The majestic Hotel de Crillon in Paris reopens after four years of renovations, creating buzz about the design steeped in modernity yet paired with the building’s 18th century roots.
Faced with increasingly stiff competition in recent years from neighbours the Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-la and The Peninsula piloted by Asian groups, the Hotel de Crillon was under growing pressure to refurbish its fading interiors, just like the Plaza Athenee and the Ritz Paris did. So the establishment – it is said that queen Marie Antoinette took piano lessons here – located in the Place de la Concorde in Paris overlooking the Obelisk of Luxor announced in 2012 that it would close its doors. Its owner, Saudi Prince Mutaib Abdullah Abdulaziz Al Saud, called on architect Richard Martinet and artistic director Aline Asmar d’Amman of Lebanon- and Paris-based agency Culture in Architecture to lead the facelift, with Hong Kong’s Rosewood Hotels & Resorts managing it.
Rather than a straightforward restoration of the hotel that’s housed in a historic building – its facade was designed by the Petit Trianon architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel – Aline orchestrated a modernisation where history is aligned with the 21st century. The building was commissioned in 1754 by King Louis XV, and became the former residence of the Duke de Crillon in later years.
Aline enlisted the help of four designers: Tristan Auer, Chahan Minassian, Cyril Vergniol and Karl Lagerfeld. The opulence remains but the feeling is entirely contemporary and vibrant. Taking the stiffness and formality out of the traditional five-star experience, the Crillon feels more like a private home rather than a hotel, complete with fresh flowers by Djordje Varda (the florist behind Pippa Middleton’s nuptials) and interior fragrances by Parisian soapmaker and perfumer Buly.
Known for designing furniture, residences and hotels like Paris’ Les Bains and Cotton House on Mustique Island, Tristan transformed the former reception space into a peaceful haven with a concierge area, and introduced a cigar lounge covered in papyrus leaves evoking cigar wrappers by their texture and colour. He also included in the space a hairdressing salon featuring an alcove lined with peacock and black feathers; a men’s grooming salon helmed by La Barbiere de Paris, France’s first female barber; and a shoeshine area housing 1960s’ Aston Martin seats that reference the decorator’s passion for cars.
The engraved mirrored glass lifts are crafted by specialists Arizio. A boudoir for tasting extremely rare spirits in the brown and auburn tones of cognacs and Armagnacs comes with a star-studded, fireworksmotif domed ceiling created by French artisans in gold leaf, palladium leaf and acrylic paint; while the casual Brasserie d’Aumont is designed with woven rattan seats and an undulating rosewood bar.
The interiors come with bespoke furniture, objects and furnishings crafted by France’s best artisans.
The hotel’s facade was designed by the Petit Trianon architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel.
Each area of the hotel exudes a different feel, yet all of them offer the same level of opulence and elegance.
The men’s grooming salon helmed by La Barbiere de Paris, France’s first female barber.
with Tristan Auer
Describe your design language.
I consider myself to be a tailor who designs bespoke interiors. For this reason, I like to explore and use all the tools available to carry out a project. I never limit myself and like to push boundaries. I am passionate about l’art de vivre, and, being French, I have a lot to say.
Tell me about your creative process on this project.
The Hotel de Crillon is not a hotel in Paris, but a Parisian hotel. This changes the rules of the game and forces us to set the bar high, to live this place as a destination unlike any other, where guests discover surprises step after step that enchant them and hold them captive. I wanted to keep, respect and enhance the personality of one of the most iconic hotels in the world and gently turn it towards the 21st century. The most important thing was the flow: to create a good rhythm between the areas, creating sequences and strong emotions during one’s stay – exactly as a movie director does. Public spaces are important because people expose themselves; it is like being on stage. I designed them to make guests feel beautiful and to encourage the social aspect. Working with the other designers was easy as we were friends before the project and Aline d’Amman ensured coherence among all of us. She was a key element of the success.
How did you take into account the architecture of the building when doing the interior design?
The building and its history formed the basis of my inspiration. I listened very carefully to what it told me. I did some research on the original 1909 layout and decor, and used it to build the progression from the very classic entrance to the very modern far end of the hotel.
Which are the materials, customised furniture or special design elements that stand out in particular?
