Arman Naféei is the man that everyone in the know knows. Most famous for working with hotelier Andre Balazs at landmarks such as the Chateau Marmont, Arman is tasked with the enviable job of setting the mood through exquisite music. As a DJ, he’s hosted some of the world’s most VIP parties, from Heidi Klum’s wedding to Tom Kaulitz. Of course, he’s an avid record collector and music curator (you may remember that he curated a playlist for Commas’ SS20 collection, featuring tracks sourced from Hugh Heffner’s record collection). Most recently, he’s put his connections to good use with his new podcast Are We On Air, which features conversations on music with a cavalcade of fascinating subjects, such as Lou Doillon, Tom Sachs, Willo Perron, Julian Schnabel, Patti Smith, and most recently, Michel Gaubert.
Mulholland Drive, LA (2019)
How would you describe your profession to someone who knew nothing about you?
I struggle until this day to describe it as it’s so vast but to simplify it: I am a music curator.
Can you share what your current position looks like day-to-day?
My day is distinctly split up between day and night. During the daytime, I literally just walk through the Chateau and do a lot of admin. At the moment it’s mainly for the private club that we are opening in the Chateau — building it out, the design, building the sound system, finding the right staff, finding the right designer for the uniforms, etc. So it's really like an orchestra, like putting a swing-set together, and just being the director behind it. And then in the evenings, it's more hosting, playing records in the lobby, having conversations about music with the guests, giving some of them a tour of the property, or hosting a special event… that would be my day-to-day at the Chateau. Before that, when I was in New York, I was doing the music for Andre's hotels, and I was in a corporate office and looking after all of the hotels including The Standard Hotels. That entailed a lot of curating all around — the Hamptons, or the key moments at the Boom Boom Room, or LA or New York Fashion Week… But for Studio Neu, my agency, that's slightly more project-focused. It’s really coming up with the sound identity for different brands and personalities.
Can you talk about your new podcast interview series Are We On Air?
Are We On Air came out of being at the Chateau for the past three years and obviously, with music being my background, my passion, and meeting all these great people through my work and through the Chateau, at some point I thought to myself — why aren't I recording these conversations? Even though I have a vast knowledge of music, I'm interested in people, especially creative minds, especially from different places outside of music, and what they are listening to. Sometimes it's super exciting, and you discover new music, and sometimes you're completely let down. Like, really? Can someone be very intellectual and only listen to the most obvious music? So, you can be kind of let down. That's what I find interesting as well.
You’ve hosted a lot of parties; what are some of the key ingredients to a good atmosphere?
Sound, lighting, temperature and most important of all the right mixture of people. When it comes to music: read your audience. Are you somebody who prepares or is more spontaneous? I like to quote Picasso. "Madame, it took me my entire life." Music is the path of half my life. I’ve put so much into it. When it comes to the actual night, in terms of feeling the night, I know my routine. But then there are those evenings that do need some preparation. I could plan it track by track, but it never goes down like that. You realise that doesn't make any sense — they might want something more energetic, for example. There's only so much you can prepare when you have to be flexible and just jump on a different train.
What are some of your tricks to shift the mood from dinner to dance floor?
When you want to shift gears, try it out, and if it doesn’t work try a different gear. Music can be the driver or more a companion. Either way don’t force it — it has to be natural. What aspect of your work bring you the most happiness or stimulation? Discovering new music that excites me and seeing people’s reactions when I share it in one way or another. I love it when people raise their phone’s to Shazam the song. What attracts you to a vacation destination? Laidback sophistication and imperfections. Napoli is a good example. I love Napoli. There’s so much richness behind it, so much history — it’s so beautiful. When you look around it's full of cracks, and that's what makes it so beautiful.
Is there a particular villa you stay in there?
No... There are all these grand hotels, built around the 19th century on the promenade, on the water, and you can see all these images inside of beautiful interesting people staying there from Dali to Sinatra. It has a feeling like the end of an empire. The rooms are kind of cheap — it doesn’t resonate with today’s money... You could stay there without a whole lot of money; it’s not an obnoxious place, and it's not really luxury, but it's the location and the history and the feel to it... That's why it's such a draw. Another great place is Tangier in Morocco, which has an incredible history. It takes me back to the film Casablanca. There’s a former grand hotel which is completely run down now and completely basic. You can lie in your bed and watch the sunrise over Europe; you walk the streets and you feel the former glory – for me it’s pure luxury to be able to appreciate the cracks.
Could you share your favourite photo from a vacation, and the story behind it?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled to some incredible places but Villa Malaparte in Capri, (as seen here in a scene from Godard’s film Contempt with Bardot and Piccoli) sums up everything I love. The Mediterranean architecture with patina, the linen suits, the pine trees. I played at Heidi Klum’s wedding in Capri last Summer on Onassis’ legendary boat ‘Christina O’. I don’t even know how to explain that whole experience. It was pure magic.
Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963)
One non-essential thing you can’t live without?
If we’ve learned anything from the covid pandemic it’s that that we don’t need anything but each other.
Is there a person you couldn’t live without?
Obviously my parents who I adore, but I’m also trying to detach myself from anybody in terms of the fact that we are all going to be gone one day. I think that’s the best way to live life; that’s the way you appreciate today.
The hotels you’ve worked with have such legendary reputations. What is your favourite story, real or fake, you’ve heard or been told?
Scarlett Johansson and Benicio del Toro hooking up in the elevators at the Chateau Marmont during Oscar night. Sounds divine, but unfortunately it’s fiction... Although, who knows? [Laughs] Honestly, I can't talk too much about celebrity gossip, although I have plenty...
Aristotle Onassis & Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Onassis' yacht, 'Christina O'
Mulholland Drive, LA