At a glance:
- Kunal Rawal, one of India’s leading menswear designers, joined Soho House Mumbai as a founding member after visiting the brand’s Dean Street Townhouse and The Little House in Mayfair, London.
- It is not just a cultural space, but an experience in itself, which gives you access beyond Mumbai to the Soho House family worldwide.
- Each house is distinctly different. It doesn't feel like you're picking up the same glass of wine or meeting the same members.
Community. It’s a word that is volleyed around Soho House like tennis balls at a country club. But what does it actually mean?
“For me, it consists of two nuclei: one is the service team that runs Soho House and the other nucleus is the members that come in to use the facilities day-to-day. They harmonise with each other to create a buzz,” says Joe Eva, general manager of Soho House Mumbai—the first Soho House in Asia—as we sit on mustard-yellow leather armchairs on the eighth floor of the India house, sipping tea and water with the evening light breaking through ikat-print curtains.
Eva has been with Soho House for so long that he is practically part of the furniture. Literally. Founder Nick Jones named the activity room in Soho House Mumbai after Eva as recognition for his 21-year tenure with the company that, itself, is 25 years old.
“I started out in the cloakroom in the flagship Greek Street Soho House in London and after a couple of days I just fell in love with the place,” reminisces Eva. “I eventually moved up the ranks to become the general manager of Greek Street, oversaw Shoreditch House as well, and then took the role of affiliating general manager supporting all the houses in London before heading up houses in other countries too.”
Soho House, like the rare golden tigers of India, is a private animal.
Founded in 1995, Jones envisaged a membership club for creatives that functioned as a ‘home away from home’—a space to work, relax and meet like-minded individuals away from the prying eyes of the public. Membership is by invite-only, photos are prohibited (even in today’s social media-obsessed world) and phone calls can only be taken in the stairwell or outdoor areas (to protect the sanctuary of the house).
Yet, despite the secrecy (or maybe, because of it) Soho House has thrived. Mumbai is the 23rd Soho House, Hong Kong is the 24th (having just opened in September), and with Los Angeles opening later this year, it will take the total to 25. There are plans to open four to five more houses in 2020, with Paris, Milan and Lisbon all on the cards. Current global membership stands at approximately 80,000 with countless thousands more on the waiting list.
Kunal Rawal, one of India’s leading menswear designers, joined Soho House Mumbai as a founding member after visiting the brand’s Dean Street Townhouse and The Little House in Mayfair, London. “I liked the Soho House aesthetic,” he says.
“But the sense of being part of a community was something that I only got to know after becoming a member. At Soho House you end up meeting a lot of people, especially from within the film and fashion industry.I’m always most excited about meeting musicians at the house, it has some really fun gigs.”
“We have a place that has a lot of different atmospheres,” continues Eva. “You come in and you can lounge on one floor, sunbathe by the pool on another floor or you can also go to the gym. There are a variety of ways to engage with the house—that's one of the key elements to keeping people interested in the place. But, equally important is our curated set of events put together by our local and global teams to make sure they are relevant, exciting, fun and well-attended.”
During my stay at Soho House Mumbai, the club had 55 events scheduled for the month. After checking into the boutique hotel that’s part of the house, I stopped by the library on the ninth floor for a free foot reflexology session before sipping cocktails by the rooftop pool at dusk. The next night, dinner on the members-only club floor was accompanied by a live performance from one of India’s best indie bands.
All this while surrounded by plush interiors that combine cosy English sensibility with locally sourced Indian fabrics and prints.
“Soho House is a place where creativity meets style," says Soho House Mumbai member Fatima Sana Shaikh; an Indian actress known for her works in Hindi cinema and television. In 2016, she played Indian freestyle wrestler, Geeta Phogat, in the sports drama film Dangal that was screened at the Beijing International Film Festival and BRICS Film Festival.
“It is not just a cultural space, but an experience in itself, which is not just restricted to Mumbai but gives you global access to the Soho House family worldwide.”
It is this international reputation and reach that first attracted fellow Soho House Mumbai member, Amar Bhavnani; a highly accomplished creative producer who returned to India in 2015 after running his own boutique branding agency and production company in Milan for 12 years.
“My first experience with Soho House was being invited to the Berlin House. It was like walking onto a multi-storey movie set, full of creative people lounging and talking. It was most impressive.”
Since joining the Mumbai House, he uses the facilities nearly every day due to the rich networking opportunities.
“The members are from all kinds of creative industries, so it’s absolutely routine to run into people who are on your ‘would love to work with’ list,” shares Bhavnani. “I take all my meetings at the house on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Besides this, I’ll probably drop in for a movie screening over the weekends as well. And, in case you’re wondering, that’s a one-hour commute whenever I visit because I live at the southern-most tip of Mumbai, approximately 26km from the house.”
In Singapore, where there is no physical Soho House building, creatives can sign up to the Cities Without Houses membership—a Soho House initiative that allows members to access all global Soho Houses and events in lieu of a local house.
“Before a house opens in Singapore, this membership is going to be more attractive to the international traveller,” explains Eva. “The person who is based in Singapore but travels frequently to Hong Kong, Europe and even New York for either business or pleasure. This allows them to take advantage of those houses. And eventually, when the house comes to Singapore, they will be the first people in the world to use that house.”
From his point of view, it’s all about making connections, regardless of where you are in the world.
“The feel of the houses is very different. It doesn't feel like you're picking up the same glass of wine or meeting the same members,” proposes Eva.
“It all changes. You've always got incredibly interesting people around you and the team around you have been chosen, not just because they can serve a table or can cook a great meal, but because you'd also like to go out for a beer with them. That's very true. It's based on energy. You feel like everyone you bump into and talk to, you're going to have something to say. So you develop strong relationships.”
In one word: community. Scratch that. Family.
Portraits by Sohil Lalani. Venue photos by Soho House Mumbai.
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