BLLA Conference highlights common vision between boutique hotels and fashion
Boutique hotels feel like what designer Varvatos tries to create in his stores, which is a place where people want to come in and hang out
The Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association, more commonly known as BLLA, featured fashion designer John Varvatos, Anine Bing Co-Founder Annika Meller and Baja East Co-Founder John Targon testifying about the strengthening bond between the fashion and hospitality industries at the BLLA's annual Boutique Hotel Investment Conference at The Times Center in New York on Wednesday, June 6th.
Varvatos, who worked with fashion icons such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein before founding his own company in 1999, was interviewed by Lisa Smilor, executive vice president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, as part the conference's "The Influence of Fashion" session that was hosted by the CFDA. Varvatos detailed how his decision to open a store at the site of New York's iconic CBGB music club strengthened his brand's longstanding association with the music industry. He added that he believed his company's attention to detail creates a retail environment where guests want to stay and shop.
"Boutique hotels, they feel like what we try to create in our stores, which is a place where people want to come in and hang out," said Varvatos, who added that he was in discussions to partner on a small hotel project in Malibu, Calif. "I want to be in a place where I can hang and where I can connect on many levels."
Meller, who co-founded Scandinavian-influenced fashion brand and retailer Anine Bing in 2012, advised boutique hotel operators about the value of working with authentic influencers and brand advocates while echoing Varvatos's sentiments about creating a uniquely welcoming environment. "We really want any customer to feel like it's a home away from home," said Meller, whose company has eight stores and is slated to add its second Los Angeles outlet in September. She also highlighted the value of gathering customer information and preferences to ratchet up the service quality. "It's really utilizing the data we gather to create that personalized experience."
Targon, who spoke of the benefit of creating fashion "through a genderless lens," said that boutique hotels, like fashion brands, work best when they represent their creators' values in addition to merely being popular. He added that, among lodging establishments, he was particularly fond of Soho House Berlin. "It's the ability and creativity to excite 10 more people on your journey," said Targon, who, along with Scott Studenberg, each co-founded Baja East with a $90,000 investment in 2013. "Transparency is often what's winning most with businesses."
As with fashion, such an approach goes far beyond aspects such as a hotel's logo or color scheme, said conference panelist Jeff Carvalho, managing director at streetwear blog Highsnobiety. "You can get a vibe on who they're trying to reach based on the magazines or the type of water they have in the room," said Carvalho. "It's about how you elevate that experience before they go to the beach, bar or rooftop."
The conference highlighted a bond between hospitality and fashion that's strengthened in recent years as hotel operators have looked to capitalize on the popularity and cultural cache of some luxury fashion brands, albeit with mixed degrees of success.
Marriott International is the most prominent example of this trend, debuting its Bulgari Hotels & Resorts brand in Milan in 2004 and since opening four more hotels. Marriott is slated to debut another four Bulgari properties worldwide by 2022. Additionally, fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld announced his own hotel brand in 2016 and has earmarked Macau's Grand Lisboa Palace for his first property. Versace's Palazzo Versace brand has hotels in Dubai and Australia's Gold Coast, and is also planning a site at Macau's Grand Lisboa Palace.
Meanwhile, Missoni, which at one time had two branded hotels under a licensing agreement with Carlson Rezidor (now Radisson Hotel Group), discontinued that pact in 2014, and ended plans for Missoni hotels in Oman, Qatar, Turkey, Brazil and Mauritius. Miami's Raleigh Hotel was at one time earmarked to become the first property branded under a Tommy Hilfiger hotel badge, while Armani has opened just two hotels - in Dubai and Milan - since that brand was founded in 2010.
Going forward, though, the link between hospitality and fashion is poised to be strengthened through a younger, more street-oriented audience, said the BLLA conference's fashion contingent. "People want to look good and want to be surrounded by good things. They're spending their money on experiences," said Carvalho, whose company was founded in 2005. "What they walk into is just as important on what they wear."
As for the chain-based brands' strategy to court fashion and social influencers, Targon discounted the effectiveness of such efforts by the larger, more standardized hotel operators, noting that he hadn't stayed in a chain hotel in about 15 years. "Loyalty points?" Targon asked, rhetorically. "I think that's what AMEX is for."
Varvatos added that the chain operators' emphasis on larger hotels works against the approach championed by both boutique-hotel operators and fashion companies that emphasizes personalization and individuality. "It's not about having 800 rooms. It's about a more limited number of rooms that you have to make work," Varvatos said. As for his own inspirations, he noted: "I don't look to other brands for ideas. I look within."
Conference sponsors included: Two Roads Hospitality, The Gettys Group, Sideways, Elavon, Ivvy, The Rainmaker Group, Avendra, Greenberg Traurig, Suitelife by Venture Insurance, Keypr, Enseo, LG, Meridith Baer Home, La Colombe, JLT, Berdon LLP, Menin Hospitality, Jampro, Tambourine, Direct TV, Arlo Hotels, Newmark Knight Frank, Trump Hotels, Scion Hotels, S'well, Anine Bing, CFDA, Pressreader, ITM Mobile, Amsterdam Hospitality, The Well Traveled Trunk, JMBM, Beekeeper, Peerless AV, The Lodging Conference, Vox Media, Boutique Design, Hospitality Design, Lodging Magazine, NEWH, Hotel Online, Hotel Executive, Hotel News Now, eHotelier, RE Alert, Hospitality Net, Hotel Business, Today's Hotelier, Travel And Tour World, Justin's, Bai, Voss Water, Hooch, barkTHINS, SkinnyPop, Hippeas, Sunraysia, Vita Coco, Massoni, Rice and Gold, Talde, Toby's Coffee.
The BLLA, which was founded in 2009, also announced at the conference that it was changing its name to the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association (from the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association) to reflect the expanding influence of its members' design and service philosophy. The trade group, whose annual New York investment conference attracted more than 350 attendees, also said that its Stay Boutique conference will be renamed Stay Boutique Live and will be held in the Los Angeles area in February 2019.
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