Fashionably located and decorated, the brand-new Mandarin Oriental, Paris instills a frisson of pleasure, discovers Neena Dhillon
Photography by George Apostolidis, Jon Arnold/AWL Images, Olivia Rutherford and Veronique Mati
Arriving in Paris instantly lifts the spirits. There’s something intoxicating about the grand boulevards, the monumental architecture, the manicured green spaces and the stylish enclaves dotted around France’s premier city. Once fêted as a beacon of the Age of Enlightenment, this European capital continues to boast a formidable reputation for creativity, culture, learning and gastronomy, one that draws travellers from all corners of the globe.
Set in the heart of the first arrondissement, rue Saint-Honoré is surely the city’s most coveted address, home to the haute-couture industry and minutes from landmarks such as the Place Vendôme, Tuileries Gardens, Opéra Garnier and the Louvre. While its history can be traced back to the 13th century, today the fashionable street thrives with shoppers browsing the exclusive boutiques and foodies sampling cuisine and fine wine served in enchanting eateries. It could only be here, then, that Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group would choose to put down its roots, arriving in France with a promise not only to deliver luxury, refinement and the award-winning service it is renowned for, but also an element of surprise.
‘We are flying the flag for the brand in Europe, so we have aimed to create a magical experience for international and local guests, combining the highest standards of service with a warmth and kindness that can sometimes be missing at this level,’ explains Philippe Leboeuf, General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Paris. ‘We offer modernity and elegance, providing visitors with space and light in the centre of Paris. You can expect to find the most generously proportioned rooms in the city, an abundance of suites, an all-suite spa concept, a landscaped indoor garden and cutting-edge restaurants helmed by Executive Chef Thierry Marx.’
Unwilling to compromise on location, Mandarin Oriental waited patiently for its position on rue Saint-Honoré, taking up residence in a trio of Thirties office buildings which have been transformed by acclaimed architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte into a majestically unified structure. Wilmotte turned to the timeless Thirties style of the protected, original façade, first designed by Charles Letrosne, a noted local architect who contributed to the 1937 Paris World Exhibition, and replicated the use of materials and detailing to create a sense of harmony throughout the eight-storey hotel. So, natural Parisian stone is found inside and out, with moulding and frescoes, while the exterior gates, conceived by Letrosne all those years ago, are now honoured by a new, majestic iron-gate entrance featuring the same fish-scale pattern.
To inject a fresh lease of life into the structure, Wilmotte decided to remove the central building, opening up the space for a stunning interior garden, landscaped with different species of trees, plants and flowers, set around a reflective water pool. Extending the green theme vertically, some of the guest rooms benefit from tree-filled terraces, while one of the courtyard walls is planted with vegetation laid out gracefully across horizontal lines. Bronze shutters, copper roofing and gilded metalwork all play with the light in this atmospheric inner courtyard that forms the heart of the hotel. Wilmotte’s approach has not only brought a wow factor to Mandarin Oriental, Paris, but has also earned the property green credentials in the form of HQE (High Quality Environmental) certification.
Crucially, both the Thirties façade and interior garden have provided rich sources of inspiration for interior designers Sybille de Margerie, Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, who, together with Wilmotte, have striven to define what a grand Parisian hotel can be in our contemporary age – each developing their vision of a palace conceived for the 21st century.
France’s first lady of design, Sybille de Margerie set up her own firm over 20 years ago and has since built an impressive track record in hotel interiors, garnering awards for her renovation of The Grand, Amsterdam, and acclaim for Cheval Blanc in Courchevel, one of eight French hotels distinguished by the official rank of ‘palace’, indicating that they are the best the country has to offer. Other projects have taken her beyond Europe, such as the Old Cataract in Aswan and a new luxury property in Tel Aviv.
Starting with a philosophy of tradition-meets-innovation, de Margerie fashions her ideas from the identity of each location, aiming to communicate an art of living specific to the town and country. ‘Mandarin Oriental wanted to share a uniquely Parisian viewpoint with their guests,’ she reveals. ‘While we wished to respect the city’s history and heritage, our challenge has been to take these qualities and give them a contemporary twist.’
