Tourism is Brazil’s fourth biggest earner, generating €8.5bn and sustaining 1.1m jobs. Last year, Rio de Janeiro received more than two million international and five million domestic visitors, an increase of 120 per cent since 2000. On the eve of this year’s Pan American Games in Rio, hotshot hotelier Rogério Fasano is opening a second property in Brazil’s carnivale capital.
Rogério Fasano turns in his wicker-backed chair on the first-floor terrace of the Nonno Ruggero restaurant and surveys the Fasano Hotel towering above him. “It all began with a brick,” he says.
What may sound like a rudimentary lesson in construction is actually an important insight into the mind of a design visionary. He “acquired” the brick from a building site in London six years ago, and took it back to Brazil in his hand luggage. “London bricks have imperfections that give a building’s façade depth when they’re assembled together. Brazilian bricks are too uniform, too red. I took the brown London brick to my friend, the architect Isay Weinfeld, and told him that it was the inspiration for the entire hotel.” Four generations after Vittorio Fasano arrived in São Paulo from Milan in 1902 to build a portfolio of restaurants that would wow the gorgeous and good, his great-grandson is charming Cariocas and Paulistas with a clutch of restaurants and a hotel of his own. The legacy of his ancestors still reverberates around current ventures – the Fasano hotel is teeming with photographs of his family’s achievements, from sepias of the original Fasano restaurant of the early 1900s on Antonio Prado Square to the Brasserie Paulista of the 1960s that played host to President Eisenhower, Marlene Dietrich, Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales), and Nat King Cole who sang there.
Rogério himself is a throwback to the golden age depicted in the snapshots of São Paulo’s heyday. He’s every inch the Italian, from the ever-present Loro Piana cashmere sweater loosely tied around the collar of his blue Turnbull & Asser shirt, right down to the Brioni loafers. But it’s his no-holds-barred Brazilian candour that maketh the maverick. “I don’t like buildings in São Paulo, they are too flat-headed. My other proviso to Isay was that the building should taper at the top, the way skyscrapers do in New York.”
In the well-groomed Jardins district, the Fasano tower sticks out like a sore thumb in a cityscape otherwise crowded with monolithic middle fingers. Weinfeld successfully interpreted Fasano’s exacting specifications, from the brown brick streak up the centre of the structure to the stepped Gothamesque clock tower that sits on top. At 26 storeys, it’s hardly the tallest building in São Paulo, but it strikes a vogueish pose over its low-rise neighbours Giorgio Armani, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and Cartier. That the road on which the hotel is located, Rua Vittorio Fasano, is named after his great-grandfather is testament to the power that the name wields in São Paulo.
In a typically imaginative coup, Fasano successfully lobbied to have the tangled overhead telegraph cabling, ubiquitous to the city, removed and buried underneath the rua’s tarmac for a reported €150,000. “I wanted every detail accounted for, including the introduction to the property.”
On sweeping through the revolving doors, guests are greeted with a low-lit, well-appointed lobby – yet more evidence of the hotelier’s tireless quest to develop the ideal social environment. He made the brave decision early on to substitute the reception for the bar. “I set the reception back behind the bar in favour of creating a welcoming lounge zone, free from the everyday comings and goings of a traditional hotel entrance.” And the shift has a marked effect on the atmosphere. One of São Paulo’s most coveted rendezvous, the lobby bar is frequented by imposingly handsome Paulistas and goggle-eyed guests loafing fashionably on the antique club chairs, glowing healthily in the light of the brass lamps and flicking ash into old-fashioned ashtrays on small hallway letter tables.
One of Fasano’s fortes is his gift for sourcing furniture that fits. It’s easy to describe him as jet set, with his well-cut trousers, cosmopolitan contacts and international clout, but this is not a man who squanders his money or his time. He’s always on the hunt, and his nose for nuance leads him to furniture shops, antiques fairs and curiosity bazaars all over the world. “I found the lobby’s club chairs,” he says, “in the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt flea markets in Paris and had them shipped back to Brazil where I had them restored. As for the tables and the lamps, those were found in small antiques shops in Buenos Aires and at Antiquarius on London’s King’s Road.”
Besides the two hotel eateries, Fasano currently runs four restaurants in São Paulo and one in Rio – Parigi, a French bistro with an Italian twist, Gero in SP and Rio for relaxed, authentic Italian dining, and two Armani Caffè concessions at the designer’s São Paulo stores.
Like some fixated magpie migrating across time zones to snaffle up a particularly lustrous objet d’art or long-forgotten service ethic, Fasano applies the same eclectic principles to all his undertakings. There are rarities to be found everywhere across the businesses. Pointing to a pair of lounge chairs in the entrance to Baretto, the hotel’s famous jazz bar, he says, “I saw those in an auction right here in São Paulo. I just had to have them.” Sitting by the indoor pool at the top of the Fasano hotel are four Hans Wegner rope loungers, while prints by Brazilian photographer Cristiano Mascaro hang in the Fasano Gero restaurant, and custom-made Isay Weinfeld furniture and fixtures decorate the entire portfolio.
The restaurants fall under the stewardship of his head chef, Salvatore Loi, a man Fasano trusts implicitly. “Salvatore and I recently took everyone in our kitchens on a reconnaissance mission to Italy. We spent three weeks tasting all manner of dishes. It was so wonderful to see everyone so immersed in food.”
Until now, the Fasano hotel in São Paulo was the climax of a successful career for Rogério. But with the imminent opening of his second hotel in Rio de Janeiro, it seems he is only just building momentum. Once again the property is being built from scratch, but this time it will be without Rogério’s long-time collaborator, Weinfeld.
Fasano inherited Philippe Starck as exterior and interior architect from the property’s investors, but when Monocle visited it seemed that Señor Fasano had managed to deflect any beardy-weirdy Starckisms (apart from an ear-shaped mirror by the bed, but we’ll let that slide).
Rio Fasano is in the heart of Ipanema beach, and has all the requisite services to satisfy the most spoilt Carioca. By May 2007, the hotel will have a spa, fitness centre, rooftop pool, a bar called Londra, a Fasano Al Mare restaurant and a café. From the pool on top of the Rio Fasano you get one of the only undisturbed views of the Dois Irmãos mountains, (or the Two Brothers as they’re known); and each of the 82 rooms and 10 suites has a private balcony overlooking the praia, and butler service on request.
“With the Rio venture, I not only aim to develop the Fasano concept,” says the hotelier, “but create a new vision. The hotel will accommodate a very different crowd to the São Paulo hotel – more laid-back, more bohemian, but with the same chic aesthetic. It will be a place to relax after a day at the beach. Our Rio property will be a natural extension of the Fasano collection.”
With provenance such as his, and a heritage so steeped in the Brazilian elite, it is nigh-on impossible for Rogério Fasano’s second hotel to fail. But it is still his steadfast dedication to detail and design that will ensure its success.
When quizzed as to global aspirations, Fasano is surprisingly modest. “I’m not so sure the concept would work outside Brazil. What do you think?”
Well, having witnessed the airtight operation and enjoyed the great man’s hospitality first hand, we’re pretty sure that if he were to open a Fasano London we’d be making it our one-stop destination for lashings of cachaça, risotto al tartufo bianco and a roll in the king-size suites overlooking Hyde Park.