ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — If it weren’t for the chilly temperatures and the views of the snow-capped mountains, taking a stroll in Via Maistra and its neighboring streets in St. Moritz is not unlike walking down Via Montenapoleone or Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Hermès, Valentino, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Moncler, Etro, Loro Piana, Bally, and Brunello Cucinelli are only some of the high-end boutiques lighting up the Swiss town, which gave birth to the bobsleigh and has for years been known as a luxury winter destination for the jet-set.
Generally, the popularity of European ski resorts ebbs and flows — Klosters and Gstaad in Switzerland also are in the mix, as is Courcheval and other towns — but St. Moritz seems to be undergoing a renaissance, with a renewed buzz after its original glossy reputation had become somewhat sleepy.
Marijana Jakic, the brand manager with overall responsibility for the St. Moritz brand and a member of the management board at Engadin St. Moritz Tourismus AG, has been helping the town project a more youthful and urban image.
A native of St. Moritz, she has held various management posts in the banking sector in Zurich and London and she now oversees areas of global sales, brand partnerships, branding, marketing, communication, social media and public relations.
“The St. Moritz brand was registered as far back as 1930. It has always been associated with luxury brands, but it’s not the typical tourist destination, and around five years ago, a new strategy was set in motion, deciding for a rejuvenation and a brand management approach, similar to that of the fashion industry,” says Jakic, who has been working with fashion brands to offer local support, consultancy and site inspection.
A first collaboration was kicked off with Bogner at the end of 2020, with the goal of staging experiential events in town. Jakic was happy to report that she has seen a lower age bracket finally returning to St. Moritz.
“The kids are back in the homes established by their grandparents and parents. With the pandemic, we saw a higher demand for second houses, and there’s been so much demand there’s basically nothing to sell out there,” says Jakic, pointing to rates that span from 30,000 to 60,000 Swiss francs per square meter. Likewise, there are almost no store vacancies in town.
Reflecting this renewed interest, the storied Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, imposing above the beautiful Lake St. Moritz and synonymous with glitz and glamorous parties, is going through a renovation and expansion. The newly restored Grace La Margna luxury hotel, first built in 1906, will open in June. The Art Nouveau location was expanded to include a modern extension with a spacious spa and additional rooms.
Flanking the Kulm Hotel built in 1856, its Country Club was remodeled a few years ago by Norman Foster, a part-time St. Moritz resident who also designed the timber-shingled blob that is the stunning Chesa Futura private residence.
Year-round sports activities are a draw, of course, from kite surfing to hiking, and a survey found that 70 percent of people visiting St. Moritz don’t necessarily ski, Jakic notes.
She also points to a very brisk art scene, with 28 galleries in St. Moritz. The town and its surrounding Engadin Valley has over the years attracted the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Alberto Giacometti, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Giovanni Segantini, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel in addition to tycoons such as Gianni Agnelli and Stavros Niarchos.
Schhabel’s son Vito has opened a gallery in St. Moritz, which is already home to, among others, Hauser & Wirth, the Galerie Karsten Greve and the Galerie Andrea Caratsch, where Emilio Pucci artistic director Camille Miceli chose to unveil the brand’s collection with Fusalp in December. Pucci held an experiential three-day event in St. Moritz, wanting “to stick to the story of Mr. Pucci, and St. Moritz is more Italian than Swiss, all the Milanese love coming here.” To be sure, the experience kicked off as the town was teeming with Italians with plenty of visitors from Milan and nearby Como and Bergamo.
A few days later, on Dec. 10, Giorgio Armani staged a show to present the fall collection of the mountain-ready apparel and accessories Neve line in the square overlooking the Olympia Stadium that hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice here, in 1928 and 1948.
Armani wasn’t expected to attend, but instead made a surprise appearance, smiling and posing gamely for photos at the end of the show. The designer is no stranger to the area, as years ago he bought the 17th century Chesa Orso Bianco [Polar Bear House], in La Punt, a small Engadin Valley hamlet near Saint Moritz.
“The landscape in Engadina is unparalleled, for its colors, magnitude and purity,” says Armani. For this reason, he says, he bought the house “to fully immerse myself in the mountainous horizon.”
The designer showed the Neve collection in St. Moritz as he “imagined a perfect fusion between man and nature, minimizing the impact of the set to let the real spectacle of the landscape talk. This authenticity is the real message.”
In December, Golden Goose opened a store in St. Moritz and Louis Vuitton unveiled a striking yurt pop-up with a crafted wooden frame and intricate details, with the store’s exterior exhibiting the brand’s monogram symbols in wood and glass.
In January, Bally presented its first capsule collection in St. Moritz, celebrating the brand’s storied curling boot fusing unexpected Western details with traditional mountaineering motifs. Chief executive officer Nicolas Girotto and creative director Rhuigi Villaseñor say it was only natural to stage the event in St. Moritz, given the luxury connotation of the resort town and the international guests it attracts.
“It’s the best town that is so international and represents Switzerland at the same time, reflecting Bally, which is also deeply rooted in the country but has an international awareness,” says the executive.
“There is a good crowd here, with a newfound energy; it’s a good place to launch our first capsule,” adds the Los Angeles native Villaseñor, noting the town attracts many American tourists.
Girotto and the designer held a dinner to mark the capsule’s launch at the legendary members-only party destination Dracula’s Ghost Riders Club, all red walls and red velvet seats, images of bats as decorations and a coffin at the entrance. Linked to the Olympic Park’s bobsled run, the club was started in 1974 by the photographer, industrialist and playboy Gunter Sachs, who shot a famed campaign for Bally in 1977.
Until Feb. 24, Dutch brand Extreme Cashmere is taking over the Super Mountain concept space in St. Moritz. Super Mountain’s goal is to establish an innovative platform for alpine creative talents, positioning itself at the crossing of retail and hospitality or a gallery and event space.
“St. Moritz works as a brand, with many events in the city, an international clientele and local activities,” says Pietro Ruffini, executive board member of Archive, which in 2018 took a 40 percent stake in Gruppo Langosteria, and a longtime fan of the town. “It enjoys a unique altitude, compared with other towns such as Gstaad and Megève [other ski resorts in Switzerland and France, respectively]. And it has a very interesting history, but at the same time you can hike, surf, ski, row, kite surf, you can work well developing sports and entertainment.”
Enrico Buonocore, founder and CEO of Gruppo Langosteria, which opened its first high-end restaurant here last month, says, “People have changed their way of living in the town. Now any weekend is good, there are activities year-round and not only in winter or summer.”