Parisian photographer François Coquerel reminisces about his moment of inspiration at the newly reborn Hotel Lutetia.
“This is a ‘locals’ hotel.”
I must have heard these words, or some variation of the sentiment, ten times during my brief stay at Hôtel Lutetia. I was in Paris scouting properties for It List, Travel + Leisure’s annual collection of the best new hotels in the world, and had checked in to the newly renovated Left Bank hotel not anticipating this fierce hometown pride.
Most hotels are, by definition and design, intended for the comfort and pleasure of out-of-town visitors. But at the Lutetia, the majority of patrons are Parisian and most everyone has been at least once before.
So when it came to interviewing Parisian photographer François Coquerel, who shot the property for the Travel + Leisure’s March 2019 issue, I was hardly surprised to learn that he too had a connection to the storied property. “My best friend growing up had his bar mitzvah at the hotel,” he told Travel + Leisure. “I still have a picture of me and a bunch of kids in the lobby all dressed up.”
Curious to learn more about his moment of return, as well as how he got stunning cover shot, I caught up with him in the days before our 2019 List came out. Read on for the full interview.
Travel + Leisure: What did the reopening of Hôtel Lutetia mean to you?
François Coquerel: "I had been to Lutetia as a young kid, so it its reopening was to significant to me in a personal sense, but the hotel is also very much a part of the fabric of Paris and French history. The hotel was opened by the founders of Le Bon Marché department store, and many famous artists stayed here over the years, including Picasso and Josephine Baker. During World War II, the hotel housed Nazi officers, but after the liberation of Paris in 1944, Lutetia was a meeting place for Holocaust victims."
Did you recognize the property after its $234 million makeover? Did it live up to your memories?
"Very much so. Thankfully, the beautiful exterior has stayed the same, but the interiors are now modern and contemporary. That said, you can still feel the sense of history, especially in the Bar Joséphine, which has this incredible frescoed ceiling."
What about the rooms?
"The rooms are very stylish and cozy, with incredible views of Paris. In the room where we shot the cover, you had dead-on views of the Eiffel Tower. Even as a local, it was quite something."
What equipment did you use?
"I used a large format film camera. With film, the colors and details are just perfect, and the image has a softness to it, which felt fitting for the hotel."
Were there any challenges associated with getting the shot?
"The weather that day was overcast and foggy, so I quickly gave up hope of capturing the room with beautiful rays of light pouring in through the windows. But after taking a few shots and moving around the room, I actually grew to like the light. It felt much homier and cozy — like you could stay in bed all day long."