The Woman Behind Malaysia's OneKL On The Realities Of Being A Successful Luxury Developer

By Jessica Liew

The young CEO of One IFC took 8 years to build the 6-star hotel brand in Malaysia, and played a hands-on role with the project from day 1. Although Carmen Chua, who is also managing director of OneKL, roughed it out most days in a uniform of hardhat, The St Regis T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, it was the perfectionist attitude and dedicated nature that steeled this Generation-T lister each day. Today, she can regard the impressive, culturally rich and luxurious hotel establishment ever to grace the city skyline with immense pride, and dispense nuggets of wisdom on making it big as a luxury property developer.

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Above  "Many remember me in my uniform of a hard hat, St Regis T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.” -- Carmen Chua (Photo: Malaysia Tatler)

Important traits of a standout luxury property brand

“As a lifestyle builder, One IFC focuses on niche unique projects synonymous with innovative luxury developments and high-end lifestyle living. Luxury property is not just brick and cement; it is to regard it as a form of art – Curation, innovation, creating an experience.”

Read also: Carmen And Carmey Chua's Great Expections

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Above  3D Birds and Butterflies by Barnaby Hosking

Focus on aspects that break tradition, instill surprise

“The St Regis KL boasts one of the world’s largest hotel rooms with each standard room at 63 sqm, and a world’s first in hotel, which is a Grand Ballroom fitted with seamless panels of LED screens. This digital canvas offers a completely immersive virtual experience, establishing that the hotel has revolutionised lifestyles and raised the benchmark of Malaysian real estate. Grand ideas give birth to the curating of lifestyles and art, and with The St Regis Kuala Lumpur, we broke the mould of traditional hotels.”

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Above  The 3.5 metres horse sculpture by Fernando Botero

Being owner of a global, 6-star hotel brand, is not always glamorous

“The essence of a beautifully curated hotel starts from design: From establishing the lifestyle or experience you are seeking to create, and understanding operations, down to the careful consideration of monumental art, furniture and finishes. All these require a lot of hard work, determination and dedication, with an unrelenting pursuit for excellence. It is not always glamorous, as it involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

Read also: Behind The Canvas: The Art At The St Regis KL

Be prepared for the realities of a property developer

“Throughout the 8 years working on The St Regis KL, a majority of time was spent climbing scaffolding and stairs (before lifts were installed), construction site inspections, travelling to stone quarries to select marble, redoing walls if they compromised on quality. My office moved to the basement of the construction site, and I was always covered in dust at the end of the day. Many remember me in my uniform of a hard hat, The St Regis T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.”

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Above  The 4.9 metres hand-etched leather artwork, 'Grace Thunders' by Mark Evans

Creating an artistic experience resonating with the brand

“We curated The St Regis KL experience with specially commissioned art pieces of a synonymous cultural experience – Mark Evans’ hand-etched leather ‘Grace Thunders’, Barnaby Hosking’s ‘Birds and Butterflies’ (inspired by the species that live in the bird and butterfly park in Lake Gardens adjacent to the hotel) and the monumental 2.5-tonned ‘Horse’ sculpture by Fernando Botero, which is the largest sculpture he’s ever made. A friend’s quote best summed up how The St Regis KL in itself was a piece of art – ‘Michelangelo took 4 years to complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Your hotel took 8.’”

Read also: Behind The Scenes: Carmen And Carmey Chua

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Above  Chef Saito San himself comes to The St Regis KL every 3 months to present delectable masterpieces (Photo: @ takabysushisaito on Instagram)

 Finally, craft sensational guest experiences through dining

"A dimension in which we continue to curate guest experiences at The St Regis KL involves elevating the local dining scene with superstar chefs, such as 3-Michelin starred Saito-san at Taka by Sushi Saito, as well as with visiting guest chefs. The next in the guest chef dining series ‘Where Culinary Art Meets Fine Art’ takes inspiration from the hotel's 3 specially commissioned art pieces in the dining journey with Chef Pere Planaguma at The Brasserie this January 19-21."


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