Party on, from Soho to Cannes (via Miami, New York, La, and Somerset)
Soho Beach House
Saturday 19 May 2007
Friday night in central Cannes. The famous strip of red carpet outside the Palais des Festival, overflowing with celebrities hours earlier, is deserted.
Cannes' biggest names - which this year include Angelina Jolie, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jude Law and Martin Scorsese - are at a party somewhere. Maybe on one of the fabulous yachts moored in the harbour. Or in one of the luxury villas in the hills surrounding of this glamorous town.
Or, if they're lucky, they're at the Soho House annual party. Four miles west of Cannes, a short journey along the winding coastline, a snaking cavalcade of chauffeur-driven cars headed last night for perhaps the most breathtaking location on the French Riviera: the Chateau de la Napoule.
Here, inside the dramatic, floodlit ramparts of the 14th-century castle, some of the most sought-after luminaries of the festival were enjoying one of its most sought-after occasions.
Anyone who doubted the international appeal of the Soho House name needed only to glance around. Movie moguls and frontline film stars filled the magnificent courtyard and the medieval dining room.
They were served and entertained by the best that London could offer. Chefs and waiting staff from Soho House had created a private members' club in exile. The Kensington club, Boujis, provided music with resident DJs.
Another Soho House triumph. And the list is long, and growing. Since its inception in London more than a decade ago, the club has become a global brand, cutting a stylish dash in New York, Europe and the heart of Hollywood. Last week, it was announced that the group was taking over the famous Morton's in west Hollywood, where the best post-Oscar parties are held.
The lease for Morton's has been signed and a $5m (£2.5m) refurbishment will start in the new year. It will operate as a private members' club by the end of 2008.
"I'm thrilled that Soho House will now have a permanent base in Los Angeles and particularly at such a prestigious and iconic west Hollywood location," said Nick Jones, the founder and chief executive of the group.
The Soho House phenomenon can be traced back to Tony Blair's "Cool Britannia" era. Its understated character, according to commentators, reflected the end of an obsession with "conspicuous consumption" in the 1980s.
The original club still sits above Café Royale on Greek Street, just a few streets away from the more established Groucho Club, on Dean Street, which opened a decade earlier. Set up by Mr Jones in 1995, it made its appearance just in time for the beginning of the Blair years in Downing Street. As the new Prime Minister re-branded Britain as young and cool, Soho House became a second home for a burgeoning crop of New Labour-friendly glitterati: Sue Nye, Gordon Brown's right-hand woman, had her 50th birthday party there.
The club is a favourite of media types - Mr Jones is married to the news presenter and Desert Island Discs host, Kirsty Young - and has become a fixture on the London scene (infamously, Jude Law and Sadie Frost's child accidentally consumed an Ecstasy tablet there.)
Mr Jones said the club's birth was a sort of "happy accident" and that he was quietly surprised when it mushroomed, with a current international register of 14,000 members.
"I didn't have a long-term plan at all. The building became available above Café Royale and it was a small door so the only thing I thought we could do was create a private club. There were a number of other private clubs around and I thought we'd be adding to them," he said.
But some suspect it was a more studied, business approach that led Mr Jones to discover a gap in the members- only club market.
In the past, he has joked about coming up with the idea of setting up a rival to the Groucho Club - which is rumoured to turn down eight out of 10 membership applications - because the waiting list was so long.
Some put his commercial success down to his apparent talent for re-conceiving the original members' club. Soho House is wood-panelled but it embodies modernity, with its slick leather sofas, large mirrors and a famed modern-European menu.
Babington House, which is part of the Soho House group and situated in the countryside near Frome in Somerset, is regarded as a modern re-interpretation of the "country club" and attracts many of the same names - such as Steve Coogan and Johnny Depp - as its London counterpart.
Peter York, once suggested that the "genius" of Babington House was to "reinterpret the world for us with a metropolitan, modernist take on country life".
Charles Gant, film editor of the celebrity magazine Heat, believed Soho House's success was part of a larger, modern day renaissance of members' clubs, in which there appeared to be an "elastic market".
"There's absolutely a rebirth of these members' clubs with lots of very successful modern clubs such as Groucho's, Soho House and Century, doing well. It seems every new club that opens draws more people who have the money and inclination to join," he said.
A unique selling point of Soho House on its opening was its private cinema, which no other club had at the time.
"We once had a gala screening that went very well so I thought, OK, I'll keep this going," said Mr Jones.
