INN Style: Because fashion is a lifestyle, luxury brands are increasingly getting into the hotel game

Luxury shoppers and travellers today are craving experiences that go beyond simple products and services. Taking strategic steps outside their boutiques, fashion brands have found the perfect combination to satisfy both their growth and customer demand by projecting a whole lifestyle. The smartest among the fashion-forward companies have already entered the hotel industry, including Armani and Versace; the Italian duo recently expanded their portfolios by opening properties in Dubai and Macau respectively. French luxury goods behemoth, LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, has also announced its ambitions in the hospitality industry. In fact, company CEO Michael Burke revealed that Louis Vuitton’s Paris headquarters will be converted into a hotel and shopping centre.

The overlapping between fashion and hospitality is far from uncharted territory, but travelling comfortably forward, this year’s crop of entrants seems particularly well-positioned to not only succeed but potentially scale up. Although specifics of the Louis Vuitton hotel project have not yet been disclosed, LVMH is no newbie to the world of upscale hospitality. The conglomerate’s holdings include: the upscale travel company Belmond, which manages more than 30 hotels; the luxury jewellery, accessory and hotel brand Bulgari; and the Cheval Blanc luxury hotel chain as well as the famed winery.

Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, a division of Bulgari established in 2001 thanks to a partnership with Marriott International, has a strong presence in the market. Indeed, it may be the fashion world’s most successful hotel venture to date. The brand currently has outposts in Milan, London, Dubai, Bali, Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, Moscow and Tokyo, with Rome to open this month and Miami, the Maldives and Los Angeles in the pipeline.

Executive Vice-President of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts Silvio Ursini highlights that Bulgari’s long-established association with beauty, exclusivity and glitz contributes to the hotel concept’s longevity. “As a luxury brand, we know how to pamper and build a true relationship with our customers,” he says, adding that business across the portfolio has remained robust in recent years, thanks to increased demand for “ultraluxe experiences”.

The Bulgari properties also function as great showrooms for the company’s jewellery and accessories. Each has a few Bulgari items on show in the lobby, and some, like the ones in Shanghai, Dubai, and Paris, also include a retail store. “A hotel guest dedicates at least one or two days, if not more, to their stay and has more time to observe and choose a piece,” notes Ursini.

Indulgent Elegance

Attention to the smallest details and touches is what fashion is all about. Luxury products offer a certain level of excellence, from the tortoiseshell buttons that adorn our winter coats to the finely built bags we can’t live without. This kind of indulgent elegance, which includes chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces, breathtaking views and culinary creativity, is what draws tourists every year to the top fashion designer hotels in the world, especially at a time when luxury becomes more accessible and diverse. Needless to say, stays at popular traditional hotel chains won’t feel the same once you experience the high-end designer holiday sensation.

These expansion approaches are key to the success of luxury brands. The upscale hotel experience allows them to be closer to their target segment, while the cache of owning five-star properties around the world elevates their brand even further.

Beyond Haute Couture

Two decades after the first luxury fashion brand ventured into luxury hospitality – with Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast of Australia claiming that landmark breakthrough in 2000 – the past few years have also demonstrated that haute couture isn’t the only door into hotels. High-profile companies in the likes of publishing and furniture design have made their own excursions into the hotel industry, frequently with the intention of bringing their brand equity and aesthetics with them.

Swiss watch company Audemars Piguet has been luring tourists to its hometown of Le Brassus in the country’s Vallée de Joux region. The company debuted Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in the summer of 2020, then opened the 50-room Hôtel des Horlogers next door two years later – the name translates literally as “the watchmakers’ hotel”.

In collaboration with luxury management company Marugal, footwear icon Christian Louboutin opened a boutique hotel and restaurant this spring. A long-time favourite vacation spot for the designer, the town of Melides on Portugal’s Alentejo coast is home to the 13-key Hotel Vermelho.

