Souvenirs Of New York: Memories Or Meaning?

NYC souvenirs Met MuseumNYC souvenirs Bergdorf FAO Schwartz

You’re in New York on vacation and have just come out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (left) or Bergdorf’s, FAO Schwartz, or the Apple Store (above).* All along the sidewalk are vendors vying for your souvenir business, most of them selling images of various kinds.

Unlike traditional souvenirs, however, very few of these pictures portray famous things tourists might actually see in New York: the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, Starry Night, the Unicorn tapestries, Central Park buggy rides, the Brooklyn Bridge. Most represent instead symbols associated with the glamorous idea of New York. Audrey Hepburn is far more popular than the Statue of Liberty, sketches of shoes more common than skyscrapers. There are no famous paintings, only vintage Vogue covers. These souvenirs don’t capture memories. They remind tourists of why they first dreamed of going to New York.

Is this phenomenon unique to New York, or have you seen it in other cities as well? What sort of souvenirs do you bring back from your travels?

*If the photos are stacked on top of each other, enlarge your window.

Travel Glamour And The Domesticated Sublime


This photo of Jade Mountain in St. Lucia originally appeared in our Hotel Week interview with Tamara Haber Percy of Mr & Mrs Smith. The photo below is from an Urban Daddy Jetset email (and slide show) titled “A Pirate's Tour of the South Pacific”, about Remote Land’s Bali to Komodo private yacht trip.

Komodo Yachting Trips Bali to Komodo

Both images are intensely glamorous, inviting viewers to project themselves into the scene and feel the promise of escape. The still waters create a sense of grace, the mountains a feeling of mystery. We identify with the ship, imagine ourselves gazing at the green peaks from the orange chairs. Both images are also sales tools. They are designed to create longing.

What’s particularly striking about these two photos, as opposed to the more common image of sandy beaches, is that they both incorporate craggy, rather barren mountains—the sort of awe-inspiring scenery traditionally associated with the fearful beauty of the sublime. Yet there’s nothing fearful about either scene. The chairs in the first image and the ship in the second promise comfortable, safe havens for the visitor. We can experience the pleasures of the sublime without the usual element of fear.

Much luxury travel is, in fact, about domesticating the sublime, from old-time Alpine resorts to the new luxury camp on Antarctica, which features “private domed tents and cuisine from an award-winning chef.” With enough technology and effort, travel businesses can provide access to the most rugged wilderness without threatening the lives, health, or taste buds of their guests. (Of course, there are still customers who want to suffer, at least somewhat. Hence the market for what John Tierney dubbed explornography.) Not just the image but the actual experience of the sublime can be “glamorized” by containing or removing some of its dangers.

Hotel Week: Mr & Mrs Smith’s Top 10 High-Life Hotels

Global Shortlist Mr&Mrs Smith guidebook

To cap off Hotel Week, we asked the team at Mr & Mrs Smith to compile a Top 10. (As an added touch of glamour, we even kept the British spellings.) Post a comment telling which of these you find most glamorous, or describing your own favorite glamorous hotel, and you could win a copy of The Global Shortlist, their lusciously illustrated guidebook. [VP]

We’ve posed by rooftop plunge pools, cavorted on Caribbean islands and dallied in designer dens (all in the name of research, of course) to bring you our run-down of the 10 most glamorous hotels from around the world. All that’s left for you to do is sit back, sip champagne and decide whether you want to play A-list celeb, Park Avenue princess or lord of a country manor…

The Mercer, New York
Style Louche luxe lofts
Setting So chic SoHo

Sister to Hollywood’s mansion of misbehaviour, Chateau Marmont, the Mercer is as much a classic as Manhattan the cocktail, Manhattan the movie, and Manhattan the city. Everything here is on a grand scale, from the huge windows bathing rooms in light, to the gargantuan marble bathrooms. The look is understated, edgy glamour, and the hotel’s a favorite of the fash pack.  As a guest you have a golden ticket to the hotel’s achingly cool club, SubMercer, with its metallic mosaic floors and mirrored ceilings. It’s easy to see why some people unpack their Vuittons and just never leave…

Mykonos Grace 

Mykonos Grace, Greece

Mykonos Grace, Greece
Style Contemporary coastal cool
Setting Chic, sleek Greek island

Sitting on a cliff top above the Aegean, the terraces and colonnades of this whitewashed hotel jut out imposingly from the rock-face. Attentive but unobtrusive staff seem to appear out of the stonework when needed, as though unwilling to disturb the perfect balance of clean lines, clean living, and absolute peace. The turquoise infinity pool – a major draw for the island-hopping playboys and girls that stay here – looks out onto the sea and is the perfect spot to sun-bask in an over-sized lounger, sipping on the frozen fruit shots distributed by staff and planning an evening’s misbehaviour in lively Mykonos Town, just down the road.

Wheatleigh, Berkshires
Style Refined rustic retreat
Setting Lenox hillside

Perched atop a grand, green knoll in the Berkshire Hills, Wheatleigh combines the grandeur of a Florentine palazzo with the intimacy of a country cottage. With antique furniture and modern oil paintings, and a 22-acre landscaped-garden setting, Wheatleigh is a luxurious country-house classic. And, with 19 rooms, massages on demand, and staff happy to bring out snacks as you float in the pool, you’ll feel like the lord of the manor. 

