White in the heart of the City of Light
A cluster of young Asian women breeze up to the reception desk of the new Mandarin Oriental in Paris. A blur of Louis Vuitton, they are presumably on a shopping trip. Even while checking in, they're already asking the concierge for tips on the hottest boutiques nearby.
The Mandarin Oriental is located in the heart of the Rue Saint-Honore - arguably Paris' most famous shopping street. It has a sleek, urban design and calculated touches that convey an haute couture sensibility. The hotel is perfect for those who want to spend a sojourn in a hotel predicated on modern glamour rather than the ornate classicism of, say, the Hotel George V.
Since its opening in August, the hotel has acquired all the cachet of a well-kept secret. Early guests included actress Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and violinist Vanessa-Mae. The word around town is that the hotel's head concierge, Julien Brunel, can make anything happen. A recent request involved a birthday party on a yacht with special lighting to match the guest's favourite colour. He had a birthday message lasered onto a building close to the Seine.
The hotel's spa - close to 10,000 sq ft of majesty - is a favourite of LVMH honcho Bernard Arnault, who apparently drops in after a hard day's wheeling and dealing.
The hotel took four years to complete. It was an annexe of the Ministry of Justice, and the only thing retained from the original structure is the 1928 facade. Four design experts were assigned to create different aspects: architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte; interior designer Sybille de Margerie, who worked on the lobby, spa and rooms; and the team of Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku for the restaurants and bar. The result is as eclectic as it is luxurious. Maison Lesage, the 130-year-old Parisian embroidery studio that creates embellishments for all the major couture homes, forged its first collaboration with a hotel.
A large framed fan - the hotel's symbol - on the wall was inspired by the 1930s. It required 200 hours of hand-sewing and consists of velvet, pearlised leather, tiny pearls, vintage sequins and brilliant butterflies. Renderings of the insect are everywhere. They are delicately engraved on the floor and there's a video projection of them fluttering above the indoor Romanesque pool.
The Lesage touch in the lobby is one of a few strategically positioned alliances between the hotel and the world of fashion. Man Ray photos adorn walls in some of the 138 rooms and suites in the eight-storey hotel, and newspaper racks shaped like hefty fashion magazines are a fun touch.
The hotel has collaborated on special fashion events, including a recent trunk show with Roberto Cavalli. Arrangements have been made for the fashion and jewellery boutiques nearby to stay open after hours for busy guests and bring their wares to show to guests in-house.
Some rooms are decked in shimmering pale gold fabrics, others done in modernistic grey and fuchsia. The Coromandel Suite has a full-sized kitchen with a wine cellar stocked with Dom Perignon and an elaborate espresso machine.
Animal portraitist Thierry Bisch, who once worked for fashion designer Thierry Mugler, has created a canvas portrait for the Suite Royale Mandarin. Works by French-Vietnamese photographer Jean-Baptiste Huynh are scattered around the duplex. A large square alabaster bar is for entertaining and the terrace is fitted with all-white furniture. The suite has a private gym, office, silk carpets, a massive Buddha's head in the living room and Lesage embroidery, for about Euro20,000 (HK$205,000) a night.
In the courtyard garden, which opened this month, guests can order from the restaurant Camelia and Bar 8. The bar has become something of a hot spot. Its walls are covered in Lalique crystal, and the centrepiece is a nine-tonne stone bar made of one single piece. The rest of the bar area had to be built around it.
The main restaurant, Sur Mesure, is overseen by chef Thierry Marx. It has a space-age look with an all-white interior. There are no white tablecloths or place settings, so the diners can focus on the food. Shellfish mousse with caviar crostini, deconstructed fennel, pressed foie gras and smoked eel appear on the menu. The restaurant seats no more than 40.
Even the women's toilet is a sensory experience, taking you from the pure white in the dining room to dramatic scarlet. It's another memorable fashion moment.
We'll always have paris
251 Rue Saint-Honore, 1st Arrondissement, Paris
Tel: +33 (1) 70 98 78 88
Room rates start at HK$11,000 a night.
How to get there
Air France flies non-stop to Paris daily; fares start at HK$8,850 (including taxes).