Hotelier Arnaud Zannier on the calming properties of motorcycles and why 45 is the ideal age
Though Arnaud Zannier comes from a family of fashion and wine, his own interests lie in something less tangible: travel. The 45-year-old hotelier—whose father, French businessman Roger Zannier, is known for his ready-to-wear brands and vineyards—opened his first hotel, an exclusive chalet in the Megève, while he was still in his thirties. He has since created a second-generation empire for the Zannier name, with Zannier Hotels properties in Namibia (where he also established a wildlife animal hospital with pal Angelina Jolie), Cambodia, Belgium, and soon Vietnam. Robb Report caught up with the always-exploring entrepreneur on a layover in Bangkok, somewhere around midnight local time, to talk fast bikes, slow fashion, and the freedom of going analogue.
How often do you train?
I have a personal coach that comes to my house at least four times a week at six o’clock in the morning and trains me for an hour. I have a home gym. I’m ageing slowly but surely, but I love sports and I always want to be able to jump at the chance to go golfing or waterskiing at a moment’s notice.
What do you do that’s still analogue?
Read the newspaper. I’m quite classic in certain aspects of life. I like touching the paper; I like the smell of it. There are some things that the digital world can’t replace. Feelings and emotions are very important, and for me digital is killing a lot of that.
What in your wardrobe do you wear most often?
A very good pair of shoes from the brand that I created 15 years ago called NDC. They were very well-made shoes—probably too well-made. And they weren’t about trends at all. They were more classic in terms of technique and using leather from the best Italian tanneries, but had a contemporary twist in the way they were finished. It’s not my brand anymore—I sold it earlier this year—but I still have quite a big stock of my own.
How do you find calm?
I ride my BMW GS on a daily basis. I find it very calming. And working on motorcycles calms me even more. Every winter, I buy an old vintage bike, and I spend the next six months rebuilding. I’ve been doing this for the past five years now, so I have five so far. It’s very meditative to build something.
What song is currently in your head?
Tupac’s “Are U Still Down,” which is a bit bizarre and old-school, but I have been listening to that song a lot lately.
What’s the most recent thing you’ve added to your collection?
It’s a small thing, but I just changed the dial on my Rolex Daytona. I got my first Daytona from my mother for my 20th birthday, and when she passed away last year I decided to start wearing it again. It’s an iconic watch and I wanted to do something with it after owning it for 25 years, so I changed the dial from a white dial to a black dial.
Zannier’s Oomaanda Safari Lodge in Namibia Photo: Courtesy Zannier Hotels
If you could stick to one age, what would it be, and why?
I like the age that I am at right now. At 45, you reach a certain maturity. You have enough experiences and you also have sharpened your skills, but you’re still young. So you can do anything you want. We’ll see though—maybe 46 is even better.
When was the last time you completely unplugged?
Last weekend for three days while motorbiking in Spain. I was in the mountains north of Barcelona.
What’s your favourite cocktail, and how do you make it?
Whiskey sour. I like it made very classically. A whiskey sour is not a difficult cocktail to make, but having the right balance is not easy. I prefer it made with a beautiful single-malt whiskey.
What’s your dream car?
I’d love to buy a Porsche 911 from my birth year, 1973. I’m actually looking into it at the moment.
What have you done recently for the first time?
I just visited Mexico for the first time for a potential project, and I discovered a beautiful country, with very rich culture. I was in the Pacific Coast visiting a potential site with some investors to create a hotel.
What, apart from more time, would make the biggest difference to your life?
To be able to talk more to my kids without them being on their screens. It makes me crazy the way the younger generations are just so focused on social media.
What apps do you use the most?
Most importantly is probably the phone, and then the next one is email. I’m not a big technology junkie. I’m very simple. If I could drop my phone in the ocean and never look at it again, I would do it.
Do you have any personal rituals?
Fitness in the morning—that’s the only thing I could say that’s a real ritual. My day starts, and it’s off to the office or travelling. This month is mostly travelling. Mexico, Namibia, Asia—all in one month.
What advice do you wish you’d followed?