Cotton house

Cotton House, Mustique

Cotton House, Mustique
Style Champagne colonial
Setting Private-island playground

Hotels don’t come any more exclusive than Cotton House. Only accessible by private plane, the tiny island of Mustique is a bubble of inviolable luxury, with perfect beaches shared only between the hotel’s guests and the island’s celebrity rich. The coral-white boutique hotel, once a plantation house, combines French West Indies architecture with Caribbean trimmings. It’s the social hub of the island, too – every Tuesday, the super-rich neighborhood villa owners flock to the Great Room bar for champagne and canapés. Rooms are decorated in muted, beachy shades with floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize the breathtaking sea views. 

Chateau Marmont

Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles

Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles

Style Decadence and debauchery
Setting High on Sunset

LA icon Chateau Marmont is the stuff of legend. Sitting high in the hills, this pseudo-Norman chateau is all turrets, towers, and vaulted colonnades – with a magnum-full of celebs thrown in for good measure. The hotel’s idiosyncratic pseudo-Norman architecture shines out across LA from high in the hills like a Disney castle gone bad; its turrets and towers a siren call to playboys and their perfectly coiffed muses. Chateau Marmont may have a reputation for hard-partying, non-stop glamour, but the reason those in the know return time after time is simple: classic good looks that haven’t dated a jot, moreish menus by one of New York’s most feted new chefs, an intimate ambiance, and staff who know how to pamper without imposing. Truly, one of the classiest hotel acts around.

La Purificadora, Puebla, Mexico
Style Industrial revolution
Setting Colonial old town

From the outside La Purificadora resembles its previous incarnation – a 19th-century water-bottling factory – but once you pass reception (with its artfully preserved peeling paintwork), the hotel opens out into a cathedral of space, with rough granite walls and monolithic pillars made from reclaimed wood. Water trickles down the staircase to a pool at the bottom, and two huge fire pits surrounded by purple cubist sofas dominate the lobby. 

One thing’s for certain – La Purificadora is cool. The spectacular rooftop pool oozes sex appeal with glowing onyx pillars and glass walls, giving the suitably sultry margarita-suppers cheeky underwater views from the bar. La Purificadora is the architectural equivalent of a shot of tequila: momentarily overwhelming, but it sure makes your weekend go with a bang.

XV Beacon

XV Beacon, Boston

XV Beacon, Boston
Style Classic city chic
Setting Beside beautiful Boston Common

With original cage elevators and art deco furnishings, this Beaux Arts hotel exudes demure elegance. Rooms are a mix of classic and contemporary, with Louis XV-inspired furniture sitting alongside 42” flatscreen TVs. The landscaped roof gardens have spectacular views of the city’s skyline, and the cherry on top is the hot tub to enjoy them from.  With in-room massages, a Lexus chauffeur service, and personalized business cards for its guests, XV Beacon is a landmark of living it luxe. 

St James’s Hotel & Club London, UK
Style Grown-up glamour
Setting Majestic Mayfair

London’s gentlemen’s clubs normally conjure associations of wood-paneled studies shrouded in a fog of cigar smoke and mystery, but the newly revamped St James’ hotel’s prize possession is its art collection – a massive stash of modern portraits than adorn the suites, the lobby walls, the sleek canary yellow bar area, and the hothouse of haute cuisine that is the hotel restaurant. A pristine marble staircase wends its way up from the black lacquered lobby, leading to rooms that promise hand-made Hypnos beds dressed into the most luxurious of linens and gleaming black and chrome bathrooms. 

Shore Club

Shore Club, Miami

Shore Club, Miami
Style Miami meets Marrakech
Setting Sexy South Beach

At first glance, the Shore Club appears to be quite modest – its minimalist lobby features a reserved blend of grey terrazzo floors, white sheer fabrics, and art deco-style columns. But, as fashionistas well know, it’s all in the accessories, and the Moroccan-themed furnishings, sheer white drapery and quirky one-off pieces set the style stakes high. Around the pool lie lithe, tanned hipsters, cocktails in hand, luxuriating on oversized sun loungers. And as the sun goes down, the scene hots up with more poolside posing in the hotel’s two outdoor bars, Rumbar and Sandbar. 


Amanpuri, Phuket, Thailand

Amanpuri, Phuket, Thailand
Style Chic teak Thai pavilions
Setting Pansea Beach coconut groves

Set blessedly apart from the Phuket tourist trail, Amanpuri may be the granddaddy of Aman Resorts’ group of insanely luxurious spa hotels, but even at 21, it still looks like it was built last week. By day, laze on a wooden sun-lounger beside the midnight-blue infinity pool (and don’t miss the incredible poolside tea and cakes at 4pm every day), or on the ice-white sands of the perfect private beach. At dusk, watch the sunset from a day-bed in the Beach Club, quaffing cocktails to a chilled-out soundtrack of lounge music, before choosing between the hotel’s three gourmet restaurants (Thai, Italian and Japanese) and settling into the chic bar for a post-prandial cigar worthy of a Bond villain. 

For more glamour-draped hotel stays, visit Mr&



Hotel Week: How John Portman Reinvented The Lobby With Visual Excitement

Portman.Hyatt.Regency.Atlanta When the Atlanta Hyatt Regency opened in 1967, its glass elevators and rotating rooftop restaurant were the talk of the Southeast. To me, growing up a couple of hours from Atlanta, the Hyatt represented “the future” as surely as any World's Fair. Architect-developer John Portman had designed it to wow visitors for whom Atlanta represented the big city. As critic Paul Goldberger writes:

Portman devised a scheme for a modern hotel built around an open atrium as a conscious rebuke to the standardized, boxy modern hotels of the nineteen-fifties and -sixties (including a preliminary design of his own, which he rejected as too conventional), based on the belief that in the troubled urban climate of the mid-nineteen-sixties, a new hotel going up in an urban site had to serve as a magnet to attract cautious suburbanites and out-of-towners. Everything about the Hyatt was geared toward visual excitement: a 220-foot tall central atrium, glass elevators, a round, revolving rooftop lounge, perched atop the building like a flying saucer.

