The great hotels of the world are always evolving, always moving with time. But the very best, like Hawaii’s legendary Halekulani—where Clark Gable once lounged beneath the courtyard’s kiawe tree, gazing out on the impossibly blue waters—surprise us by staying a step ahead. Opened in 1907 and spread over five oceanfront acres in Waikiki, the Halekulani, or "house befitting heaven," evokes the glamour of old Hawaii yet consistently makes changes to keep its look fresh and modern.
The one-bedroom Vera Wang Suite at Halekulani combines the designer’s patented fusion of simplicity and elegance with striking head-on views of the island’s famous Diamond Head and the Pacific. The result is sensationally romantic. "In addition to being the halfway point between China and the United States, Hawaii holds a special place in my heart," explains Wang, whose parents fled to New York during China’s Communist revolution in the forties. "Almost twenty years ago my husband, Arthur, proposed to me in Hawaii, so what better place for me to create a suite?"
Best known as the woman who injected style into bridal wear, whose couture evening gowns grace the shoulders of statuesque beauties on Oscar night, and who, more recently, has garnered praise for her fine jewelry pieces and home, gift, and bath collections, Wang is no stranger to interior design; she has worked on more than 20 homes for her closest friends and family.
The 2,135-square-foot suite is done in creams and neutral tones throughout. Wang has assembled a rich assortment of organic fabrics, and each room is outfitted with furnishings from Hawaii, Asia, and remote locales in Oceania. Whimsical touches—such as a bright silk throw draped over a bamboo-and-cane chair or an early-20th-century bronze bowl adorned with monkeys and overflowing with oranges—add splashes of tropical color. Perhaps most essential, the suite abides by every good Honolulu architect’s dictum, which says, A space must convey a Hawaii sense of place.
Halekulani’s chief operating officer, Peter Shaindlin, became inspired to create a collaborative suite while watching Top Hat, the 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film featuring the great round bed in the bridal suite and the famous duo’s performance of Irving Berlin’s "Cheek to Cheek." Shortly after that, he recalls, "We looked at the situation and asked, Who is the person to do something bridal and romance driven? And we immediately thought of Vera Wang."
"Because I’ve traveled all over the world and stayed at the most exclusive hotels, resorts, and spas," says Wang, "I had a vision of what the ultimate luxury suite should be, from both a design as well as an experiential perspective." Janis Clapoff, Halekulani’s general manager, explains that the suite’s repeat-guest factor is already 50 percent and one couple recently got married on its lanai. "Vera Wang is an icon," Clapoff says. "She’s legendary and she has a refinement that speaks to me of absolute perfection."
"I could argue that if sixty years ago Balenciaga had designed a suite at a hotel, it would be priceless now," says Shaindlin of Halekulani’s alliance with Vera Wang. "Everything in that suite would be a vintage item that Sotheby’s would love to get their hands on. My hope is that the value of this suite increases over time."
At the entryway, outrigger canoe paddles are mounted on natural-fiber wallpaper and a 150-year-old carved wooden statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, welcomes weary travelers. Made on Oahu, the statue was blessed by a Buddhist monk upon installation. Black-and-white compositions by Manoa-based photographer Franco Salmoiraghi have the classically Hawaiian titles Kalo Leaves II and Ohia in Mist, but foreign objets d’art like white-marble lotus blossoms from India add a hint of the exotic.
As you walk over sisal and hemp area rugs into the living room, Wang’s infusion of the yin and the yang becomes apparent—wenge-wood floors are balanced by two plush sofas in her signature lavender hue. Embroidered pillows with corallike designs evoke Hawaiian reefs. "The suite is all about the woman, but the floor is the masculine anchor," says the designer. At the large oceanfront window sits the room’s pièce de résistance: a round-leg elm-wood writing desk from China’s Shanxi Province made during the Qing dynasty, circa 1800. It overlooks the waves once surfed by Hawaii’s consummate waterman Duke Kahanamoku and is the perfect spot for chronicling island adventures or penning letters to friends. "The desk faces China," says Clapoff. "That was very important to Vera."
The suite comes stocked with a collection of Wang’s top DVD picks, which are best viewed on the entertainment lounge’s 50-inch Sony Wega TV. And although La Mer, the Halekulani’s French restaurant, is just steps from the door, gastronomes need not leave for dinner— a butler stands at the ready. The suite’s menu features some of Wang’s favorite snacks, like petite sirloin burgers, Shanghai-style vegetable gyoza served with quail egg-drop soup, crêpes Suzette, flapjacks with orange-ginger syrup, and popcorn. The dining room table, which matches the wenge floors and seats up to six on cane-back chairs, is set with Vera Wang’s popular china collection by Wedgwood along with crystal and silver from Wang’s home collection.
