Lifestyle brands move into hospitality

NEW YORK • There is always room at the inn for new concepts, with new rivals not likely to show hospitality to laggards.

Check in this example.

Not just any bar in New York City will offer you corn nuts in a coupe de Champagne that took six artisans to craft from fine crystal.

But that is how things are done in the Bar at Baccarat Hotel.

With its prismatic glass facade and 114 light-filled suites, the entire property was created as a 21st-century embodiment of a French crystal brand founded circa 1764 by the royal decree of King Louis XV.

"I mean, listen, the name is worth 100 million bucks," said Mr Barry Sternlicht, chief executive of Starwood Capital Group.

The Baccarat Hotel New York is owned by the French crystal brand. PHOTO: BACCARAT HOTEL NEW YORK/NEW YORK TIMES

Years after creating the ritzy W Hotels, the developer bought Baccarat as part of a French conglomerate.

"The thought was we could grow this brand and make it relevant again."

In 2015, he turned it into a hotel, "making it 3D" and "fun".

Mr Sternlicht, who recently signed deals for sister properties in Bordeaux, France, and Doha, Qatar, is not the only one building hotels based on brands people love.

Fashion labels like Armani and Versace have been dabbling in hospitality for years.

And Nobu has spun its Japanese-fusion restaurant empire into an overnight experience in eight locations. Expect 20 by 2020.

Whether in Manila or Marbella, Spain, guests are welcomed with Oshibori towels and Ikaati tea, and can order the chef's signature dishes, along with his riffs on local classics, via 24-hour room service.

But, lately, there has been a critical mass of companies getting into hospitality, including fitness clubs (kicking off next year in New York: Equinox Hotels) and film companies (Paramount Hotels & Resorts is bringing chiaroscuro lighting and Hollywood-themed suites to Dubai and beyond).

"Hotel brands are not overbuilt, but underdemolished," said Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and author of Hospitality Branding.

"Too many hotel brands exist that do not have a compelling and defensible point of view," he noted, adding that millennials "love a unique point of view".

They also love travelling, already surpassing baby boomers in trips, according to Nielsen, the global market research company.

The generation's disruptive rise has come with that of Airbnb and Amazon, causing some angst among traditional hotel and lifestyle businesses.

As the hotels do some soul-searching and lifestyle businesses seek new ways to engage customers, more of them are teaming up.

"The hotel business is becoming a lifestyle business," Dev said.

Having consulted with everyone from Bulgari - which just opened its sixth jewel-like hotel in Shanghai - to InterContinental Hotels Group, he noted: "It is a lot easier for lifestyle brands to extend into hospitality" than the other way around.

As millennials prioritise experiences over things, it is a way for these companies to keep themselves in the picture, ideally via Instagram feeds.

And, of course, guests might want to prolong their experience beyond a stay or a Snapchat story, and buy the brand's products.

Hence this December, near its factories in Detroit, luxury goods brand Shinola is extending its home-grown craftsmanship into a hotel.

Its 129 rooms come with American white oak furnishings, Shinola leather pillows and Bluetooth speakers. Bathroom fixtures are inspired by the casebacks of its watches - like the one specially designed for hotel staff - and set to be sold exclusively on site.

But according to Shinola's creative director Daniel Caudill, "it's not just about retail, it's about creating a space that speaks to the local community".

With Detroit-based real estate firm Bedrock and hotel operator Mac&Lo, the brand is revitalising an entire block of Woodward Avenue.

It is building bike lanes - better for riding Shinola's handcrafted cruisers, all for rent - not to mention a walkable Shinola Alley with local shops and beer gardens.

In the meantime, Muji, the Japanese purveyor of all things utilitarian-chic, just built its first hotels in Shenzhen and Beijing.

Tokyo is next.

Just about everything, including oak-framed beds and Muji Diner tableware, has been designed with what the company calls its "meticulous elimination of excess" and can be bought from the in-house stores.

Maybe guests should bring an extra suitcase or two.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 19, 2018, with the headline 'Lifestyle brands move into hospitality'. Print Edition | Subscribe