I've never personally been a huge fan of brand extensions. Although I acknowledge that when well executed, brand extensions can be a perfectly legitimate way to grow a business, too many brands seem content to slap their name on just about anything and everything. The result often smacks of crass opportunism rather than of thoughtful strategy with consumers paying a premium for what amounts to little more than empty hype.
I had an occasion to stay at the Armani Hotel in Milan recently and I can honestly say that it has me thinking more positively about brand extensions, specifically forays into "lifestyle". Opened in late 2011, it is Giorgio Armani's second hotel (the first is in Dubai), the fruit of a joint venture with Dubai-based property developer Emaar Properties which, if successful, will eventually grow to include resorts in Egypt and Morocco. While I can't vouch for the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Armani Hotel in Milan makes a very strong case for brand extension done right.
Every surface, every detail, every nook and cranny exude the famous Armani touch from the muted palate of soft, subtle colours to the symphony of textures and nuance. The service is friendly without being obsequious, attentive without being intrusive. Even the fitness room, an amenity often relegated to the basement in most five star hotels, is situated on the top floor of the hotel with gorgeous views of the city and a decor every bit as luxurious as the hotel's bar or restaurant. It is in short a temple of understated luxury and a very effective articulation of the designer's signature elegance.
I suspect that part of the success of this venture by the Armani brand owes at least in part to the meticulous planning for which Giorgio Armani has become famous. In this instance, the Armani Casa line of interior decor elements including linens and furniture act as the perfect bridge between the brand's fashion and the hotel itself. Mr. Armani whose corporate headquarters are located nearby was involved in the most minute detail of the hotel's construction and decor and reportedly stops by nearly every day to check up on various aspects of the hotel's management. This kind of personal involvement by the brand's founder makes all the difference in the world. There is a sense that when one stays at the hotel, one is very much a guest of Mr. Armani.
Alas, there is one detail which seems to have escaped Mr. Armani's exacting eye: The hotel's antiquated and ineffective website. In fact, were it not for my dogged determination to try out the hotel (I finally gave up trying to book online and grabbed the phone to make my reservation viva voce), I might have ended up not experiencing Mr. Armani's particular brand of hospitality at all. In this the digital age, even a brand as prestigious as Armani cannot afford to neglect this crucial aspect of luxury service. Let's hope Mr. Armani directs his attention to the matter and demands the same gruelling precision of his website designers as he manifestly demanded of his hotel's designers.
The Luxe Chronicles
PS In keeping with my policy of full disclosure, my reservation was upgraded by a member of the hotel's management, a graduate of the EMLUX (executive master's program in luxury goods management at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) upon learning that I would be lecturing at her alma mater.