Portman.Marriot.Marquis Portman’s design did indeed represent the future of hotels. Its atrium lobby in particular became a much-imitated feature, helping to establish Hyatt as a national brand and Portman as a sought-after architect, especially in the hospitality industry. His iconic hotels include the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, shown to the right, the Westin Bonaventure in downtown L.A. (famous from In the Line of Fire, where Portman's glass elevators were important to the plot), the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and Embarcadero Center (and its Hyatt) in San Francisco.

Ric Garrido of the Loyalty Traveler blog fondly remembers his teenage awe at the San Francisco Hyatt's atrium and the large metal sculpture that dominates it. (Photo below.)

Back in the 70s sitting in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency at Embarcadero Center provided a respite from the streets of San Francisco, same as today. Here was a large hotel space I could sit and rest my feet, use a free toilet, and drink some water while watching people move vertically through the hotel in the glass elevators and take each other’s photos in front of the sculpture.

Ironically the criticism of John Portman’s hotel atrium designs is that the focus of these large buildings is interior rather than exterior. The buildings are considered exclusionary to the people outside on the city streets. My memories of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco as a place where I could enjoy the beauty and comfort of a grand hotel as a person seeking shelter from the streets defies that criticism. The Hyatt Regency San Francisco is a hotel I have visited for over 30 years, yet I was a registered hotel guest for the first time in 2008.

Portman in effect reinvented the American hotel lobby as it had been experienced in the 19th century, a trend that has intensified over the past decade or so, even as Portman's once-radical designs have come to seem somewhat old-fashioned.

San Francisco Hyatt lobby John Portman On October 17, an exhibit devoted to Portman's work opens at the High Museum in Atlanta. The following description of the Atlanta Hyatt Regency is drawn, with permission, from the catalog, John Portman: Art and Architecture, to be published by the University of Georgia Press.

The hotel, John Portman’s first, revolutionized an entire industry by introducing the atrium concept to contemporary hotel design. The hotel was conceived as a totally new guest experience: the antithesis of the traditional, tightly confined double-corridor hotel. The design goal was to open the interior space to create a dynamic, uplifting environment, one that would bring the energy and life of the city indoors, while providing restaurants, cafés, and bars that would attract visitors, not just guests.

The 22-story concrete structure was figuratively “exploded” to create the huge, sky-lit atrium. With natural light, sculpture, trees, and water, the interior resembles a large outdoor piazza bordered by a sidewalk café. (Originally, the lobby featured a three-story aviary, home to colorful Macaws and other tropical birds.) The glass elevator cabs were exposed, turning the elevators into kinetic sculptures, creating a sense of movement and drama. Passengers on the glass elevators could view the Atlanta skyline as the elevator continued through the atrium roof to the blue-domed revolving restaurant above.

Atlanta Hyatt Regency rooftop restaurant flying saucer night John Portman architect

Many professionals saw the atrium design as a liability—an enormous waste of space. During the hotel’s construction, legendary hotel operator Conrad Hilton was quoted as observing, “That concrete monster will never fly.” When the hotel did open, it was visited by thousands of tourists a day, forming lines around the block. The great success of the original project, which comprised 800 guestrooms, quickly prompted the expansion of two adjacent towers, creating an additional 200 and 350 guestrooms, respectively.

Hyatt’s owners, the Pritzker family of Chicago, were richly rewarded for taking a chance on Portman's unconventional designs. In fact, writes Goldberger in his catalog introduction, the hotel “tied the reputation of the Pritzkers to architecture to such an extent that a dozen years later the family established the Pritzker Prize, which has become the most famous architectural prize in the world.”

[Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 1967, view of the atrium, photo by Michael Portman and Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel, 1985, view of the atrium, photo by Jaime Ardiles-Arce, both courtesy of the High Museum of Art. Grand Hyatt Lobby, San Francisco, by Flickr user amnesia_x under Creative Commons license. "Atlanta Lights" by Flickr user Old Shoe Woman, used with permission.]



Hotel Week: Andrew Sandoval-Strausz On The Social History Of Hotels

Andrew Sandoval Strausz final The American hotel is not just a place to stay but a revolutionary institution, embodying hospitality as a liberal value and delivering once-elite services in a mass, democratic form. So argues historian Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz in Hotel: An American History. With its combination business, legal, and social history, the book offers a new way of seeing an industry we think we know.

Writing in the NYT Book Review Dominique Browning called the book “dense, ambitious and valuable,” concluding, “I will never again check into a hotel without thinking of myself as an ambassador of peace; that alone, with its profound implications, makes this thoughtful book worthwhile.” (It also gave her “an entirely new take on spoiled, bratty, neglected, charming Eloise, living at the Plaza.”) “This brilliant history,” wrote Kerry Howley in Reason, “is a reminder that the fear of the traveling stranger is something we have overcome before.”

An assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, Andrew is currently editing a special issue of Winterthur Portfolio on the subject of business architecture. We're delighted he was willing to contribute to Hotel Week.

DG: How did you get interested in hotels?

