FASHION AND HOTELS: A STATE OF DRESS

Dubious political alliances, personal outlook and odious aristocrat associations aside, Gabrielle Bonheur ‘Coco’ Chanel was some designer. Such was her impact on the fashion world, Coco Chanel resolutely remains a name synonymous with unflinching style, regardless of the nauseating facts that accompany her tale. It is why 45 years after her death, the lavishly reimagined Ritz Paris would dedicate one of its flagship suites to the icon who called that hotel home for 34 years.

Naturally, the legend is told untarnished by the palatial hotel. Paying homage to the suite she decorated herself, it is all lacquer and gild, dramatic ‘little black dress’ monochrome, and will set you back from 18,000€ per night. Coco’s world is a world long intertwined with grand hotels — the world’s finest grand palaces hawking her brand’s name alongside the rest of the fashion world’s elite in marble-floored corridors; the haute-couture boutique a staple for the most extravagant of international hotels.

Hôtel Ritz Paris, Coco Chanel Suite
Hôtel Ritz Paris, Coco Chanel Suite

Acclaimed designers, photographers, and won’t-get-out-of-bed-for-less-than-$10,000-a-day supermodels have long decamped to opulent suites during fashion weeks, and the fanciest of those hotels have found themselves backdrops for shoots to have graced the pages of the glossiest of fashion glossies. Indeed, fashion houses of Chanel’s ilk — Bulgari, Fendi, Versace, Armani — have all made their mark on the industry; opening extravagant hotels with their singular style stamped all over. As the digital revolution has reshaped the world of travel, though, what is the state of the catwalk-ready hotel in 2017?

Of course, the biggest names continue to have their fingers in plenty of pies — and there are still fewer names bigger than the house that Coco built. Karl Lagerfeld rides high on his position as the brand’s creative director, and is set to add his own branded hotel chain (the first to open next year in Macau) to a long list of hotel collaborations; the ODYSSEY spa space at Monaco’s Hotel Metropole and the interiors of Berlin’s extraordinary Patrick Hellmann Schlosshotel just two forays that the man they call The Kaiser has made into the industry.

Karl Lagerfeld at Monaco’s Hotel Metropole
Karl Lagerfeld at Monaco’s Hotel Metropole

The fashion collaborations are aplenty: Round Hill Hotel & Villas in Jamaica, with its Ralph Lauren-designed rooms, is the place prep kids go to die; Belgian-American icon Diane von Furstenberg has lent her signature style to suites at Claridge’s in London, and One&Only Hayman Island; and Christian Lacroix has watched his decadent eye over hotels like Hotel du Petit Moulin and the Notre-Dame Saint-Michel Hotel in Paris, and several areas of SO Sofitel Bangkok; including turning his hand to the hotel’s bold staff uniforms.

Christian Lacroix's SO Sofitel Bangkok Uniforms
Christian Lacroix, SO Sofitel Bangkok

Which brings us to an area of interest. Elaborate interiors projects may appeal to the elaborate egos of elite names in the fashion world, but clothes are their bread and butter — dressing those who make the hotel experience happen is surely a more important concern than dressing suites that most folk can’t afford to stay in. After all, we’re constantly being told that the hotel experience is about so much more than where you get your head down.

Indeed, Lacroix’s ‘Neo Arbre de Vie’ (Asian-inspired nouveau) at Bangkok’s SO Sofitel extends from his design for the hotel’s Club Signature lounge through his impressive lobby installation and on to the backs of the vital cogs who keep it all ticking; their uniforms catwalk-ready statement pieces that transcend aesthetic, lending a tangible aura of creativity to the whole guest experience.

Narciso Rodriguez for Park Hyatt New York
Narciso Rodriguez for Park Hyatt New York

Narciso Rodriguez, who rose to prominence when Michelle Obama chose a dress from his Spring 2009 collection to accompany her husband in public for the first time as President-elect, was hired by Park Hyatt New York to apply his renowned minimalism to the look of their employees — ‘when you are asked to wear something,’ explained the Cuban-born designer to The New York Times, ‘it can be a drag, and I wanted to make it not that. I wanted to make it an experience where people felt they looked good and felt sexy, and still look appropriate for their position.’

Appropriate is probably the key word in why we’ve not been witness to a riot of emerging design talent dressing hotel staff, but there are promising signs that prove this is a trend to keep tabs on. Formerly fashion editor of avant-garde authority Dazed, Karen Langley’s cool credentials need no further introduction, and the stylist went from dressing names like Beyoncé to the doormen, receptionists, bar staff and more at Mondrian London; workers at W London nightclub Room 913 have been dressed in LED-integrated tech-fash by visual artist Claire Barrow in collaboration with ‘smart clothing’ pioneers Glofaster; and Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant put together the retro attire donned by the team at Washington D.C.’s recently reopened icon of infamy, the Watergate Hotel.

Claire Barrow x Glofaster for W London

Again, it is stylists over designers who have defined the looks worn by staff at hip-hotel trailblazers like The Standard and Ace (the latter dressing their team in custom pieces from brands like Converse, Levi’s and Doc Marten’s) and their respective ‘shops’ have long-stocked clothing collaborations with up-and-coming design talent. The nature of the beast here, though, means the operative word for said collaborations remains firmly ‘apparel’ over ‘fashion’.

