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Heels, handbags and ... hotels?
High-fashion brands such as Armani, Versace and Bulgari are expected on the runway and in display windows, but today, some of these companies are bringing couture to the luxury hotel world. Partnerships between top designers and upscale accommodations have gained ground since Versace opened its first name-brand Palazzo hotel on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2000.
“These partnerships allow travel agents to offer their clients something unique,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group. “They’re about hotels making sure they’re not viewed as commodities but as distinct properties and experiences. Beyond the architecture and the city itself, the hotel becomes its own destination.”
According to Harteveldt, these designer hotels are especially appealing to travelers from emerging markets such as China and the Persian Gulf, where certain fashion brands carry a lot of clout.
Currently under construction, Palazzo Versace Dubai will launch “soon,” according to its website. Palazzo Versace Macau, in partnership with SJM Holdings Limited, one of Macau’s largest casino operators, plans to open its doors in 2017. It will be part of a $3.9 billion Lisboa Palace casino resort complex that will also include a 270-room hotel from Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel.
A few years ago, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton had announced plans for two luxury hotels in Oman and Egypt (though nothing has been built). Not to be outdone, Italian jewelry and luxury goods retailer Bulgari — which joined with Marriott International, Inc. in 2001 to open Bulgari Hotels & Resorts — plans to expand its hotel holdings in 2017 to Shanghai; Beijing; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Plans for the Dubai development have been set and include a 101-room hotel, 20 hotel villas, 15 mansions, 165 apartments and eight penthouses spread across six towers, as well as a 50-berth marina and Bulgari-branded yacht club.
Joint ventures with big fashion-industry names help hotels market themselves to developers and also give guests bragging rights and a branded experience.
“Partnering with a designer is not something your competitor down the street can easily respond to,” Harteveldt said.
These partnerships occur on smaller scales, as well. Lagerfeld is designing two suites for Hotel de Crillon in Paris, currently under construction. English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood recently styled a penthouse for The London West Hollywood in California.
And back in 2005, Vera Wang, renowned for her iconic wedding dresses, designed a suite for Waikiki’s Halekulani hotel, decorated with her specialty home, bath, gift and accessories collection. The one-bedroom Halekulani suite is a hefty $6,000 per night — but then again, a gown from Wang’s Luxe Collection costs even more.
That’s the gist for most of these designer hotels: High cost and exclusivity is all part of the appeal. Guests who can’t afford a room can still visit an on-site restaurant or grab a drink at the lounge.
These types of relationships aren’t a new concept within the travel industry, of course. Designers have partnered with airlines, and artists have worked with boutiques and cruise ships for years. It’s all part of the growing consumer desire for experiential travel, Harteveldt says.
“I don’t think I could call it a growing trend, but it’s part of the hotel industry’s evolution to remain relevant and creative in how it appeals to an increasingly sophisticated and somewhat jaded consumer,” Harteveldt said. “Just as with their clothes, part of the allure of true couture design houses is the limited distribution of the product.”
Common, it seems, is simply not en vogue.
Bulgari Hotels & Resortswww.bulgarihotels.com