So tweeted actor-comedian Stephen Fry upon checking into the newly refurbished London hotel on October 10, 2010.
The Savoy couldn’t have asked for a better ‘blogger-in-residence’ – Fry has more than 2 million followers on Twitter alone – but his stay is only one example of the resurgence, and evolution, of a prestigious position: that of the artist-in-residence.
Hotel brands big and small are seeking to make their properties not just anchors in the world’s cultural centres, but cultural centres in their own right through high-culture partnerships, endowments and awards.
For much of its 121-year existence, the Savoy’s status as creative muse has been unofficial. Monet painted the Thames from his Savoy suite, Oscar Wilde often spent the night, and Bob Dylan shot the video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from a nearby alleyway.
This in addition to the hotel’s artistic origins: It was built by Gilbert and Sullivan producer Richard D’Oyly Carte. Before the hotel’s recent renovations, the official position of Savoy writer-in-residence was filled by authors such as Fay Weldon and Frank McCourt.
Just as “writer” is now “blogger,” the definition of “residence” has evolved over the years to include not only prestigious universities and hotels, but also writers’ postings at King’s Cross tube station, a shopping centre in Kent, and Heathrow airport, where Alain de Botton set up shop for a week.
The benefit to the host? Cultural cachet, perhaps a nod to the property in a new work and – this is the Internet age – invaluable viral marketing. The writers get more than breakfast in bed, too. As author Sathnam Sanghera said in the London Times, “[T]he phrase ‘in residence’ seems to offer liberation from the two great curses of writing: loneliness and lack of inspiration.”
Winning after a fashion
Like the Savoy, the Dorchester Collection’s role in the arts world was cemented long before the hotel group created the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize.
Dorchester hotels can be found in every major fashion capital, from Paris to Milan, and have long been second homes to guests such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Kate Moss and even fictional fashionista Serena van der Woodsen who, when she’s not badmouthing Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl, retreats to her family’s penthouse atop the New York Palace.
The relationship between fashion and hospitality is organic: Fashion weeks need to be hosted, interior decorating needs an interior (a trend that only seems to be growing, with select suites and entire hotels designed by Missoni, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang, to name a few).
This new prize aims merely to celebrate a designer whose work manages to “evoke the spirit of the Dorchester Collection’s iconic hotels and, therefore, project a sense of individuality, luxury, style and craftsmanship.” The first edition’s winner, Thomas Tait, was awarded a cash prize and a glamorous event at the property of his choice.
The La Mamounia Prize for Literature positions the eponymous Marrakech hotel as both cultural icon and patron. Aiming to “positively contribute to Morocco’s arts and culture by providing a national and international platform for Moroccan authors writing in French,” the five-figure prize was awarded in November by a panel as diverse and notable as a Cannes jury.
Rather than judging finished works, luxury hotel chain Sofitel partnered with French daily Le Figaro for “Les escales littéraires,” sending 10 French writers to its properties to write short stories set in and around each hotel.
These literary love letters are published once a month online, and compiled and printed biannually in a publication for Sofitel guests. Excerpts also appear every month on a postcard supplement in Le Figaro.
The authors occasionally weave in direct references to the hotels (“I return to the Hotel Sofitel, calves aching, light-headed, and linger for a moment contemplating the fountain at the entrance…” –Yasmina Khadra, “Hom Marrakech”), which puts the artists’ role into question: Are they hotel ambassadors or guests with free rein?
During de Botton’s stint at Terminal 5, a member of BAA’s public relations team put it this way to the Daily Mail: “Neither Alain or BAA wanted this to be a glossy brochure. We have to just accept that not everything he is going to write will be positive.”
Whether other brands are willing to take the same risk remains to be seen. As one of his later Savoy tweets hints, Stephen Fry wasn’t afraid to tell us what he really thinks – in 140 characters or less: