Worldwide Hautel Couture

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With the onset of branded restaurants, home interior lines, and now hotels, the Italian fashion houses are about so much more than hemlines and silhouettes

By Ayesha Khan


 Since Dubai seems to be the hotbed of all that’s spanking new and exciting, it’s only natural that the Great Armani chose to launch his pet hotel project there.

The latest trend sweeping houses of Haute Fashion across Italy has nothing to do with silhouettes or hemlines. Instead, the all-star cast of Montenapoleone and beyond is tuning to the lodging industry for inspiration. It seems only logical, given the massive increase in global travel, the rise of a class of oh-so-trend-savvy “bourgeois bohemians,” and the mass pandemic of boutique hotels. Add to that the fact that everyone from Armani to Versace has a “casa” line. And so the likes of Armani, Ferragamo, Versace, and even Missoni are turning their attention from suits to suites.

The concept of designers opening quaint little hotels in exotic locations is nothing new. Krizia’s Aldo Pinto and Mariuccia Mandelli did it with their K Club on the Caribbean isle of Barbuda, which Mandelli says was a venture of “love, not business.” Whatever her intentions were, the 23-cottage resort attracted a slew of VIPs, and was a fave with the likes of Princess Diana. Diesel’s South Beach sanctuary, the Pelican, also enjoys a similar reputation as does Max Mara’s Albergo delle Notarie in the quaint town of Reggio Emilia.

But the new wave of overtly branded “hautels” as classy (or flashy) as their namesakes’ merchandise is very much a recent phenomenon. It all started when Donatella and Santo Versace launched Palazzo Versace, a playground for Versace-philes on Australia’s picturesque Gold Coast in 2000. Designed as a throwback to the great Renaissance palaces of Europe, the 205 bedroom hotel also features a man-made beach and 72 self-contained two to three bedroom luxury condos. A Salus Per Aquum (“health through water” in plain English) spa and a host of food and beverage outlets round out the luxe inventory at the Palazzo.

Versace’s latest project will be a 215-suite luxury affair. “The design of the Palazzo Versace will include all of the trademarks of Versace style and glamour while incorporating the needs of the local environment,” promises Santo Versace. “Palazzo Versace will provide the ultimate destination for those wanting a taste of the ‘Versace’ lifestyle within a dynamic and modern environment like Dubai.” The accompanying facilities will not be limited to the usual chic restaurants and bars, expansive spa, and opulent rooms and suites, the hotel will also include an arsenal of never-before-seen features. A man-made beach on the Dubai Creek-fronted site will feature temperature controlled sand, and an on-site recording studio should keep the growing celeb contingent entertained.

Since Dubai seems to be the hotbed of all that’s spanking new and exciting, it’s only natural that the Great Armani chose to launch his pet hotel project there. The Armani Hotel will be poised at Dubai real estate giant Emaar’s Burj Dubai, set to be the world’s largest residential/commercial tower. “Today, more than ever before, fashion has expanded to encompass our way of life, not just how we dress, but where we live, which restaurants we eat at, which car we drive, where we go on holiday and which hotels we stay in,” explains Armani. “I strongly believe that for those people who enjoy the Armani fashion and home furnishing collections, there will be a real enthusiasm for the possibility to now stay at an Armani hotel or resort. This continues our ongoing strategy of building the Armani universe.” This particular corner of the “Armani universe” will not only feature 175 guestrooms and suites and a 131,000 square foot spa, 160 fully furnished residential apartments will also be custom-created by the man himself. Armani’s next target cities are Milan, London and New York, and at least one destination resort is also planned for the very near future.

But Bulgari already beat Armani in the resort race with the 2006 launch of its Bali property. Set on a cliff side over 500 feet above the Indian Ocean, this breathtaking resort property lies in the picturesque village of Pecatu on the island’s southwestern tip. At the hilltop site of the Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple, the resort fuses Bali’s unmistakable genre of tropical Asian chic with all that we know and love about Italian design. “I believe that this magnificent resort, with its extraordinary location, perfectly mirrors and applies to hospitality our concepts of design, elegance, and contemporary luxury,” says Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani, of this exclusive cluster of 59 ocean-view villas, each with its very own plunge pool, I might add.

