Long before he came to own Aman Resorts, Vladislav Doronin was already an avid fan of the luxury hotel chain, or “Amanjunkie”, as its devotees are known.
In an exclusive interview with ZBBZ, the Russian real estate mogul revealed how he first fell in love with Aman’s famed properties in the 1990s as a young trader working in Hong Kong.
“My first Aman experience was at Amanpuri in Phuket and I was bowled over by the exceptional service,” he recalled. “I quickly became an Amanjunkie, visiting as many of its resorts as possible.”
Whenever he was due to travel, whether it was for business or pleasure, he would check if an Aman hotel was available at his destination. If it was, “I would book it without hesitation”.
Born in St Petersburg, the Lomonosov Moscow State University graduate started Capital Group, a futures trading company, at age 29. He ventured into real estate two years later and has come to be dubbed Russia’s Donald Trump. To date, his company has developed more than 70 high-end residential and commercial projects.
Doronin, 55, has been making headlines in the last two years. A majority owner of Aman Resorts in 2014, he became mired in a protracted legal dispute with a business partner. He was awarded sole ownership after a court ruling in London last year and is now chairman of the group.
OKO Group, his United States real-estate firm, also drew attention when it partnered developer Michael Shvo to buy 20 floors of Manhattan’s iconic Crown Building in 2015, with plans to convert the units into ultra-luxe apartments.
It is no wonder then that Doronin has been popping up in assorted power rankings in recent years.
Forbes’s Russian edition named him one of the “Kings of Russian Real Estate” in 2014. The following year, he was ranked among the “20 biggest power players in New York City real estate” by the New York Post. Last year, he made Surface magazine’s Power 100, its annual list of influential figures in various fields including the arts, architecture, fashion and real estate.
The man, though, prefers to keep a low profile, much Like Aman’s concept of discreet luxury. He rarely grants interviews and agreed to this one on the condition that the focus stayed solely on Aman.
Founded by Indonesian businessman Adrian Zecha in 1988, Aman combines impeccable service, breathtaking locations and painstaking attention to detail to deliver an unparalleled experience to guests who are used to nothing but the best.
Amanpuri, its first resort, opened in Thailand’s Phuket island and there are now 30 Aman properties in 20 countries, including its first urban location in Tokyo.
The brand has expanded quickly since Doronin took over the helm, opening four facilities in two years. There have been concerns that the rapid rate of growth might erode Aman’s distinctive identity, but Doronin brushes these off.
As “Amanjunkie in chief”, he fully embraces the Aman spirit and is in sync with the demands of Aman’s well-heeled clientele.
“Aman is unique and offers guests bespoke experiences. Once you have been to an Aman, no other hotel or resort can compare,” he said.
But the exclusive hotel chain is not resting on its laurels either.
“At the request of our Amanjunkies, we’re building a new generation of urban Amans, the first of which was unveiled in Tokyo in 2014. This has set a clear path for future urban Amans.”
Still, he intends to preserve the DNA of Aman, which means peace and quiet in Sanskrit. Aman properties, he said, will continue to be nestled in the world's most beautiful and historically meaningful locations.
“Our approach has remained the same from our inception. We adapt to the environment of each location and instill a sense of peace and belonging in each guest. That has not changed and will never change,” he reiterated
While questions about his personal life were strictly off-limits, Doronin, who famously dated supermodel Naomi Campbell, was happy to talk about his passion for art.
His interests encompass design, architecture and contemporary art. He has amassed works by contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons, as well as pieces by legendary designers and architects like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.
As a child, Doronin said he was exposed to many great artworks at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Later, he began collecting works by artists from the Russian art movement of Suprematism and then acquired a taste for contemporary art.
“The appreciation for this group of artists from the early 20th century was one of the mutually shared passions I shared with my friend Zaha Hadid,” he revealed.
The Iraqi-British architect, who died last year, was behind the spaceship-like structure that Doronin calls home in the suburbs of Moscow.
The Russian developer told Surface magazine he had given Hadid the design brief over lunch. In the interview published last year, he recounted: “I told her, ‘When I wake up, I don’t want to see any neighbours. I want to see blue sky and the trees. I want to feel free’.
“She asked, ‘How high are the trees?’ I told her around 30m. So she took a napkin and drew. I told her I liked it and we started to develop my house from there.”
Doronin had introduced Hadid to Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov in the hopes of getting the Pritzker Prize winner to design something for the city. But the project was eventually scrapped as the location was deemed too close to a park zone. Undeterred, Doronin asked Hadid to design his home instead. It was the only private home she ever did.
He is just as passionate about green causes. At the upcoming Amanyangyun in Shanghai, Doronin has managed to preserved a number of old structures dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The structures had been slated to make way for dams.
Over in Indonesia, he has led the Aman team on projects to clean beaches and waterways.
“At all Aman destinations, we work to protect threatened and endangered species,” he noted. For instance, to protect the local Rusa deer around Amanwana in Indonesia’s Moyo Island from poachers, Aman created a sanctuary for the deer.
It is also involved in a community service project at Amankora in Bhutan, which raises funds for endangered tigers via an ultra-marathon mountain bike race through the Himalayas.
Doronin sees much synergy between his ventures in real estate and hospitality. “With my 24 years of experience and the help of my new leadership team, the Aman brand can move forward in a ‘gentle evolution’.”
Amanyangyun, which is opening soon in the outskirts of Shanghai, will be the chain’s 31st resort and its fourth in China. The group is also scouting for locations in New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and South America, “very possibly in Sao Paulo”.
Aman junkies here have good reason to cheer too: An Aman property is on the cards.
“Yes, it is our plan to build an Aman in Singapore,” Doronin said when asked.