Starck naked in Paris, part deux

Starck naked in Paris, part deux

Part two of a comparison of two new Parisian designer hotels by Philippe Starck, the outré Mama Shelter and the aristocratic Royal Monceau, the latter at many times the price of the former. (Click here to read part one.) 

Say we use Mama Shelter as the apotheosis of minimal shelter but maximum attitude, the Hip. Say we use Royal Monceau as the epitome of maximum accommodations, the Haute. What distinguishes them, and what assimilates them, in the twin worlds of hospitality and design?

Black. Hip is black, and so is Mama. The room is dark, the curtains are drawn and only two carnival mask light shades glow softly either side of the bed, embedding their images into your dreams as you drift into sleep, or shocking you upright as the first vision of morning. The low ceiling of the hotel’s restaurant is a blackboard crawling with chalk designer graffiti, as are the walls of the elevators, replete with controversial contentions and idiosyncratic nonsense.

White. Haute is white, and so is Monceau. The bed floats in the middle of the room, plush white linens piled high to princess-and-the-pea dimensions, gossamer white sheers on the wide windows and the reflections of dozens of mirrors amplifying a single room into an apparent palace. The acoustic guitar set in its chrome stand — one per room — flaunts the ability to provide more than what may be needed, but nonetheless reaches back across the economic divide to the hipster world of troubadours, beatniks and would-be Dylans. And similarly, perhaps the vast mirror opposite the foot of the bed is not only a behind-the-glass TV and ample looking glass for the vainest of fashionistas, but also provides full-bed view voyeurism, once again suggesting that similar impulses animate rich and poor alike, but that one crowd gets a nicer version of the toys to play with.

Etoile. The hipster come to crash is the star of his or her dream (think his, as Mama seems exceedingly masculine). But the bathroom is more like the dressing room of a star before he steps on stage, surprisingly basic and barren, a place for basic functions basically well served. No dreams, neither lofty nor naughty, are evoked, the most likely invocation of prayer-like sentiments probably a bended knee in front of the great white porcelain god, whose double flush mechanism conserves water when suffering the ravages of drink that seem to occur in the bar below.

Toilette. The hoi polloi of the Royal are served up the bathroom of royalty. This bathroom is the size of Mama’s bedroom, with floor-to-ceiling French doors to the courtyard, implying that no humans would dare populate the outside world and risk gazing upon royal dishabille. All surfaces are appointed in soft white stone and populated with heated chrome towel towers and enormous lavatories, not to mention the chrome lobster set in chrome frame above the toilet, making basic functions seem like the movements of the gods.

It is said that in the end we are all horizontal, and essentially all equal. But horizontality along the way discriminates among us. The paupers are functionally served by Mama, a hard but healthful bed serving a hardscrabble hipster well. The princes are pampered at Monceau, the multiple layers of comfort and comforters more redolent of heaven than life on earth.

Perhaps here is the key to what animates these two exemplars of the hospitality spirit. One is all about the earth, the earthiness of life, its darkness, its difficulty and the impulse that sparks life within its confines. The other evokes heaven, the ethereal, the infinite and heavenly rest, with no notion of mortality at all.