Back in Milan, the Roman joaillerie’s hautel, perched at the cusp of Milan’s fashion Mecca of Via Montenapoleone, continues to be the spot for anything and everything glam. The who’s who of international fashion and business can regularly be seen comparing notes at Bulgari’s irresistibly trendy restaurant and bar, overlooking the property’s expansive garden. Every element of the über-chic, decidedly masculine design of this hotel was designed by Italian superstar architect/industrial designer Antonio Citterio. And everything spells Bulgari sophistication, from the jewel vault thick doors and golden mesh screens separating the bedroom and bath, to a golden tiled lap pool in the basement spa. Giving credit where credit is due, a large part of Bulgari’s success must be attributed to its strategic partnership with Ritz-Carlton’s Marriott subsidiary. “We could not afford to be unsuccessful,” asserts Trapani.

Not to be outdone, the family-run Missoni brand also teamed up with a big name hospitality chain, namely Rezidor SAS, to bring the world Missoni Hotels and Resorts. “We are very, very protective of the Missoni business that my family has built, and we want to ensure that we never sacrifice the values of that business at the expense of quick, short term growth. We’re sure that we have the right partners in Rezidor SAS and that they understand and will respect these values,” says Vittorio Missoni. “We believe that hotels are a natural extension for our core brand and will work with, and complement, our fashion business, our Missoni home collection, and our new fragrance range.”

Set in the fashionable Salmiya district in the oil-rich Persian Gulf state of Kuwait, the first Missoni hotel is scheduled to open as soon as the fall fashion weeks. It will feature 205 rooms and Missoni-branded dining outlets, aptly named “Missoni Cucina,” “Mocha Missoni,” and “Missoni Lounge.” Of course, each and every space will be enriched with the brightly colored motifs that are typical of the knitwear house’s fashion and home offerings. Other target destinations for Missoni include the fashion capitals of London, Paris, and Milan- no surprises there!

While, for the vast majority, all this may be one big branding exercise or “PR machine” as Bulgari’s Trapani calls it, there are those who see the hotel business as more of a separate entity from their brand. Take Leonardo Ferragamo for example, who stands firmly behind his claim, “You need success because of substance, not branding. Branding can reassure, it doesn’t drive the business.” His Lungarno brand of hotels is a group of very tastefully designed and branded boutique hotels across Tuscany, and now, Rome. Describing the aura of his hotels, Ferragamo says, “Each of the Lungarno hotels has its own distinct, original personality, but all of them have in common creativity, attention to each individual person and his or her desires, and a style that imparts on them elegance, sensitivity and culture.” From the cutting-edge design of Continentale and Gallery Hotel Art to the timeless elegance and sheer exclusivity of Lungarno suites, Ferragamo has his niche market covered.

Despite the fact that the only Ferragamo you’ll get in these hotels are the odd bag, scarf, or bottle of Il Borro wine in their gift shops, the hotels welcome a healthy stream of glitterati to their Florentine environs, proving that you don’t always need in-your-face branding to attract true connoisseurs of luxury. Max Mara’s Luigi Maramotti, owner of Albergo delle Notarie, agrees. “Everyone’s desperate for brand stretching. You can’t just attach values. You have to create them. Consumers are not fools! It’s about how long it takes to get breakfast to your room, not lifestyle. Lifestyle is just a first impression,” he says.

This new chapter in the great, ever evolving saga of couture culture begs the question of who’s next. With its hugely successful Casa line already in place, is Fendi ready to make the great leap? And what about names like Valentino, Gucci, and Prada, who are noticeably absent from this hautel trend? Whoever the next hot model to strut down the hospitality runway will be, the fashion world will be watching, and, most likely, taking notes.

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