March 1, 2010

Resort by Rossignol: Hôtel le Strato

Designed by Rossignol in the 1960’s, more than a million pairs of Le Strato fiberglass-laminated skis were sold around the globe, the most prominent user being Barbara Cochran, an American who captured the slalom gold medal at the 1972 Winter Olympics. The man who oversaw the success of the Rossignol brand for 50 years was CEO Laurent Boix-Vives. Another of his accomplishments was to build the first ski lifts in Courchevel in the French Alps. As his wife, Jeannine, puts it, “We consider ourselves to be among the resort’s pioneers.” When the couple decided to open a hotel, two things were therefore logical: that the location would be this swish resort town and that the name would be Hôtel le Strato.

For the interiors, the couple called on Les Héritiers principals Aimé Cécil and Pierre Dubois, partners in life as well as design. Les Héritiers literally means the heirs, and what Cécil and Dubois inherited, a typical Savoyard-style chalet on steroids, was “completely incoherent for a hotel,” Dubois says. The rooms were too small, the only place for some of the beds was under the sloping roof, and the layout in general was, as he adds, “absurd.” Les Héritiers reduced the number of rooms in order to increase their size. There are now 25 suites ranging from 400 to 1,300 square feet, certainly large enough to suit the Russian oligarchs who flock to Courchevel every winter. And each suite has a balcony with a stunning view of a 75,000-foot peak called the Dent du Villard. What’s now the ski-in/ski-out floor was initially set aside for staff accommodations. “One of the most beautiful parts of the building!” Cécil notes in disbelief. Now there’s a luxurious ski room, where equipment is stored, plus two guest suites. Les Héritiers also expanded the spa from 3,000 to 8,500 square feet by building an extension where a parking lot used to be.

When it came to decoration, Le Strato had to stand out in a crowd of no fewer than 19 top-flight hotels in Courchevel. To create “not only a personality but also a soul,” Dubois says, the establishment needed to offer luxury without ostentation—more the atmosphere of a private home. Jeannine Boix-Vives also knew that the interiors should reflect the history of her husband’s family. Her father-in-law, Anselme Boix-Vives, was an interesting character, a Spanish immigrant who spent most of his life selling fruit and vegetables. At 63, he took up painting seriously and became a significant figure in the art brut movement, as Jean Dubuffet referred to outsider art. A selection hangs in the bar at Le Strato. Naturally, the history of Rossignol looms large, too. Les Héritiers chose black-and-white photos of skiers from the Rossignol archive, cropped them for a more artistic look, and employed them in a number of ways: on backlit wall panels, printed on chair upholstery, engraved on nickel lamp shades.

The texture of the gouged walnut veneer on the walls is meant to recall the tracks left by skis in the snow. So are the leather strips that detail the curved arms of felt-covered chairs—just one example of the contrasts that dominate the decor. Internally lit alabaster cocktail tables, glowing glacier cool, are juxtaposed with cozy faux fur upholstery. “We like mixes,” Dubois says. Cécil adds, “If we’d lived a few centuries ago, we’d have had an amusing cabinet of curiosities.” Le Strato incorporates French and Spanish 17th-century statues, starting with the baroque angel in front of the reception desk. The numerous old-master portraits are there “not to create a false genealogy,” Dubois explains, “but to provide a benevolent, protective glance when you enter a room.” Reproductions of frescoes from the Sistine Chapel line the walls around the swimming pool in the spa, while a black Murano glass chandelier, almost 8 feet high, hangs overhead.

As for the ski room, it offers much more than storage and direct access to the slopes. A champagne bar pours vintage Veuve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouët. And the hotel offers guests bored of their up-to-date parabolic skis the exclusive opportunity to borrow reedition Le Stratos.

Photography by Eric Laignel.

SGI: Structural Engineer. Claudet: Woodwork. Pascal Votta: General Contractor.

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