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.
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.
“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.