Bulgari Restaurant in Tokyo

For some designers, having their names on a hotel or restaurant provides an optimal testing ground for new products. “To be honest, I tend to find that many hotels contain decor that really doesn’t make me feel I am in a luxurious place,” explains Giorgio Armani, who employs custom-made furniture and decorative objects like those in his home collection in Armani Hotels & Resorts, the second of which is scheduled to open in Milan in 2011. “The idea was, in part, inspired by my work on Armani/Casa, because I wanted to see how the [home] collection would look when applied to real spaces,” adds the designer, who expects his hotels to set a new standard for opulence much the way his clothing has done for red-carpet affairs. Armani also now has a restaurant within a retail establishment — Armani/ Ristorante 5th Avenue in New York City — another example of the designer putting his signature style stamp on the hospitality business.

Gold by dolce & Gabbana
Although hotels can let you live like Armani for days or even weeks, restaurants give designers a chance to offer the same “lifestyle experience” in a matter of hours. The thought of translating their glittery design vision into a dining decor was so all- consuming for Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana of Dolce&Gabbana that the dynamic Italian duo ultimately introduced Gold, a Las Vegas-style café, bistro, and exclusive restaurant located in the heart of Milan that predictably draws the same glam audience that frequents their stores. The designers infused their restaurant with a mix of exotic materials — including pink-and-gray arabesque-patterned marble, high-gloss steel, and gold leather — that they consider the architectural equivalent of that which defines their clothing. Another Italian designer, Roberto Cavalli, is actually on the verge of becoming so well known for his stylish Just Cavalli Café and Cavalli Clubs that the Milanese and Florentine hot spots have nearly supplanted his clothing label. Meanwhile, designer Angel Sanchez’s South American influence is now boldly on display at Nuela, the New York restaurant and ceviche bar that he opened in collaboration with celebrated Chicago chef Adam Schop.

It might be a stretch to call the octogenarian Pierre Cardin a trendsetter today. But most credit the iconic designer, who had his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, for initiating the current hospitality-design craze. Not only was Cardin the first haute-couture stylist to put his signature on mass-produced clothing, but over his ensuing 60-year career, the designer became known as the king of licensing for lending his name to more than 840 products, from bed linens and lingerie to wine, furniture, and even bicycles. The wealth generated from that marketing genius allowed Cardin, in 1981, to buy the venerable century-old Parisian bistro Maxim’s, which he has subsequently transformed into an international brand (not unlike his own) with restaurants and hotels worldwide. Most recently, Cardin purchased more than 40 residences and commercial buildings in Lacoste, in the Provence region of France, where he plans to unveil two new boutique hotels in hopes of turning this bucolic French town into his own “cultural Saint-Tropez,” as he describes it.

Cavalli Club Dubai
“I suspect if you look hard enough you could find Pierre Cardin’s name on a screwdriver,” jokes Todd Oldham, an American designer who has clearly benefitted from Cardin’s pioneering efforts. Not only has he put his own signature on such things as carpet and floral arrangements, but Oldham is among a growing list of fashion giants taking up residence in the hotel and restaurant industries. This past spring, for instance, the boyishly handsome designer christened 20 new deluxe rooms at South Beach’s The Hotel, a boutique property, and at its adjoining restaurant, Wish, that he originally designed in 1998.

“It’s very smart of developers to find taste-makers from other areas who can enhance the hotel experience,” says Oldham. “We have a different sensitivity to form, to function,” he says, that easily translates to a public space. “If a woman wears a great dress for the evening, it should look pretty effortless even though there was probably a lot of planning and preparation that went into it,” he explains. “The same principle applies with a hotel or restaurant. Because we tend to focus on making you look good, we can also make you look good in a room.” Oldham insists the secret is about more than creating a beautiful, functional space but also one that flatters those within it. “We aren’t causing you to walk into unattractive lighting schemes, for instance,” he says.