The story of how Mr & Mrs Smith came into being contains the brand’s very essence. James and Tamara Lohan had the idea after a series of disastrous minibreaks involving chintzy hotels with starched bed sheets, UHT milk and sniffy waiters. Their litany of disappointments came to a head in the Lake District, when what they believed to be a spa hotel turned out to be a strict health retreat – something the guidebook review had not made clear. It compelled them to think: enough is enough, let’s just write our own guidebook.
After assembling a small, passionate team, enlisting some notable guest reviewers and photographing 41 made-the-grade hotels, the Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection was born in 2003, its name inspired by the pseudonym favoured by couples on illicit weekends away. Their distributor said they’d be lucky to sell 5,000 copies over three years. Instead, they sold 20,000 in the first three months and went on to sell more than 100,000.
Fifteen years on and there are now more than 1,100 hotels in the collection and the company has evolved into a global brand, albeit one whose heart – and headquarters – is in Britain.
It’s precisely this Britishness, they say, that gives them their distinctive tone of voice, tapping into that playful, discerning British spirit, together with a typically wry eye for detail.
A lot has changed since those early days and when Mr & Mrs Smith marked its 15th birthday last year with a new coffee table book, The World’s Sexiest Bedrooms, it was able to draw on a vast selection of the most romantic hotels around the globe, from city crash pads to desert-island hideaways, enlisting an in-demand art photographer to record those most alluring of stays – and reflecting the brand’s mischievous side as she did so.
It’s not all seduction and mischief though: what people have always loved about Mr & Mrs Smith are the wise words from undercover reviewers; advice about those nearby places truly Worth Getting Out of Bed For, or perhaps a suggestion on which outfits to bring with them.
Last year the brand announced the acquisition of SideStory, whose bespoke cultural experiences offer rare, behind-the-scenes insights into cities such as London and Paris. Mr & Mrs Smith members can now add private, insider-led encounters to their city-break stays, such as fascinating antiques tours curated by star of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, Mark Hill.
As for the future – a recent crowdfund initiative featured a video in which James and Tamara talked about the company’s next chapter. In typical tongue-in-cheek style, the couple delivered their vision from the comfort of a four-poster bed at Cliveden, dressed in hotel dressing gowns. The crowdfunding means Mr & Mrs Smith will now embark on an accelerated period of growth, adding hotels and villas to its collection at an increased rate. It also aims to further break into the US market.
It turns out those early minibreaks weren’t such a disaster after all.
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