After a four-year closure and lavish renovation, Paris's storied hotel unveils a daringly modern new look.
Each of Paris's ultra-luxury hotels occupies its own niche in the city's landscape. Fashionistas haunt the Ritz and the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme; one-percenter American families and jet-setting sheikhs go for the Four Seasons Hotel George V. The Hôtel de Crillon has always been for traditionalists and heads of state, thanks to its location overlooking the Place de la Concorde, within a stone's throw of the Élysée Palace and several major embassies.
You could do worse for French national glory. Commissioned by Louis XV in 1758, the Crillon has had several lives — as government offices, a private residence for a noble family, and finally a hotel, beginning in 1909. The heritage look of crystal chandeliers and gilt-tipped chairs had its admirers, but by 2010, when Saudi royalty purchased the property, a revamp was in order.
It would have been tempting to go the way of the Ritz, which faithfully maintained the arch-traditional look in its recent overhaul. But the team behind the Crillon's makeover — Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, architect Richard Martinet, and Aline Asmar d'Amman's Beirut- and Paris-based firm, Culture in Architecture — did the opposite, applying an audacious, contemporary lens to 18th-century maximalism and artisanal techniques.
When I stayed at the Crillon this summer, the first thing that struck me was how brilliantly d'Amman and her designers (Tristan Auer, Cyril Vergniol, and Chahan Minassian) nailed what makes Paris tick. This is a city that celebrates being seen, yet the old lobby felt cavernous and devoid of energy, its public spaces impossibly stiff. Now it's as if le tout Paris is there. Check-in takes place in a semiprivate salon, where conversations can be had discreetly, but the remainder of the lobby has been transformed into multiple lounge spaces, with deep pile rugs and cushy silk sofas, to promote socializing. Les Ambassadeurs, formerly a fine-dining restaurant seen by only a fraction of visitors, is now a humming cocktail lounge with live music. The aim is to get guests — including locals — to kick back, relax, and people-watch.
Fine dining lives on at L'Écrin, the jewel-box formal restaurant, but the place to be is the more casual Brasserie d'Aumont. It offers easy Parisian staples, like oysters, steak tartare, and pâté en croûte, and has equal amounts of outdoor and indoor seating. During my late Tuesday night dinner, the brasserie was wall-to-wall with advertising execs, their Hermès handbags glowing in the soft light reflected off the Calacatta-marble-backed banquettes.
There's a new approach to service, too. White gloves and hushed tones are out; casual foulards and 1970s-retro knife-pleated skirts are in. I found the staff to be approachable and friendly, down to the butlers who service all 124 rooms and suites, but the team, at times, was still unpolished. It took several tries to put in a drink order at Jardin d'Hiver, the lounge and tea salon (though when my cocktail, a blend of calamansi, bitter rhubarb, rose cordial, and champagne, did arrive, it was magnificent). An order of oysters came out on a thin slate palette covered in rock salt, which made a righteous mess. The staff acknowledged every hiccup gracefully, and they will no doubt find their groove. But when room rates start in the four figures, snafus take on added weight.
Ah, but those rooms! They are sublime, and no expense has been spared. In one of the two Prestige suites designed by Karl Lagerfeld, there's a two-ton bathtub carved from a solid block of dramatically striated marble. Designer Cyril Vergniol, who did the vast majority of the remaining rooms, added dashes of Regency (ladylike armchairs upholstered in sky-blue raw silk) and Orientalism (mirrored mini-bars with botanical etchings), evoking the boudoir of a film noir femme fatale. I loved the amply sized toiletries from cult French pharmacist Buly and the premixed cocktails by Avantgarde Spirits. Better still, I found the in-room technology easy to master — the light switches are manual and labeled, the speakers are Bluetooth-enabled, and there is nary a twitchy tablet to be found. It all works seamlessly: no need to bother the butler. Could there be a better definition of 21st-century luxury than that? doubles from $1,423.