At the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Ignatius Cronin holds the title of director of international public relations. His brief covers “everything from checking the level of English used everywhere inside the hotel and in its promotional materials and in-house magazine, to news releases and consultation on interiors, to assistance in event planning,” Cronin said.
It is now 30 years since Cronin accepted employment with de Grassi and Associates, the oldest non-Japanese PR firm in Japan. “My favorite client then was the Imperial Hotel, whose fabulous old Wright building had amazed me. I eventually bought de Grassi and Associates, changed the name to my own, and began specializing in hotel and restaurant industry PR and design.”
The incorporation of graphic design and art direction gives his work flair and individuality. He has original ideas, the eye to appreciate and the talent to deliver.
Cronin was born and raised in San Francisco, one of six children whose father was a Superior Court judge, and mother formerly a fashion model. His interest in East Asia began when he was in kindergarten.
“My parents took me to smoky and somewhat frightening performances of the Peking Opera, held in crowded theaters in the back alleyways of Chinatown,” he said. “My parents knew Chinatown very well, and we often entered Chinese restaurants through the back kitchens, where ducks hung from the walls, caldrons of noodles steamed, and waitresses wore cheongsams. My parents patronized Japanese restaurants too, and I remember my first visit: the sleek tatami room with its ‘hori-kotatsu,’ the kimonoed waitresses, the dishware and the sukiyaki. The interior architecture seemed magical.”
Those early impressions were set indelibly. At high school in Connecticut, he said, “I was the only Californian and the only kid who had records of Japanese and Chinese music, among the rock ‘n’ roll.” He decided to go somewhere warmer for college, and, being a scuba diving enthusiast, chose Hawaii.
At the University of Hawaii, he studied design. “I toyed with the idea of taking up architecture, and became more and more attracted to traditional Japanese ‘sukiya’ style architecture and Japanese traditional arts,” he said.
“I came to Japan in 1964 to study at Sophia University, and transferred, after an interim semester at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, to International Christian University. There I enrolled in the intensive Japanese language class, where, among other things, we were obliged to read Einstein’s theory of relativity and Mishima’s ‘Sound of Waves’ in Japanese.” Hard study paid off. His command of Japanese is majestic.
He still finds, he said, the sukiya style of architecture mesmerizing. “I gave up studying it further, as I could not find a connection between it and an income. Moreover, I discovered that by bringing one Coke bottle into a purely Japanese room, the entire aesthetic was ruined. How could anyone live in such a place on a daily basis without the same demolition of the minimalism that made it so appealing?” he wondered.
Briefly Cronin worked for the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyus in Okinawa. He returned to San Francisco and joined Hitachi America. Japan called him back to his niche with de Grassi. He put on U.S. government trade shows, and found his favorite client, the Imperial Hotel.
A licensed antique dealer, Cronin designed the corporate identity system for the Imperial Hotel, its important logos and publications. His designs appear in the Four Seasons Chinzanso Hotel, Tokyo, and in the Pan Pacific Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. He handles design, marketing and PR for Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts, and recently completed wide-scale designing for the Pan Pacific Hotel Yokohama.
For a new mammoth building in Yokohama, he is designing the interior public spaces and restaurants, which include Middle Eastern, Italian and Chinese. “The client wanted a colonial feeling for the Chinese, so I went to Hanoi, that had been a colony of both China and France. I photographed old French-built buildings that feature adaptations of design themes originated in China.” Amongst the thematic materials he collected, “Absolutely nothing is red and gold.”
Cronin is preparing to initiate PR support in Japan for Hotel Le Bristol, Paris, and for the prestigious Dorchester Group. He is also promoting the Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda, “a 19th century villa that was once home to Mussolini. It is now owned by the founder of Regent Hotels, who is renovating it as an ultraelegant small hotel.”
Cronin widens his scope as he goes, selects and fulfills: “It is a 24-hour-a-day job.”