Coco Chanel walks into the Hotel Ritz Paris. Sounds like the beginning of an eyebrow-raising story, and it is. The year was 1937, she was famously living on Paris’ Rue Cambon, and one day she strolled in, booked a suite, and never left. For 34 years.
Little did the fashion icon know that the glamorous yet timeless style she was imbuing into the space by bringing in her own gilded mirrors and lacquered screens (today mixed with restored and replica pieces) would inadvertently help inspire a major hospitality trend decades later. Today, you can book the Coco Chanel Suite. Or, you can experience the growing intersection between fashion and hospitality in luxury hotels around the world, led by names like Bulgari, Fendi, Versace, Armani and soon, Lagerfeld. The iconic designer is opening his first hotel in Macau in 2018.
“The Karl Lagerfeld Hotel will be aspirational, quirky, not take itself too seriously and, above all, provide a series of experiences that are true to Karl Lagerfeld’s legendary career and vision going forward,” says Tony Kurz, CEO of Brandmark Collective, Karl Lagerfeld’s hospitality licensee. “It is a chance for a brand to extend into another space to attract new customers, as well as reach existing customers in another way.”
Luxury hotels and fashion houses are increasingly intertwined, with an ever-expanding list of opulent options for travelers. So what’s driving the trend? In part, the need to redefine the promise of luxury in a changing world, according to Bjorn Hanson, PhD, clinical professor with the New York University Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.
“The definition of luxury for hotels has become a challenge. Once upon a time — but not long ago — it was simple for luxury hotels. There was a short list of services, such as turndown service. More and more today, guests are requesting no turndown service. All of a sudden, something that was a staple of luxury service now can be a dissatisfier. Another iconic symbol was concierge; however, that has become less important, especially with millennial travelers, as social media and peer groups can provide the kind of service a concierge once did.
“These brands have an instant and unmistakable connection with luxury,” he adds, which provides a new opportunity to connect with high-end travelers. “Even for those who aren’t thinking they will buy Versace clothes, the name is a mark of quality and luxury. The perception is that the brand wouldn’t be involved with something that isn’t truly special.”
The Name is Just the Beginning
What sets many of these offerings apart is how they reflect their namesake. If you didn’t know Palazzo Versace on Australia’s Gold Coast was that Versace, the bounty of Medusa heads on the property might be a tipoff. Ditto for Palazzo Versace Dubai, which showcases the design staple among neoclassical architecture and traditional Arabic architectural details.
Fendi Private Suites, opened in 2016, serves up luxury, exclusivity and a prime setting, with seven upscale hotel rooms perched above the brand’s flagship boutique on Rome’s tony Via Condotti. Minimalism meets exquisite details at The Armani Hotel Dubai, located in the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and The Armani Hotel Milano, in Rome’s fashion district.
“Many designers or fashion houses see a natural brand extension with hotels. But a first-class experience is more than just hanging your name on a building,” says Bruce J. Himelstein, speaker, consultant, founder of the BJH Group and former Ritz-Carlton executive. “Continuing the success of these luxury partnerships depends not just on the promise of luxury, but the execution. [Before opening their first branded hotel,] Bulgari brought in a professional hotel group. To their credit, they did it right. They reached out to someone who understood consumer needs and had operational know-how.”
The joint venture between Bulgari and the Luxury Group, which manages Ritz-Carlton hotels, has produced renowned hotels under the Bulgari name in Milan, London and Bali. The Bulgari Hotel Beijing opened its doors in September as part of an aggressive expansion strategy that also includes Shanghai and Dubai this year, and Moscow in 2019.
“The Bulgari Hotel Beijing is entirely designed by renowned Italian architectural firm Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel and Partners and features not just some of the city’s largest guest rooms, but also the Bulgari signature Il Bar; Il Ristorante, curated by Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito; a large spa; and a spacious ballroom,” says a Bulgari spokesperson. “Bulgari is a jeweler and more connected to the idea of ‘hard luxury,’ and our hotels are the expression of a brand and its heritage that date back over 125 years.”
That type of brand expression and extension only looks to become more prominent as more fashion houses explore their luxury potential outside of couture.
Article by Jaymi Naciri; This story originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Homes & Estates magazine.