Malleville’s famous friends don’t seem to mind. Sienna Miller, model Daria Werbowy and nightlife queen Amy Sacco have vacationed here, and Kate Bosworth and her boyfriend, singer-songwriter James Rousseau (who knows Malleville from his modeling days), have been repeat guests. “You hardly need electrical lighting at night because Nicolas and his staff fill the hotel with candles,” says Bosworth, who’s planning to return this summer. “It feels like you’re on a magic island.”
“I was superimpressed that a model so young was taking such bold chances,” says Sacco. “And he’s not tough to look at either.”
Last December Malleville invited a gang of friends to Coqui Coqui Coba, which was then still under construction. Eva Mendes and Alexis Bledel were among those who camped out in tents and took part in his candlelit New Year’s Eve fiesta.
The son of a bank officer and a schoolteacher, Malleville, who is of Basque, French, Italian and Austrian descent, grew up on a 25,000-acre ranch outside Córdoba, Argentina. While on a family vacation in Uruguay in his last year of high school, he was approached by a model scout from Paris. The scout, recalls Malleville, “kept talking about Kate Moss—I didn’t know who she was!” At the time, he wasn’t interested.
At the University of Córdoba, Malleville majored in landscape architecture and wrote his thesis on—what else?—palm trees. A couple of years after graduation, he moved to Paris to take landscaping classes at the famous Bagatelle Gardens. Two months after landing in the city, he decided to give modeling a try. At his very first casting—for a Paul Smith campaign shot by Mario Testino—he booked the job. “I was very lucky and kept getting very lucky,” he says. He quickly became one of the industry’s most in-demand male models and a Testino regular. The photographer went on to book Malleville for four Burberry campaigns and a Gucci campaign.
All the while Malleville pursued his interest in landscape architecture. Between modeling gigs he took more classes and eventually designed the gardens of more than a dozen houses in London. He also traveled whenever he could. His close friend Mariacarla Boscono, another model, frequently joined him. As she recalls, he could never resist tweaking his hotel room: “He would move the bed, put scarves over the lights, set up candles—and it would be a cheap version of the Four Seasons.”
Malleville made his first trip to the Yucatán Peninsula in 2001. Upon arriving in Tulum, he says, he immediately fell in love with the region: “It was like paradise.” That December he purchased the beachfront where Coqui Coqui Tulum now stands for $170,000. Soon afterward he bought a house in the slow-paced city of Valladolid. On its ground floor the plant lover opened his first Yucatán business, Coqui Coqui Perfumer, in 2003. At the still-thriving shop, Malleville sells pure extracted oils of local botanicals as well as scent blends and soaps. (Renée Zellweger is a fan of his Floplum blend and bought it in bulk when she visited the shop last year.)