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Hotel Marmite?

The arrival of the Bvlgari in the heart of London’s fashionable Knightsbridge has certainly made an impact, courting new markets and controversy within weeks of its opening. Maybe it’s about positioning, maybe it’s simply about making a statement? Since visiting I’m clear about one thing – everyone will have an opinion, and a polarised one at that. Like Marmite, you either love it or hate it.

Why all the comment and fuss?

Perhaps it’s no surprise given the positioning and pedigree of the Bvlgari brand. Jewellery, fragrances and other high fashion items are highly subjective, so when a leading luxury brand confers its name onto the world of ‘hotels and residences’, note this is not just an hotel, then taste and personality will be at the heart it.

To me it is clear that this is not a venue that will have broad appeal, again no surprise when you consider some of the brand statements Bvlgari makes:

  • Extraordinary quality and magnificent distinctive style
  • Bvlgari also stands for bold innovation in design and a constant quest for new ways to express its own unique creativity and inimitable vision of luxury

This latter one captures it nicely. Its huge suites have the feel of a sumptuous and very expensive private yacht, with highly polished mahogany veneer, large bathrooms and no artwork on the wall (apparently to stop it dating!). These are appended by an uber trendy bar and restaurant and six subterranean floors housing a state of the art gym (replete with Elle Macpherson’s personal trainer), half Olympic sized swimming pool, beautiful ballroom with break-out space and private bar. Enhanced by its over attentive staff, together these are the hotel’s (and residences) manifestation of ‘inimitable vision of luxury’.

And at a price!

As with all things in the super luxury world, for most there’s no point having it unless you can show it off. It’s central to the whole concept of exclusivity and privilege to many, and this is where the Bulgari scores a massive hit. Comparing it with other top hotels in London is somehow missing the point. Yes, there are arguments that for the corporate market it doesn’t offer anything you can’t get elsewhere at a much reduced rate, but this is not about practicalities, it’s about statements and taste. It might not be to your taste but it certainly makes a statement.

The Bvlgari is very much the new kid on the block and, just like jewellery, certain clients will seek venues that are contemporary, exclusive and straight out of the pages of Cosmopolitan. The conference or incentive event planned here will need to be flexible to fit the venue, not the other way round. It is about the brand and the brand only. For great quality, service and experience then the likes of the Savoy, Berkeley, Dorchester and Ritz will fit the bill? Add in the rarefied requirement of ‘bold innovation in design’ and it is only the Bulgari.

The big price tag may also be an initial shot across the bows to create a story, as happened with the Sanderson and St Martins Lane when they opened back in the nineties and to a lesser extent with the Baglioni and 60 Thompson. The reality is that they will no doubt come back into the pack after six months or so, in the meantime carving out a position of uniqueness warrants a high price tag. And just like the humble jar of Marmite, if it’s unique you can only love it or hate it.

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