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Feb / Mar 2011
Sublime Reincarnation

WRITER: Sara White Wilson

Le Royal Monceau, now part of the Raffles chain of hotels, can proudly credit its reincarnation to none other than the legendary designer Philippe Starck, who has, as Bespoke finds out, impregnated this icon of Paris with a stunning mix of culture and artistic ingenuity.


The evening of June 26th, 2008 – that heartily fell into the following morning – proved that Paris still knows how to party. The Demolition Party, held at Le Royal Monceau, was the quintessentially post-modern soirée: guests were handed workmen’s suits, mallets and hard hats then let loose toward the destruction of this legendary palace hotel. Massively childish fun and champagne consumption entailed as, amidst the debris, revellers likely passed Philippe Starck, the star designer who took the reigns of refashioning Le Royal Monceau towards its October 2010 reopening. 

“The highlight of the Demolition Party,” recalls Paris-based art critic Anna Sansom, “was Arne Quinze’s installation, which sprawled across the exterior facade and also descended from the banisters, like a foreign body invading the interior.” Celebrities such as Jude Law and Kanye West also attended one of the most enticing party concepts of late that became, finally, almost like a work of performance art itself. 

The destruction of Le Royal Monceau marked new beginnings. Swooped under the auspices of the Singaporean hotel group Raffles, Le Royal Monceau is the group’s first footing in Europe alongside 90 establishments holding court across the Middle East and Asia. With an influx of investment from its owner Qatari Diar, a relation of the Qatar Investment Authority, Le Royal Monceau received significant enhancement, while maintaining some of its more charmingly dated internal architecture – and its core identity as an old-world meeting place for cultural sophisticates. 

Opened in 1928, between two world wars, Le Royal Monceau is marked by the unique spirit of Paris in the 1930s, when artists came from around the world to share, create and relish in the city’s cultural awakenings – from the founding of Coco Chanel’s design studio to the wild dancing of Josephine Baker. Its rooms have hosted numerous historic events, such as the social and economic meetings held under the Third Republic. In 1947, Ho Chi Minh stayed at the hotel for seven weeks during the Conférence de Fontainebleau, which determined the future of the Franco-Vietnamese relationship, and in May 1948, David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir signed the act marking the creation of the state of Israel at the hotel. Other prestigious guests include Joseph Kessel, Walt Disney, the Maharajas of Indore and Cashmere, King Farouk of Egypt, and the Aga Khan.

Enter the reincarnated interior of Le Royal Monceau and you enter a modernist’s fun house, a cerebral world of subtle tricks. The vintage patina of the main lobby hovers about in amber-tones of yesteryear. A grand chandelier (remaining untouched from pre-demolition times) hangs above the main staircase with carefully arranged mirrored walls that offset Le Royal Monceau’s candelabra collection. At right, the Grand Salon harbours deep-seated couches alongside an entourage of an overwhelming amount of odd lamps – to such an extent one wonders if this was all a silly mistake, until one remembers it is just the interior gaming of Philippe Starck. The Grand Salon draws along toward the far, elevated yet private space of the bar, which maintains its original ceiling. A unique cocktail creation, The Mysterious Lady, is well worth the visit alone. 

Every detail in Le Royal Monceau’s new incarnation caters to the right hemisphere of the brain (the creative side) with narrative objects, classic books of literature haphazardly strewn on small tables as well as other surprising details such as duck feet gilded in white gold. A dynamic group of initiatives, over seen by Hervé Mikaeloff, aims to attract creativity as well as those who love to buy its works, in order to distinguish Le Royal Monceau as an art world magnet.

The hotel immediately launched a Young Photographers Competition and is well on its way to building an independent photography collection alongside. A resident artist, rotating every two years, acts as Artistic Director, curating everything from the musical ambiance throughout the hotel, to the art on guestroom walls and in the non-commercial gallery exhibition space called the “Art District”, as well as the cinema screening programme of the in-hotel movie theatre, Le Cinéma des Lumières. Subversively enchanting details never rest: some of the leather seats in the cinema are embroidered with Abel Gance’s famous saying: “Cinema is a sun in each image”. The hotel is engineered for press junkets to attract silver screen luminaries that will add to the roster of past starlets who have resided formerly here, including Romy Schneider, François Truffaut, Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly and more recently, Alain Delon, Robert de Niro, Madonna and Sofia Coppola.

And the art attack continues. Le Royal Monceau harbours La Librairie des Arts, an art bookstore stocking 700 publications including timely catalogues and tomes, and rare or out-of-print works. For those seeking direction, an art concierge is on hand to link the artistically thirsty to Paris’s cultural calendar, with tailor-made cultural packages. Paris’s most expansively curated and iconoclastic concept store, L’Eclaireur, also assumes retail rights with an in-hotel boutique space, “Le Royal Eclaireur” presenting design, art, clothing and jewellery, with a particular fetish for Fornesseti-style faces.

Lest one be confused about the actual purpose of the space, Le Royal Monceau harbours 84 rooms, a number reduced from its original 265 rooms in order to host the largest number of suites in Paris for a single hotel (54), and ten prestige apartments, many with private entrances and kitchens. The Spa, My Blend by Clarins, also boasts a 26-metre pool – the largest in a Paris luxury hotel. Le Royal Monceau is ideal for creative seclusion, inspiration and sharing, as a pied-à-terre for globetrotters who find inspiration from the ephemera around them - a Murano blown glass shell, an African mask, post cards, a leather trunk. Wherever history permits, rooms retain the presence of their predecessors. For example, the legendary Ray Charles once lived in suite 714, which now bears his name and features the photographs of Arlette Kotchounian, the one-time lover and mother of one of the twelve children fathered by the award-winning singer, composer and musician.

The redesign of Le Royal Monceau was a perfect project for Philippe Starck, delivering the Philippe Starck style in all its glory. “Subversive, ethical, ecological, political, humorous... this is how I see my duty as a designer,” this mega star inventor, architect, designer and artistic director has once declared. Le Royal Monceau joins a long list of other famed establishments at his behest such as Mama Shelter in Paris, the Royalton and Paramount Hotels in New York, Sanderson and St. Martin’s Lane Hotels in London, and Palazzina Grassi in Venice. Every room contains a guitar and a map of Paris, marked with his favourite places around town.

Lesser-known but equally important designers accent his style. The Parisian Prince of Pastry, Pierre Hermé, concocts all things sweet throughout the hotel, including, cleverly coloured, the popcorn served in Le Cinéma des Lumières. “I consider pastry to be Art with a capital ‘A’ in that it is a true mode of expression, on a par with music, painting and sculpture,” says Hermé. Alongside his famed macarons, he updates classic pastries such the Carrément Chocolat (a tender chocolate cake) and Tarte Infiniment Vanille as well as the Panacotta and Tiramisu for the Italian restaurant Il Carpaccio, where a specially commissioned fresco of shells by designer Thomas Boog offsets the gastronomic delights. 

Paris is well aware of its historical role as an artists’ haven. History can be heavy, however, and Le Royal Monceau is a prime example of taking the best of history, turning it on its head and launching into environments that invite fresh creative encounters, still imbued with the French spirit that strives toward the sublime.

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