The art of celebration
Where the party began
What do Jackie Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin and Lady Gaga have in common? All of them – not to mention countless authors, politicians, members of royalty, actors and the beau monde of fashion – have enjoyed exclusive parties and celebrations in Raffles Hotels, a proud tradition that has continued for over 130 years.
At special dinners in the early 1900s, waiters sped from the kitchen to the dining room on roller skates, with some guests joining in the merriment by undertaking a few laps on the Italian-marble floor themselves. In 1921 the new ballroom opened, and the Raffles Dance Orchestra played the hottest tunes of the day. It was widely acknowledged as the finest in the East, able to accommodate 500 revellers, and was visited a year later by the Prince of Wales, a man who certainly enjoyed the finer things in life.
In 1929 the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh was opened by His Majesty Sisowath Monivong, which included a lavish buffet, dancing and a band flown in from Saigon…a party that was the talk of the town. Elsewhere in Cambodia, at Christmas 1936, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, at Siem Reap arranged for the seasonal illumination of the breath-taking temples of Angkor Wat, accompanied by music and dancing, which attracted party-goers from all over Asia.
The clouds of war were gathering, though. By the end of 1941 the mood was sombre but preparations went on, nonetheless, for the traditional New Year’s Eve Ball. Almost defiantly, the hotel filled with wealthy evacuees from all over Asia. During the party, the rooftop watchman blew his whistle four times to signal the approach of enemy planes. Quite the adrenaline rush for the guests to be sure.
The post-war glamour lives on
The return of peace heralded a new age for Raffles and with it a fresh sense of glamour and spontaneity. Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, was married in the hotel in 1950. Famous Hollywood actors also passed through her doors while visiting the Far East.
One legendary visit happened in November 1967. Jackie Kennedy visited Cambodia and stayed at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, where a cocktail, the Femme Fatale – crème de fraise des bois, cognac and champagne – was created in her honour in the legendary Elephant Bar. (If you’re passing through, ask to see the glass that still bears her lipstick.)
From the 1960s onwards, several movies and TV shows were shot at Raffles in Singapore, bringing her allure to cinema screens around the world. The hotel featured in the film Pretty Polly (later renamed A Matter of Innocence) and even appeared in an episode of cult 70s police-drama series Hawaii Five 0. More recently, Raffles once more stole the show in the film Crazy Rich Asians, which featured the main characters indulging in the elegance of the Drawing Room.
As the decades passed and new properties came under the Raffles banner, the crème de la crème of the fashion world were also attracted by the sense of grand tradition combined with modern facilities.
The celebration continues
And what better way to welcome the new year then at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Wake up every morning with champagne breakfast poolside – a design feature inspired by royal bathing pools of the King of Cambodia. Get culturally acclimated by the in-house historian, who will take you back in time and immerse you in the wonders of the Angkor Wat.
With excellence of organization and spirit of generosity, Raffles is synonymous with hospitality for over 130 years. With a timeless elegance, the hotel has truly turned ‘celebrating’ into an art form delighting the world over. From an intimate wedding on the pristine white sands of Meradhoo Island in the Maldives, to a grand 50th-anniversary gala in Dubai featuring a hundred pink roses to remind her of the first time you met, to a surprise video link to friends in India who couldn’t make the party …… let Raffles bring your celebration to life with the glamour of yesteryear and legendary service that continues to this day.
Next year, after a meticulous restoration to preserve the best of what the hotel has always been, Raffles Singapore will reopen. With a refreshed look and some new surprises, the grande dame, is sure to delight returning families and friends.
In 2019, as in 1887, the celebration continues at Raffles.
To learn more about Raffles’ enduring legacy as an epicentre of revelry, culture and celebration, check out Soirées, Sojourns & Stories by Raffles by renowned author Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni. A must-read for devotees of luxury, glamour and travel, it encapsulates the Raffles spirit of yesteryear and today.