrete is doing all the pool decks, sports facilities, sunbathing deck and topless sunbathing deck, and two restaurants. [New York-based design firm] Roman and Williams is doing some suites. So is [British designer] Tom Dixon. There will be 2,500 rooms, 1,000 staff, so 6,000 people on board. Each ship will have the same design. All the designers meet once a year to share ideas and visions – the first ship needs to sail in two years.”

Is it true that you don’t pitch for projects? “Pitches normally mean you do a lot of work for nothing. Your first idea is often the most precious, why give it away? We don’t design for nothing. We believe our portfolio is rich enough [for clients] to understand what we can do. If you really want to make a selection, say, from three, then give three agencies a limited amount of money, a limited amount of time and then show your first idea. Often the bigger the company, the less they want to pay. They have more money – they should invest in artists.”

Original Link: SCMP

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About author

Kate Whitehead

Kate Whitehead is a Hongkonger and has made the city her home since she was eight. She got her first degree (BA English Lit) from Warwick University and her postgrad (MA English Lit) from Sussex University. She was on staff at the Hong Kong Standard and South China Morning Post and was the editor of Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine, Discovery.

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