Milan has been a center of luxury since the 16th century, but a recent visit suggests that the perennial Italian destination may also represent the future of the sector – a market where luxury brands from across hospitality, fashion, and automobile sectors come together to create immersive experiences where affluent consumers can not only shop but live, sleep, and eat inside worlds created by world-class brands.
The city takes on an almost theme park sensation to those attuned to fashion magnates’ involvement in every hospitality sector. To start with the most obvious examples, there’s the Bulgari Hotel, the Armani Hotel, and the Just Cavalli restaurant and nightclub.
The collaborations become slightly more creative in dining, with the Nobu located within the Emporio Armani Store, the Gucci Cafe inside Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, or the private dining room inside the Terrazza Gallia Restaurant that features unique Maserati style and tailored elements.
The Maserati-inspired dining room is actually part of a more extensive partnership between the luxury automobile brand and the Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a Luxury Collection Hotel that reopened in 2015. The hotel offers a private Maserati courtesy car complimentary for all hotel guests to travel to downtown Milan as well as complimentary Maserati transfer service to the airport for guests in certain suites.
“Maserati and the Excelsior Hotel Gallia chose each other as partners because the two brands are aligned from a target and positioning point of view,” said Marco Olivieri, General Manager of the Excelsior Hotel Gallia in Milan. “They share the same passion for timeless elegance and attention to details.”
The Excelsior Hotel Gallia also brings Milan´s most famous luxury shopping street inside its walls through its partnership with Associazione Montenapoleone. The hotel has created a luxury promenade inside, featuring boutique windows for nine famous fashion and jewelry brands replicating those of the famous street.
Other luxury brands skip collaborations and invest directly in creating their own hospitality experiences.
One of the best examples of this alignment between luxury fashion and hospitality comes from the Ferragamo family. Ferragamo was the first fashion brand to enter the hotel business in 1995 when Leonardo Ferragamo, the son of Salvatore, created Lungarno Collection with the vision of creating a selection of hotels with strong personalities.
Today there are five Lungarno Collection properties, each with a different style, and while guests are not necessarily Ferragamo customers, they appreciate being in close proximity to the Ferragamo stores or Ferragamo Museum in Florence, said Lungarno Collection CEO Valeriano Antonioli.
The five hotel properties showcase the Ferragamo brand. There are Ferragamo bath products, historic photographs of Ferragamo working on his shoe designs, actual details of shoes displayed throughout the hotel, and even a framed ticket to the first Florence fashion show. Guests also have free entry to the Ferragamo museum in Florence.
With such close association to the brand, why not put Ferragamo in the name?
“Fashion is transient and changes per season, which is the opposite of the hotel mentality, and in order to keep the brand reputation authentic, we would need to update decor details seasonally — quite a large expense!” Antonioli explained.
He added: “In an industry where travelers continue to seek more immersive, cultural experiences, hotels will continue to incorporate programs and brand partnerships to meet this demand. More specifically, luxury brands will provide over-the-top, exclusive partnerships to compete with other hotels and have guest raving about these Instagrammable experiences.”
Lungarno goes one step beyond offering a Ferragamo-style experience and partners with other luxury brands such as Florentine jeweler Fratelli Piccini. Guests have access to exclusive tours and private dinners in the Fratelli Piccini workshop and private atelier on the Ponte Vecchio.
“We will no doubt continue to see a convergence of fashion and travel. We already see brands like Armani, Bulgari, Fendi, and Ferragamo in the hotel space. And no, they are not in the hotel space to make it big on a room night; rather they are in the space to get clients to immerse themselves in their brand and have people live their story as nothing but a travel experience can do better,” Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, said in his 2018 manifesto on luxury vacation trends.
“Hotels are becoming hubs for future pop-ups helping both the hotel and the fashion brand position themselves,” he said. “You see, in the luxury space, facing the client on a holistic lifestyle level will be a key to success in the future.”
This trend is already beginning to extend from branded hotels to branded homes and apartments. The Future Laboratory referred to this as “brand-lords” (rather than landlords) in its 2018 Future Forecast.
As an example, the report references Aston Martin-branded apartment towers in Miami, which, set for completion in 2021, will offer amenities such as spa, cinemas, and an art gallery as well as direct access to a yacht marina.
Combing brand power and experiences is a natural fit for luxury auto brands such as Porsche, which started its Porsche Travel Club more than 20 years ago giving customers and brand fans the chance to drive sports cars along extraordinary routes.
It is worth recognizing that there’s a big opportunity in here for existing travel companies and operators to partner with luxury brands and help them pull off the logistics of travel experiences, which vary greatly from in-store productions.