The Mandrake hotel is like a jungle in the middle of Fitzrovia, a London neighborhood between Marylebone and Bloomsbury just north of Soho where there is no shortage of creativity and bustle. Housed in a former Victorian office block that retains all its raw architectural design, The Mandrake is an ecosystem of its own – a labyrinth of rooms furnished with an eclectic mix of antique pieces and sensory infusions. Because what makes this hotel unique is precisely how it smells.
The brains behind this boutique establishment is Beirut-born Rami Fustok. Fustok’s family is so creative, he has managed to build his entire hotel around their endeavors: his mother is the sculptor, Bushra Fakhoury; his brother, the painter, Male, and his sister, the interior designer, Tala Fustok. Fustok himself is an art collector and has personally picked out the bold pieces liberally scattered around this, his first project. The Mandrake has been a success, he says, despite having departed absolutely from what guests generally expect from a hotel.
“First of all, I have fled from minimalism, from the Nordic style, from soulless, corporate and impersonal spaces,” says Fustok. “I’ve spent my whole life in hotels and I think something has been lost along the way, so I’ve tried to address that gap and take a punt on the creation of a maximalist and multisensory space.” Somewhere between a luxurious gothic fantasy and a suggestive bachelor pad, The Mandrake opened in 2017 and “is an extension of my character,” explains Fustok. “When someone tells me they don’t remember if they’ve been staying, I instantly reply: ‘No, you haven’t.’”
Outdoor terraces and walkways leading to the rooms surround a central courtyard, the hotel’s jungle-style heart draped in greenery and vines that cascade down the atrium from the upper levels – a mix of jasmine, flowers and two century-old Tasmanian ferns. The interiors are warm and luxurious; some of the furniture has been acquired from antiques markets in London and Paris, lending the suites sensual lines in velvet and gilt. There are both colorful and decadently dark curtains, and Bedouin-style beds covered in rich fabrics. All interspersed with surrealist sculptures by Bushra Fakhoury.
Artworks from Fustok’s private collection, including pieces by Jonas Burget, combine with ritual masks and crystals that look like “drops of semen,” according to Fustok. In the lobby, The Haunted Chandelier, a Gothic custom-created piece by jeweler-turned-furniture designer Laura Bohinc, shares space with the sculpture Soul of a Man, by hairdresser Masciave. This is one of the most curious pieces in the hotel, having been fashioned from 200 meters of human hair.
Eyes are another motif at The Mandrake, from the logo to the paintings adorning rooms, staircases and restaurants. “They also guide us,” Fustok points out, adding that the soundscapes were custom-made by sound engineer Pierre-Arnaud Alunni.
What’s that smell?
One of the highlights of staying at The Mandrake is the olfactory experience. Award-winning British perfumer Azzi Glasser is the creator of the sensual scent that permeates every corner. Glasser is responsible for the scent concocted for the UK’s “2011 Great” campaign at the request of former Prime Minister David Cameron. She also created the essence of Space, to celebrate Space Odyssey as a tribute to Stanley Kubrick, and came up with custom-made perfumes for Helena-Bonham Carter, Jude Law and Johnny Depp to help transport the actors into character.
The hotel’s controversial scent has a number, namely formula F3178143. “It is created using magical ingredients to entice the senses when you first smell it,” says Glasser. “The heart and core of the composition is the essence of a fig tree and its nocturnal seductive power. Jasmine, also a star ingredient, is another of the most sensual scents, improving mood and increasing alertness. Together they can increase sexual desire.”
Ritual oils such as Black Oud, incense, myrrh and black moss are the icing on the cake. “It’s like entering one of those clandestine parties we were shown in Eyes Wide Shut, a blend of eroticism, provocation and luxury, all capable of awakening the most primal impulses thanks to elevated aphrodisiac notes that remind us that we are animals and that the sense of smell is part of our DNA,” Glasser adds.
Glasser was surprised by the success of the aphrodisiac scent associated with the hotel: “I never thought the reaction would be as noticeable as it has been,” she says. “It’s a powerful scent but it’s also subtle. It seems to have a distinct resonance that stays with you from the time you arrive until you leave. People want to buy this fragrance after visiting the hotel.” Mandrake is the name of a root conducive to fertility. So, you could say that the hotel smells like sex? “Expensive sex,” says Glasser, smiling.
The Mandrake’s gastronomic offerings are another sensual feast. With its impressive marble counter under a hybrid creature suspended mid-flight, the Waeska bar offers ethnobotanical cocktails, a first in the British capital. The creature – something between a gazelle and a kangaroo, with scales made from harvested beetle wings – was designed by renowned artist Enrique Gomez de Molina. The space is cosy and conducive to conversation with adjoining tables. Meanwhile, the Yopo restaurant, headed by chef George Scott-Toft, has an elaborate South American-inspired menu.
All areas of The Mandrake are designed to facilitate interaction and romance. But the hotel is also, in its own way, a social experiment: there is one part dedicated to light and another to dark. Be warned that the courtyard bar is open late and offers live music and DJ sets Thursday through Saturday until 1 am and that some rooms, depending on the area, may be affected by noise. But nothing matters if you’re part of the party. Here, it’s all about soaking up the atmosphere and inhaling the spirit of this extraordinary space.
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