For the last two years, Philippe Leboeuf has been the guardian of one of the hotel world’s gems: Claridge’s. As general manager of London’s revered hotel, he has mastered the skill of preserving a historical treasure while updating it to modern tastes—he enlisted designer David Linley to create a series of new suites in the hotel. Leboeuf took time at the start of 2009 to discuss his experience managing five star hotels in global capitals, the definition of luxury in a recession, and his own favorite travel secrets.
ET: You have been at the helm of some of the most legendary hotels in the business, including the Crillon in Paris, the Carlyle in New York, and now Claridge’s in London. How does a legendary property maintain its own historic luster, while adapting to the latest expectations of an extremely discriminating hotel guest?
Philippe Leboeuf: Claridge’s has been the destination for fashionable London since first opening its doors in 1898. A new Art Deco wing was added to the elegant seven-story building in 1929 which included the ballroom, several new rooms and the entrance allowing Claridge’s to claim its title, the Art Deco jewel of Mayfair. Throughout its history Claridge’s has been home to the great and the good of the worlds of film, fashion, finance, politics and of course royalty and has held its position at the pinnacle of world class hotels.
Maintaining and striving to improve on such standards requires constant attention. Refurbishment, maintenance and general upkeep are mandatory to satisfy the needs of our guests and to keep Claridge’s at the forefront of its field.
To preserve and improve this unique Art deco jewel in London, £45 million was invested to individually redecorate many of the 203 rooms and update all facilities with air-conditioning. To allow the traveller to remain in contact with his global operations, Claridge’s installed up to date, in room technology for computers and telecommunications, including complimentary WI-FI for all guest and visitors.
David Linley has appointed the rooms in three styles to keep all tastes happy. Traditional, Art-Deco and Hybrid. In order to maintain each room’s individuality and be true to the period it was named for, Linley worked with a variety of fabric designs and suppliers. In one of the rooms for example a Ato mantle clock which is true vintage Deco piece was discovered in a store room and lovingly restored and now sits on the fireplace in the hybrid living room suite. There is a great mix of timeless pieces and newly designed pieces which sit so well together.
ET: You are overseeing Claridge’s 100-million-pound renovation; with David Linley leading the room re-design. What amenities and features are you adding to make Claridge’s the most desirable five-star hotel to stay at in London?
Philippe Leboeuf: David Linley will not be leading the room re-design as Linley has already finished the 20 suites. Diane von Furstenberg will be designing 10 rooms for Claridge’s in 2009.
Over the years as technology developed an unsightly array of mechanical and electrical plant machinery has evolved on Claridge’s roof. Part of Claridge’s future plans is to remove it in its entirety (with the exception of a heat generator) to a purpose built plant room underneath the art deco wing of the hotel. This will allow for further work to take place on the roof, repairing the roofscape and providing space within the hotel, enabling Claridge’s to provide further facilities as an improved service for its guests.
– 40 new rooms and suites, of exceptional size and standard.
– A health spa, gym and swimming pool in the existing basement
– Improved conference and business suite facilities within the existing basement
– Improved back of house facilities
– Improvement to the fabric and roofscape of the building
– Space within the existing listed building for a plant facility, incorporating increased energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
– The latest green technology will be used as we are a pioneer in all things grenn at Claridge’s.
We have an Exclusive Asprey amenity bath and body range for every guest. All of our linens are produced in Italy for us by Rivolta who are the producing the same spec for pratesi.
Claridge’s has the largest hotel rooms in London with incredible timeless bathrooms, it really feels like you are at home. There is amazing light and space in every room.
ET: Structure is one thing, but service often separates the best hotel in a region from all the rest. How do you motivate your team to provide such perfect, and personal, service?
Philippe Leboeuf: By offering Legendary Service to our guests and also the staff. We have a major Human Resources programme implemented within the hotel. This offers all staff members to participate in on going training and to also develop their skills within the hotel. I also live in the hotel. I am never really in the office as I like to spend the time on the floor interacting with fellow colleagues and guests of course.