Andrew Sandoval-Strausz: It happened rather by chance. In the spring of 1996 I was in my second year of graduate school, and looking for a dissertation topic. While attending a historians’ conference, I spent some time in the beautiful second-floor lobby at the Palmer House in Chicago. As I watched the people come and go, I began to think about interactions among total strangers and how fraught they could be with delight, temptation, and danger—especially at a place with lots of alcohol and lots of beds. What if I were to write a history of hotels, with all their attendant elegance, naughtiness, and political intrigue? “Now, that,” I thought, “would be a guaranteed non-boring Ph.D. thesis!”

Palmer House hotel Chicago lobby

Palmer House lobby

DG: You write, “It is extremely easy for people to say one thing and do another....But when they construct a building—especially a large and complex one like a hotel—it is harder to argue that they didn’t really mean it.” What were the people who built America’s hotels saying?

Sandoval-Strausz: They were extending a welcome to strangers and outsiders in a way that hadn’t been done in America for almost 200 years. From the beginnings of European settlement in the early 1600s until the first hotels in the 1790s, Americans offered travelers only the most rudimentary of accommodations. European wayfarers who wrote about hospitality here were constantly complaining about bad food, overcharging, filth, vermin, and having to share beds with complete strangers. Moreover, many American communities had laws allowing them to inspect, interrogate, and eject anyone who was in a town other than their home community. But when people in the early United States started devoting enormous amounts of money, creativity, labor, and building materials to building a new class of public accommodations, it was an unmistakable sign that they had changed their views of outsiders, deciding to welcome them in style instead of viewing them with suspicion.

Lobby DG: You note that in the 19th-century guests spent very little time in their hotel rooms and that travel writers and journalists focused almost all their attention on the public areas of hotels. Why?

Sandoval-Strausz: Leading hotels at that time weren’t just about paying for a bed and a bath—they were places people went to see and be seen, to enjoy the pleasure of being in public. The entire approach to being a hotel guest was fundamentally sociable, so who would want to stay cooped up in their room? Hotel rooms were very small and plain then; it was the public areas—the lobby, dining rooms, lounges, bars, and the like—that hotelkeepers worked hardest to make beautiful.

DG: How was the role of a 19th-century hotel lobby different from the role of such a lobby today?

Sandoval-Strausz: In some respects I think today’s hotel lobbies are moving back toward the role they played a century and a half ago. After the past few decades, during which lobbies were becoming sparse, sterile spaces that were no more than waiting areas for people who wanted to go upstairs, hoteliers have again begun to see them as important gathering-places for their neighborhoods. In the nineteenth century, the lobby was the most exciting space in the entire building. Hotelkeepers spent enormous amounts of money on carpets, furniture, draperies, and other elements of décor so that they could attract people to their premises. Indeed, hotel lobbies were such important social and business centers that the majority of people in them weren’t travelers at all, but locals who simply wanted to meet friends or do business in the most vital and glamorous place in town.

DG: Today’s hotel guests tend to be baffled by the idea that an “American plan” means meals are included. What is the origin of this term? What was the appeal of the 19th-century hotel dining room?

Sandoval-Strausz: This term originated at a time when European travelers expected to take their meals privately, in their rooms. Americans thought this was impardonably rude: in a country based on the idea that “all men are created equal,” it was seen as snobbish and antisocial to want to keep your distance from others. The “American plan,” in which your room charge automatically included meals eaten in a common dining room, expressed the idea that it was proper to eat at long tables alongside your fellow citizens. For Americans, this was both a way of expressing their ideals about equality and democracy and an opportunity to put on a nice change of clothes and enjoy a banquet-like experience in a grand dining hall.

Lick House, Dining Room, JW Lawlor & Co, Proprietors, San Francisco, [Watkins' Pacific Coast, 1743] (1861-1873) 

Stereoscopic view of Lick House dining room, San Francisco

DG: Luxury hotels play a prominent role in the movies of the 1930s and ’40s, with wealthy characters often living in hotels for long periods of time (sometimes permanently). How common were such living arrangements? What was the appeal of living in a hotel rather than in an apartment or house?

Sandoval-Strausz: They were very common, and not just in the 1930s and 1940s. More than a hundred years before, people recognized that living in a hotel was very convenient because so much of the everyday drudgery of living would be handled by the hotel staff. If you had the resources, you didn’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or laundry because hotel chefs, chambermaids, and washerwomen would do the work. Hotel living allowed single people and families to enjoy services and amenities that were usually only available to those with private servants.

Fifth Avenue Hotel dining room DG: In the mid-19th century, critics decried the rise of hotel living for corroding family life while reformers saw hotels as a model for efficient domesticity, with shared cooking, laundry, and other services. Why did hotel living die out in the 20th century?

Sandoval-Strausz: This was in substantial part the result of housing policies that began in the 1930s and the prosperity of the 1950s and after. Under Franklin Roosevelt, the federal government brought mortgage rates down much lower than they’d ever been; and in the post-World War II period, the U.S. became the most prosperous nation that had ever existed. The combination of the two led to many people being able to afford the kind of freestanding, single-family house that was idealized for so many years in Anglo-American culture.

DG: Do hotels today represent an extension of ordinary domestic life or an escape from it? Has that changed over time?

