HOTEL GIFT SHOP 2.0
I can’t remember exactly when it happened. I can’t remember exactly what it was. I know what it wasn’t: a keyring, an Alka-Seltzer, one of those boxes of fudge with a postcard stuck to the front. Definitely wasn’t one of those boxes of fudge with a postcard stuck to the front. But I bought something…from a hotel. From a hotel gift shop.
Younger members of the creative class, fresh out of university, may need a little help with this one. When I was young, NOBODY bought anything from hotels. Unless you’d had a REALLY big night. Usually resembling little more than a converted cloakroom, steeped in despair, the hotel gift shop was a hangover of the trouser press generation. Those things in the corridor that buff your shoes; the acrylic leaflet holder cum television remote stand, complete with channel guide; a telephone that looks like you could use it to launch missiles — hotel gift shops were as useless as a glass hammer, yet as ubiquitous as a Gideon Bible in your bedside table.
But times are changing — bloodthirsty Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers stalk prosaicness and mundanity with all the callousness of a supercilious Tory on a fox hunt; why have a pillow menu if you can’t buy the goddamn things from an extravagantly-designed boutique downstairs?
Like most hotel trends that reverberate today, Hotel Gift Shop 2.0 began at the turn of the century in New York — W Hotels trading packets of tissues for fancy candles and upmarket togs. More than ten years later, if you ain’t got a curator for your in-hotel concept store, you might as well pack up your trouser press and see if Basil Fawlty’s got any jobs going. This thing is on fire, and it’s being zealously stoked.
Talking of stoking fires, the wooden skeleton at La Boutique by Les Bains — the new standalone store across the street from Paris’s infamous nightspot turned très cool hotel — is a physical rendering of that metaphor and has been put together by designers Diplomates, who count pinnacle of style Dover Street Market amongst their past projects. La Boutique has not just one, but two curators; filmmaker Jean-Pierre Marois and Thomas Erber of Cabinet of Curiosities. Its stock is all you’d expect from a similarly lovely big city concept store — odds and sods from in-demand indie makers; artisan coffee; art books — whilst branded hotel merchandise has been given a 2015 reboot; Greg Coulton’s illustration of good-time-God Bacchus (the hotel’s emblem) adorns plenty of products.
And that’s kind of where we’re at with the contemporary hotel shop. Whereby W kickstarted the revolution, selling luxuries that would see you take a part of your stay home with you, the cachet a number of today’s most à la mode hotels hold means that we’ve almost come full circle. Your $300 Ace Hotel x Alpha Industries Waterproof Fishtail Parka might be a very nice bit of clobber, but is it just as much ‘branded hotel merchandise’ as that Hilton hotel golf umbrella your dad carried in the boot of his Mondeo? You’re looking at these hotbeds of hipness with the same sort of dropped jaw expression you give an illusionist: “how did they do that?”
Two words: honesty, experience. I’m not a man for buzzwords, but whether it be travel, food and drink, retail, they’re two words that shape the practices of those who are getting it right with the culturally-minded X and Y generations. Sure, dad on the golf course might have been sending out a message to his fellow players — LOOK AT WHERE I STAY ON MY HOLIDAYS — but today’s creative travellers aren’t merely confirming an allegiance to their favourite hotels, they are buying into a way of life.
“If you get a sneaking feeling of deja vu as you’re glancing through, it’s because you’ve seen these things before — on the backs of our New York City bellboys, at the foot of your comfortable Portland bed or between your bicycling thighs as you catch a cobble in Shoreditch”. That’s the sales pitch from Ace Hotel via their online shop, where you can buy that aforementioned parka, alongside handmade Merino and Gotland wool slippers; blankets designed by Commune, made at Oregon’s Pendleton Woolen Mills; a record bag made in collaboration with Tanner Goods (from the centre of hipsterdom, the Pacific Northwest). Branding is at a minimum, honesty at a premium. These are really good products, made by real heritage companies, designed by real contemporary designers.
Of course it doesn’t stop there — Hotel Gift Shop 2.0 does not begin and end with merchandise upgraded for millennials; retailers (actual people whose business it is to sell things) too see the importance of getting themselves in front of the style-conscious, culture-mad, income-heavy travellers who are flooding through the doors of these hotels. Staying with Ace briefly, cutting-edge fashion folk Opening Ceremony are one of the number of brands who have called the Portland-born hotel chain ‘landlord’. Yep, fully-fledged retail outlets in hotels, and this isn’t even Vegas.
Los Angeles concept store TENOVERSIX took things to another level again over in Dallas — part of a $78 million revamp of 1920s neo-gothic hotel The Joule, the creative minds behind the fashion-led retail outfit were actually involved in the redesign of its communal spaces. Blurring the lines of hotel and retail, in an interesting take on the lobby culture that Ian Schrager pioneered.
If we’re talking about catering to the young and hip, The Standard is a name never too far from the lips — the chain’s Miami property opened up their store in collaboration with art gallery OHWOW (now known as Moran Bondaroff) just in time for 2010’s Art Basel Miami. Designed by noted interior architect Rafael de Cárdenas, art books and one-off artists’ editions sit side-by-side with swimwear from leading designers in an Art Deco-inspired space. Over in L.A., their Hollywood branch is home to a boutique from stylish eyewear brand Warby Parker (complete with a mural from local artist Geoff McFetridge), whilst on the East Coast, The High Line Standard riffs on the heritage of the humble hotel gift shop; stocking shaving kits, bath amenities and umbrellas. (Don’t worry: it’s all alongside artist collaborations, vintage vinyl, and luggage made with fashion brand WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie.)
Staying in New York, Parisian record label/fashion brand Maison Kitsuné have opened up their first dedicated U.S. retail space at recent addition The NoMad Hotel, but we have to leave the States for our final word. It wouldn’t be 2015 if creatives weren’t flipping things on their head. Dallas’s The Joule may have obscured the lines between hospitality and retail, Ace Hotel have surely redefined what hotel merchandise can be, and The Standard hark back to the dark days of wretched hotel gift shops, but leave it to the Dutch to throw a curveball. Hôtel Droog is a hotel IN a shop. The vast space of Amsterdam-based design brand Droog encompasses a full-size showroom for their forward-thinking products, a gallery, dining room, ‘fairy tale garden’, spa and … wait for it … a solitary, single bedroom.
From desolation to indispensable — the sad little corner stocked with packets of tissues and Bic razors has blossomed into a key cog in the hotelier’s creative class-gratifying machine. Hotel Gift Shop 2.0 is here to stay.