This new hotel is bringing a slice of New York to the City of Lights
In Paris, nestled between the bustling shopper’s haven of Champs-Elysées and the posh residential 8ème district, is a little slice of chill called the Amastan. Zied Sanhaji named his hotel project after a historical tale written about his family dating back to 1000ac. The protagonist, Amastan, shared the modern-day hotelier’s passion for family and self-expansion through travel. At a casual 28 years old, Zied has a distinctive vision of the hospitality world that is wise beyond his years. He speaks of his inaugural project with the same endearing enthusiasm as his younger self, who’s been nerdily collecting hotel key cards since his teens. “If you’re humble and you really want to wake up every morning to please people, it translates,” he says sitting in the hotel’s unassuming cobalt bar. He greets some guests seated at the striking marble table, though the warmth in his interaction would make them seem like longtime friends.
Zied imagined the Amastan as more of a “cultural house” than a guesthouse, anchored by the Pop-in rotating installation space – the first of its kind in Paris – sitting adjacent to the hotel. In just over 1 year since opening, the hotel is wrapping up its 13th residency, Chez Away, a Paris Fashion Week takeover from widely popular NY-based travel brand Away. Residencies give the collaborators complete creative freedom, offering guests and locals alike a unique exposure to a dazzling array of cultural experiences. The Amastan is not meant to be your “home away from home,” but rather a place of zen and inspiration. Here, Zied tells us about creating culture and community in the City of Lights.
COOLS: Why is collaboration so integral to the Amastan experience?
Zied Sanhaji: Pop-In is a project space meant to be as hybrid and collaborative as possible. What naturally attracts us more established brands and niche or young creatives whom we appreciate the craftsmanship of their work. In order for us to be able to engage in interesting conversations with our clients, we have to collaborate with interesting creatives. It could be a flower installation, a coffee shop, anything we want. 1-year Sept 1st. Whatever goes on there permeates the hotel as much as possible. It’s a genuine approach.
The diluted word curation ends up being there without us saying it.
COOLS: You’re more creating a culture?
ZS: Yeah. That cultural backdrop is super important to the hotel, as its been envisioned from the start as a “cultural house.” In French we have this slang word “barrack,” like a big house. And I like to refer to the hotel in slang because it’s a big house, but its unpretentious. The idea is really to treat the hotel like a home, and if you have friends staying you’ll hang out by default. We strive to make you feel this way, but not the “home away from home” cliché.
COOLS: It’s more familial.
ZS: When you have a friend at your home and they say the pillow is too firm, you switch it right away. Well here we do the same thing. If you really want to make someone happy you have to talk to them. We’re bringing it back to basics.
You’re not coming here for three restaurants, a nightclub and an ice skating rink. It’s for the people who like the discretion, but appreciate that there’s always something cool to do if they want.
COOLS: It’s a little retreat from the Parisian frenzy.
ZS: It’s been very rewarding to welcome the type of guests we attract. People have been very keen to express how comfortable they feel here, and as a young brand we really take those impressions to heart.
COOLS: How did you get into hospitality?
ZS: I’ve wanted to work in hospitality since I was 14. I had the fortune of experiencing nice hotels from a young age, and my parents always idealized having a strong work ethic for me. I loved the contrast between that luxurious restfulness and the sweat and tears of building a hotel from the ground up. And I came to love the juxtaposition between the chaos that happens behind closed doors of a hotel, and creating this space of tranquility and when you’re serving people up front. It’s like a ballet.
COOLS: With Amastan being your first foray as a hotelier, we’re you aiming to bring to the Parisian market that wasn’t there previously?
ZS: I didn’t start saying “I’ll revolutionize the market.” I wanted to create something rare for a very specific set of travelers. It would be arrogant of me to say otherwise. There’s a specific breed of travelers who are looking for a smaller boutique hotel simply to feel comfortable. The hotel is fairly young, relaxed, and aesthetically pleasing. We’re offering high quality materials, amenities, design and ingredients, but in terms of service execution, we offer something very relaxed. In the West of Paris that hasn’t really been done before. On the eastern end it exists, but it’s often very trendy, sceney or just expensive. It’s challenging because there’s a common misconception because we’re in a prime area it’s automatically chichi. But, if you’re humble and you really want to wake up every morning to please people it translates.
COOLS: And with your exotic background, as a Tunisian raised in Antilles and educated in New York, how does your global upbringing manifest in the hotel?
