Com­ing Up Roses

IN JUST SEVEN YEARS, So­nia Cheng HAS BE­COME A POWER PLAYER IN THE GLOBAL HOS­PI­TAL­ITY IN­DUS­TRY. SHE TELLS Melissa Twigg ABOUT JUG­GLING BA­BIES AND BIL­LION-DOL­LAR DEALS

Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents - Pho­tog­ra­phy raul do­casar Styling Jus­tine Lee

Ho­tel mag­nate So­nia Cheng, this month’s cover star, on jug­gling ba­bies and the Rose­wood group’s bil­lion-dol­lar deals

room with a view Top by 3.1 Phillip Lim; trousers by Emanuel Un­garo, avail­able at Net-a-porter; ring and bracelet by AS29. Ing­mar chair by Jonathan Adler

Shades of black Vest by Alexan­der Wang, avail­able at Net- a- Porter; camisole So­nia’s own; trousers by Gi­ambat­tista Valli, avail­able at Net- aPorter; shoes by Givenchy by Ric­cardo Tisci; neck­lace and ring by David Yur­man

It’s not be­cause she’s the grand­daugh­ter of prop­erty and Chow Tai Fook ty­coon Cheng Yu-tung, but be­cause, as CEO, she’s driv­ing a US$1 bil­lion global ex­pan­sion of Rose­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts. At the youth­ful age of 33, Cheng is now one of the world’s most prom­i­nent hote­liers. Be­cause of the na­ture of her busi­ness, she trav­els fre­quently and rel­ishes re­turn­ing home to her Repulse Bay haven—a large, sunny, ocean-view flat filled with a mix­ture of art and sculp­ture col­lected on her trips abroad, as well as the brightly coloured toys of her chil­dren, Avery (aged two), and Alexan­der (five months). “It’s not easy be­ing a mother and hold­ing down such a stress­ful job,” says Cheng, who tries to be out of the of­fice by 7.30pm and de­votes week­ends to the fam­ily. “I con­stantly worry that I’m for­get­ting to do some­thing, ei­ther for my com­pany or my kids. But I have tried to let go of the guilt and de­vote my­self en­tirely to the mo­ment—whether I’m giv­ing the chil­dren a bath or work­ing on a pro­posal.” We meet for lunch at Dud­dell’s, the stylish Cen­tral arts hub opened last year by her hus­band, food and bev­er­age en­tre­pre­neur Paulo Pong. Fash­ion­ably dressed in an Alice and Olivia shirt, leather trousers and ver­tig­i­nous heels, Cheng ar­rives in a flurry, clutch­ing her Black­berry and her iphone, plonk­ing her grey leather Her­mès hand­bag on the floor and beck­on­ing to a waiter to bring a pot of her favourite Chi­nese tea. “I love com­ing here; it’s sort of like my sec­ond home. And it feels so good to sit down,” she says. “I’ve been rushed off my feet all day and the baby woke me up re­ally early this morn­ing.”

so­nia cheng is not your typ­i­cal heiress. in just a few years, the toughtalk­ing har­vard grad­u­ate has made the world’s lux­ury ho­tel chains and me­dia sit up and take no­tice.

To­day her fo­cus is on one of the group’s three divi­sions, the ul­tra-lux­ury Rose­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts. It owns 18 ho­tels, in­clud­ing revered prop­er­ties such as The Car­lyle in New York and Hô­tel de Cril­lon in Paris (due to re­open in 2015), and an ag­gres­sive ex­pan­sion plan aims to dou­ble that by 2020. With her lux­ury ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence and fi­nan­cial savvy, Cheng is build­ing a col­lec­tion of prop­er­ties aimed at the next gen­er­a­tion of trav­ellers.

Cheng launched Rose­wood Lon­don last year to much ac­claim from the no­to­ri­ously crit­i­cal Bri­tish me­dia. Aes­thet­i­cally, it’s out­stand­ing; from the Ni­cholas Oak­wellde­signed staff uni­forms to the in­te­ri­ors by Tony Chi, Rose­wood has cre­ated a look that is un­usual, bold and dis­tinct with­out be­ing slav­ishly fash­ion­able or com­pro­mis­ing on guest com­fort. The at­mos­phere is more akin to a stylish friend’s apart­ment than a lux­ury ho­tel, and the bed­rooms are chic and beau­ti­ful with orig­i­nal art on the walls.

“What makes Rose­wood unique is that each ho­tel is unique,” says Cheng. “I think that when you travel, you want to get a feel­ing for the city you are in, rather than stay in a soul­less ho­tel room that could be any­where. Our cen­tral phi­los­o­phy is about cre­at­ing a sense of place. It’s our tagline and it’s im­por­tant to us, be­cause it shows how each ho­tel cel­e­brates the cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment and peo­ple of the in­di­vid­ual lo­ca­tion. We ap­ply this to ev­ery­thing, from the in­te­rior to the restau­rants. We have never wanted to cre­ate typ­i­cal Miche­lin-star din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences; we want restau­rants that lo­cals would come to, that are fun, at­mo­spheric and cap­ture the zeit­geist of the city.”

