Darren Lines visits Armani Hotel Dubai and feels the aesthetic influence of the famous designer in every part of the property.
When it comes to money-is-no-object luxury and excess, Dubai has been blazing a trail all of its own for the past two decades, establishing the hedonistic Middle Eastern hot spot as the global hub of all things big, bold and bling.
Home to the world’s tallest building, biggest shopping mall, largest man-made island, hugest indoor theme park… Dubai’s transformation from desert outpost to thriving modern metropolis has been nothing short of spectacular.
At the same time, the city has gained an equally world-beating reputation as a playground for oil-rich billionaires and popular work destination for expats, lured by the emirate’s zero income tax policy – thousands of cashed-up Australians among them.
From platinum Bugattis and $5,000 gold-dusted cocktails to indoor snow skiing resorts and tropical rainforests (neither of which can exist outside in temperatures often topping 50°C in summer), the UAE’s sprawling showpiece is awash with ostentatious opulence on a grandiose scale that seems to know no bounds. If you’ve been to Dubai, you’ll surely agree it’s not an overstatement to say that pretty much everything about the place is, well, overstated.
You would expect, then, that a hotel dubbed “the world’s most luxurious” would not only be right at home in Dubai, but also offer a new level of diamond-encrusted luxury to its well-heeled clientele.
Surprisingly, when the prestigious gong was announced at the World Luxury Hotel Awards, the winner, Armani Hotel Dubai, was recognised for its appeal in setting new standards in service, understated splendour and elegance, rather than outrageous extravagance.
Located in the downtown Dubai area at the base of the aforementioned world’s tallest skyscraper, the 850m, 211-floor Burj Khalifa tower, it’s one of only two hotels launched to date by iconic Italian designer, Giorgio Armani (the other is in Milan, Italy). His eponymous hotel is the realisation of Armani’s long-held dream to bring his sophisticated fashion style to life, embodied in an exceptional stay experience defined by the highest standards of comfort and service excellence, rather than the glittering excesses of its host city.
And he has certainly achieved that. When you enter the hotel, the glitz of Dubai gives way to a restrained, minimalist design, and an ambience that reflects the elegance, simplicity and relaxed-yet-luxurious vibe that define Armani’s style.
The 82-year-old Italian designer with the Midas touch oversaw every detail of the design process, from the Eramosa marble and Japanese tatami wooden floors, to the zebrawood wall panels and bespoke furniture. Even the books in the study within the ultra-premium Dubai Suite were personally selected by the designer.
Every inch of the carefully curated retreat is swathed in a neutral palette, which combined with clean lines and muted lighting, creates a serene atmosphere and ensures the mood remains unpretentious and distinctly Armani.
Indeed, the Armani brand is an inherent part of the overall experience: just about every object in the hotel — toiletries, pencils, even the tea and sugar sachets – carry the famous Armani mark.
But if you’re tempted to pack a monogramed bathrobe or towel in your suitcase as a memento of your stay, you might want to think twice. While Dubai attracts more than 15 million visitors each year, it’s definitely not the Vegas of the Middle East as some expect. Fun and extravagance aside, it’s a conservative Islamic town with cultural and religious sensitivities and strict laws against theft and offensive behaviour – where anything from hugging and kissing in public to swearing or making aggressive hand gestures can land you in serious trouble. Giving a local Emirati the bird, for example, is considered an insult that could lead to jail time.
In the interests of self-preservation it would be smarter to seek out the in-house Armani Privé boutique for a more legally acquired keepsake; or for more brand variety there’s also private access from the hotel to, you guessed it, the world’s largest shopping centre, the 1,200-store Dubai Mall located right next door.
Armani Hotel Dubai features 160 plush guest rooms and suites, each with iPads that control large flat-screen televisions, the lighting, curtains and front door, and floor-to-ceiling windows providing spectacular views of Dubai and the Arabian Desert. There are seven restaurants offering gourmet food ranging from European to contemporary Japanese and Indian cuisines, with the exclusive Italian Armani/Ristorante run by celebrated chef, Alessandro Salvatico. There’s also a deluxe spa, custom-made Armani chocolate shop, in-house florist and a contemporary art gallery.
In announcing the world’s most luxurious hotel honour, voted for by the travelling public, award convenor Anton Perold said the key attribute that put the spotlight on Armani Hotel Dubai as a being a cut above the rest, and which ultimately won the hotel the accolade, was its “team of highly dedicated staff willing to go the extra mile and stop at nothing to ensure that no request goes unanswered”.
The hotel’s General Manager, Mark Kirby, agrees, saying the personalised, “warm, Italian-style service” is what sets his hotel apart from the competition. “For instance, each guest is assigned a Personal Lifestyle Manager [otherwise known as a butler], who handles everything from arranging childcare to landing difficult bookings at the hottest restaurants. The idea of it is to provide guests with a home-away-from-home experience.”
A regular guest of the hotel, Milton Pedraza, CEO of luxury brand ratings and research organisation the Luxury Institute, believes Armani’s great strength is his ability to create an understated style of luxury that’s completely tranquil at the same time. “It’s a paradoxical concept few could pull off,” he says. “And when executed properly, it makes guests feel pampered and peaceful at the same time.”
“The staff at his hotels are very well-selected and well-trained. They make you feel welcome in a way that seems more genuine and relatable than other hotels. Fact is, people don’t want to be treated like royals anymore.”
Maybe, but whether you have blue blood or not there’s a certain quality about the Armani Hotel Dubai that makes a stay a special experience for even the most seasoned and discerning travellers.