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Bulgari And The Rise Of The Designer Hotels

What’s in a name? Both retailers and guests benefit from a new breed of hotels

In the 21st century, traditional retail rules no longer apply and many creative brands are experimenting with alternative methods of reaching their audience. Retail giants and smaller players alike have been turning to hotels to soft-sell and test-drive their lifestyle products, and they’ve turned out to be surprisingly likely bedfellows. It’s a win-win for both parties – a chance to turn curious hotel guests into loyal customers. 

Muji Hotel Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China

Ryohin Keikaku Co Ltd

Recycled material from traditional Chinese homes and user-friendly Muji gadgetry fill all 79 rooms at this inaugural hotel from the Japanese lifestyle brand. An abundance of Muji swag gives the no-frills property an edge over its competition, and lets guests try out pricier products like the hairdryer, air purifier and aroma diffuser. Five room types range from 280 to 657 square feet, but all living quarters convey the brand’s utilitarian-meets-minimalist aesthetic. Standard hotel facilities like an eatery, gym, library and meeting spaces do less to convey the brand’s distinct identity, but every single item in the rooms plus the brand’s other home goods, travel products, food, clothing and cosmetics are available for purchase at the expansive two-level emporium, one of the largest Muji stores in China. A calendar of DIY workshops and TED Talk-style events extends the experience for hotel guests and locals alike.

Ryohin Keikaku Co Ltd

Hotel Koé Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

Courtesy of Koé

Converted from a former shopping centre in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, this hotel from Japanese fashion label Koé opts for the soft sell. While the 10 charcoal-hued guestrooms’ pared-back lines and glass-walled bathrooms display nothing made by the brand, the mezzanine-level flagship boutique features a range of Koé merch and apparel. Brand identity also manifests itself in the hotel’s subtle, ingenious details, such as a photogenic, hyper-minimalist guest-only lounge and a small art gallery displaying contemporary works. Its street-level cafe and bakery feels more egalitarian, with long, light wood tables where Tokyoites of all ages take advantage of the well-priced ramen noodles, brunch staples and freshly baked French pastries.

Courtesy of Koé

Bulgari Shanghai

Shanghai, China

Tommy Picone

The sixth property from the venerable Italian jewellery brand, Bulgari Shanghai inhabits a 48-storey rose-gold-tinted tower located next to the former Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, a neoclassical architectural gem built in 1916 which now houses the hotel’s Chinese restaurant. The prime Suzhou Creek location confers striking views of the Bund and Pudong’s futuristic skyline in the 82 rooms, all featuring an appealing blend of teak, bronze and marble. Aside from the rooftop terrace, there are also gems like the 25-metre jade green swimming pool and handmade Italian chocolates in the Il Cioccolato shop just off the lobby. Nearby stands a Bulgari boutique for guests who want to take home an appropriately luxe souvenir. 

Tommy Picone

House of Finn Juhl

Hakuba, Japan

In the 1940s, architect and designer Finn Juhl brought the Danish Modern aesthetic to the public. Decades later and halfway across the world, Onecollection – the Danish firm that owns the rights to produce Juhl’s furniture – carries on the designer’s legacy in this six-room hotel-slash-showroom in a revamped ski lodge near Nagano, a three-hour drive from Tokyo or Nagoya. Stark white walls with black-framed windows and blond wood floors provide the striking backdrop to showcase not only Juhl’s work, but also signature products from other Nordic design labels. Striking, geometric lamps from Louis Poulsen and Pandul illuminate these stunningly photogenic spaces. 

Flights per week from Hong Kong

Cathay Dragon and Cathay Pacific: Shanghai: 114; Tokyo: 57

Cathay Pacific: Nagoya: 21

Flight and hotel packages are available from Cathay Pacific Holidays

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