With a new sibling in Milan and another rumoured to be on its way, Nick Leech visits the original Armani Hotel to find out whether it’s still attracting the best-dressed in Dubai
Ten very private and understated floors of the tallest man-made structure on earth. The 2,722ft of the Burj Khalifa soar over Downtown Dubai, the shopping, leisure, and hospitality nexus around which many of the city’s other superlatives coalesce. Neighbours include the record-breaking Dubai Mall – reputedly more popular in terms of visitor numbers than the whole of New York – and the crowd-pleasing Dubai Fountain, but the hotel is separated from both by an intricate series of terraces, pools, and gardens that swirl around its base in a protective vortex.
The hoi polloi have access to the Burj but fraternisation is physically and aesthetically impossible. Day-trippers arrive at a separate entrance before being propelled at speeds faster than gravity straight to the 124th floor observation deck that provides the only real perspective on the tower’s incomprehensible height. The Armani sits serene and secluded amidst the razzmatazz and while it may be in the very heart of the city, it is cut from a very different cloth.
Nowhere is this difference more visible than in the Armani’s design. Other hotels in Dubai may be newer, bigger, taller, or more opulent, but few are as refined. The hotel’s concept – Stay with Armani – is to afford guests the same kind of welcome that Mr Armani would privately extend to his own family and friends, and it should come as no surprise that his universe is one of heightened sensitivities.
The subtlest changes in materials, textures, and finishes combine to slow the pulse and once your eyes adjust to the hotel’s low light levels, even more layers of detail and coordination emerge. Those inured to Dubai’s aesthetic chutzpah tend to find the effect underwhelming, but for fans of Mr Armani’s particular brand of chocolate, mocha, and cappuccino-coloured magic, the interiors act as a soothing tonic to the discordant realities of the city outside.
The Armani was designed as a leisure hotel, but it is as a more than luxurious business destination that it excels. Despite this, the lobby reveals a surprisingly wide variety of guests. As well as casually dressed business types in handmade shoes, there are luxury junkies, febrile from a little too much conspicuous consumption and carefully attired ladies who not only lunch but patently have time to do breakfast and dinner as well.
As with all of Dubai’s luxury hotels, GCC-based tourists make up the numbers while Chinese visitors, many of whom book for just one night, arrive early to make the most of their stay. The ambience is grown up throughout and there is a noticeable absence of sartorial faux pas. It would seem that guests come to do business and relax, not to preen or be seen.
The 12,000 square metre Armani/SPA includes a gym, pool, relaxation rooms and a four-stage ‘thermarium’ that takes guests on a journey from the cleansing deep heat of a sauna to a steam bath and laconium and the cool mist walkaway of a final sequential shower room. Spa experiences start with a personal assessment after which the selection of appropriate therapies and treatments follow. The therapists are top-notch but if anywhere in the hotel looks a little tired after three years’ of service, it is here.
The hotel has eight dining options including Indian and Japanese restaurants, the latter with a room-sized sake cellar and specialist sommelier to match. The hotel’s signature restaurant is the dinner-only Armani/Ristorante, an exercise in contemporary Italian fine dining in everything but name. A sinuous, double-height space, it features its own pre-dinner bar, cigar-lounge, open kitchen, and three bottle-lined Enoteche where small parties can meet, drink, and dine in private. All-day dining is available from the impeccably displayed buffet at Armani/Mediterraneo – even the juices compliment the interior design here – and Armani/Peck, a direct transplant to Dubai of Mr Armani’s favourite 130-year-old Milanese delicatessen.
Dishes here include buratta, miniature mozzarella whose unfeasibly soft centre is mixed with cream, and grilled giant prawns with spinach and a silky cannellini bean puree. The menu may sound unambitious but the food, imported direct from Italy, is consistently impressive.
The hotel’s 160 guestrooms and suites are divided between eleven categories, from the 45 square-metre Armani Deluxe Rooms to the flagship 390 square-metre Armani Dubai Suite, designed by il maestro himself and occupying the entire 39th floor. Thanks to the Burj Khalifa’s unique, triple-lobed footprint, most walls in the rooms and suites are curved and perfunctory objects such as TVs are hidden behind sliding screens that follow the same undulating logic.
All but the smallest rooms have separate living, bed and bathrooms and the latter come with separate rainfall showers and tubs. The bathrooms are finished in a chalky grey stone that’s naturally warm to the touch, while carnelian-coloured soaps shaped like stones speak to the level of input that Mr Armani has had in the project: he is said to have discovered the stone, his favourite, while walking on an Italian beach. Walls are clad in fine fabrics, liquid metals, and dark leather while black lacquer, silvered wood, and silk dominate the Armani Casa furnishings. The magic is broken however by a total absence of door handles – which leads to continual confusion over what is door and what is wall – and by the unnecessary and overblown Armani branding on the bathroom robes and towels.
A record 10 million people visited Dubai last year, attracted in part by the city’s guaranteed mix of sun, sand, spectacle and shopping; however, a slightly chastened, post-recession, Dubai is beginning to establish itself as something rather more than that. Mercantilism is written into city’s DNA: first it was pearls, then it was oil, now it is everything from tourism and property to Islamic finance, gold, gemstones, and art. A near constant stream of executives, diplomats, dealers, and the ambitious make pit-stops in this frenetic city and, thanks to its now confirmed position as a global transport and logistics hub and gateway to the new Silk Road, trade with the Far East is booming. The UAE topped Saudi Arabia as Singapore’s main trading partner last year thanks to the oil and petrochemical industries and the Emirates have just welcomed the city state’s first resident ambassador.
Thanks also to a growing number of headline cultural events such as the Dubai International Film Festival, Art Dubai, Design Days Dubai, and the nearby Sharjah Biennale, Dubai is cementing its position as an international cultural hub. A vibrant local arts scene has also developed around the Dubai International Financial Centre, Tashkeel, and in the industrial district of Al Quoz, where galleries have replaced garages along Alserkal Avenue.
Stay the night
A Deluxe Room at the Armani Hotel Dubai costs from Dh4,000 per night, including taxes, Wi-Fi and in-room non-alcoholic beverages. Breakfast is included in the cost of suites, which start at Dh4,500 per night, and tickets to ‘At The Top’, the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck on the 124th floor, are included in the price of the Signature and Dubai Suites. The Armani Dubai Suite costs from Dh40,000 per night.
To book, visit www.armanihotels.com or call 00 971 4 888 3888.
A version of this article originally appeared in Road Book, Singapore