Ever since the 184-key Hôtel Lutetia reopened in July, life in Saint-Germain-des-Prés has been spinning on a new axis of chic. This is because the Left Bank’s aesthetically exigent residents immediately fell for interior architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s new look for the storied 1910 building at the corner of the Boulevard Raspail and the rue de Sèvres, with its limestone façade carved in fanciful floral motifs.
They quickly began frequenting its glamorous Bar Joséphine (you guessed it – it’s named for the late chanteuse, American expat Josephine Baker, who was a habitue of the hotel’s bar during the 1920s) and the excellent restaurant, Le Saint Germain, for all-day dining. La Brasserie, where the menu is signed by Michelin three-star chef Gérald Passédat of Le Petit Nice in Marseille, is soon set to join them.
The 150 memberships discreetly made available to the locals at the Lutetia’s new Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, which has a superb naturally lit indoor pool, a fitness centre, sauna, and Jacuzzi, were snapped up immediately, too.
And it was to this new-look haute hostelry that, earlier this month, American Express Card Members were invited to write a new chapter in its illustrious Belle Époque history. Card Members from near and far traveled to Paris to celebrate the property’s entrance into Fine Hotels & Resorts with a three-day itinerary starting with a VIP dinner, to the sound of Parisian jazz, before undertaking a packed itinerary.
It consisted of an early morning tour of the French dining scene’s secret weapon, the Marché Rungis, the largest wholesale food market in the world, which was followed by a cooking class at the famed l’École Ferrandi. Finally, Card Members were welcomed back to the ‘grande dame’ by three Michelin starred chef Gérald Passédat and his nostalgic menu of French Mediterranean flavors.
The three-day program was held against the backdrop of Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s re-enlivened mise en scène: an assiduous restoration of the building’s architectural details, including frescoes that were uncovered during construction complemented by a suave new contemporary look which was inspired by the fact the original décor of the hotel was a precursor of Art Deco.
In short, he translated the boho joie de vivre and intellectual wit that are the DNA of this politely frisky neighborhood into a visual style the natives find both charming and authentic but also intriguingly original.
Case in point, the two signature details of the new public spaces, which are striking polychrome glass ceiling Wilmotte commissioned from artist Fabrice Hyber for Le Saint Germain restaurant, and the re-edition of Italian designer Gio Ponti’s armchairs he ordered for the hotel’s intimate new art-book-filled library.
It gets even better upstairs. Guest rooms come with oyster-grey and indigo walls, chocolate-brown-stained herringbone parquet floors, electrically operated linen curtains, custom-made Poltrona Frau wool-upholstered canapés, marble-topped desks, and baths with solid matte-finished, white-marble sinks and tubs, along with Hermès toiletries.
What this Parisian décor says is that a certain less-is-more restraint is always at the root of Gallic good taste.
A stay at the new version of the Hotel Lutetia, which was originally commissioned in 1907 by the Boucicaut family to accommodate shoppers at their nearby department store, Le Bon Marché, also quietly reveals that real luxury is always delivered by a constellation of details, such as the heavy, forged-bronze handles on the solid-wood doors in guest rooms.
This spirit is also seen in the bespoke Berluti shoe-shine service, the live jazz in Bar Joséphine at the weekend, and what just may be the best room-service breakfast dish available anywhere in Paris, poached organic eggs on wholegrain avocado toast with pomegranate and toasted pumpkin seeds.