|By Booth Moore, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 18, 2010--The days when taking home a souvenir from your favorite hotel meant a bad logo T-shirt or golf visor are long gone.
How about a Rebecca Minkoff bag? The W Hotel's stores have one in an exclusive shade of turquoise. A pair of Band of Outsiders pajamas? They were made specially for the Ace Hotel in New York. A pink Stephen Jones trilby hat? You have to hit the gift shop at the Beverly Hills Hotel to buy one.
Luxury hotel chains are upping the ante on their retail offerings by bringing in exclusive items and, in some cases, designing their own. In an era of global sameness, they have opted to offer unique, localized experiences.
The Standard hotels (including the property in downtown Los Angeles) are collaborating for the second year with surf lifestyle brand Quiksilver, selling board shorts ($75), bikinis and sunglasses (both $88) in poolside vending machines. The Morgans Hotel Group has hosted a series of curated retail stores, the newest in West Hollywood at the Mondrian, where Los Angeles-based retailer Ron Robinson has opened a pop-up shop with handpicked merchandise such as exclusive Pamela Love T-shirts ($25), as well as Stephen Webster jewelry and Apothia beauty products.
"As we get more design-oriented hotels, the idea will continue to percolate," said Bruce Baltin, a hotel industry analyst and senior vice president of Colliers PKF Consulting USA, a management consulting firm in Los Angeles that covers the hospitality industry. "It's a point of differentiation. And now that you have designers like Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani getting into the hotel business [see accompanying story], they will pair that with retail opportunities as well."
Historically, W Hotels have been innovators in hotel gift shops, with the first W store opening at the W Times Square in 2001. "From the beginning, the concept was designed to go beyond the basic idea of providing the same 400-thread-count sheets that are in the rooms," said Eva Ziegler, W's global brand leader (yes, that's her title; she's in charge of the chain's growth strategy).
In the past, the resort chain has targeted Diane von Furstenberg to create a Fashion Emergency Kit (a black wrap dress and thong underwear) for its stores, and Michael Kors to design staff uniforms. But in February, Ziegler hired an expert, naming Amanda Ross, a stylist and designer consultant, to the newly created post of fashion director.
So far, Ross has attended fashion weeks on the hotel's behalf, consulted on uniforms for new properties and helped select designers for the Global Glam collection of apparel created especially for the chain and sold in all 17 W Hotel stores.
The store at the W Times Square feels like a trendy Robertson Boulevard boutique, with $80 Melissa brand jelly shoes, $275 jeweled caftans and gift books with such cheeky titles as "Is Your Dog Gay?" If there were exclusive products, they weren't obvious, but the merchandise is a far cry from garish costume jewelry and packages of dried fruit and nuts that one might associate with a hotel gift shop.
(Ross' appointment comes on the heels of another resident expert hired by the W -- music director Michaelangelo L'Acqua, a former music producer for Gucci and a fashion show director who has been charged with elevating the hotel's presence in the music community by coordinating special performances and producing compilation W Hotels CDs.)
The quirky Ace Hotel chain (including properties in Palm Springs, Portland, Ore. and Seattle) was looking for a curator of a different sort for its newest property in the gritty NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan, just north of Madison Square Garden.
"Before we opened, there weren't a lot of [retailers] who wanted to be on 29th and Broadway," said Ace Hotel founder Alex Calderwell. "So we approached retailers who we thought would fit with our brand and would consider a location that was not an A location." They chose No. 8 and Opening Ceremony, which operate edgy stores in downtown Manhattan.
No. 8a, as the store at the Ace is called, is a showcase for hipster ephemera, from $169 bags made out of soccer balls to $6 Wooly Willy magnetic faces.
Opening Ceremony is dedicated to apparel (and accessories), featuring the Rodarte sweaters and $365 Alexander Wang zipper-edged sunglasses you find at all Opening Ceremony stores, along with a few necessities for travelers, such as brightly colored $55 Tumi outlet adaptors exclusive to the Ace store and British snack food Walkers Prawn Cocktail flavored crisps. Both No. 8a and Opening Ceremony are open to the street and the Ace Hotel lobby.
"We could have done a store ourselves, but they are so much better at what they do. And part of the philosophy of our brand is not only to appeal to travelers but to locals too," Calderwell said.
"Designers want to be positioned in the Ace Hotel because they want to get their things in front of the consumer who stays and hangs out there -- photographers and fashion directors. They want to be in that environment," said Zach Augustine, chief creative officer of Winston Retail, a retail consulting firm based in San Francisco and New York.
The Dorchester Collection, which operates the Beverly Hills Hotel and Paris' Le Meurice among others, tapped milliner Stephen Jones and handbag designer Louise Hempleman to create summer hats and travel bags for all seven of its stores. The hotel chain is also sponsoring a fashion prize for up-and-coming designers. The contest is being judged by a team of fashion insiders, including designers Manolo Blahnik and Giles Deacon and style icon Daphne Guinness.
"Fashion is playing an increasingly prevalent part in the luxury hotel industry as hotels become an essential lifestyle component and design becomes more integrated into everyday life," Helen Smith, Dorchester Collection's vice president of sales and marketing, wrote in an e-mail.
For high-end resorts seeking a total fashion overhaul, Seaside Luxe, based in Santa Monica, is a new retail consulting firm that develops, builds, merchandises and manages luxury boutiques from the ground up, in such far-flung places as Bermuda and Maui. Each boutique is unique in design and product assortment.
Many people in the resort industry "push retail aside. The gift shops actually lose money," said Lee Ann Sauter, who founded Seaside Luxe last year after more than 20 years of retail experience at Gap, Guess and Tommy Hilfiger. "There is an opportunity to totally transform the landscape."
At the Four Seasons Hualalai resort in Hawaii, she turned administrative offices into 7,000 square feet of Seaside Luxe retail space (selling items including beachwear, casual sportswear and kids clothing) that generated $6 million in revenue in 2009, its first year, $750,000 of that in its first month. (The resort's retail stores generated $4 million in revenue in 2008.)
Guests snapped up one-of-a-kind Prova necklaces for $550, decorative bottles with shell stoppers for $55 to $115, colorful Dezso woven bracelets decorated with shark teeth and shells, and Gregory Parkinson swim cover-ups.
"When you do research on what guests want to do on their vacations, it's amazing how over the last 10 years, it has gone from visiting the spa or playing golf to shopping," said Patrick Fitzgerald, chief executive of Hualalai resort. "We saw we were missing a real opportunity." Seaside Luxe buyers travel the globe, visiting places such as the Gem Palace in Jaipur, India, and the Paris runways to find exclusive jewelry designs, beach bags, bikinis, surfboards and more.
This refashioning of resort retail mirrors what happened in the resort food and beverage industry, Fitzgerald said. "Several years ago, we started seeing hotels bringing in chefs such as Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller to develop restaurants not only for hotel guests, but for locals. Now we're starting to see the same targeted approach in resort retail."
Plus, when someone asks, "Where did you get that?" you don't have to say Nordstrom. You can say you got it on vacation in Hawaii. The story is so much better.
To see more of the Los Angeles Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.latimes.com.
Copyright (c) 2010, Los Angeles Times
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544). NYSE:ZQK, NASDAQ-NMS:MHGC, OTC-PINK:GUCG, NYSE:JWN,