It’s no secret that Sam Nazarian loves Los Angeles. “Everywhere I go—Milan, New York, Shanghai—I rave about the opportunities here, especially the cultural diversity,” says the Iranian-born entrepreneur, who has lived in L.A. since age 3. Now 33, Nazarian recently opened the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The hotel is the first of several he plans to open with designer Philippe Starck, who also designed Nazarian’s XIV, a Michael Mina restaurant in West Hollywood. When Robb Report spoke with Nazarian, he was about to depart for Israel, Turkey, and Manhattan to scout properties. “We are cautious during the economic downturn,” he says. “But if you’re not optimistic that the world will come back, you might as well pack your bags and move to the beach.” Preferably, one presumes, a beach in Los Angeles.
You refer to your restaurants and hotels as your “true love.” What other passions do you have?
I collect watches and cars, but I take the most pride in my art collection. I started collecting contemporary art about five years ago. I started with Edgar Negret, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Thomas Ruff, and then I moved into photography. It’s probably not the most expensive part of my collection, but I love the genre. It has specific action. I like Slim Aarons and Henry Diltz, who captured a period of time in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s of cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Gianni Versace, and Bruce Springsteen when they were very, very young. When I see a Diltz shot of Janis Joplin, which I have in my home office, or a shot of Bruce Springsteen in concert in 1981, I make the correlation of how they are still relevant today.
What about your cars?
Most people appreciate a good car. At one point I had 11 cars in my collection. I think I have started a good collection, all the way from my Bugatti to my [Cadillac] Escalade Hybrid, which I love the most, actually.
What makes someone a connoisseur?
To me it’s someone who truly appreciates something; someone who studies and knows the origin of a given thing and can tell the difference between the exceptional and the not-so-exceptional. You can be a connoisseur of anything—it can be flowers, design, or something that takes you to a small village in the farthest reaches of the world—but there has to be an emotional connection.
How do you define luxury?
Relaxation and luxury go hand in hand. That doesn’t mean you have to have 15 butlers around you on a pristine beach. But I think you’ve probably found luxury when your body releases endorphins and you have a sense that you can relax in the world, whether that be sitting in a beautiful car or an amazing chair, or simply lying down in a comfortable bed.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Right now I’m enjoying teaching and lecturing. I lecture about four times a year at SCI-Arc [Southern California Institute of Architecture], one of the country’s leading avant-garde architecture schools. I teach a seminar about how a project—from a developer’s standpoint—gets done. Most architects are artists, but many of their designs never see the light of day because they aren’t practical. I really enjoy talking to young people. I love the response, the instant gratification, and I love learning from the younger generation, even though I consider myself still part of a young generation.
Do you entertain much?
One might think I do—I mean, with my house’s large pool deck and its view [of the city]—but I really look at my home as my sanctuary. Luckily, I have 10 places around town—clubs, lounges, and restaurants—where I can entertain. I try to keep my home for my family and a few very close friends.
What book is on your nightstand right now?
How to Be Successful Without Selling Your Soul by Rabbi David J. Wolpe. I’m very interested in that sort of thing.