Rosita Missoni – matriach of the fashion family empire known for its glorious, hallucinatory textiles – is obsessed with polka dots and mushrooms. As she walks me around the swimming pool of the Hotel Missoni in Kuwait in heat so glaring I feel we may be incinerated before we reach the deep end (if there was one; there seldom is these days), she tells me about her plans to visit a foraged funghi festival close to the family’s first hotel in Edinburgh. “Oh I love mushrooms!” she says, with a passion many reserve for a pair of suede Rupert Sandersons. But then, the Missoni family is as passionate about food as it is about décor. When the hotel opened back in 2011, she flew Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli in to personally man the kitchen for the launch event. “We’re Italian, so food is very important!”
Her daughter, Angela, takes over to explain why Doris Day pink and white spots punctuate the swathes of immediately identifiable Missoni patterns from the lobby to the penthouse level lounge: “My mother has always had a thing for polka dots,” she says. “And stripes!” interrupts Rosita, gesturing to the pool’s black, gold, turquoise, blue and freshly squeezed lime-coloured mosaic graphic. “I love to swim in a line,” she says. “This was the starting point for the design of this whole hotel.”
Although we’re seeing a tsunami-like new wave of collaborations, fashion designers bringing visual joie de vivre to hotels, airlines and trains isn’t, of course, new. The recently redesigned Christian Dior suite at the St Regis in New York first opened back in 1991. Christian Lacroix (who has furnished two hotels in Paris) rebooted the French National Railways a few years ago, and who wouldn’t have flown Braniff in the early 70s, just for the Pucci-clad stewardesses? Airlines continue to commission big name labels to dress their staff – Julian MacDonald created the current uniforms for British Airways – while luxury European brands are rolling out hotels to an uptempo chant of “Motel… hotel… Holiday Inn.”
Ferragamo’s Lungarno hotels in Florence have been the most desirable on the Arno since they first opened in 1995, and at the Moschino in Milan, you can sleep in a bed resembling a red velvet ballgown. When Camper opened a Berlin sibling to its Barcelona flagship, it quickly became a focal point for social life in buzzy Mitte. Its Dos Palillos Japanese/Spanish fusion tapas restaurant is perhaps the most modern, and most glamorous, supper spot in what was East Berlin. Bulgari opened in London earlier this year.
But there are more unpredictable fashion hotels on the way, and the fashion/hotel experience is being taken to a whole new and all-encompassing level of sophistication. When I visited the gloriously unpopulated Caribbean island of Vieques recently, talk wasn’t so much of the still shiny and new W resort, but of photographer Steven Klein’s plan to launch a boutique chain of hotels across the US, starting with a resort on the island: The Klein. When it surfaces, it’ll be the sexiest hideaway imaginable. Designs are yet to be finalised, but his sexually charged imagery will decorate every room, and right outside are some of the most deserted, raw and beautiful beaches on Earth.
Then there are the superbrands and designers dipping a toe into the hospitality market away from the fashion capitals. UXUA Casa in Trancoso Brazil is a rustic, hard-to-reach collection of hillside huts, opened in 2009 by Diesel’s former creative director Wilbert Das, while LVMH are behind the luxe ski resort Cheval Blanc in Courcheval with more LVMH hotels planned – the next will open in the old Samaritaine department store in Paris, and the Maldives is forthcoming too. Ralph Lauren reinvented the Pineapple Suites – with mahogany four posters and white stone floors – at Round Hill in Jamaica, and Lacoste have created two villas at the Sofitel Essaouira Mogador in Morocco. Missoni’s next outpost will be in Turkey, and then Brazil.
Some years ago, a Margiela hotel would have been as unthinkable as a Comme des Garçons ryokan (now there’s a thought!)
While Giorgio Armani has had an interiors line since 2000, and can segue into five star territory easily, it’s the less likely designers transmuting their look from catwalk to bedroom in a very hands-on way who are particularly intriguing. They are creating whole fashion “stories”. Take Russell Sage, who has given up the catwalk to create fashion narratives via his elaborate hotel interiors. His taxidermy-crammed Victoriana fantasia at the Zetter Townhouse, washed down with nettle gimlets, was the most atmospheric hotel to open in London in years. “I formed the idea of Wilhelmina, an eccentric Aunt,” he says. “She is a grand, fabulous, partying lady who moved from a large country house into a couple of Georgian town houses with all her possessions.” It’s the kind of elaborate back-story that might well appear in A4 show notes lining the benches at Fashion Week.
