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Rise of the Haute Hotels

‘Where are you staying?’ is the new ‘What are you wearing?’

Author Boyd Farrow Illustration Stephen Cheetham

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Celebrity chefs, liveried supercars, edible gold leaf in bars and spas—there are few things luxury hotels haven’t tried in order to dazzle guests and create buzz. But the surest way to woo high-rollers and fire the public’s imagination may be to call in an iconic couture designer.

The latest such effort is The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills’s penthouse, “inspired” by that doyenne of edgy glamour, Vivienne Westwood. The 10th-floor, 11,000-square-foot duplex—with a 5,000-square-foot terrace and private elevator—is the largest hotel suite in Los Angeles. The rate, discreetly missing from the hotel’s website, is an appropriately extravagant $25,000 per night.

If you’re dropping that much coin, it seems a shame to sleep—even in the Master Bedroom’s four-poster bed. Far more sensible would be to invite everyone you’ve ever friended on Facebook to party in the vast Grand Salon, with its corner sofas and cushions featuring Westwood’s distressed Union Jack and signature orb, and the huge Tibetan rug adorned with her trademark squiggle motif. Then there is the separate Media Room and the two atriums. In one, water cascades down a stone wall into a pool.

Of course, Westwood isn’t the first fashion designer to partner with a hotel. Diane von Furstenberg jazzed up  20 rooms and suites at Claridge’s with her signature fabrics and knickknacks in 2010; Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta has dressed suites in St. Regis hotels in Rome,  Florence, and New York, and opened a plush-yet-minimalist penthouse at the Park Hyatt Chicago last year; and the Pineapple House at Jamaica’s Round Hill resort tapped Ralph Lauren and his Home Collection for its 2014 revamp.

The impact that big fashion names can have on upscale hotels should not be underestimated, according to Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of travel industry specialist Atmosphere Research Group. “In our annual study of more than 5,000 US travelers, 69 percent of leisure travelers with household incomes of $250,000 or more say that style and design are important to them,” he says. “Top hotels already have the best locations and name chefs; fashion designers is the next step.” 

The cachet a hotel gets from such relationships adds up to more than a high thread count. Often, Harteveldt notes, the hotel may get access to the designer’s VIP client list or have the opportunity to host fashion events that may bring high-profile guests to the property. “The value isn’t always measurable in terms of revenue, but associating with the right designer may produce substantial publicity for the hotel.”

Designers benefit too, says Harteveldt, “through wider exposure to more consumers, some of whom may end up buying their goods—whether a candle in the hotel gift shop, couture outfits, or anything in between.”

Jeff Kulek, the general manager of The London West Hollywood, says that Westwood’s affiliation provides “monumental” benefits for the property. “Partnering with brands that complement our design aesthetic is critical to our success,” he says. “The design is both luxurious and playful in nature, while offering an experience that cannot be replicated in Los Angeles.” Indeed, those who book the suite get Westwood gift bags upon check-in and are offered a private “shopping experience” at the Westwood store in West Hollywood.

One fashion designer who loves working with hotels is the legendary Christian Lacroix, who has dressed several Paris properties, including the nine-year-old Hotel Le Bellechasse, where he created 33 guestrooms and the breakfast room from scratch. 

Vanessa Jacquiot, sales and marketing director at the Marais district’s Hôtel du Petit Moulin, the first hotel designed by Lacroix, in 2005, says it is “win-win” for hotelier and designer. 

“He has complete freedom to experiment with many different looks and products, which is what all designers want,” she says. “And he gets paid a lot of money for it.” 

At the same time, Lacroix is catnip for a surprisingly wide clientele. “In marketing terms, Lacroix’s name is the most important thing after the hotel’s location, across all ages,” says Jacquiot. “We may soon introduce Lacroix toiletries, which is a departure for him—and for us, as it means we would have to replace Hermès.”  

To reach the high-spending aspirational guest, some of the bigger fashion labels, such as Armani, Versace, and  Bulgari, have licensed their brands to hospitality and property giants. There are two Armani hotels, in Dubai and Milan—which opened in 2010 and 2011, respectively—both owned by Dubai real estate company Emaar Properties. Australia’s Sunland Group and Emirates Investments Group opened the reliably gaudy Palazzo Versace on Australia’s Gold Coast, which was followed by one in Dubai last November, with another set to open in Macau next year. Marriott International operates Bulgari hotels in Milan, Bali, and London, and others are planned in Dubai, Shanghai, and Beijing.

From a fashion heavyweight’s point of view, the hotels offer a way to transcend frocks and baubles and consolidate themselves as a lifestyle brand. The Armani hotels showcase everything from the company’s furniture line to its branded water. Staff—or “lifestyle managers”—waft Armani scent.  

Bulgari, meanwhile, wants to “project the lifestyle beyond products,” according to the company’s mission statement. Violet Fraser, its communications chief in London, explains that it’s about making a hotel experience part of the Bulgari universe, and that there are no boutiques and no branding.

The hospitality industry is currently wondering which direction the enigmatic Karl Lagerfeld is heading. Having dabbled in the design of Berlin’s exclusive Schlosshotel im Grunewald back in 1991, the eccentric Chanel creative director seems to have gone hotel crazy of late, first re- designing the pool area at the Hotel Métropole in Monte Carlo in 2013, and now creating two suites at the new Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, which will reopen in 2017. He has also teamed up with a local casino operator to create the first branded Lagerfeld hotel in Macau next year.

With fashion houses attracting so much publicity for their forays into hospitality, it surely cannot be long before the likes of Kanye West and Victoria Beckham are inviting us into their boudoirs.

London-based writer Boyd Farrow hopes to one day design the shower curtains for Motel 6.

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