Le Royal Monceau, Hotel Luxury à la Philippe Starck

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When the Royal Monceau reopened its doors to the press in October 2010 following a two-year make-over, all eyes were on the interior decoration signed Philippe Starck, as well as on Philippe Starck who came to congratulate himself on his efforts to give new and French wings to this high luxury hotel between the Champs-Elysées and Parc Monceau.

The public spaces

Before seeing whether or not he deserved applause in the bedrooms and suites, the press was able to get acquainted with his work in the hotel’s main dining room, La Cuisine, where we were also invited to partake of a sumptuous array of brunch offerings and graciously served coffee, tea and the occasional hot chocolate. Altogether, the room and the breakfast were a clear sign that the Royal Monceau intends to assume its role as a palace, as high luxury hotels are called in France.

La Cuisine, which proposes classic non-gastronomic French fare for lunch and dinner, is also the most successful of the Royal Monceau’s public spaces due to the way in which it allows for either intimacy and publicity, for its insouciant play of materials (cotton, leather, metals, glass), and the way in which the eye is drawn to a backlit array of wine bottles. The room isn’t particularly unique, but for ten minutes there the opening was grand indeed.

The hotel also has an Italian restaurant, Il Carpaccio, a more intimate setting, with an attractive coastal atmosphere thanks to seashell motifs leading in and out, the airiness of the space beside the hotel courtyard, and its encrusted, octopus-like chandelier.

By law, smoking isn’t allowed in the public spaces, so the hotel has created the Fumoir Rouge, a red speakeasy of a cigar-smoking room. Not being a cigar smoker I can’t judge the interest of smoking in red, nevertheless, fans of fine cigars might wish to take note whether lodging at the Royal Monceau or not.

Other than the above, the public space—reception area, bar, lobby, concierge desk—mostly feel busy and crowded, and that’s even before the guests arrive. Overall, the public spaces lack wow power, both because 1928 soul of the building is fairly lackluster and the décor, for all the effort, fails to take flight.

There are some surprising touches in the public areas—whether amusing (e.g. the troop of wooden elk at the bottom of the brick-walled staircase), photogenic (e.g. the gathering old chandeliers by the stairs off the lounge), or annoying (e.g. the fun-house restrooms beyond those chandeliers)—but on first glance the lobby area and bar are not places that call for one to linger.

The bedrooms and suites

More importantly, though does one want to linger in the bedrooms and suite?

Philippe Starck gave an impassioned explanation at the press opening as to how he tried to emulate in decorative and in design terms the way in which a writer (André Malraux was his example) might use a chair for a nightstand, or tape a drawing to a lampshade, or draw an itinerary on a city map on the desk. Those are nice images of the creative spirit or at least of a certain kind of decorative nonchalance. But once inside the rooms and suites it was clear Mr. Starck had translated those images of the creative spirit a bit too literally. Or could it be that Mr. Starck had only been speaking of himself all along?

In dominantly white rooms of decent size, lampshades are tagged with black brushstrokes or words and desktops take the form of maps “personalized” with “handwritten” remarks. The intent, of course, is to declare that a creative person once occupied this room, and for added emphasis every room has a guitar in it. Seeing those guitars made me realize that the décor of the Royal Monceau as a cross between 1930s Art Deco and The Beatles’ White AlbumPhilippe Starck is a master of design but not a master of decoration. It would be a leap of faith to call his work here notable or inspiring. Drole would better describe it.

It was therefore surprising to hear Mr. Starck say that he intended for his work here to intellectually and artistically inspire visitors, because guitar or no guitar, however comfortably one may feel at the Royal Monceau—and there is indeed comfort here—I don’t imagine that a stay in the Royal Monceau would be any more stimulating than a stay at, say, the Meurice or the George V or the Bristol or the Ritz, and there are large suites in 4-star hotels that have more character along with their luxury.

From a marketing point of view, however, it’s quite astute to invite the well-to-do visitor to think of himself as an artiste or as hob-nobbing with artistes (well-accomplished artistes, of course, however condescending that may be. In a further effort to demonstrate its artfulness, the Royal Monceau also has an art bookshop, an art concierge, and a very comfortable cinema.

Qatari Diar and Raffles

After being invited to consider the artfulness of the hotel, the press heard from a representative of Qatari Diar, real estate arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, and hence of the State of Qatar, which owns the Royal Monceau, took the floor. Though he didn’t give a clue as to whether the Emir of Qatar ever felt the need to be creative or play the guitar, he did say that he thought the Royal Monceau was a good investment.

The Royal is managed by the Raffles Hotels & Resorts, making this Raffles’ point of entry in Europe following its development of properties in Asia starting in the 1990s and in the Middle East beginning in 2007.

The location

The Royal Monceau is situated between the Arc de Triomphe and Parc Monceau, within a 10-minute walking radius of the Champs-Elysées, Salle Pleyel, a number of stellar restaurants, and a variety of high-end galleries and fine boutiques. The so-called Golden Triangle of Paris lies on the opposite side of the Champs-Elysées and has a higher density of restaurants and luxury than this zone. The zone around the Royal Monceau, though well-heeled, has a more residential and big business feel to it than the Golden Triangle, especially heading toward Parc Monceau. Ternes and Charles de Gaulle Etoile are the nearest metro stations.

Prices

Prices are in line with the other palaces, with a call price of 780 euros (about $1090) for 350-square feet (35m2) rooms, with others at 830 euros and 930 euros, followed by suites of various sizes up to the 1900-square-foot Royal Monceau suite at 10,000 euros. About 100 rooms and suites are currently available. Work continues on portions of the hotel and will progressively lead to a total of 132 rooms and suites plus five apartments tagged at 20,000 euros per night.

Le Royal Monceau, 37 avenue Hoche, 8th arrondissement, Paris. Tel 01 42 99 88 00. www.leroyalmonceau.com.

The palaces of Paris

France awards a special “palace” designation to high luxury hotels of the 5-star category. The palace designation comes under full review in 2011, so that not all of the pre-2011 palaces of Paris (MeuriceFour Seasons George VBristolRitzCrillonPlaza Athénée, and Fouquet’s Barriere) may have that designation when you read this. Specific designation or not, Le Royal Monceau’s ambitions places it within the same category, along with Shangri-La, which opened in late 2010, followed in 2011 by Mandarin Oriental and 2013 by The Peninsula. Other existing hotels (e.g. Park Hyatt, Fouquet’s Barriere) may well also obtain the palace designation.

© 2010, Gary Lee Kraut

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