SO SINGAPORE — COME NOW STOP DON’T STOP STOP
In 2014, project manager Tony Chisholm invited us to Singapore. COME NOW– STOP–DON’T STOP–STOP - was the message. A brand new hotel, but in a historic building. Could we please research the history of the building? Could we give this historic property in the heart of Singapore's business district the well deserved background? We could. We agreed to produce a book, Karl Lagerfeld was on board to create the key symbols of CI, and Singapore's best interior designer Isabelle Miaja was in charge of the internal beauty.
Photograph: Karl Lagerfeld and Bobby Hiranandani, owner of Sofitel So Singapore
Textsnippets from Andreas Augustin's preface ‘A letter to my children‘;
Why did I choose the So? It is an urban palace, and when you were born, 20 years ago, it was occupied by TAS, the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore. You would appreciate its neoclassical façade, as they call colonial splendour here in Asia. It is solemn, to say the least. The architects, believe it or not, were the same ones as for the Raffles Hotel (this building is younger, from 1924, and was finished in 1927). At that time, your grandmother was five years old.
When it was built, it was called the ‘Eastern Extension’. Here telegrams were received and sent. I like the fact that it was right here, at the ‘Cable and Wireless’, that ten overseas telegram cables met. The term ‘Eastern Extension’ referred to it being home to the intersection of the global network of overseas telegraph and telephone cables in the Far East. In those days, telegrams were the main means of communication. Wherever you travelled, you sent one, and occasionally a telegram awaited you upon your arrival at the hotel or at the telegraph office. Since each word counted, it was, in a very direct way, the predecessor of the SMS. Full stops in between sentences were called ‘STOP.’ Because of this, you found messages such as ‘COME NOW STOP DON’T STOP STOP.’
Long before telephone calls were automated, this place also housed Singapore’s main switch board. Millions of calls were connected through here.
After the year 2000, the Ogilvy advertising agency moved in. You know, the ones who came up with the slogan ‘at 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock’.
It is raining for an hour every day, and the Singaporeans say that the weather is ‘nice’.
I take an umbrella and go for strolls through the old streets of Chinatown. It was here that the arriving immigrants came ashore. Where I am sitting right now used to be the sea. Robinson Road, and everything else up to 100 metres inland, all of this is reclaimed land.
The rooms are designed by Isabelle Miaja in a relaxing mix between French Empire and contemporary styles. It is cosy and the beds are heavenly. In my room, I found an iPad to control the light, but they also have good old fashioned light switches. You get an iPhone as YOUR room telephone while you are in-house. So you can carry it around. To the breakfast table, for example.
I go for a swim every morning, floating around in a golden pool like a goldfish, eye-to-eye with the people in the offices on the other side of Robinson Road. I see sympathy on their faces, but I tell you: it’s envy.
Later I visit Monsieur SniffSniff, as I nicknamed the elegant black dog who presides over the Xperience bedroom. You have to see this for yourself. They have a bed in the kitchen.
After the sun sets, the roof-top turns into a night club called So-Hi. Ladies’ Night is packed!
So much to tell. Telok Ayer Market, the great food stall collection, has been beautifully renovated and renamed Lau Pa Sat (‘old market’ in Malay). Like the good old Satay Club, but now it goes on in front of So’s revolving door. I enjoy the daily show. Every evening Boon Tat Street is closed at 6pm sharp, and at 6.15 the largest open air restaurant of the city is ready to go, right in front of the hotel, on the asphalt of the road. Next to the only crisscross junction in Singapore, by the way, where traffic at all direction stops and pedestrian can walk into all directions, all at the same time.
But I also dine at So in cultivated setting, exquisite French wines and ... their food ... they have a wonderful French chef. Her cooking is divine. I am sure I will put on weight (and that used to be a compliment here in Singapore: ‘You put on weight lah, Mister,’ they told me and smiled. I was never amused.
Come here soon. DON’T STOP. Miss you!
Inset: designer Isabelle Miaja,
B/W photo: Joplin Sinclair _ Girl upside down (©)