Paris has no shortage of luxury hotels but even in this rarefied air, few convey luxury quite like the new Cheval Blanc, which opened on Sept. 7.
A show-stopping 100-foot infinity pool in the hotel’s basement level is one of the largest of any hotel in France; its deck is lined with digital panels that display animated illustrations of the Seine. The top-floor apartment, among the largest penthouses in Paris at 11,000 square feet, has its own 41-foot pool, projection space, and panoramic terrace.
In some ways the hotel feels as if it’s an extension of the gleaming, modern Fondation Louis Vuitton on the other side of town. Hundreds of contemporary works by both emerging and preeminent artists, including Sonia Delaunay, Ingrid Donat, and Frank Gehry, are displayed in airy monochromatic common areas, corridors, and guest rooms.
In others it feels as if you’re sleeping in LVMH Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault’s own version of Disney World. The company’s brands are everywhere: An alum of Parfums Christian Dior designed the in-room beauty amenities, and Chaumet and Tiffany & Co. jewels glisten in lobby windows.
But the biggest selling point at the Cheval Blanc Paris, where rooms start at about $1,500 per night, was inherited from the 1928 art deco building it occupies in the 1st arrondisement, near the Louvre: incredible views of the Seine from countless terraces and bay windows. The rival Peninsula hotel has balconies facing the Eiffel Tower, but they’re in only a few suites; at Cheval Blanc the riverscape dominates from almost every corner, the water so close it’s like floating magically above it.
The hotel’s opening—just in time for Paris Fashion Week—marks the finale on a 16-year, $900 million undertaking by LVMH to transform the historic Samaritaine department store complex. Now it’s a new kind of flagship for the parent company, combining the hotel’s 72 rooms and four restaurants with a high-end emporium that’s accessible from the street or a private hotel elevator.
In the years since the project began, the neighbourhood has shifted from high street shops and traffic jams to cultural cradle. In May the nearby Bourse de Commerce opened as a museum displaying the private contemporary art collection of François Pinault, lifelong rival to Arnault. Fondation Cartier has scooped up the old Louvre des Antiquaires building, three blocks from La Samaritaine, to rehouse its own art collection by the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Cheval Blanc, however, is the most immersive of these billionaire-driven projects. Throughout, staff sport elegant uniforms in matte wool, cotton pique, and poplin, all designed by Patou artistic director Guillaume Henry.
Among the restaurants is Plénitude, whose chef, Arnaud Donckele, hails from Cheval Blanc’s St-Tropez outpost. The Douglas fir-lined cellar stocks exceptional vintages of Dom Pérignon (P3 from 1969) and rare bottles of Château d’Yquem and Madeira, the oldest of which dates to 1870.
The rooms bear Cheval Blanc’s signature tone-on-tone aesthetic, with lots of expensive tweed and velvet, marble and stone. The rest is bolder. A pair of powder rooms by the Plénitude restaurant are treated as art installation spaces; the toilets are wrapped with colorful plywood work by multimedia artist Michael Watson. In the seventh floor brasserie, the retro red and yellow decor is theoretically Jasper Johns-inspired but smacks of an upscale McDonald’s. Whether you like them or not, Marino’s design choices add an element of surprise for people who think they’ve seen it all.
The hotel will give LVMH another way to reach beyond brand loyalists and court customers for whom experiences are worth more than any one bracelet or handbag. The company acquired Belmond, which boasts 46 luxury hotel, restaurant, train, and river cruise properties, for $3.2 billion in 2019.
But the reality, as Marino put it, is that few have the means to preserve the city’s architectural marvels—and even fewer from within French borders. “The other five-star hotels in Paris are owned by the Qataris, the Saudis, the Chinese, the Hong Kongers,” he says, referring to Le Royal Monceau and other icons. “This will be the only one owned by the French,” he says. “Long term, that matters.”
Article from Bloomberg
It seems that, for a while, the above ”review” compiled from Google and social media is the most you are going to read in quality media. Although all other LVMH Maisons boast impeccable media relations, Cheval Blanc has a very special status.
According to the LVMH website, it is stated LVMH Hotel Management, owned by LVMH, operates Cheval Blanc Maisons, with Olivier Lefebvre being mentioned as CEO. In 2020, LVMH released a statement announcing that Andrea Guerra (ex. Luxottica, Eataly) takes over as CEO of Cheval Blanc and Belmond, ”overseeing” Fendi and Loro Piana – two of the luxury fashion Maisons of the LVMH portfolio. To add to the confusion, Belmond also has a second CEO, Roeland Vos.