Sandoval-Strausz: These days it’s definitely an escape, if the way they are advertised is anything to go by. Over the past ten or fifteen years, hotel companies have been emphasizing the specialness and glamour of staying at a hotel. For travelers, it’s the promise of something exotic, or historic, or especially hip—but in all cases different from your workaday routine. They’re also advertising in-town escapes, as when they try to draw married couples in for sexy weekends away from the kids and household responsibilities. This has indeed changed over time. In some eras, hotelkeepers tried to emphasize that hotels offered all the comforts of home: they gave guests personalized attention, tried to make the entire hotel seem like an extended family, and so on—indeed, hoteliers in the nineteenth century would often stand at the head table in their dining room and cut the roast for the guests, thus taking on the symbolic role of the head of a regular household. In other eras, they emphasized the predictability and machine-like efficiency of their operations, featuring anything from a large-capacity steam-driven laundry machine to a modern electric elevator to a corps of dining room waiters who served with military precision.

Hotel book cover Sandoval-Strausz DG: What makes a hotel glamorous?

Sandoval-Strausz: It could be any of a few things. Many historic hotels are glamorous because of their incredible architecture: some of the most elegant hotels in the country—the Plaza, the Fairmont, the Blackstone—were built about a century ago, at a time when hotel builders spared no expense on elaborate ornamentation and décor. Some recent establishments, like the leading W Hotels locations, offer up-to-the-minute style and the latest in architecture and materials, using a modern minimalist visual vocabulary to dazzle and intrigue. And still others, like La Fonda in Santa Fe or the Peabody in Memphis, simply express the local culture perfectly, expressing confidence in their vernacular heritage and charm.

DG: Do you have a favorite hotel or hotel experience?

Sandoval-Strausz: This takes me back to the initial inspiration for my book. I like just sitting and having a drink in an elegant hotel bar or hotel lobby, watching what people do. They may smile or they may complain, they may look exhausted at the end of a long flight or exhilarated at the prospect of a night on the town, they may be giving a hug to old friends or flirting with someone cute whom they’ve just met. But they’re always up to something interesting, because if they wanted to be boring, they’d have just stayed at home.

To see a Slate slide show of hotel photos, with text by Andrew Sandoval-Strausz, go here.

[Palmer House lobby by Flickr user WhatCouldPossiblyGoWrong? under Creative Commons license.   United States Hotel lobby, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1876, and Fifth Avenue Hotel dining room, courtesy of Andrew Sandoval-Strausz. Lick House dining room, San Francisco, courtesy of New York Public Library digital gallery.]



Hotel Week: Hotels And Hats—Stylish Ambiance

Plaza_Hotel_Las_Vegas_NM While traveling my wife and I often stay in historical hotels. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries some interesting hotels were built as stops on railroad lines, the kind of place where Harvey Girls or other uniformed staff served you. Resort spa hotels were often built near natural features such as hot springs.

Many of these hotels closed during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Some have been renovated and reopened. The mineral resources of the western United States have generated boom-and-bust cycles that continue to this day. For example, Las Vegas, New Mexico, was once a wealthy mining and railroad community which had several hotels. The Castañeda, a mission-style Harvey House hotel, is now a decaying giant whose vacant rooms sleep silently only a few steps from the train station (the hotel was used in the film Red Dawn). A picturesque city, Las Vegas has been used in many films, especially in the days of silent Westerns. In another part of town the 1881 Plaza Hotel still operates (we’ve stayed there, and it‘s shown in the photo). The Plaza Hotel was used in the film No Country for Old Men).

Many of these hotels were built in boom periods and were furnished resplendently. These hotels were places where presidents, congressmen, and railroad and mining barons stayed, as well as famous entertainers. In some hotels the rooms are named for the film stars or presidents who stayed in them.

The present-day condition of such hotels varies from abandoned shells to five-star splendor (an example of the latter is the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs). We recently stayed in a historic resort hotel whose grandeur had faded a bit (I’ll leave it unnamed). There were echoes of its former majesty, as well as signs that times had changed. There were no bellhops, for example, uniformed or not, to the disappointment of one elderly couple. And the decor was sometimes slightly off—the new carpet in the dining room clashed with the upholstery.

Frank-sinatra During our stay there I noticed that the music heard in the lobby and dining room was 1940s big-band music, and I pondered why it is that Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and other singers of that era are so often heard as background music in upscale locations.

One reason might be language. When I phoned about a change in our reservation, I was told, “That won’t be no problem.” The double negative told me that some of the staff would be downscale. Perhaps the relatively urbane language of many big-band era song lyrics era helps hotels project some sense of sophistication. In contrast, the vernacular dialects used in many post-1950s lyrics might create a more commonplace ambiance. If you’re striving to create an elegant dining room experience, hearing Mick Jagger sing “I can’t get no satisfaction” might shift the diners’ moods in the wrong direction. (An even worse strategy would be Karaoke. We stopped to look at one beautiful old hotel, but there was an outdoor Karaoke event going on, which demolished the Victorian ambiance.)

In keeping with DeepGlamour’s recent hat party, I think hats have an oblique relevance. In the hotel where we were staying, when you looked at photographs of its glory days, you might notice that the guests in earlier decades frequently wore hats. And when you see photographs of singers like Frank Sinatra in his heyday, he is often wearing a hat and a tailored suit. Thus when patrons hear the music of that period, they think of a time in which many entertainers dressed with high-fashion elegance when they performed, and they are reminded of a time when high style was appreciated. In a 1996 interview, American-born fashion designer Tom Ford commented, “If I was ever going to become a good designer, I had to leave America. My own culture was inhibiting me. Too much style in America is tacky. It's looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style....In fashion, you can really tell that America is descended from the Puritans.”

