Sydney-born, Byron Bay-based Francesca Webster is the manager of luxury hotel Raes on Wategos. Unlike her peers, who get to absentmindedly throw on their uniform in the morning, Webster must carefully select a different outfit daily to greet guests. She has to look polished and diplomatic, while also staying true to her own sense of style and the property’s unique heritage. Raes was constructed in the ’60s as a kiosk called Argentine Ant Cantina, before being transformed into a restaurant and private home called La Belle Epoque in the ’70s.
Webster also has to consider functionality when she gets dressed: her job is hands-on and involves multiple responsibilities at once, all in unpredictable, tropical heat. Her sartorial solution to this is refreshingly simple. She keeps her style minimal and lives by the mantra “do less but do it well”. She doesn’t chase trends or take risks, instead opting for crisp shirting and breathable trousers, always teemed with a pair of fresh white Spring Court sneakers.
Webster invites Broadsheet inside her tropical office overlooking Wategos beach to share a few wardrobe essentials.
Broadsheet: What’s your definition of a good work wardrobe?
Francesca Webster: One that can be worn outside of work; get more bang for your buck. Also something that’s a reflection of your personality and true self. My heritage is Italian – my family is from the Aeolian Islands in the south. I have always loved the effortless style in Italy and the way in which [people] carry themselves. They also rarely dress down, and take pride in their presentation at all times of the day.
BS: How did you get into hotel management?
FW: My godparents were co-general managers of a few different Aman resorts and I was lucky enough to grow up in and out of them. I’ve been obsessed with hotels from a young age. I went on to study marketing and international business with tourism and hospitality, before following my sister’s lead and working my way up the chain at Park Hyatt Sydney. It’s the single best location for anyone to kick off their career within the luxury hotel industry – I still use tools I learnt there.
BS: How would you describe your own personal style?
FW: My personal style is tailored, pared back and minimal. I’m very “less is more”. I’ve got a killer shirt collection – I always find a reason to buy a new white or striped shirt; they’re all different. My favourite cut at the moment is Scanlan Theodore’s Button Collar Shirt, which I’ve bought in different colours and prints. If you find a cut you like, don’t be afraid of getting more than one – they’re hard to come by and I live in mine. I’m also a pants girl – you’ll never find me in a dress or skirt. Some say my style is quite androgynous, which I like, and it means I can be more hands-on in my role.
BS: Apart from your Italian heritage, does anyone in particular influence what you wear?
FW: My mum. I still have staples from her wardrobe. What I wear is totally attributed to her, and her focus on investing in key pieces that transcend time, season or age. On my first trip to Paris with my mum and my sister, the first place she took us wasn’t the Eiffel Tower – it was the boutique Agnès B. Mum also taught me to always dress up for a plane ride and not to wear thongs and trackies. These days I feel more comfortable in my skin. I’m dressing for me, and would like to think that’s the little bit of my mum in me.
BS: Describe the process of selecting a different outfit each day for work, and how you manage it?
FW: I’m actually enjoying the freedom of being able to wear what I want each day, rather than throwing on a uniform. The weather is what normally determines what I wear. Then shoes. If I know I’ve got a busy day ahead, or a big day of movement in the hotel, I’ll swap my Robert Clergerie slides for Spring Courts or Supergas. My outfit is always curated from the bottom up.
BS: What does an average day look like for you at Raes?
FW: There’s no average day at Raes, which is what attracted me to this industry in the first place – no two days are the same. In general … at 7.30am I join guest yoga on the terrace, followed by a swim at Wategos. Then it’s coffee and a health shot from the breakfast team. At 8.30am I catch up with Laure, our guest experience manager. She’s my right-hand woman and keeps me up to speed with any important guest feedback – good or bad, we sit down and discuss it. After that I check in with guests during breakfast. Then I write all the welcome cards for new guests, before heading to the housekeeping briefing at 10am. My next catch up is with the head chef and restaurant manager, before checking in on sales forecasts, labour costs. Then at 11.45am we do a pre-lunch briefing and highlight table allocations, special dishes, dietary requirements, guests to note … . Then I sneak off around 2pm to inspect guest rooms after housekeeping is finished. At 5.45pm we do a pre-dinner service briefing with all the house staff.
BS: Does your management style reflect what you wear?
FW: My management style would be relaxed yet professional. The best way to teach someone something is to do it yourself first. So leading by example is the best way not just to pass on standards, but also to instil a sense of pride, care and attention across the team. My standards for myself are high, and standards for staff are even higher. So with this, I’m not afraid to wear a T-shirt and sneakers, get involved in the day to day of operations, but I also know when to wear a blazer and structured shirt.
BS: Has your style changed since you moved from Sydney to Byron Bay?
FW: Yes, I suppose it has. Now I wear a lot more linen. And a lot less black. I experiment a lot more with colour and lighter fabrics. I’m obsessed with linen from Sydney label Alex and Trahanas. You won’t find anyone wearing black while working at Raes either. [Black] was part of the uniform standard when I started and I never quite understood it. It was one of the first things to go. Lucy Folk also has done an incredible job creating staff uniforms for Raes, drawing on a lighter palette that represents our location and climate.
BS: What’s your approach to beauty? Name five products you have on rotation.
FW: I don’t really do much make-up, but my go-tos are Santa Maria Novella Idrasol body cream; Kevin Murphy dry shampoo (always); Coconut Revolution lip balm; Perricone MD tinted moisturiser with SPF 30 (a must up north); and Nasomatto Black Afgano Perfume (I found this at the best store in Byron, Island Luxe).