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TheStreet Open House

Fashion Designer Names Draw Tourist Eyes

MILAN, Italy ( MainStreet) -- In a crowded marketplace of international hotel chains it can often be little more than a name -- a fashion name -- that displaces even the most famous brands from the top of the marketplace. Or at least that's the case in Milan, which has no real shortage of luxury hotels (including Four Seasons, Park Hyatt (H) and Baglioni) that now have to compete with names such as Armani and Bulgari, virtually synonyms for fashion and glamour. But before you start to feel sorry for your favorite luxury chains, you might just be surprised at the developers behind some of these glossy labels.

Bulgari Hotel was one of the first designer hotels in Milan, and a wow of a one at that. It's in an 18th century palazzo floating in a dreamy garden of rolling, almost neon-green lawn with an elevated lounge arranged with sexy decor and ficus trees as manicured as the model-worthy patrons. Interiors live up to even the loftiest of architectural expectations with Zimbabwe black marble and zen undertones. But more interesting than the full-size Bulgari bath toiletries in guest rooms and Espa Spa is that it is actually a joint venture between Bulgari and Marriott International (MAR), also manager of the Ritz-Carlton portfolio. The collection also operates the revered Bulgari Bali Hotel in Indonesia and forthcoming Bulgari Hotel London, opening this spring, that could be a competition killer in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Hotel Moschino Milan was born out of the Italian fashion house Moschino and its lead designer, Rossella Jardini, and occupies a former 19th century rail station.

Armani Hotel debuted last year, adding to the hipness quotient of Milano hospitality. Armani Hotel makes its home in an urban location along via Manzoni, under a modern rooftop atrium that puts a fashionable hat on the building's historic masonry facade. Inside, Armani works in muted colors and signature furnishings, many available for purchase through the Armani Casa line. An Armani-branded eatery features a bolder design statement of black-and-white marble floors and windows illuminated by the Milanese skyline. This is the second Armani Hotel; the first is in Dubai, where Armani Hotels & Resorts is based as a partnership between Armani and Dubai-based Emaar, which also developed the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall.

Those preferring a little less corporate supervision can book into the Hotel Moschino Milan, which was born out of the Italian fashion house Moschino and its lead designer, Rossella Jardini. Occupying a former 19th century rail station, the neoclassical structure feels to visitors as though it fell down one glamorous rabbit hole; its four floors and 65 guest rooms are some of the most whimsically designed spaces you'll ever experience. Inspired by fairy tales and dreams, the hotel is home to an ever-changing eatery led by Michelin-star chef Moreno Cedroni and Art Spa that adds modern art to an ethereal theme. Managed by Italy's Hotelphilosophy collection, the hotel has rooms mixing the occasional hanging poodle lamp with dress-shaped headboards and poster beds made of tree trunks.

Away from Milan, the Ferragamo family opts not to put its name on the hotel collection known as Lugarno Hotels, which operates such style-centric properties as the Continental in Florence and Portrait Suites in Rome. In addition to operating hotels, the Ferragamo Group also manages a series of high-end apartments that offer voguish abodes for those looking for something bigger than just a hotel room. Less known, however, is the group's recent delving into the sea with Scarlino Yacht Club & Residences -- a permanent residential community and marina with a Swan yacht with breathtaking interiors by Florentine architect Michele Bonan. It's available for Aeolian and Balearic charters.

Other designer names floating in the hotel milieu these days include Missoni Hotels, with locations in Edinburgh opened in 2009 and Kuwait the following year. The hotels are a collaboration between the Italian fashion label and The Rezidor Hotel Group, which also operates Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson brands. In Paris, designer Christian Lacroix is the inspiration behind boutique properties Hotel du Petit Moulin and Hotel le Bellechasse, while Maison Martin Margiela designed the interiors at nearby La Maison Champs Elysees.

Other designers go a different route, opting to design singular specialty suites such as Vera Wang's at Honolulu's Halekulani, Tomas Meier at the St. Regis Hotel Rome and Diane von Furstenberg, who debuted her own glamour pad inside London's Claridge's.

As for what's next in the fashion hotel arena, LVMH is rehabilitating Paris' former Samaritaine department store for what is reported to become the second installment of its Cheval Blanc brand born in wintery Courchevel. And although there are no plans to date, don't be surprised if Ralph Lauren pops onto the hotel map. Given his comprehensive home lifestyle brand and real estate savvy, the designer seems a likely player on the scene, even if only on an individual level. Michael Kors is also one to watch, with fashion collections inspired by the designer's global travels and customers more than willing to follow in pursuit of the next fashion designer hotel.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.

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