This is a hospitality project I designed with a residential philosophy. I used a large range of unique, bespoke materials, developed only for me. True luxury is something made to measure. Ninety-five per cent of my design for the hotel is bespoke. I would like to highlight the richness of the 120 pieces of furniture I designed and the 330 materials I used in 28 areas. Some of the finishes were used 500 years ago, and I found the rarest craftsmen who could recreate them today. This project took four years of my life.
While Tristan has injected a pure and refined yet warm aesthetic, Chahan’s signature use of rich materials shines through in other areas.
He even breathed new life into the hotel’s 1973 Citroen DS courtesy car in luminous and chic Parisian grey, and launched a bespoke haute couture car “tailoring” business personalising vehicles from A to Z.
While Tristan has injected a pure and refined yet warm aesthetic, Chahan’s signature use of rich, mineral and textured materials shines through in other areas. The extravagant, gold-hued, allmirror, marble and frescoed Les Ambassadeurs bar mesmerises with its cloudy blue sky-painted ceiling, a chandelier composed of patinated and folded brass and bronze sheets, sofas in grey crushed velvet, and tabletops inlaid with slices of agate. Finedining restaurant L’Ecrin led by chef Christopher Hache features aged patinated mirrors, Murano glass sconces, and furniture in gypsum and rock crystal hues. A magnificent, curving white Corian staircase and stucco corridor lead to the spa abounding with marble, Venetian plaster and mirrors in shades of cream, gold, aqua and turquoise that confer a seaside atmosphere.
However, the piece de resistance is the brand-new indoor linear swimming pool. It’s lined with 17,600 gold leaf, molten glass fish-scale mosaic tiles applied by hand that are surrounded by celadon ceramic sculptural walls punctuated by large gold-flecked pearls by American artist Peter Lane. Dug two stories underground, it is illuminated by natural light flooding in through a glass roof from the groundlevel Gabriel courtyard designed by famed landscape architect Louis Benech.
Using 600 materials (including 40 types of marble) decorated in a palette of greige, blue or brown, Cyril updated the 124 guest rooms and suites with furniture like 1950s’ silkupholstered armchairs, soft rugs and specially curated board games and coffee-table books to give a homely feeling.
As Karl is an 18th-century decorative arts expert, he is particular apt in combining historical elements with a French art de vivre aesthetic, and was entrusted with decorating two Les Grands Appartements suites and an adjacent room that he devoted to his Birman mascot, Choupette, complete with black-and-white carpeting inspired by cat scratches.
The suites showcase textured grey walls that are made up of nine layers of paint, with touches of iridescent mother-of-pearl, referencing the silvery light of Paris. He personally chose each crystal for the dining-room chandelier, and original sinks from the Chateau de Versailles were placed in the powder room. Concerned with how guests would interact with the furniture, he custom-made a white couch in the living area to guarantee the ideal curvature for a woman’s frame.
As the Crillon’s owner is an avid art collector, the entire hotel is filled with 1,000 original artworks from his collection, curated by London-based Fru Tholstrup. Cesar’s giant thumb in Baccarat crystal and British artist Kate MccGwire’s Tussle made from pheasant feathers resembling intertwining serpents are in the lobby; Annie Morris’ Stack 9 Copper Blue totem in pigmented metal, concrete, plaster and sand greets visitors at the entranceway; and celebrated photographer Cecil Beaton’s black-and-white prints of famous personalities, such as Alberto Giacometti and Coco Chanel, delight diners in the Brasserie d’Aumont.
In three listed heritage salons with 6m-high ceilings, oversized paintings commissioned from French artist Laurent Grasso portray battle scenes imbued with the artist’s language weaving science, history, mythology and supernatural phenomena.
Les Ambassadeurs bar mesmerises with its cloudy blue sky-painted ceiling.
While some rooms are ornately decorated, others are kept simple and sophisticated.
Tiles that were laid by hand adorn the walls of the new indoor linear swimming pool.
Guests are welcome to lounge in any of the hotel’s grand open spaces.
As the Crillon’s owner is an avid art collector, the entire hotel is filled with 1,000 original artworks from his collection.
Close to the heart of the city, the hotel offers unobstructed views of Paris’ most iconic landmark.
Immaculate detailing adorn every inch of surface in the hotel.
The grand setting of the hotel suites evokes a sense of redolent splendour.
The spacious marble-clad bathroom gives more than just privacy, it’s almost a space for a personal retreat.
text Y-JEAN MUN-DELSALLE