France’s fashion publishing giant, Elle, made waves in spring 2022 with the announcement of two hospitality brands. The 25-room Maison Elle collection premiered in Paris’s 17th Arrondissement recently. Its resort division, Elle Hotel, is scheduled to launch this summer with a beach property in Jalisco, Mexico.

La Maison Fragonard, created in Arles by Agnès and Françoise Costa, scions of the century-old perfume business, and Paris-based design company Ateliers Saint-Lazare, added a little extra fragrance to Provence last summer. Its six rooms are above a ground-floor boutique selling clothing, houseware and perfume including the newest Fragonard release, Belle d’Arles.

Lastly, leading US luxury home brand RH has expanded into hospitality via the opening of the RH Guesthouse in New York City. The 1887 structure, a cosy distance from RH’s Meatpacking District showroom, has nine rooms and suites decorated in Italian travertine and white oak, as well as a restaurant and a basement caviar bar. Its top attraction – literally – though is a huge draw in New York: a rooftop pool.

From Hotel to Retail

Back here at home, the luxury brand and hospitality collaboration trend continues as Rosewood owner and Chief Executive Sonia Cheng plans to transform the luxury hotel and resort Text: Joseff Musa group into a fully-fledged lifestyle brand within three to five years. “[This new direction is] about the attitude we’re seeing and what our guests are interested in, and being able to engage with them,” says Joanna Gunn, Chief Brand Officer of Rosewood Hotel Group. Before joining the company in May 2020 after two decades in the luxury retail sector, her most recent post was at Hong Kong’s iconic department store, Lane Crawford.

Brand-hotel partnerships will only grow in importance as the latter place more emphasis on their role as “staycation” destinations. Beyond international travel, luxury hotels have become places of entertainment outside of the home. How sweet it is to be living the suite life!

Summer travel on the cards? Luxury hotels to book around the world

As Hong Kong continues to ease down travel and quarantine restrictions for vaccinated people, the first wave of intrepid travellers are desperate to get on a plane and make up for the lost time. We totally relate to the wanderlust!

Hotel staycations in the city can only satiate our travel bug to an extent; absolutely nothing compares to the luxury of a long-haul vacation with loved ones in tow. If you can jet off to a luxurious retreat this summer, our selection of gorgeous hotels will tick all the right boxes for your travel bucket list. But if you can’t holiday just yet… dream now, lock it later?

1. The Brando, French Polynesia

If the mermaids can’t sing for me here, Christ, they never will – Marlon Brando

If heaven had an address, it would be here. It’s the kind of destination where you’ll have to pinch to remind yourself that you’re still on the same planet. 
Breathtakingly beautiful azure lagoons, white sand, pristine natural beauty, awe-inspiring marine diversity in one of the most eco-friendly, exclusive, luxury retreats in the world. The destination is in complete harmony with nature and a favourite escape of celebrities like, Leonardo Di Caprio, Bradley Cooper, Kim Kardashian, Ellen Degeneres and Barack Obama. 
Legendary actor and director, Marlon Brando fell for the charms of this island in French Polynesia during the 1960 filming of Mutiny on the Bounty. He purchased it in 1966-67 and today the island is dedicated to preserving its gorgeous remoteness. Brando had the most idyllic description for this paradise, “Tetiaroa is beautiful beyond my capacity to describe. It is really beyond the capacity of cinematography to translate. One could say that Tetiaroa is the tincture of the South Seas.”
The retreat has been awarded the LEED Platinum certification for its carbon neutrality, that’s the mother of all environmental awards. It’s the pinnacle of eco-tourism, otherworldly in its beauty and slower-pace of life. 
Price: Ranges from approximately HK$ 18,000 – HK$ 60,000 per night
More details here.

2. Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort, Hawaii 

An upscale wellness haven on Hawaii’s last unspoilt island

Aloha, Hawaii!

The ultra luxe resort is the brainchild of tech billionaire and Oracle’s co-founder, Larry Ellison. He doesn’t just own a home in Lanai, he owns 98% of the island! 

