From Mayfair’s exclusive Whisky Mist, to celebrity hot spot Movida, nightclub manager Jin Nilsson is the creative force behind a number of London’s favourite jaunts. Moving on from his role as Marketing Director and Partner of the now-closed Café KaiZen - a chameleonic venue that seamlessly evolved from bubble tea café to decadent cocktail lounge to a full-scale nightclub - Nilsson has taken on a new challenge: Marketing Director at Mayfair hot-spot, The Cuckoo Club.
This latest venture by Nilsson may be new, but The Cuckoo Club itself is not; the venue will celebrate its 10th anniversary in December this year. “It’s the first time I’ve teamed up with a venue that already existed for almost a decade,” Nilsson explains, “so it’s exciting to combine all the creative aspects.” Needless to say, The Cuckoo Club has enough creative aspects to keep Nilsson occupied for decades to come.
Spanning 5,000 square feet across two different floors, the venue oozes ostentatious opulence. Its current design was born in the mind of Barbara Hulanicki - the interior designer and founder of notorious fashion label, Biba - and sees her utilise the same mulberry plum palette that pulses through her clothing designs. The venue plays host to some of Europe’s most stimulating musical artists, simultaneously boasting raw live music and intimate clubbing side-by-side. And The Cuckoo Club is not done yet: “We’re building a restaurant over the summer to extend the party until brunch,” Nilsson tells me. Ambitious perhaps, but this is something Nilsson knows a thing or two about.
Starting out, Nilsson studied marketing and graphic design in Sweden, before eventually moving on to open up a T-shirt store in Soho, London, in 1999. Nilsson thanks his Scandinavian-Korean heritage for giving him not only a sense of creativity, but a solid structure and focussed drive to succeed. “There’s been a certain obsessiveness to my career and to the things I was trying to accomplish,” says Nilsson.
This obsessive drive saw Nilsson demand his Soho store to be immaculate before opening each morning, allowing his creativity to outshine the competition. “That’s what my parents and bosses demanded of me, so that’s how I began in my career and adult life,” he explains. “It was like, ‘we’re going to get that flag to the top of the hill no matter what. It doesn’t matter that your ankle is hurt or somebody is sad. Imagine how sad you are going to be if you have no food.’ That’s what drives me… I wanted to prove to my parents what I could achieve on my own.” And there is no doubt that Nilsson’s drive has got him to the top of that hill. Nilsson takes pride in his ‘no days off’ attitude and openly admits that he has yet to take a sick day during his entire career.
Nilsson’s unrelenting drive has undoubtedly reaped rewards. His multiple venues have set the bar for London’s nightlife and certainly seen champagne sales rise through the roof, making Nilsson one of the most bankable individuals in the hospitality industry. “I was raised within a hardworking Swedish family and I learned everything I know about life from early failures. Not all bar and club openings were a success but you will only hear about the famous ones,” Nilsson explains.
“In the beginning of my club career, I needed to host 14 venues a week and go to four clubs on a Saturday. And then pay my rent. And whatever left was for food and looking good, so I have a really direct connection between being able to survive in the world and the lessons coming from actual work.”
Despite his now vast experience within the nightclub industry, Nilsson continues to learn from those around him: “[At Café KaiZen] my business partners were with me all day, every day, and what better way of teaching and swapping experiences than that?” This perpetual learning curve is only intensified when Nilsson is forced out of his comfort zone. He cites a moment on tour with Movida in Moscow as an example. Nilsson, known amongst London’s social elite, became out of his depth as a Korean-Swede in Russia. “I had to revisit everything I thought I knew about life in a matter of 30 seconds,” Nilsson says. “To start with, the Russian passport control didn’t believe I was Swedish... It’s hilarious now but at the time, in your early twenties with a big ego, you really get brought back down to reality.”
And yet, reality - as wonderfully creative as he might be - is exactly where Nilsson wants to exist: “I never wanted to be famous,” he admits. “But I do see the acknowledgement of making a venue famous very satisfying.” Nowadays Nilsson seeks to share this satisfaction with others: “I have a vision and a place I want to go with it, but I had to open up to the idea that everybody else has their own ideas of what they want to do. Just because I dream something doesn’t mean that everybody else is dreaming it.”
This may be so, but this does not stop Nilsson from dreaming big: “I want to make Cuckoo international, with venues in other cities,” he explains. “We’re already doing some big parties in Cannes for the film festival this summer.” And his dreams aren’t restricted to the night alone: “My personal ambition is to open a cinema, restaurant and members club in the South of Sweden.” One thing is for sure, if anyone can make their dreams become a reality, it’s Nilsson.
Words: Elizabeth Neep & Jin Nilsson