Can you tell us where you are from and briefly how you became acquainted with Paris?
S.A.: I have a particular historical connection with Paris as one of my grandmother’s was born here. My maternal grandmother considered herself French but she lived in
Belgium. She was very fond of France and even used to get out the French flag every Bastille Day, which in fact annoyed my grandfather … This extraordinary grandmother who brought me up was someone of importance: a decorator, the first female pupil at an art school, first woman teacher … My father, of Lebanese origin and my Belgian mother, both graphic designers were also her pupils. She only dreamed of one thing: that I should go to Paris; already when I was still very young, she would talk to me about the merits of this city. She was always therefore encouraging me to leave – not that I needed much encouragement!
Your career path has been an unusual one!
S.A.: I studied art history in Belgium and I ran a museum there. Then, I felt as though I had had enough … I changed direction and country because of a set of extraordinary circumstances: one day travelling by Thalys to Paris, a guitar landed on my head. The guitar belonged to a journalist at Inrockuptibles, who was going to work at Nova, and who, quite embarrassed, offered to do an article about my profession (I was a curator at the time in a museum for the foundation for architecture in Brussels). We immediately got on very well together and I then met the director of Nova, who offered me a job. I therefore abandoned everything to come to Paris, but when I arrived, he had forgotten about the offer he had made! A great moment of solitude … my new start in Paris had started badly! That was on 1 October 2000.
I had no wish to go back but did not know what to do … Fortunately, my life has been filled with amazing encounters. Many wonderful people, such as the former
Managing Director of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, Christian Mantéi, who became one of my kind sponsors. Thanks to him, I went to work on a
project, the Universal Exhibition in Seine-Saint-Denis planned for 2004; unfortunately 6 months later, the project fell through and I found myself again with nothing. The abandonment of the project nevertheless entitled me to compensation that enabled me to create my own company ‘Label Go Libanaise’, a nod to my Belgian-Lebanese origins.
I treated myself to a trip to China, taking with me a camera. In Shanghai, I bought a Chinese bicycle and I explored. I had somewhere to stay and every day I widened my circle to explore further afield. I took photos of the city, which at the time was very dirty, photos of grime: for me that looked monster. On my return, I wanted to thank all the people who had helped me in Paris, and I made a ‘monster cheque book’, which I had wrapped up by my cheese seller! I sent it to all my contacts. After that, I received calls from shops that wanted to sell my books including the famous Colette concept store. Then, some advertising agencies contacted me because they wanted to know what type of photos I took.
Do you have any training in photography? How did things happen?
S.A.: I am totally self-taught and before that I was not especially into taking photographs. You should know however that I hate the passing of time and therefore I never wear a watch. But as I am very sentimental, poetic and emotional, I nevertheless need to mark out my life. I therefore take photos of the sky, every time that I have strong emotions, whether they are happy ones or not. As a result of this I have 7,000 photos of clouds …
My grandmother, who died at this time, left me a letter which said ‘on Earth as in heaven I will always be there’.
I wanted to tell her that heaven was below, so that she would be with me. I wanted in a way to put heaven below – you see, everything that I do is linked to my past! I therefore decided to write to the RATP to suggest a project on clouds in the metro — in a very naïve way, which is quite a Belgian way of behaving! For six months, I called the same person at the same time on the same day and finally I got a response. It so happened that it was the Year of Brazil in France and that the RATP were looking for partners to decorate an RER station on the theme of ecology. The project was to be totally self-financing and I had three weeks to find the necessary financial
backing. Luckily, as I had been a curator in a museum, looking for funding was not beyond me. I knocked at several doors, at government ministries and private sponsors. I then thought about calling Air France, who the same day offered to fund all my expenses and provide an advertising poster. Once again it is an incredible story because for several reasons the project did not take off. There was a press conference which was cancelled and everything fell through though I had prepared a press file in the shape of an air bubble, badges with my photos of clouds, etc. Everything had therefore been cancelled but my file had been sent off and I was contacted by ELLE magazine, interested in my badges! I was offered coverage in the weekly and I put a handful of badges in a shop that I knew, Facteur Céleste, simply to have a bit of visibility. So successful was it that I had to replenish the badges for more than two years!
They were sold in numerous shops including the famous Colette store.
There were many responses to these: people sent me photos of clouds to complete my collection, a petition gathered 300 signatures for the clouds to be displayed in the Metro at Barbès where air was needed, rather than in the RER Luxembourg as initially planned … A professor at the Sorbonne stopped in front of each cloud and wrote a poem, he sent me all the poems – unfortunately I never succeeded in finding him.
One day, someone offered to buy some of my cloud photos to decorate a hotel reception; I replied that I dreamed more of sleeping in a cloud in a state of weightlessness: that is how I decorated One by the Five.
That is how everything began and how I had my first experience in hotel decoration. But I am not an interior decorator! I realized that in France, one likes to put people in boxes, I have therefore created my own box: I am an ‘atmospherist’.
Since your first collaboration in 2008 in the hotel world, how have you focussed your activities?
S.A.: I still take photos, publish books, make atmospheric objects and of course I have created hotels with atmosphere … After One by the Five, I worked in Paris for the
Apostrophe hotel and for Sublim Eiffel. Montmartre mon amour is my fifth hotel.
Where do your ideas come from and what influences are you sensitive to for the decorations of the the hotels that you have worked on?
S.A.: I take inspiration from my travels, reading, looking at what is around me, hunting out second-hand objects, opening different doors … in short by being very curious, on the lookout for anything poetical and magical.
Is Paris such a source of inspiration?
S.A.: I love Paris and I never tire of loving it … I am like a foreigner – which I am – in this City of Light. Unlike in Brussels, where I was always looking down at my feet so as not to trip over the badly designed pavements, in Paris I look up to admire the city and see the sky. Paris inspires me and I love creating atmospheres in hotels that transport guests into a different Paris.
Do you have any projects planned?
S.A.: Yes, a very fine project in Nice for the Groupe Maranatha group (to which Montmartre mon amour belongs) and a project for a hotel in the 17th arrondissement, near to Parc Monceau ... wonderful new stories to tell.
What are your favourite places in Paris?
S.A.: The Palais-Royal is my garden! I love the 2nd arrondissement and so I’ve set up my studio there. I also love to spend fleeting moments at the Louvre Museum, to eat sushi around rue Sainte-Anne, and go to Galignani bookshop. Paris is so full of amazing little shops that it is impossible to mention them all!
Hôtel Montmartre mon amour****
7 rue Paul Albert, Paris 18e
Tel +33 (0) 1 46 06 03 03
213 rue Saint-Honoré, Paris 1er
Tel +33 (0) 1 55 35 33 90
Domaine national du Palais-Royal - Jardin du Palais-Royal
6 rue de Montpensier, Paris 1er
Tel +33 (0) 1 47 03 92 16
38 rue Quincampoix, Paris 4e
Tel +33 (0) 1 42 77 12 46
3 rue de Chevreuse, Paris 6e
Tel +33 (0) 1 56 54 31 31
Hôtel Secret de Paris
2 rue de Parme, Paris 9e
Tel +33 (0) 1 53 16 33 33
Hôtel Sublim Eiffel***
94 boulevard Garibaldi, Paris 15e
Tel +33 (0) 1 40 65 95 95
224 rue de Rivoli, Paris 1er
Tel +33 (0) 1 42 60 76 07
Musée du Louvre
Place du Louvre, Paris 1er
Tel +33 (0) 1 40 20 50 50
One by the five
3 rue Flatters, Paris 5e
Tel +33 (0) 1 43 31 52 31