These days, purveyors of luxury can go beyond owning, eating or imbibing their favorite brand; they can live it. No longer content with selling a mere fraction of the lifestyle experience, an increasing number of high-end luxury companies have decided to open hotels, where their clients can eat, sleep and breathe the brand around the clock.
Hotels have become big business for luxury brands of late. Armani, Baccarat, Bulgari and Missoni have all made the transition to an industry that nominally, it would seem they know little about.
“Hotels are a great way to showcase the design identity of a brand, and to project a lifestyle that goes beyond products,” Silvio Ursini, the executive vice president of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts told CNN.
Bulgari Hotels mimics the exclusivity of its design brand by limiting its room count. It reminds guests of its history by showcasing a mix of contemporary and classic Italian architecture, and by using vintage Bulgari designs to inspire some of the textiles and furnishings.
Guests receive a more direct reminder of the brand inside their rooms.
It helps to be partnered to a larger hotel chain. Bulgari Hotels and Resorts is a joint venture between Bulgari and the luxury division of Marriott International.
Bulgari opened its first hotel in Milan in 2004 and now also has branches in Tokyo, Bali and, as of last summer, London.
Similarly, Armani, which has literally taken the concept to new heights by opening its flagship hotel in Dubai’s towering Burj Khalifa (the tallest building on earth), has partnered with Emirates-based Emaar Properties.
“When Mohamed Alabbar (chairman of Emaar Properties) introduced the idea to Giorgio Armani in 2005, it immediately attracted his interest, as it offered him a genuine challenge,” recalls Jason Harding, the regional general manager at Armani Hotel Dubai.
“A hotel is an entity that goes beyond the confines of fashion. It’s something that will endure over time.”
Like its competitors, Armani touts that hotels give them a better base from which to truly sell a lifestyle. “In our hotels we offer something that in its own way equates perfectly with the spirit of Armani’s clothes,” says Harding. “It is an approach to life: comfort, functionality, and aesthetics, all in perfect harmony.”
The hotel even goes so far as to assign each guest his very own “lifestyle manager,” a position that is best described as an Armani-clad personal concierge.
Opening a high-end luxury hotel chain during a worldwide recession may seem like risky business -- especially as rooms don’t come cheap: Armani doubles start at $570, while the Bulgari London charges $700 for a double room.
Occupancy rates, however, have been high, according to the hoteliers. Bulgari London says it has been fully booked most nights since opening, while Armani has quoted its levels as “healthy.”
Brand recognition, they all agree, is key in bringing in the bookings. “Bulgari’s name is evocative of uncompromising luxury,” says Ursini. “It is definitively shaping the customers’ choice.”