Paris’s landmark Hôtel de Crillon reopens its gilded doors, after a partial redesigned by two of Lebanon’s most prominent decorators. Check in on an exclusive tour of an icon where art, diplomacy, and luxury fuse fresh from the July/August issue of Vogue Arabia.
While Paris has no shortage of iconic, grand hotels, certain names stand out from the rest. The Four Seasons Hotel George V is world-famous. The Ritz, equally infamous. But for sheer iconography, the Hôtel de Crillon is hard to beat. Its landmark colonnade frames the 3,000-year-old Luxor Obelisk on the Place de la Concorde in one of the city’s most famous views.
Purchased by Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2010, the Hôtel de Crillon closed for renovations in 2013. Its much anticipated reopening comes just in time for this season’s haute couture shows, and for guests to enjoy Bastille Day fireworks from the grand balcony of the Salon Marie Antoinette. The link between the storied building and the fabled queen underscores an important point: It hardly matters who owns a place like the Hôtel de Crillon. In a way, it belongs to the public, visitors, and locals alike. Like royalty, it must strike the delicate balance between dignified allure and popular adulation, between exclusivity and open arms.
Converted from a palatial residence to a palace hotel in 1909, since the beginning, the hotel has been home to aristocrats, monarchs, moguls, and megastars, and the stage for events of monumental importance. Where the royal palace grounds met the Champs-Élysées, the hotel’s location became an instant magnet for global high society. Little is different today. The Louvre museum and Paris Opera are at an easy stroll. The presidential palace, the American, British, and Japanese embassies, along with Hermès, Chanel, Saint Laurent, and dozens more luxury brands line both sides of Rue Faubourg St. Honoré a block away.
Sometimes called the anteroom to the Palais d’Élysées, diplomacy is a large part of the hotel’s history. In its first year, social pages glowed with reports of a society soirée hosted by the ambassador of Turkey. Official visits by British, Danish, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, Swedish, and Tunisian royals followed in endless succession. The hotel has long been a favorite of Middle Eastern crowned heads. Among them, Saudi King Ibn Saud, Afghanistan’s Mohammed Zahir Shah, Jordan’s King Hussein, and Morocco’s King Mohammed V and King Hassan II.
Yet the Crillon was rarely Paris’s most fashionable hotel option. Not in the “15 minutes of fame” sense, anyway (though Andy Warhol stayed here). For simple, celebrity star power, you could do better elsewhere. But style with substance and self-assurance is a very French way of doing things, and the hotel was always more literati than glitterati. For behind the public podium is an aristocratic and arty rendezvous point favored by artists from Bette Davis to Damien Hirst.
So fans were shocked when the hotel was passed over for France’s new five-star-plus “Palace” designation in 2010. That is now set to change thanks to the new owners and management. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts manages one-of-a-kind luxury properties worldwide, such as The Carlyle in New York, once frequented by Princess Diana. Architect Richard Martinet led the renovation of the building and its famous facade. Landmarks expert Benoit Maffre oversaw the preservation and restoration of the historic spaces.
For the interiors, d’Amman coordinated the work of a creative dream team that included designers Chahan Minassian, Tristan Auer, and Cyril Vergniol to return glory to the 78 rooms, 36 suites, 10 signature suites, four restaurants, and new pool and spa. “This project brings together many cultures: European, Middle Eastern, North American, and the Far Eastern,” says d’Amman. “It is a bridge between the 18th and 21st centuries in a reflection of our times and of the changes in hospitality, uniting a diverse team in respecting the hotel’s history.”
Meryl Streep called it, “The most beautiful view of the most beautiful city”
D’Amman’s firm, Culture in Architecture, did the decoration of the historic rooms: the Salon Marie Antoinette, the Salon des Batailles, and the Salon des Aigles, where new curtains in a motif of dripped ink pay homage to the international treaties drafted there. She also designed the Marie Antoinette, Duc de Crillon, and Jardin Suites adjacent to these rooms, envisioning a Versailles of the future in the ensemble.
This year’s Maison & Objet’s Designer of the Year, Tristan Auer, filled the reception lobby, cigar lounge, and boutique gallery with his hallmark contemporary eclecticism. Cyril Vergniol, a disciple of Alberto Pinto, designed the guestrooms as perfect Parisian pieds-à-terre.
Karl Lagerfeld, a great admirer of the 18th century, decorated two exceptional suites facing the Place de la Concorde and an adjacent room – called Les Grands Appartements – conveying his personal vision of French chic and modernity. They include a collection of photographed tableaux vivantes printed on canvas in the style of classic paintings, and a carefully curated library.
This project brings together many cultures: European, Middle Eastern, North American, and Far Eastern
D’Amman’s Lebanese compatriot, Chahan Minassian, known for glamorous and opulent residential interiors, created the emotional spaces of the public rooms. “The Hôtel de Crillon, with its role and its location, is like an embassy,” says Minassian, who designed the Les Ambassadeurs bar, Jardin d’Hiver tearoom, gastronomic restaurant featuring Michelin-starred Chef Christopher Hache, the pool, and five signature suites. “It is a historic building, so it is important to conserve the roots – it’s why people return,” he says, telling the story of a couple who married at the hotel and were the first to reserve a room for the reopening.
Minassian too has a personal history with the hotel. His family would gather in the bar for reunions when he was young. The space had been styled by Sonia Rykiel in 1982 and he would fantasize about redoing it. “I felt deeply moved to finally have that opportunity,” he says. He stripped out the gleaming marble temple of the 1980s, returning the hotel to a more residential feel with Parisian limestone softened by sensuous, mineral-toned fabrics and wall treatments, and ceiling frescoes of dramatic skies. Rotunda seating divides the room for privacy, yet provides a perch for people watching.
Downstairs, the new swimming pool shimmers gold with fish-scale tiles under a courtyard skylight. (Think the golden ablution of Carmen Kass in the original Dior J’adore campaign.) Meanwhile, on the top floor, the Leonard Bernstein and Louis XV suites can be joined into one 400 square meter apartment with his-and-hers wings and ambiences that crescendo down the enfilade of bedrooms and salons. Minassian’s three “Atelier d’Artiste” suites under the eaves reference the hotel’s artistic and literary legacy.
“The Hôtel de Crillon is about unexpected conversations between art, show business, politics, and diplomacy,” says historian Brice Payen, who studied the hotel. While the idea was to continue its legacy as the ultimate French residence, heritage is not something fixed. This is not a museum. Guests expect a journey. As in the city outside, they can promenade through it spaces and discover new points of view with so many designers and so many layers of heritage coming together to create a seamless whole and sense of place.
Written by Misha Pinkhasov and photographed by Mark Luscombe-Whyte for the July/August issue of Vogue Arabia. The Hôtel de Crillon is located on 10, Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, France. For booking and availability information visit Rosewoodhotels.com.
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