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A vacation with va-va-voom

Melanie Stern is section editor of Families in Business magazine.

Holiday at the apex of style: visit the new breed of luxury brand resorts in some of the world's stunning locations. Melanie Stern reports

There's probably one brick in the walls of the Chrysler Building for every Louis Vuitton bag or Versace dress snapped up year in, year out; brand recognition for the luxury goods industry is positively booming.

It's no surprise, then, that luxury brand owners want to capitalise on this recognition to create an all-encompassing lifestyle, and have recently been investing in bricks and mortar to create their own high-end hotels and far-flung getaways.

Driven by statistics showing the luxury hospitality industry to be worth upwards of $30bn globally, the idea is to license the luxury brand to a worthy developer or hotel chain who can respond with the required level of service and location.

Coincidentally, most of these brands are family-owned (and Italian), so when it comes to a truly luxurious family retreat or even an annual board gathering, one can bet they can't be beat for quality.

The payout is equally rich for the developers joining up with luxury brand companies. Hotels by their nature can lapse into the realms of hyper-uniformity and overall drudgery, but stamping a world-famous luxury brand on a new real-estate portfolio can justify the huge financial investment needed to branch out into new, much more exclusive locations.

Only the best will do
In 2005, revered couturier Salvatore Ferragamo will mark its tenth year in the hotel trade with openings in the Italian cities of Rome and Montalcino, the first move outside Florence for the closely-run family empire.

Four hotels, a palazzo and a villa are run by the family's management company, Lungarno Alberghi, headed up by family descendent, Leonardo Ferragamo. Leonardo is overseeing projects to convert existing real estate in Milan and Venice.

The Ferragamo family approached the market with subtlety, rather than a brand fanfare greeting guests at the door. "We didn't believe it was appropriate to apply the Salvatore Ferragamo brand to the hotels, but instead preferred to concentrate on the products and service formula," Leonardo tells Families in Business. "We didn't want to use fashion stylists as architects but instead transfer the sensibilities, tastes and values of our company into the hotelier business."

The family started out with the acquisition of three hotels needing total restoration. Each of their properties now boasts roof-top terraces overlooking the city of Florence, edgy bars and art exhibition spaces; guests of the Palazzo Capponi can indulge in a personal chef or butler.

Billion dollar deal
This February, Giorgio Armani shook hands with Dubai-based property developer EMAAR Properties on a deal worth $1bn to build ten luxury hotels and four resorts across the world's capital cities including London, Paris, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai.  "We have been exploring the idea of bringing the Armani philosophy of design and style to hotels for many years," said Giorgio Armani.
It could be a big risk to not only move outside of his core business in couture, but also to lend his brand name to a venture which will be built and managed by another company. "This is an ambitious collaboration," EMAAR chairman Mohamed Ali Alabbar admitted, "but one which is backed by the enthusiasm and passion of two partners with a like-minded commitment to innovation and excellence. The Armani name is synonymous for modern elegance, style and above all, exceptional quality – these are the attributes that will characterise and define the collection of hotels and resorts we will open."

Paolo and Nicola Bulgari of luxury jeweller Bulgari opened their 58-room boutique hotel in Milan this summer through its $800m development agreement with the Marriott Luxury Group, The hotel, set in the prestigious shopping mall Via Privata Fratelli Gabb, conveys its signature through black Zimbabwe marble in all public spaces, Vicenza stone and Turkish Aphyon in the Spa.

A second location in Bali, is to open mid-2005, catering for those seeking more of a secluded paradise. All visitors will be able to lounge in true style, the only stress coming from the choice of how to chill out – the spa, the private beach, the restaurants, or the Bulgari store for a spot of own-brand bling-bling purchases. Bulgari hired architects Antonio Citterio & Partners to capitalise on the breath-taking Balinese vistas and local materials in the design of the resort.

"I am convinced this resort will be a spectacular venture that will enhance further the Bulgari brand image," Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani, believes. "

Sun-soaked indulgence
One of the best-known luxury brand-hotel marriages is the Palazzo Versace on Australia's Gold Coast. Launched in September 2000 and made a member of the Leading Hotels of the World in 2003, Donatella's style vision made reality is the philosophical polar opposite of the Ferrag­amo family's outlook on luxury holidays.

"Creating choice and trends in fashion and home-style is Donatella Versace's passion," the company says, and it certainly seems to be passionately executed. The 205-room, 75-condominium Palazzo is unmistakably Versace, rendering Renaissance splendour against contemporary glamour – in a beach setting that screams beautiful youth. Yellow and gold is the overriding palette, as if the Equatorial sunshine was not bright enough.

Versace says its guests are usually the celebrity type "and a touch of royalty here and there." Why? Because not only do they promise the Earth, but their record says they deliver it. "Guests will be spoilt from the moment they arrive, spending their holiday sleeping on Versace linen, dining off Versace dinnerware or wrapping themselves in glamorous Palazzo Versace bathrobes," says manager Sandra Tikal.

And that, in a nutshell, is what luxury branded hotels is all about.

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