ET: London, like other financial centers, is facing a potentially severe downturn in high-end business in this economy. What is your recipe for weathering the recession?
Philippe Leboeuf: Keep on delivering the service that we are known for. It is very important for us to look after the guests that keep on coming back time and time again. It is all about flexibility and offering the legendary service. Not to lower our rates. It is also vitally important that I remain very positive in this downturn so it does not reflect on the staff here at Claridge’s. We have to think ahead but most importantly look after our current guests and not go chasing new guests.
We have an incredible brand name and in our group we three very iconic hotels which include Claridge are of course, The Connaught and The Berkeley. People feel reassured that they know what they are going to receive in terms of service and are not afraid to spend their money if they feel they are getting true value for their money.
ET: Claridge’s restaurant is run by Gordon Ramsey. How important is it to have a major name attached to a luxury hotel’s restaurant, spa or bar today?
Philippe Leboeuf: Claridge’s also has two other restaurants called The Foyer and The Reading Room which are both open all day and night and serving some of the best culinary delights around. We have an extensive organic menu, which is also vitally important these days. Our Executive Chef Martyn Nail looks after both restaurants and also the banqueting areas of the hotel. I think it is very important these days to have a major name affiliated to a luxury Hotel. Along with Gordon Ramsay within the Maybourne Hotel Group we have the Michelin starred Chef Helene Darroze at The Connaught and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. Throughout the years Claridge’s has teamed up with many of the worlds top designers.
Thierry Despont the world-renowned architect was commissioned in 1998 to undertake the careful restoration of The Foyer and Lobby areas and also iconic Fumoir. David Collins designed Claridge’s Bar which recently celebrated its 10th Anniversary of being one of the most celebrated bars in London. David Linley has completed 20 suites in Traditional and Art Deco Style. 2009 will see Diane von Furstenberg design 10 rooms.
ET: Your career as a hotelier has taken you throughout the US and Europe What have been some of the most formative experiences of your career?
Philippe Leboeuf: I think I would have to say the U.S so far because it is so different to Europe. Having to deal with all the unions and procedures, and the benefits and systems. There are so many different cultures all working together. The melting pot of New York, it is such a fertile ground. There is a real high level of competition- a huge myriad of systems for the best to achieve. It feels really cut throat compared to Europe.
ET: Did you have a mentor in the business? If so, what were the most important lessons you learned from him?
Philippe Leboeuf: Mr Taittinger at The Crillon in Paris- the level of quality and the “endless service”.
Frank Bowling, Manager from The Carlyle who always told me to be happy and have fun doing what I do. Hard work and hard work and more and always check, double and triple check.
Peter Sharp owner of The Carlyle taught me about details and details, its all about the details.
Mr Derek Quinlan who has taught me that nothing is really impossible. He also has an un-common passion for the guests but also the staff.
ET: What goals do you have for the next three years?
Philippe Leboeuf: Overseeing the refurbishment of Claridge’s. Striving to become a very green hotel. We were recently awarded a Bronze Award by The Green Tourism board, and continue to be the best
ET: When you travel for your own enjoyment, where do you like to go? Are there any hotels or resorts you can single out as being at the top of their game when you visited?
Philippe Leboeuf: I do not like to stay in Luxury resorts when I travel for leisure I like to do the more rare things. Recently I went on an expedition of Mount Blanc.
In Salzburg, Hotel Sacher…. Old world charm, modern convenience at it’s best! Great location, great service. Can’t ask for more in a hotel. Not cheap but we’ve paid a lot more for a lot less in other cities and countries. The staff could not be more eager to please and to help.
In Japan I love to stay at Gora Kadan, which is situated in Hakone Ginyu. It is a formal Ryokan in another class altogether. It is a former residence of the imperial clan Kaninnomiya. It has a glass walled lobby and gallery leading to a series of outdoor baths lounges and alcoves where priceless ceramics and scrolls are displayed. Service is hard to describe here, it is all about anticipation. You never have to say anything as it has already been thought of, in some case not done, shoes cleaned or not cleaned. A very expensive suede shoe would not be cleaned as they would fear they would damage it—incredible service.