People who make Monaco: Sonia Irvine
As the sister of racing driver Eddie, and former physiotherapist for the Ferrari team, Sonia Irvine
has been intimately involved in the world of motor racing. It's a
relationship that inspired her, nearly ten years ago, to found the Amber Lounge
brand. What was it about Formula 1, we wondered, that has made the greatest impression on her personally and professionally?
"I would have to say the people. The industry is extremely fast-paced,
and everyone has to react quickly - there is a real no-nonsense approach
to work, which I love and thrive on. It’s an incredibly stimulating
world to work in and people have to be on top of their game and highly
supportive in every aspect of F1. It’s this very environment that helps
build strong and lasting relationships, where work colleagues become
good friends. People say that F1 is like one big family, and that's
certainly my experience."
In terms of the wider social calendar, Amber Lounge is now a byword for the for most fashionable pop-up parties. What was your inspiration for the event?
"It was the last race of the season in São Paulo. There were groups of
us driving round the city trying to find a place where we could all get
together to celebrate the final race. That’s when I came up with the
idea of Amber Lounge, a place where everyone could come together and
party, in privacy and away from the eyes of the media. It’s a simple
premise and one that, I hope, keeps the family spirit of F1 together
And with the expansion of Formula 1 into Asia and the Middle East,
would you say the 'look and feel' of your parties has altered in any way
to accommodate different tastes and influences from abroad?
"The actual signature look of Amber Lounge doesn't change: the white
sofas, illuminated bar displays and funky DJ booth stay the same, as
does the exterior, which always incorporates a water feature of some
sort - in Monaco it’s the Mediterranean backdrop, Singapore has the
waterwall, Abu Dhabi has the water terrace over the Arabian Gulf... and
we will do something wonderful for India!
"Where we do change the look and feel is in our branding. We acknowledge
and are respectful of the different cultures at each of our
destinations, and our branding reflects this. It's evident in our Amber
girls, who are an important part of the Amber Lounge persona and brand.
For example we have one Amber girl posing with a champagne glass; this
is an image that we would not replicate in our Middle Eastern branding."
The title 'pop-up' is something of a misnomer, since these events
take many months to organize, not least in terms of gathering
sponsorship. But now things are almost ready for ignition, can you tell
us a bit about this year's Amber Lounge?
"Sure. We have not one but two exclusive events running over the
weekend. We kick off with the Amber Lounge Fashion show, which I am
proud to say is under the High Patronage of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of
Monaco. It's a charity catwalk event to raise funds for the Special
"Our partners for this event are TAG Heuer
– the prestigious watch brand which already has a strong association
with F1 and certain F1 drivers – as our Official Watch Partner; and Skin Society Monaco
our Official Beauty Partner who return for the second year running.
For our evening events, running over the entire weekend, we have Jose Cuervo
as our Official Drinks Partner. This is fantastic for us as all these
brands work well together and have important links with Formula One and
the Grand Prix series.
What makes Amber Lounge Monaco unique?
It’s difficult to choose one aspect of our Monaco event... I’d probably say firstly, our Fashion Show, as we are the only
fashion show in the world that has the F1 drivers modelling on the
catwalk! From a real personal perspective I love that I get the
opportunity to involve my family in the event to the point where my
beautiful daughter Megan models on the catwalk beside me. That’s pretty
unique for me! Secondly, our Sunday night after-party, as again, we get
the F1 drivers coming in to celebrate the race finale and it really is
an amazing atmosphere and everyone has a great time.
I think that as a company we work hard to keep the Amber Lounge name and
brand distinct. Other companies, parties and clubs try to replicate
what we have but unlike them, Amber Lounge has real roots and after nine
years we are still the place where the F1 fraternity - and celebrities -
choose to come to over a Grand Prix weekend...
Next year Amber Lounge will celebrate its first decade. In those ten years, what has been your most memorable experience?
There are two experiences that spring out, the first was the Amber
Lounge debut back in 2003, in Monaco. We had everyone turn up to
celebrate on the Sunday night: Prince Albert, Bono, The Edge, Helen
Christensen, Wesley Snipes, Heidi Klum, Ronaldo as well as all the
drivers, it was such a buzz - and totally overwhelming. The second was
in Singapore 2009, when the Black Eyed Peas were in the club and without
warning, Taboo got upon stage and did an impromptu performance. The
crowd went crazy, cheering and jumping up and down. That was a night I
Personally, I’m always flattered that they still want to come to Amber
Lounge even now, it’s such a wonderful feeling to make people happy and
give everyone a good time.
Finally, although it's invidious to ask you to single out a winner, what are your thoughts about the 2011 race season so far, and what are your expectations for the Monaco Grand Prix?
Ah that’s difficult. To be honest, I can’t pick a winner - I just don’t think about it that way. To me I think about the drivers as individuals, each of whom generously give their time to support the fashion show and who come to have fun on the Sunday night in the club!
Interview by Alex Went / Photos by Naneen Rossi