La Maison des Champs-Elysées consists of two adjacent buildings which were recently joined together to form a hotel. Now that the hotel is under new management, it’s the older and grander part – a 19th-century townhouse built for a Second Empire duchess – which has been redesigned by the Belgian fashion house Maison Martin Margiela.
Margiela left the house he founded in 2009, has famously never given an interview, been photographed only once (by accident) and labelled his clothes with a white rectangle bearing a black number (1 for womenswear, and so on). This commitment to minimalism and anonymity – employees are not to be named in interviews – continues, but the fashion house has now launched the obligatory perfume. It has also designed a couple of hotel suites (one for an exhibition at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the other a real suite in a spa in Bordeaux). In its first large-scale hotel project it has refurbished the reception, bar, smoking room and 17 suites and bedrooms, and was given a very open brief.
The colour scheme is white or black, or a black-and-white trompe l’oeil pattern based on the building’s facade and the panels of the listed “golden salon” on the second floor. The results are mixed: strikingly elegant and minimal in some places, but overdesigned and oppressive in others. The white ground-floor bar is one of the most successful rooms. Here a series of Groupe sofas – a surrealist piece created last year with Cerruti Baleri, consisting of three armchairs wrapped in white linen and cotton – face each other across mirrored cuboid tables. The mirroring effect continues with a trompe l’oeil carpet and matching wallpapered ceiling.
One of the few specific elements of the brief was to create “a British character for the smoking room”. The result, with its black, burnt-oak walls, dark brown leather armchairs, and lights set in black bottles is accurately oppressive; it’s horribly like Black’s Club in London, though more comfortable. The upstairs walls and carpets are also black, with overhead spotlights to guide you. The decor is at its silliest in the vampiric “Closet of Rarities” suite; in another “British” touch it has burnt-oak walls and black wool-pinstripe curtains. When my guide told me that some guests have changed their minds about spending the night there, it didn’t seem surprising.
Maison Martin Margiela says that “many elements are part of our own universe”. The white and trompe l’oeil areas are, like Margiela’s clothes, the most attractive. In the white bedrooms, telephones are swaddled in linen (like the Groupe sofas), and you have to draw back linen covers to see the photographs lining the walls: a reminder of the veiled models Margiela showed in his first solo collection in 1989.
The restaurant and bar are both “in the French style”; it’s tempting to think that the split decor tries to present Britain in the most unfavourable light possible.
The restaurant’s armchairs seem to be “in levitation”: they have hidden central bases so that their feet are off the floor.
Maison Martin Margiela plans to continue its adventures in interior decoration. As to future directions it says, “It is quite probable that we follow this path.” It would be intriguing to know what its founder makes of this interesting but wildly uneven project.