Amber Lounge founder says Singapore does the Grand Prix well, so the luxe club will remain here

A F1 driver fashion show at Amber Lounge in Singapore this year. The ultra-luxe party is created by Ms Sonia Irvine (above).
A F1 driver fashion show at Amber Lounge in Singapore this year. The ultra-luxe party is created by Ms Sonia Irvine (above).PHOTO: AMBER LOUNGE
A F1 driver fashion show (above) at Amber Lounge in Singapore this year. The ultra-luxe party is created by Ms Sonia Irvine.
A F1 driver fashion show (above) at Amber Lounge in Singapore this year. The ultra-luxe party is created by Ms Sonia Irvine.PHOTO: AMBER LOUNGE

Founder Sonia Irvine is looking to expand the roving VIP party Amber Lounge beyond Formula One

8Q

After more than a decade of being inextricably linked with motorsports, Amber Lounge, the ultra- luxe roving VIP party for Formula One drivers and A-listers, is finally ready to explore other horizons.

Its founder Sonia Irvine says: "I've been asked to take Amber Lounge outside F1 for quite a few years, but I never had the team around to facilitate doing that because I want to be a good mum as well as a good businesswoman."

The 52-year-old mother of two girls, aged 14 and six, adds: "It's hard when you go to a new location within F1, but to expand outside F1 within another sport would be double the work."

I can't mention names, but two years ago, one of the drivers enjoyed himself so much, we had to take him home in a wheelchair out the back entrance with a blanket over his head so that he wouldn't be recognised. There's a lot that goes on.

MS SONIA IRVINE on one of the crazy incidents that happened at the Singapore edition of Amber Lounge

Amber Lounge is a VIP party held at four race stops - Monaco, Singapore, Mexico and Abu Dhabi - over the course of the Formula One season. In previous years, Amber Lounge has been held in cities such as Shanghai, China; Delhi, India; and Austin, Texas, in the United States.

Irvine, who was born in Northern Ireland, spoke to The Straits Times recently when she was here for the F1 night race.

She has an almost 20-year history with F1. After running her own physiotherapy practice, she spent four years on the road with her brother, former Ferrari and Jaguar F1 driver, Eddie Irvine.

In 2003, she launched the now globally successful brand of Amber Lounge, which combines fashion, fine dining, charity auctions and star performances.

Tickets for the Singapore edition of the party range from $900 to $1,200 a person on the low end, while VIP tables cost between $8,000 and $31,000 each.

Now Irvine reveals that she and her team will look into expanding Amber Lounge "seriously for next summer... it's super exciting and glamorous".

But when pushed for what sport she is looking to take the party to, she says with a laugh: "Let's not tempt fate."

Amber Lounge was held here on Sept 17 and 18 this year, at a purpose- built space behind Conrad Centennial Hotel.

The annual event, which has been held in Singapore for the past nine years, draws a chi-chi crowd - guests could run into anyone from an F1 driver to a celebrity to a bona fide billionaire. Alongside a fashion show that featured ramp walks by McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne and Manor Racing's Esteban Ocon, this year's guest performers were American R&B singer Kelis and rapper-DJ Big Ali.

1 Why have you kept Singapore as an Amber Lounge stop on the race calendar all these years, instead of moving to another city?

There are some key Grand Prix races in Formula One. Monaco is one and Singapore is the other.

It's a night race full of energy and part of the reason is the teams stay on European time instead of Singapore time. They don't go into the paddock till later and they don't go to bed till a lot later, so they've got lots of energy to go partying at Amber Lounge. That's something different about the Singapore GP and Singapore does it very well.

2 Do you root for any particular driver at the F1 races you attend?

I don't. All I want is that they have a safe race and there're very few breakdowns or crashes so then they'll come to Amber Lounge afterwards.

If a driver's hurt or has an incident with another driver, then the drivers don't want to come out and party, which is another reason I never say who's going to be at Amber Lounge.

Things happen on the track that I have no control over. Last year, for instance, we had 19 drivers come in.

3 Why do you not like the idea of having cordoned-off areas at Amber Lounge, considering its high-end clientele?

I think everyone in Amber Lounge is a VIP, so there's no "don't go" areas. If someone needs to be protected, then he'll be protected with how I set up furniture or deploy security.

I'd rather do it that way than have roped-off areas where someone might feel, "Oh, I'm not good enough to get up there."

4 Does the practice come from a bad experience you once had?

I've never thought about it. There must have been something from my time travelling with my brother where I wasn't allowed in. I didn't think it was fair.

5 There is plenty of partying and drinking at Amber Lounge. Are there crazy incidents you remember from the Singapore edition?

I can't mention names, but two years ago, one of the drivers enjoyed himself so much, we had to take him home in a wheelchair out the back entrance with a blanket over his head so that he wouldn't be recognised.

There's a lot that goes on. But that's the thing about Amber Lounge - we always say whatever happens in Amber Lounge, stays in Amber Lounge.

6 What is your dream for Amber Lounge?

It's a brand name within F1, but it should expand outside F1 - that's where I'm torn as a woman. Whenever you have children, it's finding a happy balance because sometimes, you have to make a choice. You can't necessarily do everything you want.

I've tried to walk a fine line between being a good mum and a good businesswoman with my children. That has stopped me from expanding Amber Lounge to a certain extent, but it is now time. The kids are older and they can deal with it.

7 How long more do you plan to do this?

I will keep doing this as long as I have a passion for it and I have a passionate team.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

Someone who made dreams come true. Whether it's the F1 experience or the Amber Lounge party, but it's also my charity work, raising money for charities and making dreams come true.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Making Amber Lounge red-hot'. Print Edition | Subscribe