Looking to the Thirties as a starting point – a period that was ‘alive with richness and variety’ – de Margerie has drawn on era-specific textures and materials, such as lacquer, crystal and gold leaf, but treated them in modern ways. The Thirties story unfolds further through the presence of four Man Ray photographs, which were rendered evocatively in the headboards in guest rooms and reproduced subtly as visual ornamentation in the corridors.
‘Man Ray took an incredibly modern approach to photography back in the Twenties and Thirties,’ says de Margerie. ‘Although his photographs of The Kiss and the female form are quite abstract, I felt they evoked a certain language of romance. His story was also resonant because he was an American who loved Paris so much that he decided to stay here. We hope guests today will encounter the same feeling.’
Focusing on the neighbourhood in which the hotel is situated, the designer was also keen to represent the glamour, intricacy and craftsmanship of the haute-couture world. This has been achieved through a palette of signature, fashion-led accent colours, from fuchsia to pink to orange. And Iranian-born Ali Mahdavi, whose photographs have graced the covers of magazines such as Vanity Fair, has contributed portraits of the fashionable female form to the guest suites and corridors.
To reinforce the haute-couture ambience, de Margerie has also formed a fascinating partnership with Maison Lesage, a distinguished family firm that has been producing embroidery for the biggest names in high fashion since 1924, including Vionnet, Schiaparelli, Dior, Chanel and Givenchy. Not only was the atelier commissioned to create a fan for Mandarin Oriental, Paris – a picture of velvet, glacé leather, vintage sequins, pearls and butterflies – but also to handcraft embroidery specially for the guest suites. ‘Our work fits perfectly with the philosophy of haute couture, in which every detail is given consideration,’ says de Margerie. ‘In this hotel, you won’t find standard things; almost everything is bespoke design.’
In this hotel, you won’t find standard things; almost everything is bespoke design
Designer Sybille De Margerie
While de Margerie has overseen the aesthetics of the hotel’s lobby, spa, guest rooms and suites, design agency Jouin Manku has taken the reins of the restaurants and bar, collaborating with celebrated French chef Thierry Marx, who directs the hotel’s delicious food and beverage offering. Although Patrick Jouin has a background in industrial and product design – he joined Philippe Starck’s team early in his career – the designer switched his focus to the interiors of restaurants when he was talent spotted by the legendary Alain Ducasse. His eponymous agency took a new turn in 2001 when he met Canadian architect Sanjit Manku, a fresh talent in Paris who quickly became a professional partner. Since then, the pair have completed renovations to restaurants and bars at various hotels in the Dorchester Collection and developed the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
Travellers want to see the Paris of now, a place based on innovation and audacity
Designer Sanjit Manku
‘What was exciting about the Mandarin Oriental brand coming to Paris was that it had no weight on its shoulders because it wasn’t purchasing a historic building, rather it was seeking to create a future,’ says Manku. ‘Travellers don’t come to Paris expecting the traditional postcard image any more, the themed Louis XVI reproduction furniture, the city that is frozen in time. They want to see the Paris of now, a place based on innovation and audacity, a destination that is spectacular, handcrafted and boundary-pushing.’ For Jouin, the exciting challenge has been to find a new voice for Paris, one that will meet expectations of romance, light and sensuality – and one that is truly unique to the capital.
These collective outlooks have come together in an interior that brims with passion, delighting the senses with perspectives, textures and unexpected finishes. The journey begins at the iron gate, through a porte-cochère, where sliding doors open to reveal another world. Purple fabric woven with fibre-optic lights frames the entry point, while a Swarovski-crystal display of butterflies dances overhead. It’s as though guests are entering an oversized jewellery box. The butterfly quickly emerges as a recurring motif across the public spaces and guest floors, connecting the interior to the landscaped garden beyond. The creatures pop up in the most surprising of locations, represented by embroidery, or nestled in ceramic form in displays produced by Italian sculptor Marcello Lo Giudice, or gathered in circular patterns woven into the carpets.