INTERVIEW: ISABEL PINTADO, SENIOR VP DESIGN & INNOVATION, FOUR SEASONS

Posted in News, People, sticky-news on 8 September, 2021

Appointed by Four Seasons to help lead the brand into its next phase of growth, Isabel Pintado has an exciting opportunity to advance the brand’s design vision globally. Speaking via Zoom from her summer home in Spain, Isabel tells Sophie Harper how her collaborative approach and interest in mixed culture has shaped her career.

Having style and being creative aren’t things that can be learnt easily, but having an appreciation for and understanding different cultures has given Isabel Pintado a wonderful outlook on design and a flair for creativity that appeals on a global scale. She tells me how her upbringing influenced her from the very beginning. “I was born in Spain, in Madrid, to an English mother and a

Spanish father, so from a very young age I had this cultural mix, which is quite normal now but when I was a child in Spain was quite a rarity. My mother was different to the other mothers at school, which was wonderful! It sort of sets the mood when you find yourself in a mix of cultures; in a way you think differently – you approach things a little bit differently. When you’re young it’s a little harder because you’re trying to find your way and you want to fit in but as a creative I think it’s an incredible plus.”

She describes how she was fascinated by design from a very young age. “From the age of six or seven I redesigned my bedroom every year. I remember one year I convinced my mother to let me put cork all over the walls of my bedroom, like wallpaper! Another year I managed to get this sort of leftover lace fabric in a flea market so I could hang lace all over the room as well. A creative environment has always been something that I’ve been very passionate about, experimenting, seeing where the boundaries of contrast lie and seeing how to push those boundaries, how to create scenarios that really inspired me.”

As a teen, Isabel worked in her paternal grandmother’s antiques shop in Madrid, which she credits for helping her learn about styling. “I started getting my mind around how things went together, accessorising, all of those things that in reality have enormous complexity and should not be underestimated – styling and FF&E design is a rare skill that comes from an awful lot of studying and trial and error.” Isabel was determined to study interior design but at the time there wasn’t really the opportunity to in Spain. “You either did the creation, which I wasn’t particularly fussed with, or architecture which I didn’t want to do a long seven-year course for, but then I found out there was this degree course for interior architecture in the UK. I found out that I needed a foundation in art and design so I spent three months drawing nudes non- stop, which is not as enjoyable as it sounds! I was lucky enough to apply to Brighton Polytechnic for the foundation, which was an outstanding course, and then applied to the University of Wales in Cardiff which at the time was probably the best interior architecture school. I had three wonderful years there and that led me to being very lucky and win a design competition in my last year which led to me setting up my own design studio.”

A few years later, Isabel had the opportunity to move to Dubai, which she found an appealing prospect for her children as well as her work. “At the time I had two small children and I wanted them to be brought up in a broad environment where not everybody looked like them, where there was cultural and religious and racial diversity, so off we went, over to the UAE, which was a great choice because I think my kids grew up with very open minds and Dubai was just wonderful to me, it was one successful job after another from designing to managing teams to managing firms to managing companies globally.”

Among some of her roles, Isabel was the managing director of LW Design and then senior vice president and managing director of Wilson Associates’ MEA arm. “I stayed at LW for four and a half fascinating years where they asked me to open up a studio in Hong Kong as well, so I would be in Hong Kong for about once a month for four or five days. I grew LW to have the sort of exposure I felt it deserved, it was a great team of designers, we worked quite closely to push the design language, to push barriers that sometimes we sort of instil upon ourselves and they were fascinating years of growing exposure to more of a global role of learning how different culture function from a business side to a more cultural side, so it was a great learning curve and then I was approached by Wilson Associates to set up a design studio in Dubai for them. It became one of the most successful design studios in the region. I was looking after MEA at the time and then about a year and a half into the role I was asked to look after Asia as well, which brought me to spend an awful lot of time in Shanghai and work with the team there. It was a very different role but also heavily involved in design and supporting the incredible designers we had in the team.”