The hand­some Hol­born Din­ing Room and its nos­tal­gic menu of tra­di­tional Bri­tish dishes has cer­tainly achieved that at the Rose­wood Lon­don, as shown by the wait­ing list for a Fri­day-night ta­ble. Next door, Scar­fes Bar, with its vel­vet chairs, roar­ing fire and shelves of first-edi­tion books, has also proved a pop­u­lar ad­di­tion to the city’s nightlife.

From our wide-rang­ing con­ver­sa­tion, it’s clear Cheng is hooked into the lat­est trends and un­der­stands the unique per­son­al­i­ties of the world’s ma­jor cap­i­tals. So armed, she knows how to ap­peal to the dis­cern­ing crowd in Lon­don, New York, Paris or Bei­jing. How­ever, she’s mod­est about her re­mark­able suc­cess and cred­its her fam­ily—fa­ther Henry Cheng in par­tic­u­lar—for her tal­ents. She re­calls the child­hood con­ver­sa­tions she and her brother Adrian Cheng, art en­tre­pre­neur and heir to Chow Tai Fook, had with the ty­coon, who is chair­man of the Rose­wood Ho­tel Group. “He was al­ways so en­cour­ag­ing and would work through all my ideas with me and gently point me in the right di­rec­tion. When I was a girl, he told me to go out and get the best ed­u­ca­tion I could—and then come back and join him in the fam­ily busi­ness. From a young age, it seemed in­evitable I would do that.”

Cheng fol­lowed his ad­vice to the let­ter. In 2008, with a math­e­mat­ics de­gree from Har­vard Univer­sity, she joined the Rose­wood Ho­tel Group (then known as New World Hos­pi­tal­ity and chaired by her fa­ther). Three years later, aged just 29, she be­came its chief ex­ec­u­tive. Since then, she has been driv­ing the brand’s ex­pan­sion and trans­form­ing the group, which com­prises Rose­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts, the more busi­ness-ori­ented New World Ho­tels with seven prop­er­ties, and the bou­tique Pen­ta­ho­tels, a “de­sign-led, neigh­bour­hood life­style brand” with 25 prop­er­ties.

“I’ve been so pas­sion­ate and worked so hard be­cause I love the ho­tel in­dus­try. It’s very dy­namic. It’s not just a busi­ness. It’s about cul­ture, mar­ket­ing, de­sign, fi­nance, ser­vice and peo­ple. I can’t imag­ine do­ing any job ex­cept the one that I’ve got,” says Cheng. “Peo­ple al­ways ask how I could have cut my hon­ey­moon short to come back to work, but it was a sim­ple choice. I know my hus­band loves me and I don’t need a week on a beach to prove that—but I def­i­nitely don’t know the out­come of ev­ery deal I make.”

Cheng’s next ma­jor launch is the Rose­wood Bei­jing, which opens this month. “I’m re­ally ex­cited about this prop­erty. It’s in a great lo­ca­tion in the heart of Bei­jing, min­utes away from the China World Tower and op­po­site the iconic CCTV head­quar­ters. I be­lieve it will do very well as there is a lack of ul­tra-lux­ury ho­tels in Bei­jing—at least, there’s noth­ing that’s off­beat and ex­cit­ing but also very com­fort­able.

“I think so­phis­ti­cated trav­ellers are look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent these days. I’m hop­ing to cre­ate a space that brings the com­fort of home. Bei­jing, let’s be hon­est, is a vi­brant but daunt­ing gate­way city—there’s traf­fic, it’s fast­paced and it can be in­tim­i­dat­ing for the first­time vis­i­tor. I wanted to make an ur­ban oa­sis, a gath­er­ing place that everyone can en­joy. Our main res­tau­rant will serve hot­pot be­cause we wanted to take au­then­tic north­ern Bei­jing food and give it a lux­ury makeover. I’m hop­ing that it will also be very pop­u­lar with lo­cals.”

Cheng clearly has a good dose of wan­der­lust; be­fore she had her first child, she trav­elled in­ter­na­tion­ally mul­ti­ple times a month. These days she picks her trips care­fully, and her next hol­i­day will be a ro­man­tic get­away to New York with her hus­band. “I can’t wait. I love that city—although I’m never re­ally on hol­i­day, be­cause I usu­ally stay at a Rose­wood prop­erty, which means I’m con­stantly on the look­out.”

Af­ter the visit to New York, Cheng is trav­el­ling to Paris to meet with Karl Lager­feld, who is per­son­ally de­sign­ing two of the Cril­lon suites, and then she’ll be head­ing back to fam­ily life in Hong Kong. “My life is not as glam­orous as it sounds, I prom­ise,” she says, “but it is very happy, and I sup­pose that’s the most im­por­tant thing of all.”

hat at­tack Far left: Jacket and sweater by Bally; rings by AS29 and David Yur­man. Main im­age: Vest by Alexan­der Wang, avail­able at Net- a- Porter; camisole So­nia’s own; hat by Chanel; bracelets, ear­rings and neck­lace by David Yur­man

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