Popularly referred to as the hotel that once hosted twentieth-century icons Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway, the Ritz Paris will be closing this summer for a 27-month renovation period. In an ‘unprecedented’ transformation its interior is due to be stripped and entirely re-fitted for the first time since 1979, when it was bought by its current owner, Mohamed al Fayed.
“Few hotels evoke a sense of place and history like the Ritz Paris”, gushed AnOther Magazine in a recent, obituary-like article about its imminent temporary closure. Indeed, the 115-year-old establishment in Paris’ Place Vendôme evokes a bygone era of literature, Bright Young Things and glittering scenes of ’20s and ’30s glamour, in which Greta Garbo and F. Scott Fitzgerald float through dining halls swollen with smoke and chandeliers.
But such wistful reflections on the hotel’s inextricable link with its bourgeois past simultaneously highlight its destabilized position in the present. The hotel was founded by César Ritz and chef Auguste Escoffier in 1898 with the intention of providing for its guests ‘all the refinement that a prince could desire in his own home’; yet apparently its planned revamp this year comes in direct response to its failure to meet the ‘palace’ standard last year, falling short of the qualifying factors that put nine other French hotels into this prestigious category.
Whilst evidently in accordance with the hotel’s original reason for being (after all, what prince could reside in anything less than a palace?) the decision to cut 470 jobs in the attempt to reclaim the 160-room hotel’s former glory also draws attention to the disparate gap between a flailing European economy and a rapidly inflating luxury market in Paris, due to growing demand from the current generation of super-rich Russians, Arabs, Indians and South Americans.
So for now it seems the question of whether it is possible for the Ritz Paris to regain its princely status – and indeed its contemporary relevance – is yet to be answered.