The interior, homeware and fashion designer reflects on the hotels and destinations that have inspired him, the importance of great service and the places that are still on his bucket list.
What was the first holiday that made an impact on you?
My first solo long-haul holiday was to India and it has become such an important country for me in terms of my career, because it was where I began my business in 1996. I set up a factory in New Delhi to bead and embroider some of my designs, and from there I started my first collection.
What was it about India that you loved so much?
The other-worldliness – the sense that I was in a place unlike anywhere else in terms of the architecture, the culture, the people and the craftsmanship. It was a colour-saturated, intoxicating place and the complete opposite of where I was born and raised in Manchester. I’ve been about 40 times now and travelled all over – to Mumbai, Rajasthan, Goa and Kerala.
You’ve recently spoken about the English countryside providing inspiration for your new homes collection. Where else have you visited that has influenced you?
The UK inspires me a lot, as it has a great deal of nostalgia attached. I’m often drawn to England for its eccentricities. Mallorca, where I now live, has also given me ideas. Before I came here, I had that Brits abroad, Magaluf stereotype in my head, but it wasn’t like that at all. I live in a village in the mountains, surrounded by pine trees, and I can’t help but be inspired by the rustic, naturalistic way of life. I love the Maldives, too, and have been lucky enough to visit five times. When I come back, everything I design is turquoise!
How easy do you find it to switch off when you’re on holiday?
I find it very difficult. Like most people with a creative brain, mine is forever whirring away. It’s such a pleasure to do what I do, but it’s to my detriment because it consumes me. If I’m having drinks in a hotel bar, I’ll be looking at what’s behind the person opposite and thinking, ‘Ooh, I like that wallpaper pattern’. Something will always catch my eye.
What are your travel essentials?
I love to paint while I’m away, so I always take my watercolours. But ever since I moved to the mountains, I have become quite low-maintenance and tend to pack light. I’ll take a straw hat and I always have my laptop with me, mostly so that I can download some trashy TV to help me switch off on the beach!
What makes a hotel experience truly great?
Fantastic service. Knowing that the guest is going to be a priority and the staff are all of that belief is key, starting with smiling at you when you come through the door. The look of the hotel also plays a massive role for me. I can’t deal with terrible design or Ikea furnishings. That would bring me out in hives. I want a hotel that speaks to me in terms of its aesthetics. Good food is important too.
What are your hotel pet peeves?
Check-in times – the fact that you often can’t get into your room until 3pm annoys me, particularly when you’ve landed at 10am. And rooms without baths or where you have to pay a premium for a tub upsets me, because I’ve always been a bath person.
Where are you off to next?
I’m going to Porto, because my best friend has moved there and has invited me over for three days. I’ve never been and everyone says I’m going to love it. It’s supposed to be very pretty.
Are there any dream destinations still on your bucket list?
I haven’t really explored mainland Spain, so I’d like to go to Granada and Valencia.
Do you have any top travel tips?
Pack a bag inside your suitcase for more luggage. I’m always buying stuff and it never fits in the case. And when you arrive, try and find a local to show you around, even if it’s a friend of a friend of a friend, because you will discover all the non-touristy restaurants, bars and other spots.
Who is your ideal travel companion?
Sienna Miller. She’s one of my really good mates. I’ve been on holiday with her to Morocco and Turks and Caicos, and had the best time. We laugh at the same stuff and have the same interests.
Are there any hotels that have inspired you in terms of their interiors?
I really like Soho House, because they have a super-clear aesthetic that somehow works globally. I think they are very clever at adding in a sense of the location and the vernacular of where you are, while also maintaining the identity of the Soho House brand. The one in Barcelona is super cool; it feels like you’re in a really buzzy metropolis and the interiors have a Spanish flair, with terracotta floors and beautiful ceramics.
What is the most glamorous hotel that you’ve stayed at?
La Mamounia in Marrakesh. It’s steeped in history and is decadent, lavish and ornate.
Are there any hotels you’d still love to visit?
I’ve never been to The Ritz Paris. And I’d love to go to the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India – it’s a white wedding-cake sort of a building and, as the name suggests, it’s floating in the middle of a lake and is reached by boat. I think that would be an epic experience!
As told to Kirsty Nutkins.
For more on Matthew and his work, visit www.matthewwilliamson.com.