Hotel business a new growth driver for fashion labels
The drive for fashion labels to invest in the hotel industry isn’t a new phenomenon, but it recently seems to have found new impetus, as Zadig & Voltaire, Maison Kitsuné, Bensimon and other ready-to-wear labels are seeking new ways of expressing their brand identity.
In 2004, Spanish footwear label Camper stunned the fashion world with its ground-breaking opening of a first hotel in Barcelona. Camper was looking for a way to diversify - having previously opened a restaurant called Foodball - and, through the hotel business, it tried to hone its vision and message. The hotel’s unfussy interiors and furniture were conceived by Fernando Amat, who founded design store Vinçon, and Marti Guixé, and featured areas for co-working, self-service bike rental and an urban, environmentally friendly mood that was a success. The concept was well ahead of its times, and was duplicated in Berlin’s Mitte district in 2011, and widely replicated elsewhere.
In France, several fashion labels in search of a lifestyle positioning seem to be treading the same path. “Ever since the company was founded [in 2002], Maison Kitsuné has been keen to mirror our own art of living,” said Gildas Loaëc, the label’s co-founder. "This outlook enables us to try new ventures, to take on new challenges, and to be constantly changing direction.” In addition to fashion, music, a series of cafés and a recently inaugurated restaurant, Maison Kitsuné is now working on the opening of the first hotel Kitsuné, which is set for in 2021 in Bali. “It’s a different business, one for which we are enjoying learning even the minutest details,” added Loaëc.
An interest in the hotel business now shared by an increasing number of fashion labels and chains. “Running hotels is one of my dreams, right after flying to the moon,” said Serge Bensimon, founder of the eponymous label. “A project that is consistent with what we have been working on for many years. Designing interiors and furniture, it’s what we love doing."
After experimenting with an interior decoration project for a hotel chain, Bensimon is now thinking of giving the hotel business a go in his own name, backed by some partners. “[The project] is still in its infancy, but it’s very much a part of our DNA,” said the Bensimon brothers. The founders of multibrand Parisian fashion store French Trotters, Carole and Clarent Delhouz, are also thinking along the same lines, they too inspired by a travel theme. “We are considering ways of diversifying, and the hotel business fits hand in glove with the kind of lifestyle positioning that is likely to appeal to our cosmopolitan, widely travelled clientèle, and would complete the French Trotters experience. We are now looking for a reliable partner in this sector,” said Delhouz.
Major capital investments
In order to embark on this kind of venture, “labels that are interested in the hotel business must understand that they will have to commit to major capital investments,” said Adrien Gloaguen, founder of the Touriste hotel group, owner of the Panache and Bienvenue hotels, mostly located in Paris. “The investment budget is hard to assess - since it depends on the location, on whether the property is bought or leased, whether it includes a restaurant, bar or a spa - labels that are backed by major groups and investment funds have statistically a greater chance of success, while others must seek partners and promoters. The investment needed is often huge, the hotel business is a long-term commitment, one must be well aware of this before venturing in it,” added Gloaguen.
French label Zadig & Voltaire has made good progress in this direction, and will open its first hotel in rue Saint-Honoré, Paris, in early 2020. Located close to a former Zadig & Voltaire store, the hotel has 10 rooms, and the interior design was commissioned to architecture studio Festen. The project has been something of an odyssey: the label announced its intention of entering the business in 2012, then postponed the project, and also had to weather the storm of a controversy about a “refusal to accept Chinese tourists.”
According to Frédéric Biousse, a former CEO of SMCP who switched to the hotel sector and now operates five establishments in France and Spain (the latest is Les Hortensias du Lac, in Hossegor), the renewed interest by fashion labels for the hotel sector “is a sign of changing consumption behaviour, of the search for immediate gratification and for experiences rather than products. The hotel industry has a retail aspect to it, it’s a crossroads between fashion, art, fine drinking and dining. For a fashion label, opening a hotel means going beyond the retail dimension into the realm of sensations, it means articulating a broader outlook, the art of living, showing the way it sees the world and selling a lifestyle.”
Biousse, who now leads the Experienced Capital Partners investment fund (which has a stake in French labels like Sessùn, Balibaris and Le Slip Français), is envisaging helping his brands develop their own hotel business, as he did. “Extending into the hotel industry is an option for labels with a strong brand identity. Sessùn, through the character of its founder Emma François, its sustainable sourcing policies and bohemian vision, would be a creditable presence in the sector. The same for L:A Bruket, a Swedish skincare label tapping the country’s spa tradition which we recently acquired. It has already received offers for opening hotels, and will certainly do so within the next 2-3 years.”
Italian labels ahead of the game
Italy’s leading fashion labels started taking an interest in the hotel business since the early 2000s, ahead of their European counterparts. The Armani Hotels & Resorts company was set up in 2005, a joint-venture between Armani and Emaar Properties, a Dubai-based property developer which notably spearheaded the Burj Khalifa project. It now runs hotels in Dubai (where the first Armani hotel opened in 2010) and Milan (since 2011) and has invested heavily in high-end residential properties around the world, including in London, Istanbul and Tel Aviv. The next project will take it to New York, with the renovation of the Giorgio Armani store in Madison Avenue and the development of 19 high-profile properties curated by the designer himself.
Other Italian labels have followed different paths. Jeweller Bulgari (owned by LVMH) currently owns six hotels worldwide, and is set to open a new one on avenue George V in Paris, its first in the French capital, in 2020. Ferragamo owns six hotels between Florence and Rome, while Fendi, owner of the beautiful Villa Laetitia villa/hotel in Rome, recently inaugurated its first boutique hotel in collaboration with star architect Jean Nouvel, again in the Italian capital.
A few other hotel projects linked to the world of fashion and luxury are set to be finalised in 2020. Among them, the Hôtel des Horlogers by Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Audemars-Piguet, located in a mountain resort within Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, with 55 rooms and a pitched roof allowing direct access to the ski slopes. Also highly anticipated is the first Parisian hotel by the Cheval Blanc chain, recently built as part of the renovation of the La Samaritaine complex, together with other new hotels by the Belmond chain, recently bought by LVMH, also the owner of La Samaritaine.
As a new domain for brand image and expression, the hotel sector is likely to continue to appeal to fashion labels. It involves heavy economic risks, and is suited only to labels that are financially sound, but it is a potential new growth area, driven by the buoyancy of the hotel industry worldwide.
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