While Guerra and Lefebvre have no previous experience with luxury hotels, Roeland Vos is a luxury hospitality industry veteran. While Cheval Blanc (Est. 2007) owns and operates 4 resort hotels, Belmond operates luxury hotels, train services and river cruises worldwide. In 2016, the company had 35 deluxe hotels, 7 tourist trains, 3 river cruises and restaurants in 22 countries.
One would think that quality luxury business media such as CPP would be an ideal communications and awareness channel, fact which was confirmed in 2019 when LVMH provided CPP with an exclusive interview by Mr Lefebvre. In the meantime, ahead of the Cheval Blanc Paris opening, to compensate the lack of experience of the two CEOs, Christian Boyens was hired and appointed ”Head of Operations Urban Hotels” – Paris being the only urban hotel of the brand. Boyens was previously General Manager of the RITZ Paris and General Manager, position which he held for over 8 years – during which, he graciously hosted CPP for a professional review.
After publishing 14 articles in the 3 years preceding the opening of Cheval Blanc Paris, we approached the property to enquire about a media stay which would allow for a comprehensive review based on a 360 degree experience (CPP’s Review section includes over 270 luxury hotel reviews in 13 years). After several days of delay, we received a blunt, brief and arrogant response (including spelling mistakes) from a Senior PR that, as a huge exception we could be invited for a treatment at the Spa – which we promptly declined – stressing that CPP is not a blog and myself, I am not a blogger / vlogger / influencer seeking a free meal, spa treatment or accommodation to entertain friends. Our emails copied the entire senior team of LVMH Hotel Management and Cheval Blanc.
But what about the other Cheval Blanc Maisons? Each is one of the finest in their destination. For years, Cheval Blanc Courchevel, the first opening) was an ideal ”multi-brand” showcase for LVMH brands. During the high season, the hotel would host fashion shows (more like trunk shows) of various LVMH brands and there would even be a calendar for the much coveted shows. It is probably by coincidence that Cheval Blanc Paris already hosted, in less than 2 months from opening, an installation of Louis Vuitton Objets Nomades (home collection) in one of the Signature suites of the hotel.
So, here is our ”remote” review :
- the location is far from prestigious, in an average neighbourhood of Paris (Avenue Montaigne, Faubourg St Honore or Place Vendome seem to be in another city)
- the hotel is indeed nothing but a ”toy” for Mr Arnault, impeccably described by Bloomberg as the ”Disney World” of Bernard Arnault
- Peter Marino has been a ”house designer” for retail fashion stores for various LVMH brands, so why not hire him to design a hotel?
- Peter Marino’s quote by Bloomberg about the other luxury hotels as being owned by Qataris (Le Royal Monceau, The Peninsula Paris), the Saudis (Le Crillon Rosewood, Four Seasons George V), the Chinese, the Hong Kongers (Mandarin Oriental) – but aren’t these among the finest established luxury hotels in Paris?
- Marino forgot to mention the other foreign owned hotels – Egyptian (Ritz Paris) German (Le Bristol), Brunei (Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Le Meurice)
- Dior already operates a superb Spa, elevated at ”Institut Dior” at Hôtel Plaza Athénée
- Digital installations, ondulating glass facade, indoor infinity pool, an original brasserie which resembles a McDonald’s, an the franchise of Italian restaurant Langosteria (casual Italian cuisine restaurant), bathroom amenities by Dior….But what about SERVICE?
- what about comfort? – bedding, in-room technology, lighting, shower water pressure, sound-proofing
- what about Covid-19 safety & hygiene measures at the hotel?
- luxury is about humbleness, care, kindness and respect
Without any doubt, Cheval Blanc Paris has more positives than negatives, especially considering the exceptionally talented luxury hospitality professionals who are part of its team, many with extensive experience at other established luxury hotels.
There is nothing wrong for a wealthy iconic businessman and entrepreneur such as Bernard Arnault to own a ”toy”. After-all Mr Arnault commands immense praise and respect for reviving so many luxury fashion brands and for building an empire where some of the world’s top luxury brands have been thriving. The LVMH empire has been investing tremendously in people – reviving crafts, investing in nurturing talent, creativity and innovation, investing in education and the arts, and so much more.
Oliver Petcu, not in Paris
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