I can say one: When I started in this business and I was working on the design of my second hotel—my resort in Cambodia—I tried to meet as many people within this industry as possible. I had lunch with Adrian Zecha, the founder of Aman, in Singapore, when I was working on the design of this property, and I asked him, ‘What would you do in terms of number of keys?’ He told me to build 60 rooms, but I was scared that I would not fill the hotel, and it was all so new and felt so big to me, and I didn’t know much about the hotel industry. So I only built 45. Today, the hotel is packed and I wish I had 15 additional rooms. That was good advice that I didn’t follow.
What’s your most annoying quality?
I suppose it could be annoying that I cannot stand still if something that needs to be done hasn’t been not done yet. I have to do it. It is very difficult to rest, and that might be very annoying. Sometimes always being ‘on’ is a quality that gets annoying—even for myself.
What’s your spirit animal?
A dog, they are honest.
Do you have a uniform for certain occasions?
Not really. I change a lot. When I am motorbiking, I wear my rolled denim and my big pair of my boots from my old label NDC. Some days it could be rolled denim, another day a suit, another a smart casual look.
What kind of conversation do you tune out?
None. Anything can be interesting to listen to.
Zannier Hotels’ website.
What do you most crave at the end of the day?
A good meal, a good glass of wine, and some rest. When I have had a good hard day at work, I really need rest. Food and wine is very important to me.
Who is your guru?
My father is a very successful businessman so naturally I have learned a lot from him. In my industry, though, I have really been learning from myself, creating my own brand from scratch.
What’s the most impressive dish you cook?
All sorts of eggs in the morning for my ids. I have three kids, and most of the time they all want different eggs. One wants scrambled eggs, the other wants an omelette, the other wants eggs Benedict, so I am a master at cooking eggs.
How do you get to sleep?
I’m tired enough that I don’t need to do anything. I go to bed and I fall straight asleep. I wake up early and work out and work hard. That’s the best routine to help yourself sleep. I don’t go to bed late either.
What does success look like to you?
I think success is when you really enjoy what you do and it makes you happy. That is success.
If you could learn a new skill what would it be?
I would like to be able to play the piano.
How much do you trust your gut instinct?
Quite a lot. When I interview someone I want to recruit, it’s more about feeling and not thinking too much about what is written on paper.
Which are your favourite stores right now?
For fashion, I would say at the moment in Belgium, it’s Frans Boone. They’ve got an incredible selection of small labels and jackets. It’s where I get a lot of my clothes. And I like the Porsche store.
Do you know how many air miles you have?
No idea. I don’t even look at the report when it comes to my office. Because, anyway, you don’t do anything with it. It’s useless. Every time you want to use them, you can’t. You can’t bring your family because it’s never the right time. I don’t even bother with it.
What’s your favourite seat on a plane?
Next year, Zannier will open Sonop a sister lodge to Oomaanda. Photo: Courtesy Zannier Hotels
What do you most regret?
Not studying architecture. If I knew I would end up doing what I do, I would have tried to go for architecture. Today, I work a lot on the concept and design of my hotels. I am really into it. If I had some studies in architecture, it would have helped me a lot today.
Drive or be driven?
Drive. I hate being driven.
What are your regular tables in London, New York, or LA?
I try not to have a regular table anywhere. Discovery is part of my job. I am trying to always find new hotels and restaurants and bars, so I try to avoid going to the same places. It’s important to see what’s new.
How many watches do you own?
What’s your favourite hotel?
The next Zannier Hotel, because that’s the one my head is into the most. I have been working for more than a year on Sonop (which means sunrise in the Afrikaans). I am so excited to see it. When you work hard on a project and imagine it, you just want to see it finished.
Who do you admire most, and why?
I don’t really admire anybody.
Last piece of advice you gave?
To my youngest son: ‘Stop looking at Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat!’
The last advice you were given?
It’s too personal to tell you. Sorry.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
I’m in the middle of an airport in Asia right now and it’s midnight, so home.
What is your email etiquette?
It depends. If it’s internal, I’m short and to the point. And if it’s important people, I will spend a bit more time. But in general, I’m not too formal.
What’s always in your hand luggage?
What’s worth paying for?
Wine of choice?
Rosé from my family’s vineyard, Château Saint-Maur, in the St Tropez region.
Do you still write letters?
Movies or theatre?
Bowie or Dylan?
David Bowie. Because he’s European! Joking—his music is better.