Our founder Marisa sat down with the executive VP of The Standard Hotels for UK, US, and Europe — and friend-to-the-stars — to talk overcoming fear, finding your tribe, and staying grounded.
On International Women's Day 2023 we launched our year-long interview series with women who inspire our founder & CEO. Marisa Hordern is our very own inspiring link, from age eight seeking gemstones on Portobello Market to building Missoma as it is today.
We know Elli Jafari, of course, as the woman running London’s coolest hotel — and close friend of our collaborator, Harris Reed — and we couldn't wait to hear more of her story.
Born in Iran, Jafari grew up as the youngest of six. “I had to entertain,” she tells us. Seemingly, her destiny was sealed. From there, she moved to California to study hospitality, before landing her first internship and a subsequent job role with industry giant, Wolfgang Puck (the Oscars’ Governor’s Ball chef).
This led her to New York City, the concrete jungle where her dreams were made, working for the Maccioni family under Sirio at the legendary Le Cirque restaurant. “I was very fortunate to have a lot of amazing mentors,” Jafari says. “Working for that family really inspired me. It was that old school New York hospitality; everything kind of flowed together and it felt magical.” Now, as we know, she's in charge of The Standard, changing the industry one power move at a time.
Don’t be fearful. Fear is a numbing energy that sets you back from your greatness.
- Elli Jafari
But the life of a hotelier isn’t all fairy tales and hanging out with Florence Pugh (though when you’re Elli that is part). It also comes with its stresses: from will-it-work openings to crazy hours. “I literally tell everyone, I have three jobs: a day job, an afternoon job, and an evening job,” she laughs. And that’s not to mention the lasting effects of lockdown.
“Covid was awful,” Jafari says. “I was here alone in the hotel most of the time. I think it broke me open, to just be vulnerable and feel my feelings.” But while everywhere was rife with disconnection, Jafari and The Standard decided to do something somewhat radical. With their empty hotel, they invited young, gifted designers and recent graduates, Harris Reed and Chet Lo, to become their first-ever artists-in-residence. This genuine connection with up-and-coming talent, creativity, and generosity is something the hotel's since become known for. "It’s a two-way street," she tells us.
Talking about living and working alongside Harris during lockdown, she says: “the best part was some days we would sit and celebrate, but other days we would sit there and cry.” Thankfully, by 2021 The Standard’s doors were firmly back open. What lessons did she learn from the pandemic? “Now I’m always grateful for being busy. I overpromise too much; I say yes to everything.”
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There's no failing in trying, and if you have that mindset in anything you do, you’ll surprise yourself.
- Elli Jafari
It’s no wonder she struggled during lockdown; it’s being around people that inspires Jafari. “I surround myself with a team that has the same energy, the same ethos, the same mindset as me,” she says. “When you’re connected, you’re co-creating your tribe – the group of people that inspire you day-in, day-out. That’s what I love most about my job.” So, how does she find people to hire? “In interviews, I always look at their energy over their CV. You can’t teach hospitality; you either got it or you don’t."
It’s her ability to build lasting relationships and her undoubtable charm that have got her to where she is today, but also her courage. “Don’t be fearful,” she says. “Fear is a numbing energy that sets you back from your greatness. There's no failing in trying, and if you have that mindset in anything you do, you’ll surprise yourself.”
She’s one of the most inspiring people we’ve ever met, but who inspires her? “In London I feel so supported — all these powerful ladies are my allies. When you see our executive team in the US, there are so many powerful women sitting in that room.”
Her CEO at The Standard is also female. "She’s a powerhouse, a phenomenal leader, and a mother with two beautiful young daughters. She inspires me every day with her strength and how she handles situations."
As well as having people around her she can rely on, Jafari practices mindfulness to stay grounded. “Meditation has been kind of my saviour for the last ten years; I normally work six days a week, and some nights I’m up to 3am. First thing’s first, I catch my breath. Sometimes it’s ten breaths, sometimes it’s five minutes.”
When she’s at home, her ritual is to meditate surrounded by candles and her crystals. “That to me is a good day; it allows me to be calm and be present.” While she's nailed staying present in her chaotic world, when it comes to the future, what is she looking forward to? “I would love to fall in love and have a bit of a romance in my life,” she says, holding up her hand to show her two Jelly Heart Rings – her good-luck omens. We can't wait to see this inspiring link find her match.