The Hotel Merch Era Is Upon Us

When Covid-19 shuttered hotels in 2020, the hospitality industry began slinging branded merch. Now, designers are hungry to get in on the trend.

by Elizabeth Nicholas

A collage of branded hotel items
Collage by Ashley Peña

Legendary hotels offer glimpses into lives not lived. Check in to the Ritz Paris, for example, and you’re a French antiheroine—the Marquise de Merteuil, perhaps, or Madame Bovary made good. Stay at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and you’re a louche ingénue, recuperating from a spate of publicity while chain smoking like it’s 1999. At the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, you become Talitha Getty. And posted up at the Carlyle? You’re one of Truman Capote’s swans, heading out to meet him for lunch—and an eternal skewering—at La Côte Basque.

Like the best novels, the best hotels are portals for fantasy and escape. So is it any wonder that fashion designers—another group of professional dreamers—are also devotees of the world’s most iconic hotels? Whether to find inspiration in far-flung locales or finish a collection in a flurry during the days before a show, designers have long pledged allegiance to the power checking in holds to transmute creative potential into reality.

And now, many are getting the chance to show their devotion. When the pandemic shuttered hotels worldwide in 2020, casting many of their futures into question, one solution to the existential crises of zero visitors was for the hospitality industry to enter its merch era. And who better to help a hotel drop limited-edition sweatsuits than the designers who love it best?

One of the foremost examples of this interdisciplinary lemonade from lemons has been the L.A.-based label Frame’s collaboration with The Carlyle and Ritz Paris. “The idea for our collaboration was born in the early days of the pandemic, when we couldn’t visit our favorite places, like the Carlyle,” says Erik Torstensson, Frame’s cofounder and creative director. “We’ve always emphasized classic, timeless style, which is exactly what The Carlyle embodies.” And so, they released a capsule consisting of two sweatshirts and a baseball hat featuring the hotel’s crest. The drop was so successful that a second extended line quickly followed, including t-shirts, shorts, and joggers. Perhaps not exactly what Slim Keith would have worn to meet Capote, but the collaboration is perfectly in keeping with the Upper East Side’s timeless, clean-cut aesthetic—not to mention the athleisure-forward ethos of Bemelmans’ new Gen Z fans.

A European iteration of the Frame collaboration soon followed, featuring the newly renovated Ritz Paris. The 22-piece collection was inspired by the hotel’s past and present clientele—an illustrious list including Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It includes a Ritz-emblazoned cream sweatsuit (very Coco), varsity jacket (à la Fitzgerald), and water bottle (for Hemingway’s scotch and soda, perhaps?). The collaboration has done brisk business since its launch in 2021, with devotees ordering a piece of the Place Vendôme to their doorsteps from across the ocean.

Other designers, too, are throwing their branded hats in the ring. The world’s foremost dream factory, Hollywood, has several properties that are now moonlighting as fashion labels. Among these are the Sunset Tower—a moody Art Deco masterpiece famous for its chilled martinis and the deals made over them—which collaborated with sportswear line Sporty & Rich on sweatsuits, t-shirts, and hats. Sporty & Rich founder Emily Oberg has loved the hotel since her earliest days in L.A., and created the line as an homage. “The jazz band, candlelit tables, the palms, the way the pool glows at night against the Los Angeles skyline—for me, Sunset Tower is quintessential L.A.,” Oberg says. And now that the hotel is open again, it’s easy to imagine even the most glamorous of guests throwing on one of the matching sets (along with some diamonds and a tan, of course) for exactly the sort of dinner Oberg remembers so well.

Away from the city centers, too, designers are lending their talents to their favorite properties. At the Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands, Edie Parker has created a custom game collection inspired by the flora and fauna surrounding the property, along with the hotel’s ethos of disconnecting from technology in order to reconnect with one’s traveling companions. (If you can’t bond over a match of technicolor Tic Tac Toe in a Caribbean cabana, where can you?) And at the Eden Roc in St. Barths, PatBo was inspired by the hotel’s iconic cherry red sun beds to create a line of cheerful swimsuits, coverups, and matching sets, all handmade in Brazil by artisan friends of the designer.

It is telling that many of these collaborations feature the sweatsuits and domestic paraphernalia that became hallmarks of the stay-at-home lockdown years. Only time will tell if designers and hotels will continue turning out collections now that hotel doors have largely re-opened and their restaurants refilled. Will Gucci team up with the Chateau Marmont to offer its ingenues a minidress and platforms for late nights on the terrace? Would the Ritz Paris ever work with Chanel to create a ballgown? In the meantime, these partnerships have already given us what befits them best—comfortable clothing to slip on before drifting off to sleep from one's own life, temporarily within the walls of another.