"The lights are very low — it's like a club, to give a unique atmosphere away from the city and the crowd," Elodie Costes tells me one brisk day in Paris last fall. Of course, this isn't just any club she's referring to — it's , the city's reigning epicenter of cool.
Nearly every night of the week, the ground floor restaurant and bar, located in the posh shopping district that runs along Rue Saint-Honoré in the upscale 1st arrondissement, is teeming with models, the fashion set and celebrities. "Kevin Spacey, Rihanna and Beyoncé have all come to eat at the hotel," says Costes (pronounced "coast"), the creative director of the brand.
The hotel is fully booked during haute couture fashion weeks in Paris; it has a partnership with the edgy designer Alexander Wang; and CDs of Hôtel Costes music, spun by the famed DJ Stephane Pompougnac, have sold six million copies worldwide.
So how has the property created a burgeoning global brand, one that also includes collaborations with Apple Music, the ultra-chic (and expensive) swimwear line Eres and even a nail polish by Essie?
Sound is central to Hôtel Costes. "We have something for the morning mood, then the lunch mood, then you come later in the day and there's a higher tempo at night. Our music is a unique mix of contemporary, vintage and unknown music treasures," says Costes. Last year, she and the brand launched the Costes Channel with Apple Music, enabling the hotel to bring its addictive rhythms to the masses.
It's not only the sounds, but the sights (or, sometimes, lack thereof) that create the ambience at Hôtel Costes. The lights are usually at hangover setting (that is to say, very, very dim) and the staff are always tinkering with them to get it just right. "The atmosphere here is something that people want to copy — but it's something that isn't quite explainable," Costes says.
Unlike many hoteliers, the Costes' strategy is to stay as low-key as possible — the company says it turns down many press requests and has no outside public relations agency. You can't even book a room on third-party websites. For Hôtel Costes, being under the radar is part of the speakeasy-style mystique.
In an age of branded everything, Hôtel Costes, with its distinct identity, has a way of running a bit counter-cultural. For instance, the magazine associated with the hotel "talks about everything except for us," Costes says. They only recently joined — but don't expect to find pictures of flakey croissants on their feed. Instead, the account is an artistic display of the Costes lifestyle: a series of sultry, sexy and moody images. That's because the Costes take photographs seriously. A few years ago, they commissioned Dutch photographer Arno Nollen, who stayed at the hotel for almost a year, to compile a limited-edition book about life at the hotel.
The brand was started by the media-shy Jean-Louis Costes (he doesn't speak to reporters) and his brother, Gilbert, in 1983. They were pioneers in the boutique hotel category, and The New York Times called Jean-Louis "a Parisian version of Ian Schrager." In the early 1980s, he turned to (now-starchitect) Philippe Starck to design his first restaurant, Café Costes, in Les Halles, which at that time was not the hip area it is today.
But knowing what will be trendy and popular in the future has always been the Costes' calling card. In 1995, they opened Hôtel Costes with a décor that did not have the same sleek, clean lines as many other boutique hotels being built at the time. Their vision was an homage to Napoleon-era design with a modern twist. The famous French designer Jacques Garcia wanted to show that décor from the 1600s and 1700s was not just for your grandmother. "A baroque surprise," Ms. Costes says during a tour of the rooms, which are chock full of red velvet furniture and flea market-sourced decor.
Hôtel Costes is one of those rare hotels that has been able to move successfully into branded products. It launched a candle line with Olivia Giacobetti, a famous French perfumer, who mixed rum berries and beeswax to create a smell — and line of candles — that was evocative of the hotel. There's even a storefront entirely dedicated to Hôtel Costes perfumes.
Eres, the couture swimwear and lingerie line, partnered with Hôtel Costes to create a glam bathing suit (the one-piece was priced at €310, about $329). "We were the only hotel Eres said they would do this with because their artistic director was inspired by our spa," she says. True to Costes form — which is to say discreet, almost to the point of hidden — the bathing suits weren't even displayed at the spa store.
Their concern is being too overt. In the Hôtel Costes playbook, coolness rides on, and is cultivated by, a level of discretion and secrecy.
Still, the stores and product are doing very well, according to the company. As just one example, they sell roses, for five euros each, (about $5.30), in their solely dedicated flower shop adjacent to the hotel.
Unexpected is part of the hotel's image. Beneath the nightclub is a large indoor pool and steam room, creating a kind of urban oasis that's a sensory surprise, and contrast, to the nightclub vibe of the property.
Next up is an expansion that will triple the hotel's size. It will not include more baroque-style rooms. That, of course, would be too predictable. The new phase of the hotel, on par for completion in the fall of 2018, will have larger and more modern rooms, some with stunning panoramic views of the city.
But they don't want to say too much, at least for now. "We try not to incarnate the place," says Costes. "Since the beginning, we never talk about us. We prefer that people discover the hotel for themselves."