One of the many exciting things about the boutique hotel world is its ability to absorb exciting elements from disparate areas—from the art world to music, fashion and cuisine—anything it can harness to add character and interest to a hotel’s offering. And this diversity of influences was highlighted this week at the BLLA Boutique Hotel Investment Conference, where a panel of luminaries from very different backgrounds converged to discuss their shared interest in the boutique space.
Chaired by Gettys Group president Andrew Fay, the panel featured David Bowd, principal of West Elm Hotels; Tony Kurz, CEO of Brandmark Collective; and Christopher Norton, CEO of Equinox Hotels. Each has a very different approach and back story, each of them fascinating, and it was fascinating to hear their stories and what they bring to the boutique and lifestyle hotel sphere.
Bowd described starting out as a bellman before progressing to working with luminaries such as Ian Schrager and Andre Balazs, as well as working together with West Elm Hotels and Williams Sonoma on a chain of unique lifestyle hotels. Kurz talked about his experience of opening fashion hotels for brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Karl Lagerfeld. And Norton recalled being drawn to the hotel business by “a love of the smell of coffee and toast” before an illustrious career at Four Seasons and striking out to create his mold-breaking current venture, Equinox Hotels.
The panelists were asked how they went about applying the tenets of their existing businesses to the hospitality industry. Bowd talked about wanting each hotel to feel like a unique and special space, “not just a showroom”, and a place that is very unique to the location. The focus was on the customer experience and the relationship with the local area, an aesthetic he summed up by saying that he suggested replacing the concept of a hotel manager with an “innkeeper”.
Kurz said that he had learned not to build the brand on one person—so the Karl Lagerfeld hotel is not just about the designer himself, but a combination of elements inspired by the “DNA” of his fashion brand.
Norton said that the Equinox chain was inspired by “watching the millennials” and witnessing a new, different definition of luxury, which is defined less by white-glove service than by “how you make people feel”. For example, he said the chain’s gyms will be open to local public, so that rather than standing empty and soulless, they are full of atmosphere and energy.
The next question Fay asked was how the hoteliers present leveraged the assets of their existing brands through the creation of a hospitality offering.
Bowd replied that the existing database of 15 million people who loved Williams Sonoma and West Elm brands created a ready-made starting point. He also said that the brand was very much focused on engaging with a local population and bringing employees without formal education who know the area, through purpose-built West Elm Academies.
Kurz said that the association with a well-known fashion brand brought with it an opportunity to hit the consumer press and a much larger marketing span. He also hinted at a new initiative, currently under wraps, that would allow his hotels to “shake up the industry” and rely less on “filling beds with heads”. And Nash said Equinox’s core loyalty was to its members as it focused in going after key markets and being in the right spots.
The panelists were also asked about the importance of design in their hotels, in response to which Bowd talked about the fact that it was a domestic retail brand tackling a hotel space, and so the residential feel was all-important for West Elm Hotels; and Kurz reiterated that the “DNA” of each fashion brand was the deciding factor in the design of the properties.
It is this proliferation of ideas and energies from different industries, converging in a space that is both diverse and full of life, that makes the boutique sector such an exciting and unique place, and never has this been clearer than at this year’s conference. We are grateful to the panelists for giving us an insight into their experiences of working in the boutique space and we look forward to ever more innovation in the year to come.
The fashion world is taking a huge step into the hotel world. Tommy Hilfiger recently announced his new hotel in Miami. Fendi just opened their property in Rome. Versace is opening up a Villa. Bulgari is expanding. LVMH is consistently redefining what a luxury hotel is all about.
One of the ways this growth is becoming more noticeable is the prominence of them in fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. These publications always have articles specifically about luxury boutique hotels, which you have seen here in the issues of BLLA’s BOUTIQUE WEEKLY.
How does fashion influence boutique hotel design? Why do renowned fashion designers feel a need or desire to take their personal brand to a hotel?
As a fashion designer uses scissors to sculpt fashion garments, when he enters the hotel world, the scissors become the tool that represent the finite detail of the architecture, the design elements and the customer facing services that emotionalize the guest experience.
Fashion design hotels are worldwide in great demand. Salvatore Ferragamo’s family was the first to start the phenomena in 1995 but now the concept is spreading rapidly. After opening properties in Dubai and Milano, Armani Hotels is further extending its presence in Europe. Check out several of these incredible properties below.
Donatella Versace: The Palazzo Versace, Australia’s Gold Coast
Palazzo Versace Dubai is aiming to become one of the most luxurious hotels in the Middle East. Interiors and furniture designed by Donatella Versace with textiles, walls covered in Versace wallpaper are just some of the features this property will feature. He is additionally opening properties in Australia’s Gold Coast and Macau.
Karl Lagerfeld: Karl-Lagerfeld-Hotel in Macau
Karl Lagerfeld plans to create an entire hotel with 220 rooms, spa and fine-dining restaurants in the Chinese Gambling metro of Macau.
Diane von Furstenberg: Claridge’s, London
This elegant Grand Piano Suite is in London’s Claridge’s Hotel is a favorite of Diane von Furstenberg and was in fact designed by herself. The designer selected the furniture, wallpaper and rugs to suit her renowned design style.
BVLGARI: Bulgari Hotel, Shanghai
In Shanghai, a new Bulgari Hotel is due to open in 2015, occupying the top 12 floors of a 40-story skyscraper in the city’s historic Zhabei District. Bulgari also has properties in London, Milan, and Bali.
Ralph Lauren: Round Hill Resort, Jamaica
Ralph Lauren designed all of the rooms at this quintessential Jamaican getaway resort. The 36 oceanfront guestrooms and 27 private, luxury villas at Round Hill, Jamaica have been visited and enjoyed by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Jacqueline and JFK on their honeymoon.
Giorgio Armani: The Armani Hotel, Dubai
This high-end hotel, set in an ornate, high-rise glass tower, lies a 10-minute walk from the Dubai Mall. This hotel was meant to extend “the same kind of welcome to guests as [Giorgio Armani] would privately extend to family and friends.” Armani also has a luxury property in Milan.
Boutique hotels should look at this opportunity for diversification (via licensing or joint ventures) as a potential tool for extending brand awareness and reaching a new audience. The strong brand value that partnering with a designer could bring has far reaching implications that will make this trend continue to pick up steam worldwide.
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