The tech titan fell in love with the island in 2012, splurged US$ 300 to buy it off, flipped the town and this resort into a sustainability experiment giving the world an eco-friendly, upscale, luxury wellness retreat. And he spent just over half a billion dollars in doing so. Ellison moved full-time to the island during the COVID-19 pandemic and runs his billion-dollar behemoth from the Hawaiian paradise via “the power of Zoom”. Talk about work-life balance!

The resort is one of the most expensive locations in all of Hawaii. Stay here and dip into the whimsical five-star slice of paradise, immerse in the local culture and enjoy all the fun activities you can dream of. The aim of the retreat is to help people “live longer, healthier lives” by improving their sleep quality, increasing activity, elevating nutrition and making each guest feel like the only one at the resort. 
Price: Upwards of HK$ 30,000 per night
More details here.

3. Kudadoo Private Island, Maldives

Sanctuary of serenity!

The Indian Ocean paradise is re-opening its borders to tourists once again and we cannot wait to drown our post COVID-blues in their crystal-clear, turquoise waters. No one does water villas better than Maldives and the Kudadoo Island resort (couples-only) is touted as one of the few all-inclusive, eco-friendly spa destination’s in the world. 

 Accessible by a 40-minute picturesque private seaplane, the island is located atop an aquamarine lagoon in northern Lhaviyani and runs on the philosophy of ‘Freedom Reimagined’. A 24*7 personal butler is available to assist with all your needs as you soak in the magical beauty of the island. Delicious food and magnificent service will ensure a memorable experience which captures the senses; all this while you tread lightly on the environment. How cool is that!
Price: Upwards of HK$ 25,000 per night
More details here.


 4. Segera Retreat, Kenya

Very private and very exclusive retreat in the foothills of Mt Kenya

A holiday here is guaranteed to be one of the most unusual resort experiences of your life!

Segera Retreat is an opulent wildlife lodge in the shape of a ‘Bird’s Nest’ just north of the Equator in Kenya. Dedicated to conservation, decorated with a range of contemporary African art, the retreat houses eight luxury villas in a private game reserve of 50,000-acres of arid and savannah landscapes. Each villa, an epitome of sophistication, captures the charms of Africa. The whole project is fully sustainable, runs on solar energy and is 100% vegan – meaning, there’s no shred of leather or any animal by-product used in the construction or interiors. 

The idea behind the unique bird’s nest design was to create an immersive sleep-in-the-bushes kind of an experience for the traveller. They put the ‘nest’ at a height to avoid the threat of wildlife. Sunsets here are otherworldly – the glorious nights spent under the stars, the silence interrupted only by the fluttering of birds, hooting owls, grunting lions and trumpeting elephants – makes for an unparalleled, ethereal stay. 
Price: Upwards of HK$ 18,000 per night
More details here.


5. Zaya Nurai Island, UAE 

The hotel gives you a front-row to UAE’s five-star hospitality

Beautiful and balmy, laid-back beach vibes, super-sized UAE palatial splendour, and dining which indulges your senses. Did we just describe a place in the desert or a heavenly retreat in the midst of Pacific? Well, UAE is a haven for extravagant travel and you can’t go wrong with this plush-paradise.
The island-resort is a short 12-minute boat ride from Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. The jaw-dropping views, stunning garden scapes and five-star hospitality will have you pampered in opulent villas, infinity pools and an exclusive sea-facing spa. A traveller’s dream, this destination is for beach lovers who prefer a dash of style and sophistication to a spartan way of living. 
Price: Upwards of HK$ 18,000 per night
More details here.

Head Baa Man

Syed Asim Hussian, Co-Founder of Black Sheep, Hong Kong’s most intriguing F&B chain, talks to Gafencu about the success of his restaurants and his role in it.

With your family already successful Hong Kong restaurateurs, did you always feel destined for the hospitality sector?

