On 14th June, the Ritz Paris finally reopened its doors after a period of almost four years. The legendary hotel closed in August 2012 for a programme of major refurbishment, which, as its owner Mohamed Al-Fayed explained to Conde Nast Traveler, was “necessary to maintain the pre-eminent position of the Ritz” – fierce competition in the local luxury market saw the hotel omitted from the prestigious ‘Palace’ list prior to its closure, an award granted by the French Minister of Tourism to select five-star hotels.
The project was overseen by Thierry Despont, the French-born New York-based designer and architect, whose extensive portfolio includes the renovation of apartments for the likes of Jayne Wrightsman and the de la Rentas, as well as the redesign of the Woolworth Building as a tower of residences.
Despont revealed to Vanity Fair that he wanted to “bring life back to a legend”, with the newly renovated Ritz Paris, originally slated to reopen in March of this year. But the works were delayed after a fire swept through the top floor just weeks before the scheduled due date.
The new hotel houses the world's first Chanel spa, and there is an underground ballroom and 21,500-square-foot garden with a courtyard, which benefits from a retractable glass roof so that dining on the terrace can be enjoyed in all weather. The hotel’s famous Ecole Ritz Escoffier cooking school now has a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, L’Espadon fine dining eatery has been refurbished, as has the Bar Vendome, both of which are now complemented by a new bar with a bistro-style restaurant. The works also involved the construction of a discreet tunnel, for obvious reasons. Afternoon tea can be enjoyed in the Salon Proust and evenings spent in the newly refurbished Bar Hemingway.
The Ritz Paris was first opened in 1898 by César Ritz, and has been a favorite of heads of state, royalty and celebrities for well over a century. In recognition of its illustrious past, fifteen of the new hotel’s seventy-one suites are named after notable loyal guests. Among the most famous was Coco Chanel, who lived at the Ritz Paris for more than 30 years until her death in 1971, despite having an apartment of her own on nearby rue Cambon. And the Coco Chanel suite is unique in that its furnishings include some of the French designer’s personal possessions.
The Ritz Paris has played host to numerous fashion shoots over the years, least of all “Checking Out: Kate Moss at the Ritz Paris” which appeared in April 2012 US Vogue and was shot on the eve of the hotel’s closure. British photographer Tim Walker captured Moss in a series of stunning haute couture creations styled by Grace Coddington in a celebration of old-world glamour, against the backdrop of the hotel’s grandeur.
Kate herself was no stranger to the opulent surroundings, and she revealed that, "When I was with Johnny Depp, he always stayed at the Ritz. I had an apartment in Paris at the time, but he said, 'No, we're staying at the Ritz,' so he came by and swept me up to the Ritz - he didn't want to slum it in my apartment!"
The reopening of this landmark luxury hotel has been much anticipated. And it remains to be seen whether after such a hiatus, and in the face of fierce competition, the Ritz can reclaim its position among the top echelon of Paris hotels and continue to build upon its unique history.