Reviving the Lost Art of the Salon

In the 18th century, people just hung out, had some drinks, and socially networked.  It was mostly the upper classes that did this while other people worked in tanning shops and plotted bloody murder (like this), but a certain sect of society often held what they referred to as salons.  A salon was both a physical location and an event – a place and time for leading thinkers to come together, exchange ideas, and just sort of hang out.  Anyway, the owner of the hotel Shangri-La (here) in sunny Santa Monica, CA is attempting to revive the lost art of the salon.  Here’s what Tamie Adaya is doing to breathe life back into this convention, and a bit about what you can do, too.  

MM: A little background about yourself and your hotel?

TA: My name is Tehmina Adaya – also known as Tamie Adaya. And, I’ve been doing salons since I was 18 or 19 years old when I was still a college student. What we’d do is put together a bunch of friends from all the different disciplines in the college – I had a lot of European friends and they’d bring wine or whatever.   We’d go to different houses and we’d have candles and flowers; we’d invite professors from different disciplines and we’d just get together and chat. (at this point we were briefly interrupted by an upcoming dubstep DJ Doorly) So, I was in college in the 80s, and then the 90s I was basically breeding. So, I kind of went into a coma so culturally really nothing got through to me except “Mommy and Me” and all that. Then I took over the hotel 5 or 6 years ago and headed up the renovation which was a 5 year process. We finished it last year, and then the salons started again. 

And, we’ve had some wonderful, wonderful salons here. The salon concept really came from the 17th and 18th century. At that time there were certain famous women in the French court…they were mistresses of the King’s, and what they would do, is they’d serve as unofficial cultural ambassadors of the French court. And, within the century, French fashion, French culture, and French etiquette became de rigueur all over the world. I don’t know if you know this, but the Russian aristocracy didn’t even speak Russian, they all spoke French (Ed. Note: totally knew it). Even after the Revolution. It was the same all over the European courts, and also all over the colonized world. So, anyway, I think salons are a great way to bring people together with disparate points of views who are doing relevant things in their own fields and you bring them together to exchange ideas about current events and what’s going in in their businesses. And, it’s wonderful to watch creative people ignite a spark. And when that happens, sometimes, the most amazing projects come out of it.

MM: How do you choose the attendees? You invite them, correct?

TA: Yes, I invite them. A lot of times it’s people staying here. A lot of times it’s people who I invite to stay here, but what’s interesting about it is that usually at the salon, we have two or three sleepover guests. We’re the only hotel that really does that; it’s kind of rock and roll. So, it starts out with drinks, we’ll come up [to the rooftop lounge] for dinner, and then go to one of the suites and stay up until the wee hours. So, it’s just a lot of fun!

MM: You mentioned in an interview, once, that you consider yourselves and this hotel a “lifestyle venue.” What does that mean?

TA: Yes, we’re a lifestyle brand. Well, a lifestyle brand means that we’re actually proponents of a certain lifestyle that people want to be a part of. It’s party fantasy, part reality, part aspiration and hard work. It encompasses fashion, culture, art, hotels, rock and roll, djs, and music – it encompasses everything because that’s part of the lifestyle that we all would like to aspire to. [I’m speaking of] those of us who are cognoscenti, those of us who are intellectuals or part of, you know, the intelligentsia, or would like to consider ourselves to be (laughs). A lifestyle brand is something that brings to life all the things that are culturally relevant at that time. And any hotel can be a hotel. Even a Ramada Inn is a hotel – it’s just a place to lay your head. That’s why I don’t say I run a hotel. I am in the hospitality business. I’m actually in the lifestyle business. What’s great about this hotel is that it’s been here for 70 years and it’s a cultural, iconic institution of Los Angeles. And, as such, because it’s an historical venue, I always say that ‘if you don’t understand your history, you won’t understand your present, and you won’t know where you’re going in your future.’ And that’s why I use the salons. Salons make everything relevant understandable. 

MM: What about this venue, or any venue, makes it good to have salons in?

TA: Well, it’s the hospitality. It’s the graciousness, or lack thereof, of a host or hostess (laughs). It’s the inspiration that the venue provide and the amenities they provide. So, for example, at this hotel we can have dinner prepared by my executive chef and then we can have drinks customized by a mixologists, then we can retire to one of our suites.

MM: This is really good by the way

TA: This is a British colonial drink popular during the Empire. And, it’s one of my favorite drinks and I insisted that the best one in the United States be concocted here. And, I think it’s better than the stuff that’s made in the UK. It’s made from a concoction called Pimm’s #5. It’s a gin-based concoction made with spices and we put it together with 7-up and then fresh citrus and cucumbers. Then we muddle it. 

 

MM: A lot of salons are hosted by hostesses, not hosts. Is it an inherently feminine thing? 