I have always felt like that. This business is in my blood and in my bones. My brother and I started working in my father’s restaurant when he was just 12 and I was just 11. Even at that age, I knew this business was all about looking after your customers and that’s always been how I’ve seen it. While outsiders often seem to think the restaurant business is all about fine wine, beautiful people and virtuoso music performances, it’s really not. It’s about you coming to my house, and me taking good care of you. If I look after you well, then you’re going to come back.

Black Sheep
Black Sheep Restaurants Co-Founder Syed Asim Hussain

At university, you studied finance and international relations, rather than anything hospitality-focused. Was that a deliberate move?

If I’m honest, finance was a sort of a mistake, I fell into it because my university was primarily known for its business and engineering programs. As I had no aptitude for engineering, I naturally gravitated toward the business school. As to international relations, well that was more out of personal interest. To this day, global affairs and international politics continue to fascinate me and I still read every issue of The Economist from cover to cover.

After graduating, you worked in New York as banker. How did that experience shape your subsequent career?

Well, as I graduated in 2007, the financial crisis hit its height not long after I started work and banks were soon looking at cutting staff numbers. As I really didn’t want to be fired from my first job, I decided then that I had to be the best at everything I did – even if that meant, sometimes, being the best bagel runner. That is, basically, how I survived at the bank.

There was, however, something interesting happening in the restaurant world at about the same time. The traditional 7pm-11pm fine dining market was stagnating and people were just not spending as much on eating out as they used to. This, of course, was partly down to the fact that banks and consultancies had slashed their entertainment budgets. As a result, though, you started to see a number of restaurants emerging where the emphasis was on providing great value for money. I was on the sidelines of this but couldn’t help thinking what a great concept it was, while wondering if the concept could be replicated in my own home city.

This is what then led you to co-found Black Sheep Restaurants?

While I knew I was going to return to Hong Kong and test out this new idea, initially I had no intention of launching out on my own. My plan was to come back and relearn all the things I thought I needed to know. This led me to take up an apprenticeship with a prominent Hong Kong restaurant group and that was my life for about 18 months.

Although I had a vision of how I wanted to progress from there, for quite a while things failed to fall into place. I was then fortunate enough to meet Chris Mark, the guy who ultimately became my business partner. During our first encounter, he was actually quite disparaging towards me, even going as far as telling me he had lost money when he had bet I wouldn’t continue my apprenticeship after the first day. After that, though, we seemed to click and we soon realised we shared many similar ideas and had a similar approach to business. The rest, as they say, is history.

Black Sheep

Black Sheep seems to pride itself on its embrace of a wide range of different cuisines, so how do you ensure they all remain authentic?

Honestly? We don’t try to. We have a creative resource, which is Chris and myself, that’s a blend of nostalgia, curiosity and pure fantasy. Whenever we try new things, it’s always that creative well we draw on. I also think that ‘authentic’ is something of a dangerous concept in this particular business. While we may have travelled to the home regions of many of the cuisines we have on offer, what we serve up is our interpretation of the various dishes and cooking styles we have encountered.

How do you gauge which particular dishes will be to the taste of Hong Kong diners?

I don’t. And I don’t much care either. We try to stay well away fads and short-term trends. We want to produce a menu that stands the test of time. Truly great restaurants are passed from one generation to the next and we hope that, long after we’re gone, Black Sheep will still be around.

Black Sheep

Are there any prospective Black Sheep projects that you’re free to talk about?

The plan, right now, is to open six new sites in Hong Kong in the coming months, as well as one in Europe. That’s all I can really say right now. My hope, though, is that another explosive year is on the cards for the Black Sheep family.

What do you think is the biggest misconception diners have with regard to how the restaurant industry works?

I think, with the rise of social media where you eat, as well as where you shop, have all becomes part of people’s individual brand. Sometimes, though, people fail to understand that a passion for consuming something is not the same as having a passion for a particular business sector. Essentially, loving to drink coffee is very different to being passionate about selling coffee.

Black Sheep

How have the long hours affected your personal life? Was it difficult to meet someone who tolerated the demands your business had on your time?

