From the A-shaped swimming pool to the capital ‘A’ carved into each and every sugar cube, Giorgio Armani has made his mark on every inch of his new hotel.
This relentless reiteration of the brand starts in the lobby of the Armani Hotel Dubai, where a series of bronze columns arch overhead, meeting at a point to create a towering collection of artful As. Beneath the arches, mirroring their shape, lie two oversized sofas. The combined result is a consciously contemporary, highly fashionable take on the traditional majlis.
The A-shaped arches are a recurring theme – they reappear on the hotel’s logo, and then again, as a creative alternative to run-of-the-mill table legs. The message is clear: this is an Armani hotel in more than just name.
Set into a corridor leading off from the lobby is a glittering showcase of Armani’s exclusive Privé accessories collection. Available for purchase by invitation only, these one-of-a-kind creations are a striking reminder of how closely fashion and hospitality sit side by side in this new property. At the end of the corridor are the Armani/Fiori and Armani/Dolci retail spaces, where guests can purchase Armani-inspired flowers and sweets.
The hotel exists as a larger-than-life showcase of Giorgio Armani’s creative breadth. The world-famous fashion designer is reported to have overseen every single element of the design, from soap bars to suites.
In fact, getting the shape and colour of the soap right took a rumoured 22 months, and was inspired by a pebble that Armani came across whilst on a beach in his native Italy. “I had not been involved with construction itself but I followed every single step in design and style,” said Armani during the grand opening of the hotel on April 27. “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.”
Fino International was enlisted to transform Armani’s vision into a workable reality. “What we received was a concept design created by the Armani team. This concept was, I believe, personally prepared by Giorgio Armani himself. In a sense, we had to make it workable,” said Talal Saeed, managing director of Fino International.
“For instance, the Armani team specified a large quantity of a certain type of marble; we had to make sure that there was enough quantity in the quarry to ensure that we could do the entire job to the same quality. These were the technical challenges we faced.
“Almost everything was doable – it just took a while and some real guts. Difficult decisions had to be made. You want to meet the criteria of the Armani ‘look’ but you still had to look at safety standards and water proofing and durability and acoustic standards, for example. We had to translate it into a constructible site that met the standards of the world’s tallest building,” Saeed explained.
Time restraints were the biggest challenge that Fino faced with this iconic project, which was completed in 36 months by a team of 2,500 people. “We were racing against time. We had to do so many things in such a short space of time. The logistics were also a challenge. It is a whole world in itself, this building. I think it will house 10,000 to 15,000 people, eventually. You are not simply creating a building. You are creating a small town – just upwards.”
Armani Hotel Dubai occupies floors concourse to eight, as well as levels 38 and 39 of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The property consists of 160 rooms and suites, complemented by 144 private Armani residences, located on floors nine to 16.
Additional facilities include eight food and beverage outlets, including the Armani/Privé VIP lounge, and the world’s first in-hotel Armani Spa. Rooms come in a range of different types, ranging from the 45m² Armani Studio Room to the 340m² Armani Dubai Suite, which is priced at AED 45,000 per night.
Its prestigious location – and there are few more impressive addresses than the Burj Khalifa right now – coupled with the fact that it is the first Armani property in the world, placed the hotel very firmly in the global spotlight. Which, in turn, placed enormous pressure on everyone involved.
“Everybody is looking at this with a microscope. Your drawings, your technical expertise, your people, safety systems, quality control – everything was scrutinised,” said Saeed.
Which is one of the reasons why the finished product is very different to anything else on the market, Saeed suggested. “It is as simple as can be but also as beautiful as can be. I can’t describe it. We could not visualise how the hotel would look like once it was finished; but it turned out to be a one-of-a-kind,” he said.
The design is defined by its simplicity. Unlike many of the region’s hotels, Armani Hotel Dubai is understated, and free of overly excessive design features. “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,” said Saeed. “You will not see colourful fabrics or wallpaper. There is nothing hanging on the wall. You don’t see paintings or anything like that,” he added.
