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There is one thing to know about Los Angeles’s new Mama Shelter, a 70-room hotel located on a gritty block in Hollywood, and it’s this: “People love it—or don’t get it,” says Benjamin Trigano, one of the hotel’s founders. And that’s okay. The fact that Mama stays true to herself no matter where she lands is what has made her so popular throughout Europe.
To really get L.A.’s Mama—and her $150-per-night price tag—first one has to understand how she came to be. Her roots go back to 1950, when French businessman Gilbert Trigano cofounded Club Med. His son, Serge, took the resort brand’s reins in 1993 but was later fired. After the ousting, Serge, 69, called up his two sons, Benjamin, 44, and Jeremie, 38. “He said, ‘Maybe we should try to do something new,’ ” Benjamin recalls. “We sat down with him and my grandfather and started thinking about what would make sense but not just duplicate what we’d done in the past.”
They decided they wanted to open a boutique hotel in Paris (there weren’t really any at the time). They’d call it Mama Shelter, because Mom knows best. The idea was that there would be no stereotypical guest. Instead, fun would be the universal uniter among a mixed clientele: the young, the old, the moneyed, the no money. This meant room rates couldn’t be luxe, but service had to be. A big potential stumbling block—that the only property the family could afford was in the 20th Arrondissement, which isn’t even on the map of Paris because it’s so far out—actually helped the cause. “We thought, Let’s give people a different view of Paris: multicultural, multiethnic,” Benjamin says.
They set out to wrangle, as Benjamin recalls, “all the best people to work for us.” They went to see Philippe Starck, not because he had done other hotels but because Serge knew him. Starck came on board. Jean-Claude Elgaire, who had been at the Plaza Athénée for 49 years (ten as head concierge), signed on. He trained the staff in the art of true hospitality (something that still sets Mama apart from other budget boutique hotels). Michelin three-star French chef Alain Senderens agreed to design a menu from which people could order a quality meal for $80 or $8. The hotel opened in 2008, and before long, Jay Z and Beyoncé types were dining next to skateboarders eating pizza. Not too long after that came Mama outposts in Marseilles, Lyon, Bordeaux, and Istanbul.
Which brings us to L.A., where Benjamin has been living for 13 years. The Mama here opened in July, and it has the same high-low experience as the other Mamas, though Starck didn’t do the hotel; the Triganos felt Starck had already left a bold imprint on the city with the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Instead, Thierry Gaugain, a Starck protégé, reimagined a 1920s building. The rooms—ranging in size from Medium Mamas (215 square feet and up) to XXL Mamas (440 square feet)—all have the brand’s ubiquitous offbeat touches, such as Bert and Ernie lampshades and the Bible sitting with
a copy of Keith Richards’s Life biography on every side table. Each room also has an iMac that functions as a TV.
For the hotel’s artwork, Benjamin, who is also the owner of M+B Art Gallery, in West Hollywood, asked his contemporary-artist friends to paint tributes to their moms on the black ceilings. There’s a restaurant by chef Benjamin Bailly on the ground floor (in addition to a giant foosball table and a stage with guitars set up for impromptu jam sessions), and the roof, with 360-degree city views, has everything from an outdoor film-screening area to a Muscle Beach–like gym. “It’s communal fun and an honest proposition where people have a great time,” Benjamin says. “That’s what it’s all about.” Rooms from $150; 6500 Selma Ave.; 323-785-6666; mamashelter.com.