West Elm makes chic and not-quite-cheap home furnishings. Karl Lagerfeld makes to-die-for luxury fashion. What they have in common—both aim to be great hoteliers, and hope the pull of their respective brands is strong enough to attract loyalists and others to sleep and even live in spaces they have designed.
A growing number of brands are extending lifestyle branding to daily living with this proposition by opening their own hotels, residences—even retirement communities. This hospitable roster is unified by a desire to put the “life” in “lifestyle” brands. They’re creating experiences that transcend selling goods and services to enabling the ability to live, by the day or longer, in an immersive branded aesthetic and philosopy.
“People view brands as promises of an experience,” Larry Light, CEO of Arcature consultants, told the New York Times. Added Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, “You’re seeing companies begin to leverage themselves in ways that are really out of the box. They’re saying, ‘If I have a brand name that is pristine and prestigious and known by the wealthy, let’s see how I can leverage it across other product lines.'”
Hospitality may be the ultimate brand experience. “While staying at the hotel, the consumer—and guest in this case—is completely immersed in the brand in question,” author Constance Dunn told the South China Morning Post. “This sensory lifestyle experience has the power to cleave a consumer to a brand more potently than a glitzy handbag or bespoke blazer ever could. Remember that branding is not about the object itself, but our feelings attached to it.” Case in point:
Bulgari, the celebrated jeweler and luxury goods retailer, was a pioneer in the hotel business back in 2001, and operates branded hotels in Milan, London and Bali (above) in partnership with Marriott. Properties are also slated for Shanghai, Dubai, Moscow and Beijing.
Other luxe fashion brands turned hoteliers include Armani (with properties in Dubai and Milan), Versace (with hotels in Dubai and Australia’s Gold Coast) and designer Karl Lagerfeld, who’s opening his first hotel in Macau with plans for more properties worldwide. Versace is also planning a Macau hotel as a foothold in China.
As a press release notes, “KARL LAGERFELD Hospitality will translate Karl Lagerfeld’s vision and unique aesthetic into bespoke projects including hotels, residential properties, restaurants and private clubs. Each property will reflect Karl’s renowned, cutting-edge approach to style and signature touch that surpasses the boundaries of fashion alone.”
Nobu—the celebrity-loved eatery backed by actor Robert DeNiro and chef Nobu Matsuhisa—is expanding its brand in Toronto with a project that includes 660 condominium suites, a hotel and the first Nobu restaurant in Canada, housed in a double-towered complex just a sushi roll’s throw from the iconic CN Tower.
Home essentials brand Parachute Home invites guests to stay at its boho chic hotel above its textiles and linens store in Venice Beach, Calif., bringing its products and style to life, as seen in the bedroom above.
America’s upmarket Equinox gym chain is opening its first hotel in 2019. Located in New York City’s Hudson Yards development near the High Line, the hotel will include a 60,000-square-foot Equinox gym, the brand’s largest ever. Equinox also announced a Los Angeles location in 2019, part of its eventual goal of 79 hotels worldwide.
“The demand for fitness and high-performance living has never been greater, and we don’t see it slowing down,” Equinox CMO Carlos Becil told Condé Nast Traveler. “We polled our members and we received a 95% response rate that our members would be interested in staying at an Equinox hotel.”
And adding to the “sportspitality” trend, Equinox’s SoulCycle brand is planning its first hotel.
Expanding on its travel savvy, Virgin Hotels launched in the US in 2015, with only one property to date but a slew in the works. The first Virgin Hotel opened in Chicago, and a second property will open in San Francisco this year. Also in development: New Orleans; New York; Silicon Valley, CA; Nashville, TN; Palm Springs, CA; and Dallas, TX.
Another iconic British brand is coming to America as Aston Martin plans to open Aston Martin Residences in Miami in 2021. While not a hotel, aficionados can pay to live like James Bond in a fully-branded experience with a luxury condominium, beach club and marina—with Aston Martin yachts, of course.
Alternatively, luxury auto fans may prefer the Porsche Design Tower in Miami, which boasts an elevator to drive a car (or two) into your apartment.
Upmarket furniture retailer Restoration Hardware is working on a 14-room boutique hotel with its biggest RH Gallery retail space to date (replacing its current Fifth Avenue location) and restaurant in New York City’s Meatpacking district. The proposed redevelopment at 55 Gansevoort has had to scale back its architectural plan, but appears to be back on track.
Another furniture retailer, West Elm, is getting into the hotel business by opening branded properties in Savannah, Detroit and Minneapolis in 2018 with Oakland, CA, also in planning. “Where many retail brands have put the nail in their coffins is by opening too many stores,” West Elm President Jim Brett told the Wall Street Journal. In a big bet, West Elm is focusing on experience by showcasing its products in hotels rather than brick-and-mortar stores, with a mobile app creating a seamless cohesiveness.
“Everything is about that guest experience,” David Bowd, a principle at West Elm Hotels, told Conde Nast Traveler. “Our tagline has been whole-hearted hospitality.”
The brand “will offer the experience of a high-end boutique hotel and the pricing of a mid-market player,” Peter Fowler, vice president of hospitality and workspace for West Elm, told Bloomberg.
West Elm will specialize in the reuse of historic building and design elements by local artisans. Fowler told the publication that the rooms won’t feel like showrooms and that the hotels won’t sell a single West Elm product on-site; instead, hotel-related capsule collections will be available online.
At the more ubiquitous end of the home furnishings spectrum, the world’s biggest furniture retailer has its own hotel. The IKEA Hotel (the IKEA Hotell & Restaurang Värdshuset) is located in the center of Älmhult, Sweden, just across from the IKEA museum. Intended for visitors to the brand’s nearby global HQ, it’s open for the public and yes, it’s furnished with IKEA furniture—and no, you don’t unlock your room with an Allen Key.
Magnolia‘s Chip and Joanna Gaines’ have skyrocketed to fame, boosted by their hit HGTV series Fixer Upper. One of their TV remodeling projects was turned into The Magnolia House bed and breakfast, which sold out its six-month booking window in five minutes. Building on their Magnolia Homes real estate business that got them on TV in the first place, they have opened a complex based around “The Silos” in Waco, TX that includes a store, bakery, magazine and product lines. (Fans also search Airbnb and VRBO to stay in their TV show’s renovated houses.)
Disney has mastered the “come stay here” to “come live here” transition, from its theme park hotels and resorts (with a Star Wars-themed hotel now under consideration for Walt Disney World in Orlando) to its Golden Oak gated community that opened in 2011 as vacation homes and primary residences at the Walt Disney World Resort, where house prices start at $2 million. In the early 1990’s, Disney established Celebration, Florida, as a real-life branded town and master planned community before giving up control.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville brand is expanding from hospitality to retirement homes for its legions of Parrot Heads, with Latitude Margaritaville communities launching in Hilton Head, SC, and Florida’s Daytona Beach.
It makes sense—if you identify with a brand so strongly as to vacation in its hotels and resorts, why not spend your golden years in the branded community of your choice, whether that’s “searching for your lost shaker of salt” in Latitude Margaritaville—or (who knows) “Just Living It” in a real-life Niketown or iExisting in an Apple-branded smart complex?