BRINGING SEXY BACK: THE PALATIAL REVIVAL
It’s been a long four years for the Ritz Paris – four long years that have stoked the hype inferno surrounding its reopening this month. All and sundry are quoting Hemingway, who set dreams of his afterlife in the palatial Parisian hotel, and talking about esteemed fans from its 118 year history, like fellow Americans F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter, and Nazi agent Coco Chanel, who died there in 1971 – an incredible 34 years after moving in. How the other half live, hey?
Needing as little introduction as those esteemed guests, Mohamed al-Fayed is the current owner (having taken it off the Ritz family’s hands just eight years after Chanel’s passing), and the man who made the decision to close its doors in 2012 after it had failed to achieve ‘Palace’ status — a French hotel honour currently held by eight Parisian hotels, including Hôtel Le Plaza Athene and Hôtel Le Bristol. The Egyptian magnate has dropped a reported €400 million on his hotel, giving it a top-to-tail redevelopment that was met with the logistical nightmare of having to — at the behest of its regular clientele — keep everything pretty much how it has been for over a century.
With its major renovations rendered largely invisible, the Ritz Paris is as dramatically palatial, as overwhelmingly theatrical as it ever has been; CHANEL’s first spa, a €25,000 per-night CHANEL Suite (largely black and white, of course), and a 21,500 sq-ft garden just some of the new additions accompanying a subtle march of progress that includes hidden televisions, high-speed Wi-Fi, and — as The Wall Street Journal reports — wall-mounted electronic dimmers disguised as gilded 19th-century turnkeys. The grand dame of luxury is back, she’s just kind of a bionic version of her old self.
The Ritz Paris is not the only ultra-luxury hotel being rebooted in the French capital. Surviving the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire, the former 1758 palace that has been home to Hôtel de Crillon since 1909 is under a much protracted revamp itself. Begun in 2013, work is still underway after a scheduled spring 2015 reopening came and went; there’s talk of Karl Lagerfeld-designed rooms, but it’s an extensive renovation shrouded by much secrecy… Its new owners, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, have an ambiguous 2017 pencilled in on their website.
Sharing both a tentative 2017 opening date and a notable abode (a 16th Century building designed by a counsellor to King Louis XIV, Etienne Rivie) is an altogether different proposition: The Hoxton. Having added a second London outpost and an impressive international debut (in Amsterdam) to its hip Shoreditch original, The Hoxton ethos reads every bit like the blueprint for contemporary, creative class travel: artisan coffee, hang-out lobbies, modish restaurants, and a congested cultural programme — but there was an air of loftiness to the 17th century Amsterdam canal houses they moved into, as there is here in Paris.
Staying in the City of Light, there has been a spate of recent hotel openings that speak to the modern traveller, but in hushed tones of sophistication and prestige. Hôtel Bachaumont, at the heart of the Montorgueil neighbourhood’s social scene in the Roaring Twenties, was restored by owner Samy Marciano and reputed designer Dorothée Meilichzon, with inspiration from Versailles and the sharp geometry of the Art Deco style. In fact, Meilichzon is waving her wand of contemporary luxe across the city with abandon — Art Nouveau and La Belle Époque are key reference points throughout her other work at hotels Paradis, Grand Pigalle, and Panache; the latter a just-opened riotous embodiment of the designer’s adoration for the early 1900s and all its louche immoderation. Lavish, yes. Stuffy, no. It is worthy of note that The Grand Pigalle Hotel’s founders are none other than the boozy entrepreneurs behind the very hip Experimental Cocktail Club enterprise.
Revelling in opulence and extravagance, Hôtel Providence — with its outrageous wallpapers, antique shop treasures, and in-room cocktail bars — provides another glimpse into the past for contemporary travellers; whilst the wanton Maison Souquet is Paris’s lustful fixation with the turn of the 20th century incarnate. Serving as a ‘pleasure house’ during the Belle Époque, designer Jacques Garcia has pulled out all the stops in an exotic fit-out that turns ostentatiousness into an art form. Perhaps it couldn’t work anywhere other than Paris, but in austere times, its OTT flamboyance is a thing of rare beauty.
