JULIET KINSMAN EDITOR IN CHIEF MR AND MRS SMITH
By Annalisa Hammond - Editor
The first time I met Juliet Kinsman was when she was on the jury panel of the WIN Hotel Interiors Awards at the end of last year. Dressed head to toe in black with scarlet lipstick; she was a glamorous and knowledgeable addition to our panel - and fun with it.
We have arranged to meet at members' club, Soho House London, and after spending some time trying to find each other in the warren of bars and lounges, we eventually settle down with two glasses of Gavi to study the menu.
Juliet ordered salmon with broccoli and I Caesar salad from a sullen waitress wearing several enormous rings, which Juliet admired.
'In the old days if I came across a bolshie waitress, I would be equally difficult, these days I try winning them over,' says Juliet. It certainly worked with our waitress who was charm itself for the rest of our meal.
Juliet has been a travel writer for the last ten years, but before that she edited music magazines and contributed to the likes of Face and Time Out. 'The late nineties was a really exciting time to be a part of the music scene, just as the underground dance clubs were spilling out into mainstream culture. A lot of those clubs and the DJs that ran them were really innovative and it was fun being in Ibiza or Miami when people were still excited about swapping vinyl records that were hard to find - long before everything became so accessible to all digitally,' she says
'It's interesting to see that a lot of creative people from the club scene of yesteryear moved into the hotel world,' she says, 'the biggest stars of course are the original impresarios in New York such as André Balazs, whose Standard Hotels are still trailblazers as lifestyle hotel scenes and of course Ian Schrager who created Studio 54 in the seventies and then Morgans Hotel Group in the eighties, and since then some of the most remarkable boutique hotels'.
Juliet was already friends with co-founder of Mr and Mrs Smith, James Lohan, from the days when he ran cult nights at one of London's hippest members' bars and introduced him to his now wife Tamara, aka Mrs Smith, while they were in Ibiza on holiday. It was their idea to create a hotel guide for this generation of discerning style-seekers who had grown out of nightclubs and wanted to be steered to the best hotels for their precious weekends.
James and Tamara had the idea for a book, and invited Juliet to be editor because of her background in guidebooks. 'We all wanted to create a publication that had all the vital information of the traditional black-and-white hotel guides with the looks to rival the coffee-table books. At the time there were no stylish hotel guides that were as sexy as they were user-friendly. It was really important to me that we had our own distinct voice - a tone that was a bit cheeky and irreverent, but sophisticated without being snooty'.
Mr and Mrs Smith is celebrated for its fun-to-read reviews from tastemakers whose opinions are trusted by their readership - chefs, fashion stylists, musicians, etc - crucial to this is that Mr and Mrs Smith reviewers stay at the hotels as regular clients and not reveal their true identity. As a lot of these people aren't professional writers it's Juliet's role as editor to ensure the house style is consistent and all the insider tips are original. Juliet elaborates 'a decade on I have visited hundreds of hotels and edited hundreds of reviews - that remains my role. Particularly now that we have offices in New York and Melbourne, working with my fantastic editorial team globally to ensure we maintain a really (hopefully!) high quality of content online and offline'.
I asked what Juliet looks for in a hotel reviewer, 'someone who stays in a Smith hotel in their regular life - someone who appreciates an attention to detail and is instinctive about what makes a hotel qualify for our collection. It needs to be stylish, intimate, and not just standard, corporate luxury: have an interesting story to it. That excludes lots of professional travel writers of which I have no shortage of offering their services. Often it's people who don't write for a living who manage to tell the most entertaining tales: remember Oli Beale's Virgin Complaint letter, which went viral? I contacted him after belly laughing at his letter to Richard Branson and he's become one of my favourite reviewers. Sure he conveys what's special about a place but more than that, the fun that he had on his Mr & Mrs Smith escape'.
I ask if she thinks there is a move away from impersonal chain hotels to more exclusive boutique hotels? 'Definitely!, she insists, 'just look at how many of the big chains are creating smaller boutique brands. I really hope we've played a part in encouraging hotels - even the big boys - to put the emphasis on personal service and individual experiences'.
And have you noticed any trends when it comes to hotel interiors? 'There's been an obvious move away from the minimalist designer hotels with clinical, hi-tech look over homely. I think a lot of city-slickers are bored of contemporary and are happier to have a classic setting just executed with modern sensibility: chic not old-fashioned... Hip yet historical. Also, shabby chic is a bit overdone...but it's still a great theme: the whole rough luxe look'.
We part in the restaurant as Juliet is meeting up with friends and I am heading back to the office. I walk through Soho deliberating on whether Juliet might just have the best job in the world. By the time I reach the station I am convinced she does.
Mr & Mrs Smith: http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/