Bold and beautiful, strong-willed and driven, Samyukta Nair is third generation hotelier of the dynastic Hotel Leelaventure, taking over the entrepreneurial and creative roles before her with elan
There is an air to Samyukta Nair that spells ingenuity with structure, passion with a plan and a mind all her own. The young lady of the fabled Leela family puts her fashionable foot forward as she steps into the artistic and business arena of the hotel group and beyond. Head of Design & Operations at The Leela and Founder & CEO of Jamavar, London, sky’s the limit for Samyukta, the younger daughter of Dinesh & Madhu Nair. Certainly not a daddy’s daughter, taking over the baton, so on and so forth… Sam powers through, determined on setting herself apart as an entrepreneur to reckon with. Though all along holding both parents and her grandfather as her highest inspirations and never forgetting to thank the one above for granting her the “ovarian lottery!”
Going back in time, Capt. C P Krishnan Nair had a vision and it took fruition in The Leela Hotels, established worldwide today, placing their brand of Indian hospitality on the map. His vision would never have involved the inclusion of his granddaughters then, the young talented trio, to take the empire forward and make a mark, set themselves in their own space as leaders and game-changers. Samyukta, along with her elder sister Aishwarya and cousin Amruda, have made him proud; and for their parents, remain the apple of their eye. To think Sam – a name that most naturally catches on – did not consider taking a dip in the Leela pool once she was done with her studies, first graduating from City University, London in Sociology & Psychology, moving on to an MSc in International Business from University of Nottingham and finally (few years apart) an Executive MBA at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, Switzerland. Well, hospitality runs in the blood and when you have a massive palette awaiting you, then quite decidedly and inevitably so, Leela would call Sam home. Imbuing her creative spirit into the arts and architecture of The Leela Palaces, Hotels, Resorts and her business acumen into the operations of the same since 2008, she has gone on to decorate Leela properties, set up fashion, home decor, artisanal craft and culinary ventures, earning a Michelin star along the way and drawing the blueprint of projects on the anvil, too.
All preened and keen to unravel her yarn thus far, Sam goes back to her first project as an associate in The Leela, working as an understudy for her mother Madhu – the Director of Design & Operations – when Udaipur beckoned in 2008. The young lady took charge of the art and embellishment programme adorning the halls with portraits of the royal family with rite of passage granted by family friend Maharaja Arvind Singh Mewar. “That was the beginning, but it was in 2014 the entrepreneur-ship sailed in with Dandelion. My brand of sleepwear that is stylish, relaxed and affordable is my first baby. I guess you could say I came full circle as my grandfather started out in fabrics and my father runs Leela Lace.” Her baby goes on to include Dandelion Baby for the tots and their mums and Dandelion Loungewear (coming soon) for the perfect combination of chic and comfy. Furthermore, she has worked on mum’s bespoke lifestyle division Amalya, which pays tribute to the local artisans, from scratch to success. Today, she also proudly invites and houses a selection of her favourite independent Indian labels across fashion, home décor and lifestyle in a high-ceilinged, serene-shaded, charming façade-bearing space in the Art Deco quarter of SoBo called Clove (2017), taking her view on Indian designs forward and celebrating the simple pleasures of everyday luxury. “Creativity and a respect for art and artists, their struggles; for artisans, their heritage, has been instilled in me by my mum from a young age thanks to museum and gallery sojourns in New York and Bombay. It is but natural that I would resolutely persevere in The Leela’s mission as my primary responsibility.”
And what would the stronghold be of one of the biggest hotel groups the country has to offer? Food & Beverage! Narrowing down on their star, both, in India and abroad, founder-CEO Sam lights up at the very name and begins, “Jamavar (at prime Mayfair), London, is a Michelin-star restaurant that will remain my biggest project thus far. Derived from the 16th century prized and inimitable shawls of Kashmir, the brand was established by my father, Dinesh – Co-chairman and Managing Director of The Leela – in Bombay in the late 90s; a unique blend of North and South India on grand platters that worked deliciously well! Based on this holistic culinary approach, we took Jamavar to London adding creative small plates to suit the discerning palates of London diners.” Within a year of its launch in December 2016, London spoke and Sam and team rejoiced. Awarded four stars by food critic Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard, declared the Top Newcomer Restaurant 2017 by Harden’s Restaurant Guide and sitting cosy on #39 in Time Out’s coveted top 100 list, Jamavar had arrived. The cherry on the cake… the Michelin star the same year! Having feasted – within the Viceroy-referenced interiors with Lutyen’s inspired furniture – on the silky Jamavar Dal, succulent Duck Seekh Kebab, the divine 8-hour Slow-Cooked Lamb Shank with Rajasthani Chilli and bringing up the rear with an indulgent Mango Rasmalai with mixed berry chutney, we safely declare Jamavar London is one for the checklist when on Mount Street, or even if you’re elsewhere. Head here! “It’s been oh so exciting, and we can’t wait to see what new Culinary Director Chef Surender Mohan has in store,” beams Sam.
There’s more on the culinary front a la Sam and Team Leela. “I am happy to announce the launch of Bombay Bustle, on Maddox Street, an ode to Bombay’s fast-paced life and the comforts of my home side by side. The chaos of our city is juxtaposed on London’s streets where a railway set-up welcomes diners in… satisfied diners in the three months since its opening,” shares Sam on her second restaurant. Ah, the lure of London! Now designer Vivienne Westwood had exclaimed, ‘There’s nowhere else like London. Nothing at all, anywhere!’ Sam believes as much in the city’s exuberance and goes on to elaborate on its prowess laying claim to its atmosphere of fearlessness among its women folk and the creative nature that flows through. “My mother raised me a feminist and I am unabashedly proud of being a woman of strength. Hence I set in motion the Women’s Club at Jamavar where each woman gets the opportunity to learn from the other and serve as motivation and encouragement, too. We have had a few decorated women in our first edition and I am really looking forward to hosting our second edition this summer.”
Shuttling to and fro, immersing herself in almost all aspects of design from planning to project development, design analysis and implementation, ensuring the guest/customer is satisfied at all times and staying true to her being… certainly the hustle and bustle would catch up with you, right? “Friendship is a rewarding space and I am very lucky to have a close set of friends, and my family around me to relax,” smiles Sam. “I love to travel, enjoy music, reading- a lot of architecture and design books, following gurus in the field, attending art fairs and the like. I must say a home-cooked meal with my grandmother Leela is well, home! And a bottle of bubbly in the fridge is a must!” And if you are one of Sam’s friends, a batch of freshly-baked, heavenly cookies is a privilege!
This article was published in UpperCrust Magazine, Jan-Mar 2018, used here with permission from the publisher