When Diane von Furstenberg created suites at Claridges, she was right there in the room, strutting through the drills and dust in one of her distinctive wrap dresses, surrounded by builders, directing where her own framed photographs should go and how many inches to the left tables should be placed. The result was a perfect riot of colour and pattern, and 100% DVF.
At the opposite end of the Pantone spectrum there is Hotel La Maision des Champs Elysées, the hotel reinvented last year by Maison Martin Margiela. Some years ago, a Margiela hotel would have been as unthinkable as a Comme des Garçons ryokan (now there’s a thought!). The label was as avant garde as can be. And yet it was actually a natural leap from the exuberant, perfectly imperfect artisanal white-on-white interiors of its stores, to furniture design and interiors. Now there are Margiela home products – including an ultra realistic egg doorstopper and blank, white, anonymous Matryoshka dolls – and you can check in to one of 17 Margiela suites.
I recall visiting, just as the finishing touches were being added: the white lab-coated Margiela team had already silver-leafed the corridors and clad a whole room and its furniture (including a Mac screen) in toile-like white cotton, and a pitch-black scorched-wood fumoir was near completion. Bemused businessmen – regulars from the days when the building was a Sofitel – checked in and checked out, while fashion devotees cruised the lobby, with its black and white trompe l’oeil murals depicting a decaying palace interior and picture lights illuminating faux faded, empty rectangular spaces on the walls. The whole thing is a clever-clever remodelling of Parisian grandeur and represents the finish-line for the most deliriously fabulous afternoon’s shopping in the world, from Rick Owens in the Jardins du Palais Royal, on to Colette and the original Hermès store, via a cocktail in the courtyard at Hotel Costes, and finally the Dior mothership. Dumping your shopping bags on your bed in the Black Room, with its bluebird’s-wing taxidermy lamps, is the icing on the cake. If you’re looking for the ultimate long-weekend fashion fantasy, I can tell you I’ve found it.
The more traditional couture ateliers make for a more obvious, but no less dramatic, hotel fit and refit. When the Mandarin Oriental opened its first branch in Paris last year, it was with a trademark Mandarin Oriental fan in the lobby created by the embroiders of Maison Lesage. It’s a lavish example of “haute couture décor” – which is also how the landmark Hôtel Plaza Athenée described the refurbishment of its Alain Ducasse restaurant. Every panel in the room has been covered in a full year’s worth of sparkling murals, hand-stitched by artisans from the Cécile Henri Atelier, celebrated for their work with Chanel and Balenciaga. As befits one of the ten most memorable meals you could ever possibly have, from the first flute of Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle and the langoustine tartare to the tea brewed from leaves cut from herb plants right in front of you, this is the most incredible dining room in the world. A year after its overhaul, as I pushed my way through its heavy, ornate, imposing front doors, I felt like I’d walked into a parallel universe of beauty where absolutely nothing bad could possibly ever happen. Above me hung immense “exploded” chandeliers, with thousands of extra crystal drops on invisible wires surrounding the main lights, while the embroidered panels suggested the most theatrical of Dior couture presentations.
The Hôtel Plaza Athenée is part of the Dorchester Collection of hotels, which inaugurated the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize two years ago, giving an award to Londoner Thomas Tait for his architectural head-to-toe black womenswear. Tait’s studio received a £25,000 injection of funds and was commissioned to design the uniforms for the Dorchester’s 45 Park Lane property. Last year’s prize was judged by Thom Browne and Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein in New York, and the winners – Phoebe and Annette Stephens of the Anndra Neen label – showed their collection during the first Paris Fashion Week of 2012 at the Hôtel Plaza Athenée. This year, Nathalie Rykiel and Kenzo Takada awarded the prize to Annelie Augustin and Odély Teboul of Augustin Teboul. The label has a super strong all-black tailored aesthetic. The prize is an example of how hotels are integrating the catwalk into their world beyond merely asking designers to rearrange the furniture. They’re becoming an integral part of the world of fashion.
Fashion and travel are going to become ever closer bedfellows. Who wouldn’t want to immerse themselves in a whole universe of their favourite label, just for a few days? I eat off Missoni plates at home, and I love them. I’ve frequently coveted their bed linen and towels, but at the same time, just as I’d never wear one designer head to toe, I’d never want to turn my home into a showroom for one label. But to stay at a Missoni, Margiela or Moschino hotel is the fashion equivalent of a trip to a theme park: overstimulating, feel-good, fleeting and quite fantastic.