MILAN, Italy - From Dubai to Jamaica, Australia to Brazil, high-end fashion hotels are mushrooming as growing numbers of luxury travellers seek a taste of the glamour and indulgence that only stardom used to bring.
Offering presidential suites with everything from private cinemas to personal chefs, Italian brands are investing heavily in the latest fad -- creating "lifestyle experiences" which guarantee guests designer perfection.
"This is a massive area of investment for designer labels," said Salvo Testa, professor in fashion management at Milan's Bocconi University.
"It's no longer just about getting you to wear Armani, for example, it's about getting you to eat, sleep and dream Armani as well."
Despite the economic crisis, Italian labels in particular are a driving force in the sector, with a Bulgari hotel opening in London in April and hotels planned by Missoni and Armani for Kuwait, Oman, Cape Town and Marrakesh.
"American brands are not luxurious or aspirational enough to interest rich clients, especially in Asia, the Middle East or South America -- and French designers worry about over-exposing their brands," said Testa.
"Italian brands, meanwhile, have been gradually innovating with secondary fashion lines and homeware, and have even broken into the restaurant business -- all of which are elements then incorporated into their hotels," he said.
As the well-heeled flock to Milan in these days for fashion week, catwalk shows are followed by parties in the Bulgari hotel, or celebrity-packed dinners in the city's Dolce & Gabbana, Just Cavalli and Moschino restaurants.
Those searching for a more intimate dining experience can head to the Armani hotel, where it's possible to book a table in the kitchen and watch the chef rustle up a fare dreamt up by the billionaire designer Giorgio Armani himself.
The hotel is the 77-year-old's second venture into the luxury lifestyle business -- his first opened in Dubai in 2010 -- and he regularly checks in on an experience which can cost guests up to 11,000 euros ($14,800) a night.
"He lives just round the corner from the hotel. I see him around a lot, popping in and out. He's a renowned perfectionist," said taxi driver Giancarlo.
"I took his manservant once to get the Versaces' three Persian cats washed. Money down the drain, it's not the sort of world for me," he said.
The Armani ideal, however, is to welcome guests from any background and make them feel at home -- so much so that they have highly trained personal "lifestyle managers" who are on call 24 hours a day to attend to every whim.
Newly-weds who have blown their savings on a night of luxury but have nothing to wear for their romantic aperitif in the bar overlooking Milan's famous cathedral can ask their personal manager to get them kitted out.
"You're heading out to a party and need a fashion advisor? We'd arrange one for you, or of course you could shop in the Armani clothing store downstairs," said Andrea Zeno Villa, the hotel's marketing and communications manager.
"What party? Everything you could ever need is right here," said his colleague Viviana Giussani as she showed off one of the signature suites, which cover two floors and come with a kitchen and private gym or cinema.
The brand's in-house shops also sell Armani flowers, chocolates and books.
"It's a win-win situation for the fashion houses. They enter into partnership with large hotel chains which fund the venture, rake in the royalties and build up brand awareness and brand loyalty," said Testa.
"They start attracting VIPs, and celebrities like Lady Gaga hire a room to change for a concert and come to use the hotel as a second home," he said.
While the flagship stores cater for guests looking for authentic Made-in-Italy luxury, it is the hotels in wealthy and emerging markets which draw in what the Burberry brand calls the "travelling luxury consumer".
"China is the most tangible emerging market for luxury growth. Chinese are travelling abroad and spending up to six times as much overseas as they do at home," said Isabel Cavill, a luxury expert with Planet Retail research group.
Testa said most guests were likely to be searching for a sumptuous experience coloured by a Mediterranean generosity and good hospitality.
"The vastly wealthy Chinese and Russians are travellers who place their money and trust in Italian fashion brands because there is such a dearth of culture and intimacy in their own luxury services back home," he said.
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