Isabel joined the Four Seasons family at the beginning of 2021 in the newly created role of Senior Vice President Design and Innovation, which she’s seemingly taken in her stride as she tells me about her working week. “My days vary enormously, which is wonderful as I’m not a great one for monotony. To give you an idea, yesterday I was brainstorming ideas with the lead architect for a project in-house and with two of my colleagues about what narrative we’re going to create for a property we’ve just signed in the middle of the States. Earlier today I was talking to a fashion designer to see if I could entice her to do the uniforms for one of our properties. Yesterday I was talking to the team and presenting a new mock-up room for another property in the States and then looking at a project that needs an upgrade, studying the status of the building and planning some time to go and look at it. I’m in the middle of planning a trip to Milan to look at some newly launched public areas that launched a few weeks ago, so meeting with some stylists to create some additional layers. I’m identifying designers for projects – we usually put forward three design firms for each project and something I’m really trying to do at the moment is work with designers who have a strong connection to the location of each project. I think sometimes helicoptering in designers for a project where they might not have the same cultural awareness is not ideal. I’m also looking at restructuring our design team, just the way we run things. So I’ve been creating diagrams of how we might approach that.”

Clearly Isabel has her hands full with her new post, and while she’s obviously thriving and doing all the things she loves I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been beginning such a role amid a global pandemic. She tells me how she’s adapted. “I love face-to-face, I love brainstorming, picking people’s brains, diving into different things while you’re working to me is fun. The separation between work and life doesn’t really exist very much in my mind, I enjoy what I do and it’s part of that exercise. I’ve worked together with my colleagues in Dubai, our office in Dubai is open – we’re not there every day but we meet once or twice a week, which has been lovely. I knew my team in Dubai prior to joining because I had collaborated with many of them in previous lives. In regard to the rest of the team, no I haven’t met them, I haven’t met my colleagues from Toronto, I haven’t met my colleagues from Singapore either, I’ve met other team members on trips but not many other people in my team. Creating connections without that physical presence, always talking to a screen is harder but because I’d already gone through nearly a year of Zoom and Teams calls prior to joining Four Seasons I was used to working in that way, which has made things a little easier, but I’m desperate to meet them all face-to-face. I’m looking forward to spending some time with people that isn’t just scheduled into one window of time.”

Throughout our conversation, Isabel speaks passionately about her love of design and working with creative people from all walks of life and how that is intrinsically linked to travel and hospitality. “I think design and innovation are very closely tied together. Great design comes from great innovation and what I’m hoping is to approach each project in an independent way, in a unique way with a collaborative approach. I’m of the firm opinion that the wonder of hospitality is enormously to do with the generosity of sharing different cultures. When you travel to a place, if a property is generous with you to share what that true culture is, what that true craftsmanship is, what the traditions are, I think that’s what makes travelling wonderful.” She adds: “The idea that you enrich yourself or you expand your comfort zone to some extent, you always come back a bigger person (and if you’ve eaten lots, a much bigger person!). In the world of design, in the world of hospitality, we have a responsibility to study the culture of the location. Our responsibility to our guests is to dig what’s below the surface in a way we can enrich ourselves and enrich everybody that visits that property.”

This year marks Four Seasons’ 60th anniversary and despite it still being a turbulent time for the hospitality industry, it seems there’s no stopping the brand that keeps adding to its portfolio. “We’ve had a surprisingly exciting year, in that we’ve been able to continue the momentum and had a year of expansion throughout the pandemic. We’ve managed to have openings throughout 2019 and 2020 and will continue to have openings throughout 2021,” Isabel confirms. “We opened New Orleans and Taormina this year, and will open Napa Valley, Fort Lauderdale, and Tamarindo later in the year. We’ve got an awful lot coming up in Asia as well, which is all very exciting, so it’s all coming together.” She reflects on the brand’s success whilst explaining why she is so thrilled about being part of the Four Seasons’ family. “60 years of continuous growth and 60 years of continuous innovation – and not being stagnant at any point – constantly striving to do better, to look at new approaches, I think that being around for 60 years in itself is recognition for doing things well, but maintaining that consistent approach to quality throughout so many years and continuing to do so is incredible.”

www.fourseasons.com

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