ZS: I couldn’t pinpoint it, but when Parisians walk in they tend to sense a New York-ish vibe. There’s no complex, if you wanna move this table over there to feel comfortable do it. There’s an ease about the way people own the space that’s less French and more Anglo-Saxon. It shows that people feel comfortable here and that they can truly command the space as their own. In Tunisian culture we always welcome people and make sure they’re well fed. It’s this tradition of always making sure people feel part of the family. That manifests in the way I want my staff to interact with the clients. When my staff receives an order, I want it to feel more like a conversation. We’re here to serve them, and in order to serve someone best you have to talk to them to understand what they need. There’s an inherent warmth and desire to please someone who’s at your home.
COOLS: And with that intimate ethos, comes more of a community than a clientele?
ZS: We attract the people who care about art, culture, fashion, and literature while not having to talk about it 24/7. And people who want to be in a lively environment and still feel comfortable. We’re shying away from the glitz in order to really keep that homey, unpretentious vibe. At the end of the day, our reward is to learn from people constantly, and there are so many people walking through the doors of the hotel, from all walks of life. That interaction is what we thrive on. If the client gets that, and wants to feel like their part of a group of friends, it’s a very natural place. I didn’t design this hotel for millennials; I hate labels. If you’re 60 and you’re cool, you’re cool.
COOLS: It’s a vibe.
ZS: Yes, exactly. I always refer to this NYT article I read a while back, that we’re no longer referring to demographics but psychographics. They were differentiating cultures by mindsets and consumer behaviors, rather than traditional quantifiers. It makes you wonder why we’ve kept the same labels since the Mad Men era, when we’ve evolved so much as a society. It’s a way of living. We’re trying our best, in the most genuine, humble way to offer something unique. Hopefully they’ll appreciate what we’re doing.
COOLS: And how do you choose the brands that align with that uniqueness for the collaborative residencies?
ZS: We consider proposals for how they’ll resonate with the hotel overall. People have such short attention spans these days, we have to ask how do we make people listen to this cool story, but convey that in a way that also pushes the collaborator forward. In order for our brand to grow in its early stages, its key to show our taste, and we highlight that through the types of brands we work with. We don’t want to just overbrand Amastan.
COOLS: You’re giving them a voice and a platform to partake in the conversation?
ZS: The hotel revolves around several themes that makes it fairly natural to integrate collaborations. Everything has a strong attention to craftsmanship, but with a contemporary twist. Take the blue marble for example, we commissioned an older woman in the UK to paint several iterations on a piece of paper, we scanned it super high resolution and now it’s found its way all over the hotel. Or the blue chevron wood behind me that took 18 months to figure out the right hue and grain, while maintaining its original materiality. They’re products that are highly visual and end up being something…
COOLS: Highly artisanal.
ZS: Yes! All these little details are easy to tie into when it involves a noble product, and someone’s hands being in contact with it. There’s another theme of a feeling like a house of someone who collects things – vases, plants, books, marble etc – but not displayed blatantly. It’s a family of various objects, and we hope our guests also collect souvenirs of their stay here.
COOLS: Everything revolves around family and those intuitive personal feelings.
ZS: Yes, and the idea of collection. When we did the Lola James Harper collaboration with Rami, from the first handshake we knew was the perfect synergy. Everything in his brand revolves around family, everything he does comes from encapsulating memories that he’s translating through photography, scents and music. We had some gigs in the bar, a photo gallery and his scents were everywhere it was incredible. We generally want to keep it pretty organic. Sometimes the space is empty for a few weeks, but I’d rather have it this way than diluting the vision of always wanting something that resonates.
COOLS: What are the other themes central to the Amastan ethos?
ZS: Craftsmanship generally implies something traditional, so there’s always an idea of taking a classic with a modern twist. Merging cultures, so many brands are emerging from everywhere, we’re becoming overwhelmed by all these cool new things that all deserve praise. But the ones that make a difference over time are the ones that will bring something from one culture to another. Not by copy and pasting it but by tweaking it. It’s being accepted by the local culture without understanding why even if it is inherently different. And inspiring that cultural sensitivity in our guests.
COOLS: Like an invitation au voyage?
ZS: Yes, but done in a way in a way that’s a subtle as possible. Sobriety and elegance doesn’t come through big statements.
COOLS: How do you see Amastan evolving in the future?
ZS: We want people to understand what we stand for in the way we do things. We want our clients to follow us and care. For someone to leave thinking this hotel is cool, they do things differently and telling their friends to check it out. It would be wonderful to grow a collection of small hotels. Always maintaining that ethos of a big house that’s welcoming to all. And keep that same sincerity, quality and proximity to guests. I want to make those cultural houses relevant to wherever they go. Often when I travel I’ll call the hotel to see how many rooms they have; that really does affect the guest experience. We’re missing in key markets an offering that is able to provide that cultural house and intimacy but still be cool.