TA: It’s traditionally been the role of females to multitask. And it’s traditionally been the role of females to be more sensitive socially. And, one of the most important things about a salon is the calibration of personalities and to make sure that each guest is being giving preferential treatment without leaving anybody out. The calibration has to be done so smoothly that there’s always conversation and that enough people know each other that it can be comfortable. But that not everybody knows each other too well so that it becomes boring – there needs to be room for more connections to be made. So, the calibration of personalities is one of the most important things. Women, on the whole, I think have always tended to do better than males in that way. 

MM: Can you name drop? Who’s been here? 

TA: (hesitates) Well, I can tell you one of the fashion ones we did recently because they’re all good friends of mine and you can look them up. Other than that, though, I can’t really mention them. Well, I can do a few.

MM: It’s kind of cooler if you can’t.

TA: Exactly! But we did do a salon with Rusko, the famous DJ. He’s very up and coming. I did a really interesting fashion-themed salon for ladies only. For that I had Kesh, she’s a photographer and stylist and designer hailing from London. Then I had Lauren Ashley Dimepiece. They have their own fashion line here in L.A., and they’re up and coming. Then I had Kishiro who is Jeremy Scott’s muse and model. Then I had a jewelry designer named Niko and a makeup artists named Glossy Loca who is quite famous also. She’s big in the Twitter community and has her own blog as well called Des Boobs (laughs). And it just talks about women and boobs and, you know, all of that. So basically we just had a women’s salon, and it was great because we’re all really inspired by each other.  I loved it that there was these women in their 20s who were so inspiration and so different from the women in my generation and, yet, they looked to me for inspiration and I looked to them for inspiration. Cause they’re in their 20s and I’m in my 40s, and it was a very circular thing. I said “I wish I had the gumption to do what you guys are doing,” and they said that they couldn’t do what they were doing in their 20s without people like me doing what I do in my 40s. It was just a very feel good type of thing. 

MM: The whole is greater than the sum of the parts?

TA: Yeah! That’s exactly the way I look at it. When you put together a great salon or a great team or a great project, it’s usually not one plus one equals two, it’s one plus one equals seven or eight. That’s what it ends up being.

MM: Let’s say I’m from Chicago, and I want to go to a salon, but I don’t want to go to L.A. to do it. What do I do? 

TA: I don’t know anything like that. This is the only place here that does it, and I don’t know anybody else that does this. People have supper clubs or whatever. But I’m the only one I know that actually does a salon. And I’ve been consistently doing it for like 25 years, but you know, I did have that 10 year drop in the middle. 

MM: So what would I do if I wanted to start my own? 

TA: Well, we used to do them in our houses. Just invite people over and if you want to do it very simply make it a pot luck and put out some flowers and candles. My secret for salons is that I never invite more than eight to 10 people.   Because it needs to be intimate enough that people feel special, that everyone can engage in conversation with each other, and that they feel like they’re a part of something that’s really intimate. And, you have that chance to talk to everybody one on one.

Then I like to change it up. I encourage people to go bar hopping within the hotel. We’ve got several different bars in the hotel, and we’re only a 70-key hotel, so what we usually do is start out in the dining room, then we come up [to the rooftop lounge], then maybe we go to a suite or end up in the hot tub. But, you know we just keep moving things. It changes up who people talk to, and it’s just really fun. 

MM: What type of people work best in a salon setting? Who should we invite to ours?

TA: Well, I find that there’s a place for all types. Ideally you want to know about 1/3 of the personalities that you’re inviting. So if you’re inviting eight people, you’re going to want to know at least three of those guests to be people that you’re familiar with.   You want them to be the ones that can hold the salon down – the anchors. And then, you want to have two or three different people from different areas. What I like to do is invite one person from the technological field even though I can’t understand it to save my life I just appreciate it. Then, somebody from film and TV (another interruption from a DJ here). 

MM: This place is kind of a hot spot.

TA: It is a hot spot. It’s so funny because it’s all still word of mouth. We don’t really promote any of our events. [Two Mondays ago] it was totally sold out, half an hour wait to get in, and we never promoted it – not a single flyer. Not even through Twitter, we just sort of let the word out with a few of our friends and, like, by 9 o’clock the place was sold out. We like to do things in a very different way. For us, it’s the caliber and quality of people. 

 

MM: Is that why it works? Those people know it’ll be like that? 

TA: I think so. You have other hotels that have events. But with us, it’s very homey. Because, it’s not club Shangri-La. Maybe a private gentleman’s club. I mean, we’re not snobby in any way shape or form. We do let everybody in. 

MM: Anything else you’d like to ad? 

TA: I love what I do. Look at this! If you love what you do, even if you put in overtime, you’ll enjoy it. 

 

 

 

 

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