In the bedroom, the luxurious pillowtop bed is made up with Fili D’oro 450-thread-count sheets, white linen bedspread, and throw pillows covered in a delicate, subtly sparkling appliqué designed by Wang. Silk drapes are deep lavender and an antique mirror centered above the bed is aligned to reflect sunrises over the promontory of Diamond Head.
The master bathroom has mottled Brazilian-limestone floors, walls, and countertops, and is filled with soaps, creams, lotions, and gels from the Vera Wang Fragrances collection and SpaHalekulani. Guests can have the butler draw one of the spa’s signature baths in the suite’s Toto Clayton airbath, which has 16 air jets. The large wood wall panel next to the tub slides open to reveal ocean views.
Walk through the white-shutter sliding doors (a Halekulani trademark) onto the 642-square-foot lanai and the harmony between Wang’s design and the natural elements becomes clear. Here the balmy tropical air, the soothing sound of breaking surf, and the panoramic view of Waikiki’s twinkling lights all awaken the senses. The sublime setting brings to mind the words Mark Twain wrote many years after his only trip to the Hawaiian Islands in 1866: "No alien land in all the world has any deep, strong charm for me but that one.…Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same."
The Vera Wang Suite is $5,000 a night. At 2199 Kalia Rd., Honolulu; 800-367-2343; halekulani.com.
"I selected pieces from Hawaii, New York, and Asia. It was important that the rooms not only evoke modernity and comfort but also give a sense of place and tradition," says Vera Wang of her namesake suite at the Halekulani. Throughout the rooms, Wang achieved an island feel infused with the simplicity and elegance that has made her bridal, clothing, and home lines so famous. Halekulani COO Peter Shaindlin says, "The suite is a complete one-off—there’s just no other place like it. What makes it so special is that many of the pieces are absolutely one of a kind, chosen by Vera herself."
Vera Wang China
The china on the suite’s formal dining table is from Wang’s Home Collection and made by Wedgwood. Lunch is served on the two-tone, gold-rim Champagne Duchesse set; dinner is on the classic Blanc sur Blanc. The Vera Wang Boutique at Halekulani carries eight of Wang’s patterns, along with her full line of crystal. $100-$150 per place setting; 808-921-8100
Outrigger Canoe Paddles
Mounted one above the other on the wall in the entryway, these ebony-stained koa paddles are emblematic of ancient Hawaiian culture and were found on the island of Oahu. Guests can actually see paddles like these in action at the Ala Wai canal, just a short walk west from the Halekulani, where local canoe clubs practice each week. $525 per paddle. At Martin & MacArthur, 808-845-6688.
Framing the bed (a plush pillowtop that Wang designed with Serta) are two nightstands inlaid with bamboo and sharkskin. In keeping with the room’s organic motif, Wang placed an Art Deco-inspired rock-crystal lamp on either side of the bed. For these, Wang went to Chameleon Fine Lighting in New York, known for its extensive antique lamp collection. $5,600 a pair. At Chameleon Fine Lighting, 212-355-6300; chameleon59.com.
"Natural elements are a focus in every room throughout the suite," says Wang. To cover the TV room’s chaise longue (which is the optimum spot to sit and watch movies on the high-definition 50-inch Sony plasma TV), she selected a delicate tree fern pattern called Fougère in blue and cream and added silk taffeta accent pillows. Wang used the same pattern on the bedroom chaise in a muted gray. Fougère fabric in cornflower and pumice (bedroom) by Schumacher, $60 per yard; 800-332-3384.
Wang placed mirrors strategically throughout the suite, including a large gold-framed version in the bedroom that faces the sweeping view of Diamond Head. She also opted for striking sunburst mirrors—both in the entrance and in the living room—that echo the suite’s sand, sea, and sun theme. Sourced from Vallauris, France, an artist town northeast of Cannes where Picasso once worked, these forties-era convex mirrors are called sorciers for their ability to transform reflections. The dramatic gold color and the unusual shape create a graphic—yet romantic—setting. Mirrors, $490-$980. At Thomas Brillet Antique Shop, 305- 981-3030.
Books and DVDs
"I chose everything in the suite, even some of my favorite DVDs, such as The King and I, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Love Actually, and Love Story," says Wang. "The chaise lounge in the TV room is a great place to stretch out and watch a movie." Additionally, Wang placed beautiful books around the rooms, such as the massive natural history tome found on the living room coffee table. Albertus Seba’s celebrated Cabinet of Natural Curiosities is filled with wonderful illustrations from the 18th century (XL edition, $200; Taschen, 212-226-2212).