Written by Staff Writer
Sophia Baghdassarian, CNN
“The hotel became a popular hangout for students,” says Eleanor Brandle. “What you can’t help but notice when you visit this moment in history is how influential you feel it has become, particularly in London and New York.”
To bring this power back, Brandle has come back to place her 1,400-square-foot (about 150 square meters) photography installation “Secrets of the Royal Garden” at The Ritz London during the city’s V&A Season in May. It’s an homage to the Manhattan pink hotel chain’s colorful interior design, which Brandle points out was a direct influence on the Sixties Jazz Age.
Brandle was first attracted to Ritz’s sophisticated opulence due to the vivid color schemes of a mannequin dating back to the 1960s. The “London Garden” series of photographs she captured inside various Ritz Hotels in New York and London in the 1960s are quintessential American kitsch.
The kitsch is stark contrast to the intricate interiors. The settings — platforms with brass staircases or vast conference rooms with wooden flooring — have hints of rust, a dash of orange, gold leaf and oversize tassels. Many pieces are filled with over 2,500 Swarovski crystals each. The collection mirrors that of the Swarovski Couture, which was introduced in 1968 and became one of the most popular sources of luxury jewelry.
“They had extraordinary elegant furniture, handmade by different skilled craftsmen who took great pride in their work,” Brandle explains. “They were at the time pioneers in their use of crystals and throughout their history of luxury they have often utilized crystals in their furniture.”
The Swarovski collection, then, helped to anchor the label to a much more lavish aesthetic and attracted the attention of new customers.
“Travel magazine readers fell in love with their color and style,” says Brandle. “That definitely explains why they were so popular with classic American youngsters, some of whom came from middle-class families.”
In 1962, Ritz made their first foray into franchising. The next year the company’s then-president, Marquis Carter, opened the first hotel in Europe. Brandle has fond memories of visiting those hotels.
“The Rosewood, St. John Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria were all great trips and the whole VIP business was just in their hands,” she says.
That vogue for celebrity royalty, though, waned by the early 1970s when the British government made it illegal for the company to accept such guests. After the Paris Ritz Hotel burned down in 1972, Banyan tree designs were imported to fill the void.
“It might be looked back on as a historic event in the industry,” says Brandle. “Sheer sheer genius in these tree designs and the way they were applied to lobby furniture, cocktail tables and chairs — it was quite astounding.”
The decor was revolutionary, of course, but the new rule helped give the iconic Empire Building a cleaner, cleaner feel.
Branding in the late 1970s is characterized by more formal, muted or diffused tones and the use of rugs and greenery. The motifs are meant to signify peacefulness, and now individual guest rooms offer carved wood floors and large side mirrors. Brushed steel lighting and birch furniture help to reinforce the sleek, modern feel.
These still effective colors are used throughout the new British hotel brand InterContinental Hotels, which opened a major London hotel last year, and one in Washington this year. There are three more London hotels planned for the future.
As for Brandle, the collection is woven tightly together and doesn’t lose any of its punch. Now in her eighties, she feels it’s her mission to take the collections back to the beginning. As Brandle puts it, “it might be appropriate to think of the drawing room as something that in a large way is the hope, the hope of what the Sixties were, which was to dream, dream and dream again.”