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March 22, 2012

Of Paisley and Damask

Text by Malvika Sah.

Sofitel Luxury Hotels, known for their contemporary French hospitality, have entered India with a launch in Mumbai BKC. Isabelle Miaja – Director of Miaja Design Group – known for an eye for the smallest detail and the woman behind the exclusive look of the hotel, talks about the project, challenges and her Indian experiences

Soon after the launch of India’s first Sofitel Luxury Hotel, the plush property has been creating quite a buzz in the hospitality industry. The new hotel has an artistic edge over the other newbies on the block as it seeks to blend French culture, design and gastronomy with rich Indian traditions in a Neo Art Nouveau style, offering multifaceted experiences in every nook and corner of the hotel.

How did you get into designing?    
My father is a jewellery designer so I’ve lived with design all my life. In Paris, we breathe design and love fashion. While studying fashion and design I met my ex-husband, who is an architect and we started out together. I worked for a number of design firms for 10 years as an independent freelance designer. Now that I have my own firm, I am like a chameleon in different skins – if I’m told we require something serene or something more architectural or something with straight lines – I start thinking like that and replicate the thought.

What inspires you?
Somehow, I walk into a space and it starts speaking to me. It sounds funny but it does. It all depends on what the project is all about.

Is it more study or instinct?
It’s very much instinctual. The study is only the technical part. You have a series of ‘how to’ because you don’t create the scene documentation without the technique pulling it all together. It gets you at the end of the project but the inspiration has to come from inside. You either have it or you don’t.

With Sofitel, what were the themes in your mind while designing?
We started with the idea of having a blend between France, which is Sofitel the brand, and India. Having lived out of Europe for a while my imagination ends in somewhere in between what’s typically French and Indian. The feel of India was my interpretation of my journey across the various parts of the country. So it ended up as a brew which is my own take on both the nations.

So how did you manage that?
When I think of India, I am reminded of the paisley leaf motif which was the first inspiration for me in terms of fabrics and patterns here. In India it’s called Ambi, which according to me, was also a beautiful word for one of the areas in the hotel. The lobby has striking patterns carved in the glass and makes for an incredible sight when it’s lit at night. For the French themes I have used the damask patterns – I took Art Deco as an initial idea because of its clean lines.

What were the challenges in India?
The construction is a challenge because you may have a vision but you have to be there at every step to make sure that the vision is carried out. I am still going around finalising finer details like the drapes and flower arrangements. To achieve your dream you can’t leave it to others but it’s very rewarding at the end. I just try not to kill myself.

Travelling in India so far…?
I’ve been to Madurai, Kerala, New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. You could drown in India, because everything is so intense, if you really want to get into it. You either love or hate India. It’s your own approach. I walked the streets and saw the life here and it is incredible.

What is home for you?
For me, any house should reflect the evolution in yourself and in your life. Nothing should stay the same. Your emotions should translate into your space, like in my home where my different loves are exhibited. My home has to reflect who I am at a given time. A clean and serene cross between all the experiences that I bring back, make it the perfect place to live in

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