When he was first approached by Emaar Properties to design a hotel, Armani questioned whether he was the right man for the job – given his minimalist sensibilities. Armani recalled saying: “Are you sure you want me? 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”.
Armani’s ‘less is more’ approach is perhaps most apparent in the muted colour palette used throughout the hotel. Bronzes, discreet golds, browns, beiges, greys and dark olive greens set the tone in rooms and public areas, with bright colours notable only in their absence.
But while the colours used are at the more subdued end of the spectrum, they are not lacking in richness. In true Armani style, the palette has been injected with a touch of glamour, converting muted tones into warm, shimmering, sensual colour schemes.
Materials further reiterate the richness of the design. Satiny, smooth and often curved, walls cry out to be touched. Japanese tatami flooring lines the corridors, soft and spongy underfoot.
Elsewhere, multi-faceted Eramosa marble covers the floors, mirroring the complexity of corresponding Zebrano wood walls. Every bed has a unique, elaborately-patterned, custom-made headboard and matching bedspread.
The Armani team was very specific about the materials it wanted to use, Saeed explained. “They were very precise. They knew exactly what they wanted. Most of the suppliers we used were from Italy and Europe. We brought fabrics from the States, and paint, glass, wood and veneer from Italy.
“The marble came from Canada, Iceland and northern Europe. The furniture was Armani Casa. It was supplied by Armani himself and we installed it for him,” Saeed explained.
An air of mystery
While Armani’s design may be simple, in terms of the muted colour palette and limited accessories, it is also surprisingly complex. Built into the design is an inherent sense of mystery, with a constant interplay between what is shown and what remains to be discovered.
Corridors give no indication of where they might lead. Intersected by reflective doors, all you see is your own reflection as you make your way from one end to the next.
Room doors are set flush into the walls of the corridors, and are made of the same wood so they are barely discernible. The impression is of a secret entrance to a mysterious destination.
Once inside the rooms, a sense of secrecy continues. Sliding panels and doors hide corridors, televisions, kitchens and cupboards, making journeying through the room a voyage of discovery. Guests can choose what they want to reveal and what they wish to keep hidden away.
Smooth and sinuous, the curvaceousness of the walls further adds to a sense of mystery. This is a design with hidden depths – where decorative side tables unfold into fully kitted-out work desks, and cupboard doors, once opened, can be slotted into the wall to save space.
But if a sense of secrecy abounds in the guest rooms, it is the direct opposite in the restaurants, where transparency is the defining characteristic. All restaurants have open kitchens, to enable guests to fully appreciate the effort that goes into their food.
The hotel’s eight food and beverage outlets include the Armani/Lounge, which sits overlooking the Dubai Fountain and offers light meals throughout the day; Armani/Peck, the Dubai branch of Milan’s 125-year old Peck Deli, which offers a range of signature dishes, fresh pastas, hot and cold counters, and a striking black-and-white checkered design; the casual but elegant Armani/Mediterraneo; Armani/Ristorante, a fine-dining restaurant that draws on Italy’s rich gastronomic traditions; Armani/Amal, which offers fresh and innovative Indian cuisine, along with one of the most dramatic entrances in Dubai; Armani/Hashi, a modern Japanese eatery; and the exclusive Armani/Privé lounge.
Designing his first hotel was an experience that Armani relished. “There are so many elements when you are designing a hotel which makes it a very, very exciting project; so many spaces, so many areas, restaurants, lounges, rooms,” he said. “The real difference is that when you design some clothing, journalists say after six months ‘it’s off’. With Hotel Armani it cannot be really the same. So it’s a much bigger commitment and a much bigger risk, which is why I love it,”he continued.
“It’s very difficult to create space with spirit and lifestyle,” commented Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties, during the opening of the company’s latest – and arguably greatest – venture. “Armani has an incredible common sense that makes him a designer and a hotelier; and that makes him a person that understands what works, [and] what doesn’t work”.