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Maison Martin Margiela Creates A Surreal Luxury Hotel

The cult darling of Belgian fashion brings weirdo decadence to Paris, a city overrun by precious traditionalism.

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Avant-garde Belgian fashion house Maison Martin Margiela has given a très-cool makeover to a fussy, luxury hotel in Paris, the high Holy Land of fussy, luxury hotels.

Maison des Centraliens
reopened to the public in May with a slick interior that turns this ornate, Second Empire townhouse (and former home of a Viennese princess) into a monument to the headscrewy Belgian surrealism for which Maison Martin Margiela earned its fashion-world star.

The hotel's high-brow impishness is weird stuff for Paris.

The place is a study in optical illusion. It's got chairs and tables that appear to suspend in mid-air and trompe l?oeil wall coverings done up in the Hausmannian style that make closed doors seem like they're open. Laser in on the photos, and you'll be hard-pressed to figure out whether you're looking at new wallpaper or molding that the architect, Jules Pellechet, dreamed up some 150 years ago. There's a corridor covered floor to ceiling in what looks like tin foil and a mirrored, diamond-shaped parallelepiped said to reference 2001: A Space Odyssey. The dominant color scheme: clinical white.

This sort of high-minded impishness is weird stuff in a city that decorates its top hotels with canopy beds and Louis Quatorze tapestries. But there's a business reason for it. Maison Martin Margiela — which no longer operates under the aegis of its fearless, but elusive, leader, Martin Margiela — rumbled to the fore of the fashion scene more than two decades ago with brainy, deconstructivist design often billed as a rebuke to the era's penchant for opulent clothing. It has since become a cult darling of the taste-making elite, counting, among its loyal fans, everyone from Jay-Z to Thom Yorke.

Which means that in the rarefied world of fancy hotels, where exclusivity is everything, Maison des Centraliens has one thing the Ritzes and Le Meurices don't have: It's cool. Says Bernadette Chevallier, who helped oversee the rebranding:

The hotels whose openings have lately been in the news, or soon will be, are all top grade luxury hotels embodying quite a traditional idea of luxury, even conventional in some cases. It's a choice that has its merits but the Maison des Centraliens, by contrast, puts the focus on discretion and an offbeat take on luxury hotel standards. "[I]ts values revolve around light-heartedness, humour and a laid-back attitude. " Rather than a traditional luxury hotel, we are positioned as a prestigious boutique hotel that combines five-star amenities and services with an unconventional vision of the upmarket hotel business.

Even rarer: It's relatively affordable. Rooms start at 203 Euros. A comparably sized room in a four-star hotel in Paris can cost twice that.

[Images courtesy of Maison des Centraliens]

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