Ricardo Cavolo for W Barcelona
Ricardo Cavolo for W Barcelona

In fact, a look outside of haute-couture tunnel vision sees hoteliers getting their collaboration on with all manner of fashion-forward brands — and W Hotels are naturally at the forefront: site-specific collabs like W Maldives x Le Specs and the Ricardo Cavolo for W Barcelona sneaker collection adding real meat to their partnership pies. Quite. The Hotel Gift Shop 2.0 continues apace, and millennials can take the shirt off the back of the usual suspects in our roundups of creative class-minded accommodation brands. How, though, can the fashion industry shape travel beyond the superficial?

Wanting to separate couture from superficiality might seem quite the impossible task, but down in Bali fashion has made its mark on a hotel in more ways than the proverbial lick of paint. The Slow in Canggu is the product of designer George Gorrow (co-founder of Australian streetwear label Ksubi) and his model wife Cisco Tschurtschenthaler; not unexpectedly it is a thing of rare beauty, with heart-stopping interior design and extensive collaborations with local artisans and craftsmen. It is a paradisiacal retreat, but also dials up the sort of unwavering aesthetic one might imagine from people who’s lives have been so touched by the fashion world. If the cutting-edge names who grace publications like Dazed or Bullett made hotels, this is the sort of trendsetting utopia one might imagine. It is the anti-Palazzo Versace.

The Slow, Bali
The Slow, Bali

On that note, there are few who have defined fashion’s avant-garde more so than the Antwerp Six — a collective who graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the beginning of the 1980s. With names like Walter van Beirendonck and Dries van Noten confirming the Belgian city as the world’s epicentre of radical couture, there should be nowhere else on earth where fashion has more assimilated a hotel scene. Take a look at Antwerp’s most revered places to stay and that assumption rings true: Boulevard Leopold, a B&B whose owners have worked with names like Ann Demeulemeester; Hotel Julien, where Dirk Bikkembergs stays when visiting his Antwerp HQ; Room National, whose founders were designers with a boutique downstairs … no grand palaces, no flash pads or artisan coffee-fuelled receptions, just great accommodation with fashion at heart.

Graanmarkt 13 The Apartment, Photo © Frederik Vercruysse
Graanmarkt 13 The Apartment, Photo © Frederik Vercruysse

Taking that integration further, Graanmarkt 13 is a fashion emporium set inside a pristine multi-storey town house in the city’s affluent theatre district — a staggering expanse that not only includes a restaurant and gallery space, but a penthouse apartment too. A luxurious rental apartment at that, exuding Antwerp’s fashion sense throughout a 1,300€ per-night design-empyrean that’s available for short- and long-stays. There is a sense here, from Bali to Antwerp, that fashion can serve as more than the emperor’s new clothes.

Talking of new clothes, young fashion designers at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) had the chance to take dressing rooms to a level that their much-experienced counterparts haven’t dared; Hotel The Exchange providing future Bikkembergs or Demeulemeesters with an unrivalled opportunity to dress rooms as they would dress models ready for conceptual catwalks. The hotel’s success and plentiful awards have proven that guests might be ready for more than established names when it comes to their appetite for fashion in travel.

Hotel The Exchange, Amsterdam
Hotel The Exchange, Amsterdam

Over in Catalonia, El Palauet is probably the biggest hotel I’ve set foot in that houses just six suites. The 1906 art nouveau building on the revered Passeig de Gràcia embodies Gaudí’s Barcelona, and is all stained-glass and frescoes. Its crisp interiors, though, are very much someone else’s Barcelona — wealthy fashionistas who study design mags like Wallpaper*, perhaps. Here, a recent PR exercise hinted at another interesting avenue that fashion might whisk itself down; Vogue magazine settling in a group of up-and-coming designers for a spot of R&R after a taxing Paris fashion week.

After hours in Palomo Spain’s suite at El Palauet. Photo © Hannah Sider / Vogue
After hours in Palomo Spain’s suite at El Palauet.
Photo © Hannah Sider / Vogue

Bona-fide movers and shakers (including Alejandro Gómez Palomo, who is so hot right now) came together for what was, essentially, an editorial opportunity, but also a hint at how the roles can be reversed; hotels impacting designers. ‘We fell in love with our Barcelona crew,’ said the creative director of his eponymous brand, Palomo Spain. ‘It is always great to be surrounded by new, open-minded people. Moreover, we happen to share a passion — and that is fashion., That was not only a great excuse for us to come together in the same spot, but a great way for us all to connect and learn from one another, no matter how different we all seem.’

Admittedly, the hotel’s main takeaway from this exercise is some valuable coverage in a top-tier publication, but I can’t help being romanced by the notion of bringing likeminded creatives together. As the artist-in-residence has so long been a fixture of a hotel’s cultural programming, perhaps the designers-in-residence could offer valuable feedback and input into the fashion-sense of the hotel they inhabit. Their presence could be the driving force behind creative changes or the implementation of new campaigns or programmes. As Bali’s The Slow oozes its runway appeal because of those invested in the project, housing these coming togethers might breathe unexpected life into unsuspecting corridors. After all, Coco propped up the Ritz Paris for so long that her influence is now worth 18,000€ a night.

El Palauet, Barcelona
El Palauet, Barcelona
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James Davidson
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.