Rousseau and Comtet’s hideaway is both brilliant and flawed for the same reason: they never ran a hotel before. (Neither had Rousseau, the property’s designer, done any professional decorating.) Answering to no one, unhardened by the business, and having never had a flop, the pair turned their lack of experience to creative advantage. On the other hand, the basics elude them: the phone system doesn’t allow you to call outside the hotel from your room, and if anyone thought of turndown the idea was rejected. The list of things missing is fairly endless.
Having marketed movies, Comtet now markets the hotel. In the nineties, he and Rousseau operated an artists’ residence at Château de Bionnay in the Beaujolais, where, in exchange for being lodged and fed, wards left behind a work. Many of the beautiful velvet curtains at Hôtel Particulier were recycled from Bionnay and pool extravagantly on the floor because Rousseau couldn’t bear to cut them down. During her patroness period, one French magazine wrote that she “is not satisfied with being beautiful, charming, and rich,” and a privileged, slightly spoiled air still clings to her. Rousseau’s disco-y vision of herself in her new role as hotelkeeper involves stomping around in extremely high heels, leggings, and peekaboo tops, her hair a tangle of choucroute. It’s an impressive show.
Unlike at other art-driven hotels, she did not simply enlist artists with instructions to let themselves go. “I think that’s an inherently false idea and one doomed to fail,” says Rousseau. “It vulgarizes and trivializes their work, and besides, you can’t necessarily expect them to design spaces that work for a hotel.”
Instead, the rooms are collaborations. Artists furnished the provocation, Rousseau the creature comforts. The Arbre à Oreilles suite features a poetic if maddeningly enigmatic wallpaper commissioned from Pierre Fichefeux, an indie illustrator known to readers of WAD. The paper depicts a tree and storks with their beaks tied or handcuffed. I don’t know how anyone could be expected to figure this out without a user’s guide, but Fichefeux intends guests to record a secret using a microphone set in the wall along the tree’s trunk. The birds are unable to repeat the secret, but a speaker on the other side of the room can—not just yours, but the secrets of everyone who has slept in the Tree with Ears and confessed.
Across the hall in Vitrine, Philippe Mayaux explores the same notion—that of travelers leaving something behind—with a wall-hung glass cabinet guests have begun to fill with doll’s shoes, a figurine of a mermaid with butterfly wings, and a palm-size Eiffel Tower. A second cabinet contains Mayaux’s kinky, precisely composed still-lifes of pink, rubbery objects, suggestive of sex toys and dental appliances. If this was the only room available, I think I might go for the Mercure.
Rideau de Cheveux showcases two giant photographs by Natacha Lesueur of young women looking fixedly from behind curtains of their own hair. Lesueur can’t make up her mind whether they’re “guardian angels” watching out for you, or “silent witnesses” registering your indiscretions. Végétale is wrapped in a photomural of dense branches in full leaf by Martine Aballéa. Olivier Saillard, a curator at ’s Les Arts Décoratifs-Musée de la Mode et du Textile, dressed Poèmes et Chapeaux entirely in gray and black men’s suiting fabrics—pinstriped flannel for a buttoned slipper chair, drap de laine edged in tuxedo satin for the bedcover.
Marie and Philippe were least kind about the common salons. Working with a merchandiser whose clients include Chanel, Rousseau stuffed them with so much Saarinen and Jacobsen furniture they look like Knoll showrooms. She has a lot of plans for the hotel—a restaurant, a bar, even, imagine, someone on duty nonstop from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. That all sounds promising. In the meantime, Rousseau shouldn’t insist too much on the hotel being “just like home,” which it is in that you have to do most things yourself. The very least you can say about Hôtel Particulier now is that it’s a great place waiting to happen. The location doesn’t hurt.