Te Unstoppable rise of the Peninsula / L’irrésistible ascension du Peninsula
The mega-luxury Peninsula hotel has opened its doors near the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, all of Paris and the international jet set have come knocking … but do the very beautiful people know the history of this most recent addition to the Hong Kong chain and it links to the Kadoorie family, who have gone from the plains of Iraq to the lawns of Buckingham Palace?
Seven years of Herculean work, 40,000 handsmoothed gold leaves, 100,000 cut-to-measure slates, not counting the thousands and thousands of hours to chisel, to the nearest millimeter, the fowers, bows, and other ribbons of the white stone, sevenstory high, 10,000 m2 facade on the majestic Avenue Kléber. When the Kadoories inaugurate a new hotel, they don’t skimp on the numbers. And the Peninsula Paris, which opened at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe on August 1, is no exception. Tis luxury liner, aground on the Parisian sidewalk, means to crush the competition from other luxury establishments recently arrived in the capital, like the Royal Monceau, the Shangri-La, and even the Mandarin Oriental. And for this, just one word is needed: one-upmanship. Te restoration of the Belle Epoque building, where Gershwin composed An American in Paris and where, in 1973, the peace accords ending the Vietnam War were signed, has cost a mere 430 million euros. Including the acquisition of the building, the total cost is around 800 million euros. Unheard of in hotel circles! But nothing is too good for the Kadoorie family, who have drawn on the support of Katara Hospitality, a specialist hotel group from Qatar, which has an 80% stake, in order to ofer this gem, the tenth in the crown of the legendary Peninsula Hotels, but the frst in Europe.
OPIUM, HIGH-TECH, AND SILVER SHADOW
All are a symbol for this Jewish Iraqi family who started from nothing more than capitalism with an Asian favor. Elly Kadoorie, grandfather of Michael, the current president of the Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels group, to which the Peninsula belongs, lef Baghdad at the end of the 1870s, in the wake of a severe famine. He traveled with just his clothes, a handful of rubles, and a package of provisions prepared by his mother, like the manna Heaven provided the Israelites with during their journey through the desert. First stop, Basra, where he worked as a clerk for a small salary, then Bombay, where his health suffered greatly due to the climate, and fnally, Hong Kong, where he disembarked afer a grueling three-month ocean voyage. Cousins who had fed Iraq several years earlier, the Sassoon family, welcomed the ambitious young man and took him under their wing. Tey took advantage of the opening of the Chinese market to the West following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, to make their fortune through the importing of Indian cotton, but mostly through opium, the drug that in a few years had made Hong Kong, inhabited by fshermen and charcoal producers, the richest city in China and the Far East’s economic powerhouse. Te young Kadoorie quickly got into the spirit and traveled all over China while learning the ropes. Alas! A dark story of a bottle of disinfectant, stolen during an epidemic got back to the Sassoons, and meant that Elly had to again start from scratch. But never mind! He now had business in his blood, and Hong Kong at the turn of the last century looked like a new Eldorado. He helped his brother join him and they multiplied their endeavors: he acted as stockbroker, investing in the Victoria Peak funicular, becoming a shareholder in the new company China Light and Power, which supplied electricity to Kowloon’s frst streetlights. But it was the opening of the Peninsula Hotel in December 1928 that signaled their arrival. Te most luxurious hotel east of the Suez, as legend would have it. A legend that owes much to its extravagant lobby, legions of staf, and its famous feet of green Rolls Royce Silver Shadows. It was in one of these that the sultry Maud Adams took of in when James Bond tailed her from a Macau casino to Kowloon in Te Man with the Golden Gun, stopping in front of the Peninsula, where they both slip inside. Forty years later, James Bond is whiter and heavier, but the Peninsula remains. In 2013, to celebrate the 85th anniversary of its birth, the owners offered the grand lady, the incarnation of the gilded myth of Hong Kong, a light facelift to her facade. Cost of the operation: 64 million US dollars. This is the hallmark of the Kadoories: spend tirelessly to maintain the level of excellence so as to recoup the investment over several years. With two watchwords: excellent service (for example, the Peninsula Paris has 600 staff for 200 rooms) and the very latest technology. It was with this in mind that Michael Kadoorie launched an industrial area south of the city, with its own laboratory to develop and test services for the tablets found in Peninsula rooms around the world. A strategy that pays, as shown by the vitality of the holding company, Hongkong and Shangai Hotels, whose share prices have risen 42% in five years. A holding company that, in addition to the ten Peninsula hotels, owns several buildings in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City. Add to that the aviation company Metrojet and a 35% stake in the CLP group (that supplies 75% of Hong Kong’s electricity and owns shares in power plants in China, Australia, and India), and you understand why the Kadoorie family is 152nd in the list of largest fortunes according to Forbes magazine, with assets estimated at 8.9 million US dollars.
MAO, ENGLAND, AND NUCLEAR POWER
Tis empire was nearly wiped out when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in 1941. Te family was imprisoned in a camp while the Peninsula became the Japanese army’s headquarters. Elly died shortly before the end of the war, leaving his two sons, Lawrence and Horace to rebuild the family honor. Alas! Te situation became more complicated in 1949 when the communist Mao Zedong came to power, seizing the Kadoorie’s property in Shanghai. Once again, everything was back to zero. But such a challenge was not going to scare the Kadoorie family. Close to the colonial government of Hong Kong, they undertook to revive the island with massive investment in construction and energy. In 1951, they created Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association with the government to help the tens of thousands of Chinese refugees feeing Mao’s regime. A philanthropic activity that continued through the rest of the century, as witnessed by the many schools and universities in Iraq, India, and Palestine funded by the Kadoorie family. Lawrence was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1981, before becoming actively involved in the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Te family and the Middle Kingdom buried the hatchet to sign a joint venture to build a nuclear power plant at Daya Bay.
Perhaps this is the secret of this family, so shaken by history: constant adaptation to its environment, as the architecture and style of their hotels attests, all part of the local landscape, like the Peninsula Paris, restored thanks to dozens of French artisans. Te next step: London, where Michael Kadoorie, Lawrence’s son, has bought two buildings overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace for a little more than 167 million euros (the other half of the land is owned by the Grosvenor Britain and Ireland group). In private, Michael confdes that he’s been looking for the ideal site for more than thirty years. A demand for rigor that he has tried to instill in his three children – Natalie who works for the Peninsula Hong Kong, as well Bettina and Philip, both studying in the States, but who, like their father, frst went to the very chic Swiss boarding school, Rosey. Te challenge is daunting for the fourth generation of this family, who in a little over a century have lef the desert plains of Iraq to arrive at Buckingham Palace’s freshly cut lawns.
“Perhaps this is the secret of this family, so shaken by history: constant adaptation to its environment, as the architecture and style of their hotels attests, all part of the local landscape, like the Peninsula Paris, restored thanks to dozens of French artisans.”
Black and gold lurex dress, leather bag with gold details, black shoes with buckles, all SALVATORE FERRAGAMO, pâte de verre earrings and metal necklace all CHANEL.
Horace, Elly, and Lawrence Kadoorie.
The Peninsula Paris, today.