So. Is this bringing sexy back? Is this a revival for the grand hotels of old, of opulence as the norm, of ballrooms and Bellinis? Or is this just Paris being Paris? After all, isn’t the contemporary traveller caring less and less about their rooms, and more and more about cultural offerings, about being in the city, in vibrant neighbourhoods, and about spending time at art show openings instead of tucking into a Waldorf salad?
The rise of the hip hostel was seen by many as the death knell for traditional hotels, time spent focussing on sourcing the finest coffee beans over thread count. Dutch communications agency KesselsKramer recently rebranded the infamous Hans Brinker Budget Hotel as it arrived in Lisbon: ‘same bunk beds, less chance of pneumonia’, ‘same lack of social skills, different accent’. Revelling in its own crapness, the hotel appeals to creatives via irony, satire, and price.
Supporting the belief that luxurious city centre hotels aren’t going anywhere any time soon, though, is a much anticipated new hotel, at last preparing to open its doors: Thompson Hotels’s The Beekman Hotel occupies 5 Beekman Street, a stately Lower Manhattan skyscraper built in the 1880s, with a nine-story Victorian atrium dominating an imposing interior that has been overseen by esteemed designer Martin Brudnizki. The Beekman is landmark, it is majestic and palatial, but, most notably, it has been put together by a hotel group renowned for catering to the creative class. Is it time to call this a trend yet?
Indeed, this very city recently saw another historic landmark given a very luxe overhaul: the 1909 Gothic building that had long been known as The Clocktower. Occupying that particular tower now is the latest in Studio 54 man Ian Schrager’s ongoing collaboration with Marriott, the New York EDITION.
Recalling much of the interior decadence from the London EDITION (itself occupying a series of Georgian townhouses, originally built in 1835), its communal spaces offer much in the way of ornateness — gilt-framed artworks, oak panelling, and elaborate architectural elements. Rooms offer lightness, and contemporary touches, but there’s a omnipresence of luxury and of weightiness; and of course, this being Schrager, it’s a magnate for the creative class.
Built by a Genoese shipbuilder in 1873, original frescoes, Carrara marble flooring and rosewood doors lend Soho House Istanbul its indisputable grandeur. The creatively-minded chain’s largest operation to date is also its most opulent and storied. Lázaro Rosa-Violán’s lavish interiors for Barcelona’s Cotton House Hotel, a former cotton merchant headquarters built in the 19th century, are abundant in splendour, but not without their nods to the contemporary design world — Barcelona footballer Gerard Piqué and Mark Zuckerberg were spotted dining here together during this year’s Mobile World Congress.
Housed in an Art Deco building in Mayfair, The Beaumont hotel is rife with exactly the sort of poise you expect of the grand hotels of old; its pièce de résistance, though, is ROOM: a ten-metre, 34-tonne sculpture-cum-hotel-suite courtesy of acclaimed artist Anthony Gormley. Grand Ferdinand, Vienna? Grand by name, grand by nature — a recent overhaul of the 1873 hotel taking it back to its glory days and then some. But expect to rub shoulders with the full gamut of guests — rooms range from €3,000 per-night to €30, in a bid to break down the barriers of exclusivity.
Sure, those checking into the newly revived Ritz Paris won’t be doing it on the cheap. They won’t wake up to the aroma of single-origin coffee being eked out of shiny La Marzocco machines by moustachioed baristas; nor should they expect to wake up next to a suite taken over by visual artists. But it is the prevalence of luxury that seems to be rubbing off on those places where you might enjoy some of those cultural trappings. Whatever your reasons for being in a city, there is an inbuilt urge, an inherent desire to be looked after when you walk through the doors of a hotel. Grandeur and opulence are things practically none of us wake up to every day, and the hotel experience has always been about something more than your daily life. Be it a baroque chandelier or a salacious toile wallpaper, the weight of heritage rouses emotions we didn’t even know we had. Is sexy back? It never really went away.