The only hat that I saw at the hotel was a baseball hat worn by an attractive, model-thin woman in a black, stretch tee and a great looking pair of khaki pants. The baseball hat created a fun look, though I couldn’t help thinking that a stylish fedora would have made her outfit look more hipster current. Then again, thinking of Tom Ford’s comments, perhaps she didn't want to look “too stylish.” Otherwise, the contrast between her appearance and her husband’s, who arrived a few moments later in trucker-like clothes, might have seemed comic—though probably not from her perspective.

[Photo of the Plaza Hotel used under the GNU Free Documentation License.]



Hotel Week: DG Q&A With Mr & Mrs Smith's Tamara Heber Percy

Tamara Heber-Percy After a crummy hotel spoiled their romantic getaway, James Lohan and Tamara Heber Percy didn’t just grumble to their friends or post nasty comments on a travellers website. They created their own guidebook for similar couples seeking seductive places to stay. And when nobody would publish it, they raised £180,000 and published the book themselves. It was an immediate hit.

Six years later, Lohan and Heber Percy are married and Mr & Mrs Smith is a well-established institution. From the original coffee-table guidebook featuring 41 hotels in the U.K. and Ireland, the company has expanded to cover the world, with five more books, an online directory or more than 500 hotels, and a membership base of 75,000.

“We handpick, personally visit, and then anonymously review every property in our collection. Our aim is to bring you a trusted insider guide, just like a good travel-savvy friend would,” says Heber Percy. (Once a reviewer has given some place a good report, the company does charge the hotel to be included.)

Along with well-known journalists and authors, reviewers include celebrities like Stella McCartney and Dita von Teese, who declared the Viceroy in Santa Monica exceedingly glamorous, indeed perhaps “the most fabulous hotel in Los Angeles.” (She did not, however, bring a Mr. Smith along for her weekend.)

Although still better known across the Atlantic, Mr & Mrs Smith is attracting American fans. “I have fallen in love, love, love with Mr & Mrs Smith,” gushes Lea Ann Fessenden of the L.A. Examiner. Whether you're planning a trip or merely fantasizing about one, the Mr & Mrs Smith website is an enticing place to start. (Check out their blog here.) We’re delighted to have Mr & Mrs Smith as our Hotel Week sponsor and to talk hotel glamour with Tamara Heber Percy.

DeepGlamour: What led you to start the company?

Tamara Heber Percy: When my husband and I were dating, we both led extremely busy lives. We were always on the lookout for special hotels to escape to, but no one seemed to know more than one or two – we knew the boutique-hotel movement was happening out there but we couldn’t find a guidebook we trusted. A few weekends away where the brochures failed to live up to their promises inspired us to create our own guide. After it sold 20,000 copies in the first three months, we realized we had to take it further. So here we are.

Hacienda de San Antonio

Hacienda de San Antonio, Mexico

DG: Why are you called Mr & Mrs Smith?

THP: Mr & Mrs Smith is the front-desk pseudonym couples use when they are having a naughty weekend away – it’s a very English expression but one that when explained to anyone else puts a smile on their face! I think we were the first to recognize that couples don’t go away for the weekend to do their knitting!Mr & Mrs Smith is based on the idea that a couple is sneaking away for a romantic weekend.


Winvian, Litchfield Hills

DG: How do you extend the weekend getaway idea from a relatively small area like the UK to a continent-sized country like the U.S., or to the whole world?

THP: Busy Manhattanites also need to escape from the stress and strain of city life – you guys just have to travel greater distances sometimes. You also get shorter holidays than the Brits so getting the hotel address right first time is even more important for you. The principle is the same whether you are planning a weekend away or a week’s holiday – you want somewhere you can feel instantly relaxed, somewhere stylish and special. Your holidays are so important that ending up somewhere disappointing can be devastating. The good news is that we’re stating to see new boutique hotels springing up no more than a three-hour drive for Manhattan, and we’re sure there’ll be more. In the last six months, for example, we’ve found André Balazs’s Sunset Beach in the Hamptons, the wonderful Wheatleigh in the Berkshires, and off-the-wall Winvian in the Litchfield Hills. In truth, we’ve extended our global scope beyond just weekends away, we now cover longer breaks and honeymoon escapes too – always with our focus on the romantic potential of a place.


Wheatleigh, The Berkshires

DG: Photographs of hotels are often glamorous and evocative. Can the hotel experience ever live up to the emotional expectations those photos create?

THP: Of course. Though we hope the images we use will inspire, we certainly don’t want them to mislead – a hotel photo should tell you immediately what the hotel has that makes you want to stay there, and your experience there should confirm that you were right in the first place to choose it. I can’t think of a single one of our hotels I’ve been to where I haven’t felt that the actual experience of staying there surpassed the pictures. The images get you excited; the stay should keep you that way.


Jade Mountain, St. Lucia

DG: There are many ways a hotel can be romantic, depending on the couple and their mood. What are some of your favorite examples?

THP: The views from Hacienda de San Antonio in Mexico are some of the most romantic on the planet – across coffee plantations to the Colima volcano in the background. Breathtaking.Honeymoon-perfect Jade Mountain in St Lucia, where each room has only three walls and is open to the air – private but unenclosed. (The views of the Pitons poking out of the ocean and the private infinity pools help up the romance stakes even more).I love the grounds at Hotel Endsleigh in Devon – on the banks of the River Tamar with its own arboretum – stunning English countryside made for romantic ramblings. The bedrooms at Blakes Hotel in London are romantic because of the designer’s attention to detail: luxurious fabrics, zillions of cushions – the quintessential luxe boudoir (although Gramercy Park in NYC does a pretty good job in the sumptuous bedroom department too).


Blakes Hotel, London

DG: What makes a hotel glamorous (as opposed to romantic)?

