Catwalk creation

The team behind the first ever Armani Hotel explain how they brought the famous fashion designer's vision to life in the world's tallest building.
Catwalk creation
FROM THE TOP:Giorgio Armani was involved in every aspect of design.
By Hotelier Middle East Staff Writer
Thu 10 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

The team behind the first ever Armani Hotel explain how they brought the famous fashion designer's vision to life in the world's tallest building.

The greatly anticipated Armani Hotel Dubai - the first ever hotel to be designed by Giorgio Armani - opened on April 27, just in time for owner Emaar Properties and operator Armani Hotels & Resorts, part of Emaar Hospitality Group (EHG), to showcase the property to the industry at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference and Arabian Travel Market.

The opening was the highlight of the shows, with everyone keen to see inside the hotel, which demands a reservation prior to entrance. However, some were quick to criticise, eager to bring Armani Dubai down from its pedestal in the world's tallest building. Hoteliers lamented the lack of wall hangings, the dark spaces and the ‘boring' colours. But, wasn't this exactly the point of the first Armani Hotel? To offer something minimalist that stood out from the rest of the hotels in Dubai, and to remove the focus from the golden and the gaudy, even if this was to be achieved via sheer simplicity?

The reactions may not have come as a surprise to fashion supremo 72-year-old Giorgio Armani, who was himself the first to question the appropriateness of Dubai as the location for his first hotel.

"Are you sure you want me?" he recalls saying when approached by Emaar Properties chairman Mohamed Alabbar. "I believe in minimalism, less is more. And when you looked at what was happening here [in Dubai five years ago] you would have thought exactly the opposite, it was a very different style."

But Alabbar convinced Armani to go ahead, and thus began a five-year project to design and create the hotel. While Armani was based in Milan charged with creating the concept design, the responsibility to turn this into bricks and mortar in Dubai fell to Talal Saeed, managing director of interior fit out contractor Fino International.

"What we received was a concept design created by the Armani team. It was a very interactive process. For example, the sanitaryware was custom designed and made by Armani, so we had to fly to Italy to meet with the manufacturer of the sanitaryware, we had to make a dummy, and put it in the mock for Giorgio Armani's personal approval," explains Saeed.

"In a sense, we had to make it constructible. We had to make it workable to ensure that it met safety requirements, and construction and material standards," he adds.

According to Alabbar, Armani had extremely high standards to be adhered to, and it was Saeed's role to deliver the designs as specified.

"Almost everything was doable; it just tool a while and some real guts," says Saeed.

The hotel's location within the Burj Khalifa also presented its own unique challenges, he adds.

"You won't really find this in another project. Because the hotel was connected to something else - in terms of the physical, in terms of paperwork, in terms of integration - it made it a little more complicated, or challenging. There will not be another Burj for a while now," says Saeed."Everybody is looking at this with a microscope. You couldn't get away with anything. Your drawings, your technical expertise and your people had to be scrutinised. Safety systems, quality control - everything was to a higher standard," he says, referring to the project as "the peak" for Fino.

As close to the project as Saeed was though, he says it was impossible to visualise the end result.

"We could not, as normal people, visualise how the hotel would look like once it was finished," adds Saeed. "It turned out to be a one of a kind. When we walked though it on the opening day, we were amazed. Only then did we fully understand what he was trying to do. When we saw it all, with the flowers and the accessories, only then did we realise that this is an Armani design."

While the minimalism of the hotel is one element that sets it apart, this is not to be confused with a lack of attention to detail.

Saeed continues: "Most hotels in Dubai are full of colour, and crystals and chandeliers - you will not see any of this in the Armani hotel. There are no colours, no crystals, no gold leafing, and no chandeliers in the building at all. It is a totally different concept. It is very elegant, very exquisite, very refined. You will not see colourful fabrics or wallpaper. There is nothing hanging on the wall. You don't see paintings or anything like that. The entire job converts the traditional Arabic image into the modern design of Armani.

"You have these grand arches, and this idea of the majlis, and all this is incorporated in one go [in the lobby]. Sometimes, what designers do is they make the fabric reflect the culture, or the wallpaper - with this, the entire architecture reflects the culture," asserts Saeed.

Coming back to the launch of the hotel, EHG CEO Marc Dardenne says this, in turn, reflected Armani's understated and elegant approach.

"I think the way we opened the hotel is very much in line with the Armani brand. We didn't want to hype this up as being the greatest hotel in the world - in my opinion its always customers who decide if you are a good or a bad hotel."

So what was the feedback of Armani himself, a born perfectionist? "After five years of working on this project on paper I saw it for real. It was marvellous to see how it came to life," says Armani.

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