The hospitality industry has been upgrading soaps, shampoos and conditioners, switching hotel-branded bottles for more fancy names, writes Bee-Shyuan Chang
SINCE she’s been hopscotching hotels across the country for the last six years, touring as the violinist for the Brooklyn-based band Ra Ra Riot, Rebecca Zeller has had ample opportunity to inspect in-room skin care amenities.
“It definitely matters what’s on the sink,” said Zeller, 28. “It’s always a little bit of a reward, especially after a long flight.”
Zeller particularly enjoyed the full-size Cowshed products lining the showers at the Soho House’s High Road House in London. And in remote Marfa, Texas, an insider brand made an impression. “They have a cool hotel there called Thunderbird that has Malin & Goetz products,” she said. “We were bowled over.”
But she was disappointed by one so-called boutique hotel owned by a national chain. “They had this generic shampoo and body wash all-in-one dispenser literally installed in the shower, like at a bad gym.”
As Americans and Europeans head into prime travel season, the hospitality industry has been upgrading soaps, shampoos and conditioners, switching hotel-branded bottles for the kind of fancy names you might find in a department store or newfangled apothecary.
In New York, guests will find C. O. Bigelow products in the rooms of the Jane, Bowery and Maritime hotels, while L’Occitane’s citrus verbena line will be featured at the Algonquin Hotel, scheduled to reopen in June after a renovation.
“It started on a small scale a decade ago with the boutique independent hotels like the W,” said Paul James, global brand leader of St. Regis hotels. (The W has long offered miniature sizes of products from the spa chain Bliss.) “But in the last couple of years, you see hotels of all types having a better understanding of this.”
HIGH END TOILETRY
At St. Regis, James has worked with Laboratoire Remede, a French skin care brand owned by Bliss that was first stocked in the hotel chain’s spas. The products began appearing in rooms in 2007, and today include a shower gel available only there. He recommends that hotels prize “scarcity of the brand” when sourcing toiletries.
Thanks to partnerships with the Mandarin Oriental and JW Marriott, Aromatherapy Associates, a London-based beauty company founded by Geraldine Howard in 1985, is a lot less scarce. Originally, the line was focused on overall well being, but
Howard has worked with JW Marriott on a custom in-room line that includes lavender, rosemary and almond oil, which she believes enhances relaxation.
“People lead such busy lives now,” said Howard, whose frequent-flier schedule includes shuttling between the company’s satellite offices in Hong Kong and Frisco, Texas. “Aromatherapy products are popular because they work psychologically.”
Drew Dasent and Daniel Peddle, who together cast runway shows for Givenchy and Phillip Lim and chart more than 200,000 air kilometres each year, prefer hotels with organic skin care products. Dasent likes the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, because it uses Tammy Fender products, and Peddle is thrilled that the Chewton Glen in Hampshire, England, carries his favourite, Ren.
Some in the hospitality industry, like Soho House, have decided to go further than offering exclusive products by starting an in-house beauty line, which then can be sold elsewhere.
Soho’s Cowshed, named for the old cattle quarters at the company’s Babington House location where spa treatments were first performed, has stand-alone spas and distributes to department stores like Harrods. Christina Russillo, the director of Cowshed, said there are plans for expansion, including a separate spa and cafe in New York City this year.
Russillo said that Cowshed began partly to differentiate the Soho House (many hotels in the same category use the popular Molton Brown amenities) and partly for quality control. Many hotel lotions are made by different manufacturers, for quantity and distribution reasons, than the same brand you might find at a beauty counter.
“Yes, quality is an issue,” James said. “Formulas often have to be changed because of the stability of the ingredients and cost. When we first started, we had a lot of ancillary products and that is where you have to make compromises.”
He said this is why he now sticks to the basics: Shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and hand soap. “It’s a decision the hotels make, if they want to water down the product,” he said. “If you’re talking about the US$100 (RM319) face cream, then yes, there are probably changes to the formula.”
Still, because “travel is a massive marketing opportunity for beauty brands,” as Russillo said, some entrepreneurs are going beyond suds and lotions.
In March 2011, Uslu Airlines, a cosmetics company that was founded in 2003, introduced a nail polish collaboration with Hotel Costes in Paris. That was followed by another custom nail colour for Ace Hotel’s New York location this
February. The colours derive from corporate brand identity: Oxblood red for the house hue at Costes and a greenish gunmetal gray to match the painted walls at Ace.
Each polish is available through the hotel store or in-room minibar for US$19 at Ace, 19 euros (RM75) at Hotel Costes.
Next on the horizon: Lipstick. Uslu is working on a tube for Costes, while Virgin Atlantic airlines recently introduced Upper Class Red, a cherry lip colour collaboration with bareMinerals cosmetics sold at Virgin’s airport spas.
Jan Mihm, a founder of Uslu, believes such products convey subtle but lasting messages. “You can, by wearing the Ace nail polish, even a year after you’ve been to New York City, say that you have actually been there,” he said. “It’s a more discreet, insider way of wearing the ’I Heart NY’ T-shirt.” NYT