THP: Usually, the decor and style of service. It tends to be bolder, more striking – a bit ‘look at me I’m something, aren’t I?’ and more about the kind of clientele you’ll mix with there than squirreling yourselves away as a twosome. A romantic hotel can be a little more relaxed in style and softly spoken about its best features. It tends to let guests discover its charms rather than put them on show. Higher Westcott Farm – a four-room boutique B&B surrounded by wild Devon moorland – must be one of the most romantic places on the planet, but you wouldn’t call it glamorous. Both styles are great fun to experience depending on the occasion – our aim is to help you make the right choice for your mood.

The DG Dozen

1) DG: How do you define glamour?

An unquestionable, convincing, and inspiring level of confidence that creates a lasting impression. Nothing to do with money, all about mindset. I think this is applicable to everything: people, places, pashminas…

2) DG: Who or what is your glamorous icon?

Anouska Hempel – all her hotels radiate glamour; you feel glamorous by proxy just by staying in them. We interviewed her for our blog not long ago – an eye-opening experience:

3) DG: Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?

If glamour weren’t luxurious, it wouldn’t be glamour.

4) DG: Favorite glamorous movie?


5) DG: What was your most glamorous moment?

My wedding day at Ca’s Xorc Hotel in Mallorca.

6) DG: Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?

My Cartier watch.

7) DG: Most glamorous place?

Ibiza – I grew up there, got married there, and go back whenever I can.

GP2 Race at the Spanish Grand Prix formula one 8) DG: Most glamorous job?

Something in Formula One.

9) DG: Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't.

Travel – after six years of doing it for a living, the gloss does wear off.

10) DG: Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized.

Campari and soda – my mum used to drink it in the 70s.

11) DG: Can glamour survive?

Yes, as long as it has a humble side to it.

12) DG: Is glamour something you're born with?

Not necessarily, but you do have to love it to have it.


1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?Angelina

2) Paris or Venice?Paris

3) New York or Los Angeles?New York

4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace?Princess Grace

5) Tokyo or Kyoto?Tokyo

6) Boots or stilettos?Boots

7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau?Art Deco

Aston Martin DB7 V12 Vantage 8) Jaguar or Aston Martin?Aston Martin – but it has to be a DB7.

9) Armani or Versace?Versace.

10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?Anna Wintour.

11) Champagne or single malt?Neither – I am a cocktail girl.

12) 1960s or 1980s? 1960s

[Hotel photos courtesy of Mr & Mrs Smith. Spanish Grand Prix photo by Flickr user Mr. Mystery under Creative Commons license. Aston Martin DB7 V12 Vantage by Flickr user The Car Spy under Creative Commons license.]

Hotel Week: Miami & Looking Beyond The Glamour

Virginia's post about the hotel industry’s perpetual promises to “bring glamour back” reminded me of my recent trip to Miami—a city that was originally built, and then renovated, with glamour in mind.

Atmosphere at LIV

To my eye, though, the city is full of reminders that glamour is often only skin-deep. At first glance, Miami is gorgeous. The people are fabulous, wearing dramatic (and tiny) clothes that would never fly in most American cities, and the architecture harkens back to a long-ago era when cocktail hour started promptly at 5 p.m. and jeans weren’t considered acceptable dinner attire.

Look closer, though, and the glamour fades away. As I walked around the city, I kept thinking of that line from Clueless, “She’s a full-on Monet. From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it's a big old mess.” “Big old mess” might be an exaggeration, but looking closely at glamorous people and places often reveals the flaws and strain under the façade.

The photo above was taken by my friend (and future sister-in-law), Marcail, during our trip—it’s one of the banquettes at LIV, the nightclub at the Fontainebleu hotel. Marcail took the shot to remember the club's “atmosphere,” but I think it tells a bigger story about Miami and about a lot of what we perceive as “glamorous.” Glamour is often shiny on the surface, but marred with rips and tears that expose the rough underneath.

On a banquette, the tears are literal and in a building, they might be dingy paint or scuffed floors—all easily fixed. But when it’s a glamorous persona that comes under scrutiny, the discrepancy between the surface and what’s beneath is sometimes more serious—think Marilyn Monroe or Britney Spears a few years ago. In those cases, maintaining the glamorous image adds strain that widens the gap between façade and reality even more.

[Photo credit: Marcail Moran, who says that she and her stilettos are at least partially responsible for one of those rips.]



Hotel Week: Bringing Glamour Back


Glamour is fragile. It tends to vanish with too much time or scrutiny. In response, people are always promising to “bring glamour back” (or declaring that “glamour is back”). Such promises are particularly common in three industries: fashion, airlines, and hotels. In airlines, they’re never fulfilled. In fashion, they often are. In hotels, there are more misses than hits.

Take the subject of this 2005 ad, the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the World Trade Center, the curved façade takes a good photo. But as a lived experience, the hotel offers little more than any other nice Hyatt. It does not inspire longing. Remodeling and a new spa did not change the hotel’s cultural resonance.

In fact, preservationists are now fighting plans to demolish the Century Plaza to make way for a complex that would include two mixed-use towers and make Century City more pedestrian-friendly. The arguments for preservation implicitly acknowledge that the hotel has little emotional or aesthetic importance today. “It is among the purest representations of 1960s Los Angeles planning and architectural philosophy we have left,” writes the LAT's Christopher Hawthorne--a back-handed compliment. The WaPost's Philip Kennicott called it “a hard building to love.”

