The Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal reminded me of a Benetton sweater I once owned that looked great on the shelf but didn't wear well at all. On the Grand Canal in Venice, it is a merger of a former hotel with a neighboring palazzo. The public spaces are stunning; the sweeping glass, stone, and steel lobby by architect Piero Lissoni is skylighted and studded with Le Corbusier lounge chairs. But as in so many boutique properties, once you go upstairs, things change.
What the 40 rooms in the original building lack in size they make up for with Murano glass lighting and incredible views of the canal. The 37 rooms in the palazzo do not have those compensations. Mine, though recently renovated, was tiny and thoughtlessly designed. The one telephone had a data port, but it was so far from the only available power outlet that I ended up crawling under wires stretched taut across the room. The lone outlet in the bathroom was hidden inside a cabinet. Three blocks away, an annex called Palazzo Selvadego offers 30 less-expensive rooms and suites with kitchenettes, their own concierge, and, on the upper floors, terraces with rooftop views. When I saw them, I wished I'd stayed there.
The Brioni Suite at Milan's Four Seasons Hotel is a brand extension without apology. Via Gesù, the street leading to the Four Seasons, could be called Via Brioni, so full is it with stores selling the company'sclothing. Oddly, the suite itself is even purer than Ferragamo's Continentale—it contains not a single Brioni product. It's just there to show "how Brioni interprets the sophisticated art of living well," says CEO Umberto Angeloni. The result: a handsome mix of colors and textures. Mahogany floors are carpeted with felt rugs; lamps are covered in Chinese paper; historical photos of the king and queen of Italy sit on the wenge wood bedside table; an antique notary's chair is upholstered in purple velvet.
Angeloni is deeply invested in working on more hotels. Brioni, founded in 1945, was named for an elite pre-World War II resort, the Brioni archipelago, a tiny string of islands off the Adriatic coast of Croatia, just south of Trieste. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, a new government began talking to Brioni about reviving the place. The fashion line is now rumored to be negotiating with Amanresorts and the Marbella Club to work on resorts there. Other fashion types may engage in "labeling exercises to increase profits and visibility," Angeloni boasts. "Brioni is different." He gently mocks his more ambitious colleagues, joking that it will lead to a fashion version of the Las Vegas Strip, with Calvin and Ralph presumably replacing Siegfried and Roy.
But names are everything in this business, and the slightest slipup might tarnish a name—which the Belgium-based hotel group Rezidor SAS Hospitality discovered when it licensed the Nino Cerruti name for a chain of hotels, with the first set to open in Brussels this summer.
Nino Cerruti used to be a high-end Italian designer; Rezidor wanted to run mid-priced hotels, claiming it could because Cerruti no longer owned his brand. But according to Cerruti, when he sold his company and the right to use his name on clothing, he didn't sell the right to use it on hotels. In fact, he'd specifically kept that privilege because he'd long wanted to open one himself. Now he has brought an action in French trademark court to stop the project. "I would like to see certain people in fashion working as night porters in hotels," the designer deadpans.
Despite its generic name, Milan's 3 Rooms is the designer hotel that—so far, at least—best delivers on fashion's promise to travelers. "It's the apartment I would have done for myself in a foreign city," Carla Sozzani says. "I designed it so you could really live and work there and not just fall asleep. Fashion people have an opinion on everything and believe they can do it better." In this case, she did. The moment I dropped my bags, 3 Rooms felt like home—albeit a home that had been transformed into a Pop design playground.
As in Milan, the new locationin Paris will be decorated with unique pieces of Pop furniture and art (by Marc Newson, Jean Prouvé, and Pierre Paulin), accented with up-to-the-minute gadgetry. And there's an added attraction not available in Milan: the suites will look across a courtyard directly into Alaïa's atelier, frequented by his friends Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
Most of us don't often see sights like that, but Alaïa insists his hotel will not be some fortress of fashion. "It's not a typical hotel," he says. "It's an extension of my home. Those in fashion become pretentious and think they are king when in fact they are nothing at all. Luckily, fashion allows you to meet new people from other worlds. I want to host more guests and I want them to stay longer. It's an experiment, absolutely: to open my world, where you leave your mask outside and a baroness and a worker can eat at the same table."
If he ever opens his hotel, that is.