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Thursday 12 October 2017

Destination Dubai - Armani Hotel is a Triumph

I learnt an important lesson recently in Dubai. In a place well known for it's debaucherous design and decoration, there is a property that is spectacularly significant. You know the building; the Burj Khalifa. It is the world's tallest building with 163 floors, and on par perhaps only with the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, when it comes to impressive architectural icons.

Both burjān [plural for burj, don't you know] mark an important maturing of the region's design vernacular from the ostentatious, sometimes post-modern, to the elegant and iconic. I remember visiting the Burj Al Arab when it first opened in 1999, and gawked at the ostentatious interiors that seemed so at odds with the sweeping minimalist exterior form.

When I heard that that the Burj Khalifa was to feature an Armani Hotel, my heart sank a little. 'Here we go again', I thought. It's going to be an exercise in radical over-the-topness appealing to little other than those with a penchant for coordinating gold plated Bugatti Veyron's with gold plated bathroom taps - another opportunity missed for design in Dubai.

Design Trawler checked-in to the Armani Hotel Duabi - and couldn't have been more wrong...

Let me say this first. The Armani Hotel in Dubai is a triumph. It is significant in the region, and probably the world. My first mistake was to forget that unlike some other Italian couture houses that foray in business of hotels and interiors, Giorgio Armani is a pillar of the understated, and unadulterated classic European style. We're in safe hands.

While getting Donatella or the boys at Bvlgari on the design mandate may have been the more obvious choice for a super-luxe hotel in the world's blingiest bravest building, the Burj Khalifa corrects the error that its sail-shaped cousin made 15 years ago. Everything in the hotel is calm, effortless and infinitely luxurious.

Heading straight to the 39th floor, Design Trawler checked-in to the hotel's flagship, two bedroom 390sqm Dubai Suite. Check-in happens in-room, assisted by a personal Lifestyle Manager; a nice touch that's a common feature across all 160 rooms. And that's where you begin to see, that for a hotel in the world's tallest building, offering only 160 rooms makes things very special indeed. I was told that the hotel was at near capacity, but for the duration of my stay I barely saw any other guests on the residential floors. If you're looking to get away from the world, the Armani is your place.

Inside, the rooms, this theme continues. Away from the gilded ceilings, away from the bejeweled bed covers; the rooms are an exercise in extreme restraint. There's no contemporary stock-art on the walls; just swathes of lustrous silk wrapping around the sensuous interior walls. No bright accent colours on throws or pillows, instead Mr Armani has opted for signature Casa Armani checkerboard patterns in neutral linen tones, moody grey suede, perforated leather, metallic woolen carpets, and irresistible slabs of shagreen panelling edged in cool steel frames. It's like nothing else in Dubai, and is intoxicatingly subtle.

Even if you're not sauntering around the Dubai Suite's two living rooms, office and library, eight-seater dining room, or working out on the top-tier Italian Technogym fitness kit in the suite's gym, leaving any room in the Armani hotel becomes a chore. 'Must I endure the traffic, the endless construction, malls, and bottomless brunches offered outside the refined walls of the Armani?' No - probably not. Your lifestyle manager will run your errands, research the local design scene [yes, Design Trawler outsourced his own role to the capable hands of his Lifestyle Manager]... and not forgetting that the Armani Hotel has seven restaurants; all of a calibre befitting of this magnificent urban oasis.

If you do feel guilty for not stepping outside of the building in days [you shouldn't], there is a particularly James Bond-esque *secret tunnel* that links the Armani Hotel to the Dubai Mall. It's reserved exclusively for hotel guests, and you'll get a personal escort to guide you through the guarded marble-lined walkway too.

I failed to mention that each hotel room features a brilliant iPad connected automation system allowing you to summon the staff, check the front door camera, unlock said portal and even beam-in the sounds of the fountain show outside your window. It's all very smart, and very, very befitting for the Burj Khalifa.

So the Armani Hotel is a triumph. But there are lots of triumphant hotels around the world, and I only have so much time to spend in them. Is it worth planning a trip just to experience this hotel? That's up to you, but given the region's growth as a transit hub for Asia; it's an easy stop on your inevitable route to Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore or Sydney. If I'm passing through, I'd make it an absolute priority to spend some time at the Armani.

You could blissfully spend a week here so long as you're willing to substitute a beach for a rooftop pool at the foot of a marvel of architecture and engineering. It'd be a cliché to call the Armani Hotel Dubai an oasis in the desert, but it's boutique scale, world class design, and supremely elegant interiors makes it truly special.

I said that I learnt an important lesson in visiting the Armani Hotel in Dubai. In a similar way to the extremely paired down design aesthetic I saw while visiting Amanjena in Morocco, it takes a supreme boldness to dial-down design to the extreme. It's a boldness here, that is the dream of Giorgio Armani, and I respect it hugely.

David Tang maximalism has a place in design for sure, but so too does a world where texture and quality of materials alone do the speaking. In the Armani Hotel Dubai at the Burj Khalifa, the Middle East has truly graduated to understanding design. I look forward massively to a day when the name above the door is from an Emirati design talent. Until then I'm sure I'll be finding many more excuses to detour via Dubai!

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