Stairway to nowhere Hotel glamour isn’t about what celebrities or presidents have frequented the building. It’s about the yearnings the hotel conjures in its audience, the escape and transformation a visit promises to provide. No one understood that better than Morris Lapidus, the architect best known for designing the Fountainebleu and Eden Roc hotels in Miami Beach. He wrote:

I was convinced that just as a store had to be designed to make people want to buy what the merchant had to sell, so a hotel had something to sell also. What was that something? A home away from home? Absolutely not! Who wants a homey feeling on a vacation? The guests want to find a new experience—forget the office, the house, the kids, the bills. Anything but that good old homey feeling that the old hotels used to see with a comfortable bed, a nice rocker on the veranda, a good solid nourishing meal. Not on your life! We were coming out of the war and the postwar period. People wanted fun, excitement, and all of it against a background that was colorful, unexpected; in short, the visual excitement that made people want to buy—in this case, to buy the tropic luxury of a wonderful vacation of fun in the sun. A sense of freedom from the humdrum lives the guests had. A feeling of getting away from it all.

Lapidus was famous for features like the “stairway to nowhere,” designed to give guests a platform from which to show off their finery. He made guests feel like stars. “Lapidus understood that a hotel lobby is a theater for amateur narcissists,”  writes Tom Austin in Travel & Leisure. Though critics denounced them as tacky, to their intended audience, Lapidus’s hotels epitomized glamour. (For an excellent analysis of glamour in mid-century Miami Beach, see architectural historian Alice T. Friedman’s 2000 Harvard Design Magazine article, “Glamour, Class, and Architecture in Miami Beach”.)


In succeeding decades, that glamour dissipated. (The Fountainebleu’s builder went bankrupt in 1977.) The nouveau riche for whom the hotels were designed got old. Younger generations had different aspirations and ideals of luxury. But, after a $1 billion renovation, the Fountainebleu reopened last November. “The glamour is back at the Fontainebleau,” declared the announcer at the hotel's opening celebration, which doubled as last year’s Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

Is the glamour really back? Unfortunately, I haven’t persuaded any editors to fund a reporting trip to decide for myself. Matt Rudd of the London Times makes a good case that the hotel is just too big for glamour: “In order to fill anything like 1,500 rooms, you need thousands of people, and they can’t all be Frank Sinatra.” Glamour requires mystery and exclusivity--and a lot fewer truck-parts conventions.

It is possible to bring glamour back to a hotel that has lost it, but “glamour” can’t just mean luxury or a history of association with dead celebrities. I thought the Palmer House in Chicago might have made it work, by playing up its architectural appeal, but complaints about small rooms and mini-beds suggest that modern standards may conflict with historic floor plans. (I have no first-hand experience.)

Riviera Palm Springs handicapped restroom sign 

The in Palm Springs has had more success. It’s got the luxury and dead celebs, plus the Hollywood Regency decor that sometimes gets called “modern glamour.” But what makes the Riviera’s glamour convincing is the hotel’s intimacy, which makes guests feel like they’ve entered a special world. and, most important to me, the occasion of my stay there: the (simulcast of the) 2009 TED Conference, which features (as one blogger put it) “the glamour of intellectual power wrapped in exclusivity.” Plus, you can’t beat the Riviera’s restroom signs.

[“Stairway to nowhere” photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., public domain Library of Congress collection. Riviera restroom sign photo by Virginia Postrel.]



The Allure Of Change

Manarola While picking up a few extras in Whole Foods I heard Fiona Apple's rendition of “Across the Universe.” In the store all I could understand of the text was John Lennon’s recurring refrain, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.” Hearing this focus on permanence brought to mind Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s contrasting saying, which focuses on change: “You can never step into the same river twice.” And, sure enough, the world soon changed for me in a small, annoying way when I stepped on some gum in the parking lot.

The village shown at left is Manarola, one of five villages that nestle in isolated coves along a small Mediterranean coastal region of Italy called Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The oldest villages date from around the 11th century, and the youngest from the late 12th century. The rocky cliffs rising from the sea are so rugged that the towns were isolated from each other, reachable only by sea or by strenuous treks over rugged terrain. To farm the steep hillsides, the residents built stone terraces, and in the process are said to have moved more tons of stone than were used to build the Great Wall of China. My wife and I hiked some of the coastal hiking trails, and to see the picturesque results of this labor is both humbling and ennobling. (See the photo below.)

 The first modern connection to these towns was a railroad into the village of Vernazza in 1870. During World War II railroad tunnels and cliff-side paths were blasted, creating easy connections between all the villages.

Terraces-cinque-terre Today, for the modern tourist, despite becoming better known since the 1990s, it remains an area of incomparable charm, having been shielded from modern development for centuries.The region has been designated a World Heritage Site to help preserve its beauty. (WHS has some stunning photos.)

Now trains make several daily runs through the villages, and the region’s allure brings in many tourists from the outside world. And the desire to experience something different runs both ways. The allure of the outside world means that many young people from the region now commute to work in the city of Le Spezia. I wonder how many young people will choose the hard life of maintaining and farming the terraced hillsides.

Allure can work on a small scale as well. Once a path had been blasted into the seaside cliff, the former impassable barrier between the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola became a leisurely twenty-minute walk. The path soon became known as the Via Dell'Amore (Lovers’ Walk). Think about the sense of mystery that having that path available must have created. “Could the man (or woman) of my dreams be waiting for me in the next village?” The locals say that making that short walk changed many lives.

[Photo of Manarola by Flickr user fachxx00. Terraced hillside photo by Flickr user alaina.marie. Both photos used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]