They say art collecting is an art in itself; one person who knows this all too well is art collector Rami Fustok renowned for his creative approach to collecting art and revealing it in decadent settings. Featured in the Financial Times “How to Spend It,” the Lebanese born entrepreneur definitely knows how to spend it; he is also the owner and founder of the spectacular hotel, The Mandrake.
A lavish 34-bedroom hotel with a restaurant providing eclectic culinary adventures located in the heart of Fitzrovia. The Fustok family reportedly spent £40 million transforming this four-story building, formerly acquiring a RIBA prize, into The Mandrake, opening its doors to guests in 2017.
I loved spending time in hotels, meeting unexpected people, trying food and drinks, looking at artwork and just feeling the energy and the vibe of hotels
The affluent decor is adorned by the incredible universe of Fustok’s art collection, from Salvador Dali to Jonas Burgert, to name a few. Guests can expect to be uplifted in more ways than one throughout their visit, from spiritual well-being to cultural events. A precise representation of Fustok’s desire to create a captivating experience that breaks the tradition of what a hotel should be.
When travelling to the capital and wanting to stay somewhere memorable, that place is The Mandrake. We managed to catch up with Rami to find out how he started collecting art, what inspired The Mandrake and more.
Q: Hi Rami, can you please introduce yourself to those who don’t know you?
A: I am the owner and Founder of The Mandrake in London. I was born in Lebanon and moved to London when I was five. I was educated in London, and the urban street culture heavily influenced me in the ‘80s. I grew up influenced by graffiti art, break dancing and music. I went to work abroad, and when I came back, I had this deep passion for opening a hotel in London- so I opened The Mandrake.
Q: Can you tell us about your way into the art world and what triggered your passion for the arts?
A: I grew up in a house full of artists. My mother was an artist- she was a painter and a sculptor. Most of her friends were artists, so I was constantly looking at new artwork coming and going from the house and watching her create all our artwork. That’s what triggered my passion for art and the fact that I was a graffiti artist in the ’80s. I used to do a lot of graffiti, not only sketches but on walls and tubes around London.
Q: You have been collecting art for some time now. Can you tell us more about your collection and how you decided on what to collect? What was your first piece that started your collection and why?
A: The first piece that started my collection was by an artist called Stanislaw Frenkiel. He’s a very prominent Polish artist who passed away. He was my mum’s main mentor. The piece is a very strong figurative painting, oil on canvas. With three prostitutes in a brothel, it has a lot of meaning behind it. I bought that piece in ’97. That was the first art piece I purchased. And I thought it was fitting because it was my mom’s mentor, and it was a bit naughty and exciting with very strong colours.
From then, I just started collecting artwork. Whatever provoked my mind, thoughts, or passions. I don’t particularly look for actual artists. I look at the work itself, the paintings or the sculptures, and I pick them because they connect to me, or I think they would look good on a particular wall or space that I have in mind. I don’t buy art because I like it. I only buy art because I’m in love with the piece. If I had to buy every artwork I liked, I’d be broke.
It’s varied from pop art to very traditional art, to a different array of artists from around the world. They’re typically intense colours and strong narratives and compositions. The artwork that I have bought in the last eight years are very sensual surreal pieces of art. Very provocative and powerful. Some are playful, but they are pretty mysterious, all in their own way.
Q: The Mandrake is a boutique hotel in the heart of London. It’s renowned for decadent design, lavish events and its vast art collection. What inspired you to create The Mandrake?
A: I wanted to create the Mandrake because I saw an opportunity in the hotel market. My most enjoyable times were spent in hotels. I loved spending time in hotels, meeting unexpected people, trying food and drinks, looking at artwork and just feeling the energy and the vibe of hotels and interior designs. It was very culturally stimulating and enriching for me.
I have a very fond memory of staying in hotels, especially when I was travelling and before I settled down in London. There was an opportunity in the art market as well. I love lifestyle hotels, but they were all very minimalistic hotels.
And although I loved that kind of Schrager and Philippe Starck interior (they’re my greatest idols), I felt that it was reaching the end of the tether, and hotels needed a new movement. Instead of doing something minimalistic, I decided to do something maximalist and something that genuinely created a journey for the guest. I heard too many times of a hotel journey and touching all the senses, but very rarely did I experience what they conveyed their hotels to be.
I studied hotel property to truly create that out of world experience and journey where everything is connected. People can lose themselves and rediscover themselves and have a really enjoyable time. I concentrated on those senses, whether sight, sound, taste, hearing, or smell. We have our own candles and our own in-house production of music. Visually, with all the interiors, artwork, and positive energy that we exude in the Mandrake. I love London. It’s where I grew up. I wanted to give something back to this city and create something inspirational that people could enjoy.
Every two years, there used to be a competition in Newsweek, London or New York. I used to always see that one of the features of New York was the great hotels. They often won “City of the Year.” I love London, and I wanted to smash New York, so I decided to create an unbelievable hotel that would help raise London a bit more than it already was.
Q: The Mandrake is adding a new piece to the collection from one of the hairdressing most innovative voices, Robert Masciave. Can you tell us more about this piece and why you chose to collaborate with him?
A: I saw one of Robert’s pieces for Johannes Hungry; it was a photo shoot. His piece is in our shop front window on the mannequin, where he spent 800 hours making it. It’s made from pure human hair, and it’s just so sexy and so out of this world, out of this box and original. That’s really what the Mandrake is. I thought it would be a great idea to do a collaboration where he can incorporate some of his artistry and complement the chandelier.
It would just give the chandelier a bit more life and more warmth and depth. It looks more exciting and conveys a softer side to the chandelier. In my perspective, it creates the flames of the candles and the energy a chandelier should give to light up a space. It’s like an explosion of delicate, beautifully designed hair that perfectly complements the colours of our lobby. I think he’s a great artist and very talented. I connected with him as an artist, and I thought it would be a great addition to our art collection.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring collectors?
A: As I said, I don’t buy art as an investment. I buy them because I love them and they will give me eternal satisfaction when I look at them. In saying that, if you’re going to invest, there should be a balance. People should look up artwork that they not only love but would hopefully appreciate in time as well as just artworks that they’re connected to and they love, which may be from unknown artists that they will never appreciate. So, there’s a bit of the mind in investing and a bit of the heart in connecting to a piece to create a balanced portfolio or collection.
Q: What’s the next piece you will be adding to your collection?
A: I have just purchased a piece by Kour Pour it will be unveiled at the end of the hotel’s portal on the 6th May.