This may be a Paris couture season marked by external unease — by Brexit shock waves, anticipation of upheaval at two haute maisons, continued terrorism fears — but it is also one framed by a certain kind of insider celebration.
After four years, fashion has its home back.
The Ritz Paris finally reopened its gilded doors to guests last month, just in time for the European Championships, the soccer tournament being held in France, and the arrival of hundreds of editors, buyers and couture clients. According to the hotel’s general manager, Christian Boyens, the couture show week — with room rates starting at 1,000 euros a night (about $1,112) — is fully booked. No one is surprised.
Long a byword for luxury and a bivouac for deposed monarchs, politicians, writers and film stars, the hotel became a particular haven for the fashion cognoscenti after Coco Chanel chose to make the Ritz her address for 35 years, until her death 1971. Anna Dello Russo and John Galliano, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Naomi Campbell are just a few of the regulars who followed; dozens of shows took place in the hotel ballroom, though Gianni Versace preferred to pave over the swimming pool for his. By 2012, however, the years (and parties) started to catch up with the Ritz — the proudest possession of the Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed — and it closed for renovations that August. The fashion world was bereft.
“There was a sense of devastation and loss — not unlike Brexit — a sort of grief,” said Lady Amanda Harlech, the writer, creative consultant and muse of the Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, recalling early stays in rooms that she likened to the inside of Marie Antoinette’s jewel box. “Friendship in the fashion industry is profound and enduring, but most of us live continents and time zones apart. Paris Fashion Week at the Ritz had become a real celebration.”
Stefano Tonchi, the editor of W and a Ritz regular since the 1980s, agreed. “Everyone wanted to watch and be watched there, as it was the beating heart of the industry’s social life,” he said.
According to the photographer Arthur Elgort, “I have such happy memories of sitting in that tiny little bar late into the night drinking with Eileen Ford, my son Ansel asleep in my lap, having had a plate of spaghetti. You just met the most fabulous people — in all sorts of states. But we all felt like part of the same family, with all the secrets kept behind closed doors.”
To the relief of Mr. Elgort and other acolytes, Thierry Despont, the architect who masterminded the revamps of other aging hotels like Claridge’s in London and the Carlyle in New York, has ensured the “new look” Ritz appears to be very much like the old. Sure, it now contains the world’s first Chanel spa, a Versailles-style garden, a new underground ballroom and a tunnel that links the hotel to its parking garage, all the better to give guests the chance to enter away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. But the red carpet entrance has remained intact, as have upholstery palettes, which are now lighter and brighter. Much of the original furniture has been restored and placed alongside new acquisitions. And the renowned Bar Hemingway, a tiny watering hole named after its most famous regular, has barely changed a jot.
“So often, when a hotel is renovated, its spirit is destroyed and it becomes bland and corporate. At the Ritz they have taken what was historic and charming about the interior and improved on it,” Anna Wintour, editor in chief of American Vogue and a longtime Ritz patron, wrote in an email after her first visit since the face-lift.
“The rooms are bigger, and it feels more expansive,” she wrote. “Everything works better. I do miss the creaky, old circular wooden elevator, but over all it has been very sensitively restored, with many of its familiar touches, like the swan faucets, left as they have been for decades. It was great to be back.”
The British model Kate Moss, who was introduced to the Ritz by her onetime boyfriend Johnny Depp, posed for many a magazine shoot in its suites and had Bar Hemingway’s head bartender Colin Field serve cocktails at her wedding, took it one step further: “Before, I wanted to stay there,” she said. “Now I want to live there.”
Mr. Tonchi said he was relishing a return visit to the Ritz during the ready-to-wear shows later this year.
“The fashion world was such a jungle — it still is, really — and the Ritz staff knew it,” he said. “There was a room hierarchy in place: You would get the worst one when you first arrived and then gradually work your way up the pecking order.
“Mr. Fayed would sit in the same chair in the lobby night after night during fashion week, watching the magic and mayhem unfold. The room parties were beyond wild, they were legendary with the most amazing melee of high and low. They were real glory days, even if a little faded around the edges. I hope they continue in some form now everything has been turned upside down.”
As she packed her bags for Paris, Ms. Harlech said: “I would love to think that the party can continue where it left off, and it will be interesting to see if it does. The Ritz was where you could dress up or wear your pink bathrobe and slippers. A couture and pajama party would be fabulous.”