Steps from the Champs-Élysées, between the Arc de Triomphe and Parc Monceau, Le Royal Monceau–Raffles Paris embodies a glamorous, artistic sensibility. Built in 1928, the unapologetically luxe hotel was closed for two years and reopened in October after a monumental transformation by Philippe Starck, the 61-year-old designer responsible for placing an acoustic guitar in every room, not to mention a private screening room just off the lobby that features 99 oversize leather chairs modeled after first-class airplane seats. Because Starck is Starck—that is, forever a bit perverse—98 of those seats are dove gray, while one, arbitrarily situated among the others, is lipstick red.
There are 85 rooms, 54 suites, and 10 apartments in the new Royal Monceau, which is now a Raffles property. In terms of five-star hotels in Paris, Le Royal Monceau is a viable alternative to the Ritz, the Crillon, the Meurice, or the Plaza Athénée. Though not quite as centrally located, the hotel has a keen sense of modernity, of the now. Which is not to suggest that Starck thumbed his nose at history. He did not.
If there are projects in Starck’s portfolio that have a haven’t-I-seen-this-all-before? quality, at Le Royal Monceau the designer appears to have been fully committed to the endeavor; that is, he didn’t mechanically reach into his well-known bag of visual tricks. Perhaps this is to the credit of client Alexandre Allard, the French businessman who took over the fading dowager in 2007, then summoned Starck, who rose brilliantly to the occasion. In fact, no detail was too small or inconsequential for the designer to rethink. For example, in lieu of terry-cloth slippers in the guest rooms’ walk-in closets, which are modeled after the private cabines in couture houses, Starck specified traditional French canvas espadrilles. And while he does use overscale mirrors, leaning them nonchalantly against the guest-room walls, something he has been doing since the 1995 revamp of the Delano Hotel, in Miami Beach, here they serve a purpose aside from introducing Brobdingnagian scale, and an opportunity for shameless narcissism: at the flip of a switch, they turn into televisions.
“It is all about ‘inhabited’ rooms,” Starck says. “I tried to imagine the rooms of creative, cultured, elegant people. But most of all, I blurred the style.” What that means is that the hotel’s guest rooms, like its public spaces, do not have a relentless, wall-to-wall Philippe Starck character. Which is inevitably tedious, no matter who the designer may be. Even 1930’s French legend Jean-Michel Frank, surely the ne plus ultra design talent of the 20th century, collaborated with other artists and designers, from Jean Cocteau to Christian Bérard and Emilio Terry.
Also refreshing is the fact that Starck did not use the hotel as an opportunity for product placement of his countless furniture and accessory lines for Kartell, Cassina, Alessi, and others. Instead, the rooms are a welcome mix of furniture and lighting, carpets and fittings, an eclectic fusion of talent—including Murano glass lamps and classic Milanese designs from the 1970’s and white stone-topped oval tables with polished-metal pedestal bases that instantly recall Eero Saarinen’s 1956 Tulip collection.
The one area where Starck did not collaborate was in the bathrooms, which are extraordinary feats of precision. Imagine an operating theater in some paradigmatic Swiss hospital, and you begin to get the idea. White on white on white, with shimmering polished stainless-steel fittings and glazed doors—some translucent, some transparent—that open to the oversize shower, the WC, and the capacious walk-in closet, the bathrooms feature blindingly radiant ceilings that take the form of a luminous grid. Mercifully, at least for those over the age of 25, the designer installed a rheostat to control the megawatt lighting.
“I worked on two levels,” Starck says. “For the public spaces I went back to the deep French modernity before it was influenced by other cultures in terms of design; therefore, there are some influences of the 1930’s, but twisted in a modern and timeless way with materials such as mahogany and vegetable-tanned leather.”