Hotel Bel-Air reopened in Belair, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA, this October, after the most intensive 25-month botox a gal can imagine. The poor old lady needed it. Let us go back.
The Belair region, probably the most exclusive real estate pocket in the world, is named for an Argentinian, Alphonso Bell, who called his land after himself (BEL) and his home town, Buenos AIRes…
The old hotel evolved as sprawling pink sculpture from 1946 on, it grew over more and more of its 12 acres of gorgeous gardens. This is where Marilyn Monroe lived for a time, and the last photo of her was taken by the blue-tiled oval pool. It is a historic monument, and unchanged.
Everything else is enhanced, thanks to about $100 million or so of lovely money out of Brunei. Infectiously-enthusiastic Manager, Christoph Moje (a Hamburg doctors’ son who decided to cook rather than attend to broken bodies) showed me round nearly every nook and cranny of what is now a 103-room hotel beauty.
This is taste, of colour and texture, and discretion. In the bar, for instance (designer David Rockwell), there is one giant concentric art work on black walls.
Glass bottles of colourful home-made bitters enliven the bar counter, as do, as in sibling-hotel 45 Park Lane, London, glass teapots of infusions. The bar serverettes, who all look like Hollywood A Listers, wear unadorned draped black Ralph Lauren.
But let us go back. You arrive, off Stone Canyon Road, and gone are the somewhat-arrogant pink polo-shirted car valets of yesteryear. Now your car is organised by a charming English schoolboy type in white-edged blue blazer and chinos.
You walk over a stone bridge, over the famous lake where three swans hold roost (during the closing they were somewhat perturbed by all the construction noise but they were coaxed back to their serene habitat by a swan-whispering woman from San Diego Zoo who spent ten days in the water with them, talking to them).
At this time of year the branches of the decades-old sycamores that weave in and out and around the bridge are used as festive decoration.
Now you come to a new reception, and leading off this is a glass-walled haven of bleached oak floor, palest palest colours. This has to be, this IS, an Alexandra Champalimaud design.
Think the brilliant inner Two-E lounge, in softest avocado, in The Pierre in New York. Here it is ice, with hints of sage and rosemary colours, and chairs that are, well, 100% comfortable. In the middle of this lounge is a four-way, glass-sided fire, with a metal chimney over that soars to the ceiling.
I met Alexandra in the sexy, over-the-top bar she has designed at Claridge’s, London. She is a genius. Here, she has turned the base, starting-rate bedrooms into soft havens, not too feminine but definitely not John Wayne. They all have Travertine marble floors, and soft oak ceilings.
Walls and fabrics are soft cream. There are highlights of dark mole, like the hand embroidered silhouette lines on the Italian curtains, which must have been made by nuns as it is difficult to think of other Italian doing such painstaking work.
Lots of the money spent has gone on creating 12 new rooms or suites, built, one half above the other like full-size lego, up the near-vertical hillside. The higher you go, the more these rooms cost, ‘cos of the view.
They have private terraces, with plunge pools. Inside they are stronger, with deep tomato walls behind the bedhead and bold day-glo green cushions.
And then, back in the old buildings, the pride is the Pres(idential Suite), with a courtyard the size of two tennis courts and a 45-foot infinity pool.
There are nine themed suites, including 178, the Herb Garden Suite, once Alphonso Bell’s office, complete with its high, carved-wood ceiling. Its neighbour, 177, is named for Marilyn Monroe.
Her one-time bungalow, by the way, has been razed, to make way to the spa. There is a Technogym upstairs. Downstairs, the spa (La Prairie, and ‘they’ are here every month) has more of Champalimaud magic. The ice-hued rooms have silk walls with simple embroidered lines that deliberately look like folds…
And then, of course, there is Wolfgang Puck, no, not in the spa attending to beautiful bodies but cooking…)