DUBAI — Rising in Dubai’s desert landscape is a sprawling sand-colored building modeled on a 16th-century Italian palace, blending neoclassical European architecture with Arabesque touches like arches framing the tall windows. At the top of the palace is a large Medusa, an unmistakable stamp that one has entered the Palazzo Versace in Dubai.
“I love Dubai because the city is evolving very fast,” said the artistic director and designer behind the project, Donatella Versace, lounging in her duplex suite with views of the emirate’s growing skyline. “There are modern, avant-garde skyscrapers here, some of them are really fantastic, some are just a little strange, a little weird. In all this, I want to bring something classic, the real Versace dream.”
That dream is a 215-room, five-star hotel set in a sprawling V-shaped Palazzo, flanked by two wings of 169 condominiums, the Versace Residences. The hotel features three outdoor swimming pools, 31 private pools, six restaurants, a spa and kids club. The interiors showcase the Versace lifestyle with the fashion house’s legendary prints repeated on the walls, in the furniture upholstery and even in the carpets, which were handwoven in New Zealand.
Room rates, as seen on the hotel’s web site, range from about $610 a night up to more than $1,200.
“The hotel is a full experience of the Versace lifestyle,” said Versace, who translated the colorful aesthetic into the smallest elements inside the building.
Details such as the placemats in the restaurants and wallpaper prints in the hallways are reminiscent of the fashion house’s most famous designs. Even the soft flooring in the kids club has colorful Versace prints. The artwork set in the hallways through the hotel feature sketches of Atelier Versace gowns. The palm-tree motif made famous by Jennifer Lopez’s plunging neckline dress worn to the Grammy awards is plastered throughout the flagship restaurant, Giardinos. Even waiters wear shirts and ties bearing the iconic print.
“This has been so much fun because, well, it’s not a dress. Finally, I get to work on a really big thing,” she said.
Versace admitted her artistic approach, whether designing a dress or a sofa, is not very different. “As you create a shape for a dress, you have to think through the details and the same goes for the shape of a couch. For instance, this one we are sitting on may look lower than normal, but I balance and fill it with so many pillows. Little things make it more specific.”
There are more than 12,000 pieces of Versace furniture in the hotel. They have been designed specifically for the hotel, reminiscent of the Versace Home collection, whose design was recently was brought back in-house.
The first Palazzo Versace hotel located in Australia’s Gold Coast was conceptualized by her brother Gianni before his death. His idea was to make people feel the hotel was a project ‘made in Italy.’ The late designer was involved in planning the smallest details of the hotel. “Gianni was never afraid. He was bold. He was not afraid to be bold. He was not afraid to be criticized,” said his sister.
Sixteen years after that first hotel opened, she followed her brother’s vision of creating a truly authentic Italian experience for the second property in the company’s hotel portfolio.
“We brought people from Italy to do all the details — the wood floors, the marble, the mosaics — they are the same people who did it for Gianni. For me, it was important. If you come here to this hotel it has to be the ultimate in luxury.”
The hotel features more than 51 million mosaic tile pieces from the lobby to the restaurants and the bathrooms throughout the hotel, all created by famed Italian manufacturer Fantini Group. A 6,500-pound chandelier re-creating a Versace floral pattern shaped to look like a soft breeze hangs in the lobby entrance.
Donatella Versace got involved in the smallest elements of creating the hotel experience. “The details are what makes a place luxurious,” she said. Elements like the robes in each of the rooms bear her touch. “The fabric is so soft, but at the same time it dries you well. And the [taupe] color — it’s so sophisticated.”
Versace also insisted on round bathtubs in the suites. “It’s more feminine, like you’re in a shell.” But she said one of the most vital choices she made is something that can be felt, not seen. “The mattresses! I think I must have tried 100 mattresses and after personally testing all of them, I can tell you, these are fantastic.”
Guests will not miss out on the opportunity to shop the brand’s products while at the hotel. The west wing of Palazzo features Versace Fine Jewelry, Young Versace and Versace Home boutiques that carry some special collections created specifically for the market.
The restaurants and bars are a key aspect of the project. Versace brought in her friend Quincy Jones to collaborate. The music legend opened his first jazz bar, called Q’s, at the hotel. “The food is so very important for me. We found the best chefs from all cuisines, of course Italian, but also Arabic, Chinese, Indian.”
The project was developed in a venture with United Arab Emirates-based property developer Enshaa Group. Such attention to detail, as insisted on by Versace, has not come without a price. The project has been much delayed since it was launched in 2008. A portion of the hotel opened last year in soft launch phase.
But Versace said she’s not in a rush with these projects. The next Palazzo Versace is under construction in Macao. While the company is not saying the exact opening date, it anticipates it will take a few more years.
Designer hotels have been popular in the Middle East. Giorgio Armani opened his first hotel in the world in Dubai in 2010, taking several floors in the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The Bulgari Resort and Residences in Dubai is expected to open next year. Missoni had a hotel in Kuwait, which has been re-branded.
The area of Dubai which the Palazzo Versace is located, which will eventually be the Cultural District, is still very much a work in progress. But the company is looking at the long term for the hotel.
Tourism numbers in Dubai remain strong. The emirate welcomed 14.2 million visitors in 2015, a rise of 7.5 percent from 2014, according to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. The number of overnight visitors is expected to exceed 15 million this year. Dubai will also play host to the six-month long Expo 2020, which is expected to attract 20 million people. In anticipation, 140,000 hotel rooms will be added to the market in the next four years.
Versace said the hotel business will remain a pillar in the company’s growth strategy. “It is important to diversify.”