Basically, you have no personal life. We’ve been successful because we’ve sacrificed everything for the business. If you want a personal life or want to be able to take time off whenever you feel like it, then this is not the industry for you and nor are you likely to create a truly great company.

Finally, what other advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

The first thing I’d say is that it’s a mad pursuit and you have to be a little bit crazy to choose it as a way of life. Secondly, if you feel you have to ask for advice, then you’re too normal and you probably shouldn’t be doing this. Beyond that, true excellence lies in doing everything – even the smallest of things – correctly and consistently. It isn’t being a ‘nine’ one-day and ‘three’ the next, it’s about being at least a‘7.5’ every day.

Thank You

Text: Bailey Atkinson

Staycation Series: Serene spacation at Mandarin Oriental, Macau

At first impression, Mandarin Oriental, Macau, looks somewhat dwarfish in proportion to the other never-ending stretch of hotels that dot the Macau skyline. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in style. Blending chic modernity with subtle inspirations from the city’s Portuguese legacy, every nook and corner evokes a unique style, that is no doubt soothing to the thousands of globetrotters who enter its premises.

Mandarin Oriental

It is this sense of serenity that pervades to the rooms as well. Thanks to its advantageous waterfront locations, most of the rooms at Mandarin Oriental, Macau, afford views of the bay or the lake. The interiors too are suitably plush with state-of-the-art amenities being enhanced by subtle Oriental design elements. However, it was the personal touches such as a handwritten welcome note, a souvenir bookmark, the refreshing drinks, that really stayed with us.

Personalisation seems to be a key element not just in the rooms, but also in their rightfully acclaimed spa. Awarded by Forbes Travel Guide with a five-star rating for eight consecutive years since 2012, what sets them apart is their plethora of services and bespoke counselling. Upon entering, we were guided to a consultation about what services we would require for alleviating any particular kind of stress. We chose Oriental Essence massage with rose and ylang-ylang oil for a de-stressing experience. As expected, the masseur was skillful enough, but what we appreciated even more was her open communication throughout the process. Guests looking for something steeped in Chinese culture may also choose the Macanese Dragon Experience, a two-hour treatment that combines a stimulating body scrub with lymphatic body massage using “Bao-Ding” meditation balls. For a more Western style of spa experience, choose the two-hour Spices of Portugal treatment that highlights a relaxing head massage using exotic Portuguese spice infusion followed by a gentle cleansing body exfoliation and a soothing hot-stone full body massage with essential oils of ginger, black pepper and rosemary. The spa’s extensive menu has a range of other holistic treatments from deep detox to beauty repairs.

Mandarin Oriental spa

In fact, for guests checking in on 11 December, Mandarin Oriental has a very special spa experience planned, called the Silent Night. As the name suggests, on this one night only, after 5pm there will be no talking and no music within the Group’s spas to instill a sense of peace in the spa users. This initiative aims to promote mental and physical wellness, establishing a healthy and digitally balanced lifestyle for guests.

Suitably pampered, it’s natural for thoughts to turn towards matters more gastronomical. And here too the Mandarin Oriental team far from disappoints. The Painter’s Afternoon Tea at Vida Rica Restaurant and Bar is especially noteworthy for its surprise elements. We won’t spill the beans but expect to have your expectations subverted as your afternoon tea becomes akin to a painter’s canvas, taking you along for an artistic gourmet journey.

Mandarin Oriental

For cocktail connoisseurs, meanwhile, the Vida Rica team presents the Movies and Cocktails nights. Inspired by famous local cinematheque movies directed by local talents, the bartenders prepare such filmy concoctions as Tricycle Thief, Gin, Sake, Margarita and Illegalist. Through the artists’ visions, each cocktail becomes more than a drink, as a cinematic story unfolds on scanning the QR code of the bar menu. And as the evening unfolded, with the delicious degustation menu succeeding the carefully crafted cocktails, we fell more in love with the serene ambience that pervades all experiences at the hotel, despite the high number of weekend guests all around. To borrow the hotel group’s tagline then, we’re now fans.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay

Take a stroll down memory lane with The Murray Historic Tour

While Hong Kong’s is dotted with hotels large and small, there are some that stand out from the rest, by the sheer beauty of their design, the gargantuan scale of their structure or the historic value of their location. It’s the latter that defines The Murray, Hong Kong, a Niccolo Hotel. Built in 2018 on the site of a the former government office tower as part of the city’s Conserving Central initiative, it has seen the US$1-billion preservation project transform a British-era building into a super-luxury, cosmopolitan hotel. But despite the modern veneer at The Murray, what hasn’t changed is its keen resolve to protect its heritage, so we see colonial influences at each arch and turn of the building.

The Murray Historic Tour

Now, to reinforce the conservation project’s concept to reconnect with the city and community, The Murray team has just launched The Murray Historic Tour – a walk down the memory lane that reveals the historical charms of the familiar building.

The Murray Historic Tour

Carefully conducted by hotel’s own City Insiders, the tour explores the architectural marvels from yesteryears that still occupy pride of place in the hotel – be it its stately arches, its energy-efficient windows or its grand main entrance. One particularly eye-catching element that is sure to resonate with visitors is a 100-year-old tree (one of only two registered Old and Valuable Trees in Hong Kong) that stands tall in the courtyard.

The Murray Historic Tour

Strolling indoors, there’s also a guided viewing of noteworthy art pieces by such acclaimed artists as Bahk Seon Ghi, Zaha Hadid, John Kennedy, Jaume Plensa, Isabel Miramontes that adorn the walls of The Murray. However, what makes The Murray Historic Tour truly special is that it’s not just a dry history lesson, it’s a nostalgia-inducing dialogue between the past and the present. 

The Murray Historic Tour

Two guided tours are scheduled daily at 10am and 4pm. Each session accommodates up to 10 guests and advance reservation is required. The tour is complimentary and its route varies depending on availability. For reservations, contact City Insiders at or +852 3141 8809.

New luxury hotels set to open their doors in Hong Kong

Some of the biggest names in luxury hotel business are set to open doors in Hong Kong in a not-so-distant future. This not only spells good news for tourists and business travellers to the city, but also for those loyal believers of staycations who now have more options to spoil themselves silly in the lap of luxury while forsaking the hassle of long-distance travel. So let’s check out just which new luxury hotels are coming to Hong Kong this summer.

St. Regis, Hong Kong

After much delay and repeated postponement of its opening, St. Regis Hong Kong is finally scheduled to open next month in the busy Wan Chai district, a stone’s throw away from Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Designed by celebrated interior designer André Fu, the hotel’s signature style is all about architectural creativity, cultural diversity and timeless elegance. Housing two restaurants by Michelin-starred chefs, L’Envol, a French fine-dining restaurant and Rùn, a Chinese fine-dining cuisinary, St. Regis looks to attract the city’s foodies as well.

Rosewood Hong Kong

With Rosewood Hong Kong opening its doors in Hong Kong yesterday, the powerhouse hotel chain just unveiled its the 26th international property in what was surely a defining milestone for the group. Located in Kowloon, the towering 65-storey building adds an distinguished feature to Hong Kong’s already impressive skyline, and also provides sweeping views of the harbour from a majority of its suites. The uber-luxurious hotel also offers a plethora of dining options for gourmands, from contemporary Canto cuisine at Holt’s Café to European small-plates at The Butterfly Room.

House 1881

 House 1881, which was formerly known as Hullett House, is situated within the old Marine Police Headquarters premises in TST, and retains all the old-world colonial charm that comes with it. A historic landmark with lush gardens, Victorian architecture and an elegant setting, stepping into House 1881 is like turning back time by at least a century. But all the old-worldliness doesn’t mean that one has to forgo the comforts of modern times. With plush suites and rooms, and five different F&B offerings, House 1881 brings the best of both worlds to the jaded traveller.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay