How The Man Behind Chinawhite Pulled Naomi Campbell From A Bin

April 10, 2014
With the recently launched Chinawhite now well underway on Dubai's nightlife scene we caught up with Rory Keegan, founder of Chinawhite and the main driver behind bringing the famed brand to Dubai, to ask him a few questions.

Why Dubai and why The Grand Hyatt?

Dubai is the hub for the Middle East, it’s also the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Far East. Is only going one way and fast. It’s a city of staggering ambition with a young affluent population drawn from all over the world; if you want to develop your brand Dubai has to be very high on your list of places to start. I could not think of a better organisation to work alongside than Hyatt. They are a brand of considerable quality, with excellent management and staff on the ground in Dubai. I have been very impressed by their support and determination to see us open so quickly.

Why now?

We looked at Dubai seriously in 2000 and again in 2008, but for one reason or another we never consummated. The time is right now, we have found a great operational partner and the world is coming back from a long, dull period in the doldrums. Dubai is going to be at the sharp end of all that follows. CHINAWHITE INTERIOR 2

Tell us about Chinawhite in London.

Chinawhite rather changed the landscape when it took off in late ’98 early ’99. It was heavily themed in its rather unique take on Balinese style, and madly romantic as a result. The vast majority of clubs at the time, for the 30 somethings, didn’t do service and didn’t do romance but they did do minimalism. Chinawhite drew on the tradition of small, elite, hosted clubs, and we looked to their best examples in London for inspiration. We just thought we should make the type of service and treatment you could expect in London’s absolute best clubs available to a whole new generation. Our PR strategy consisted of not telling the press where the club was, and refusing to comment on who had been in when they eventually found us. Our door policy was bizarre to put it kindly and resulted in genuine stars waiting outside to get in or worse still being turned away. All the frontline clubs that came afterwards including Movida and Mahiki were inevitably influenced by that success and how we set the place up and then operated it. I believe that’s why people really loved Chinawhite, that’s why the stars liked the place and kept coming back. Everybody was treated equally, boy or girl, Prince or pauper, Hollywood A lister or loveable rogue; and everyone respected that or they didn’t get in again.

How will you attract Dubai's party crowd?

The crowd doesn’t belong to anyone, you can’t steal a crowd, the crowd picks you or it doesn’t. It sifts through what is available and makes its choices. Here today, there tomorrow. You hope to build a loyal audience because you offer something the others don’t, it’s an attitude thing, because it’s tough to differentiate between the clubs on the obvious things like service or presentation anymore; lessons have been learned that have benefited everybody who likes to go out. CHINAWHITE INTERIORs

What will Chinawhite offer that's different?

I hope you get a good atmosphere every night, I hope we deliver some interesting sounds, I really hope the service is good. I can promise that the club will develop with things arriving on junk from Indonesia. I can promise you it will evolve and find its niche in the Dubai scene. I can promise those that grow to like it, that we will look after you.

What's your favourite bar in the world - you can't say Chinawhite.

It has to be the Kamikaze in Cusco, Peru, for all the wrong reasons. It’s your last night out before doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and your first night back in. It is a seriously bonkers operation. [caption id="attachment_817" align="aligncenter" width="667"]ChinawhitePeru Rory knows something we don't. Cusco looks pretty calm and peaceful to us. Corbis[/caption]

What's next in the pipeline?

It’s no secret that we love Turkey, having done a one summer only club in Istanbul, and we love the Bodrum clubs. The London club spawned an outside events arm that was very successful and supported the brand and club very well for a number of years. I would like to see that happen here. So we aren’t just thinking about rolling out, but also developing the brand into different areas within each market as we go. We want to see beach and ski resort based operations, and we would love to do a fun version of a boutique hotel for grown-ups, I’m so bored with serenity. Love it or hate it, you have to admire Flavio Briatore who has done a wonderful job with Billionaire. The brand has moved effortlessly from a seasonal nightclub to a complete lifestyle. His tie up with Cipriani is masterful. I like to think that we can achieve that sort of vision and bring a similar agility to the thought process behind a plan.

You must have some great anecdotes...

I will share a short story about someone who is seldom out of the press. I hope she doesn’t mind; she is so famous we can just call her Naomi and leave it at that. Well, Naomi turns up with a friend on her arm and I pluck them from the pavement because we had no idea she was coming and whisk them inside and down into the lobby. So far so good. From here I have two routes to get them to my table on the far side of the club; through the heaving crowd or down the waiters secret back passage, braving the evenings rubbish and through the kitchen. Well it has to be the passage full of waste bins doesn’t it? This passage is really dark and backs onto the main room so you can’t see or hear yourself think. Worse still because Chinawhite is a stage set, people sitting on the tops of the main room seating can quite easily fall into the back passage through the strategically placed curtains. [caption id="attachment_818" align="aligncenter" width="688"]Rory didn't specify which Naomi, but we fancy it was probably this one, surname Campbell. Corbis Rory didn't specify which Naomi, but we fancy it was probably this one, surname Campbell. Corbis[/caption] Well as I lead Naomi by the hand passed the half-full rubbish bins, this chap comes flying through the curtain backwards. He bumps into Naomi with some force and collapses onto the floor at my feet, clearly a little confused as to where he is. I haul him up and push him back through the curtain. I fully expect Naomi to be in a heap on the floor; in horror I realise that the precious cargo that is Naomi has gone missing. I can’t see and I’m groping around looking for her under where the clubber had crashed. As the curtains part again to reveal the grinning and apologetic clubber now right side up, just enough light filters in to reveal the most amazing pair of legs sticking straight up from inside a rubbish bin. She was wedged in the bin poor girl with just her legs, arms and head showing over the rim. Heaven only knows what she was sitting on, but not the sort of thing you would do by choice certainly. The three of us spent what seemed like hours trying to get her out of the bin without pouring rubbish all over her, this was complicated by the fact she couldn’t stop laughing and waving those amazing legs about. It was certainly the comedy entrance of the decade for those that witnessed it; better still she turns out to be a lovely girl with a heart of gold and yes, I have picked lettuce leafs and carrot peelings from Naomi’s bottom and not many people have got to do that. Naomi forgive me, they threatened me with torture. [Editor: we definitely didn't.]