The growth of the club, so closely connected with the world of showbusiness, could be tied into Hollywood's "Anglophile zeitgeist" where British actors are increasingly being adopted by American filmmakers, such as Jude Law, Kiera Knightley and Rachel Weisz.
Britishness in Hollywood is gaining a "sexiness" it never had before and perhaps the growth of Soho House in America - where it is setting up its third venue - could be a reflection of that.
There has been a resurgence of British film worldwide and Hollywood embraced films like The Queen and The Last King of Scotland last year. Sitcoms such as The Office have won awards in America, and Britain appears to be in the ascendant on a cultural level.
The group now has six venues in Britain, with a seventh opening in Shoreditch in east London next month, which will have its own swimming pool.
The litmus test of Soho House's international success came four years ago, when it opened a New York branch in the Meatpacking District. The city, known to make or break a brand such as Soho House, embraced the club enthusiastically. The New York Post fondly called it a "posh Anglocentric club" when it first came to town, and the actresses Scarlett Johansson and Uma Thurman became regulars at the club. But it was not until the Soho House's rooftop swimming pool featured in an episode of Sex and the City that its status in the city was confirmed. It didn't hurt that, subsequently, American Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, threw a party in honour of Victoria and David Beckham there.
A new development is currently under way in Miami called The Bach Club, as well as visions for future developments in Berlin, Madrid and Istanbul.
It is a far cry from Mr Jones's vision of a pleasure yacht filled with beer and British bonhomie in Cannes, some 12 years ago. But at Cannes these days, the Soho House ticket is the hot one.
Last night around 1,000 guests were fed oysters and lobster along with a spit roast in the banqueting room. Champagne was available until the last person had left.
This "satellite" party has been one of the club's most distinctive trademarks. The concept is now imitated by a host of European clubs at Cannes.
Looking back, Mr Jones, 43, said it was a "big risk" for Soho House to launch itself on to the social scene of the biggest film festival in the world. But it is one that paid off, and such is its reputation that it now throws a lavish pre-Oscar satellite party in Los Angeles every year.
The idea was born of a realisation by Jones that his London club "emptied out" for two weeks every year. The club's membership, dominated by people immersed in the film and media industry, migrated to France for the film festival, so he decided to follow.
He scouted around Cannes and came up with the idea of holding a Soho House party on a yacht, just minutes from the Croissette, which came to be known as "Brit central".
"It hadn't been done before so it was a big risk. It was quite expensive and I didn't know if people would use it but I got a yacht and I remember carrying the beer on myself.
"It was all quite haphazard back then but that had a certain charm. I kept taking the yacht out every year until they wouldn't rent me a yacht any more because so many people would go on it," he said.
Then, just when the trend for a members-only private yacht party caught on, Soho House transferred its revelries into a villa in the hills until last year, when it moved to the château, for only one night rather than the full two weeks.
"We don't want to become too crowded and this is a bigger place. There are many ways to create a good party but we make sure we have great food, that the drinks still have ice in them at midnight, that it's in the most beautiful setting, then we take all our best people out there," said Mr Jones.
The château was originally built by the Villeneuve family but it was destroyed and rebuilt eight times before transforming into a glass factory in the 19th century. In 1918, the American artist, Henry Clews, acquired the ruined property, which he restored with his wife, Marie Elsie Whelen Goelet. It is one of the most imposing and historic structures on the Southern coastline. A suitable location for a London private members' club which is rapidly becoming an international brand.
Set in Manhattan's hip
Meatpacking district, the New York branch of the club has a pool, bar and spa. The club, which was opened in 2003, also has its own screening room so that members can watch films safely away from the chaos of Times Square.
This club opened in 2001 to offer exclusive bar and business facilities to the Notting Hill jet set. The club also offers a members' discount on cinema tickets for its neighbour, the Electric Cinema, and special film evenings with Q&As.
A Country getaway for people who like to enjoy a private film screening after a round of golf and an afternoon of shooting. The hotel has an 18m outdoor pool and a Mongolian tent (a Yurt) in which
to enjoy beauty treatments.
The East-end version of the club will have absolutely nothing Eastenders about it. The club will contain an exclusive two-lane bowling alley, gym and even a heated roof-top pool. Due to open in June this year, it is the most expensive of the London Soho House family and will certainly separate the riff-rah from the riff-raff.
Far away from Soho in mid-beach Miami, this luxury development - due to open next year - will feature timeshare apartments with revolving beds so hand-picked guests can choose to look at plasma screen televisions or the horizon. The top property will be a $1 million penthouse with its own pool.
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