That moment when you go to Paris for an interview about style and luxury travel and Mr Francois Delahaye, the General Manager of Plaza Athenee and the inventor of Dorchester Collection, speaks with the heart about the life, about the future and about all the precious things that define a real gentleman.
I heard very often the ”good vibes” expression but I have to admit I didn’t understand it very well. Until now. While sitting on a comfortable sofa covered in a precious and soft velvet, I can’t help starring at the fascinating Tour Eiffel and I feel I don’t need anything else as the starring could take forever. It’s obvious that my divine point of view should do with the fortune to be at Plaza Athenee and to look at Tour Eiffel through the picture frame like window from the 4th floor apartment on the corner. From all the 5 stars hotels welcoming the richest tourists in Paris, Plaza is one of the very few Palace Hotels in the city, meaning a level of refinement and luxury taken to the sky.
The perfect blend of wellbeing in a hotel where every guest comes with the highest expectation is a form of art. Finding the story behind the red blinds façade is the reason I am here on Avenue Montagne at number 25. I have booked this meeting with three months before and I came to meet the brilliant mind behind the concept and the actual reason for which Plaza serves as an example for the whole industry. Dressed in a perfect fitted Italian dark grey suit with thin stripes, matching a grey tie and a white crisp shirt, Francois Delahaye is nevertheless a discrete presence if you didn’t have the chance to talk to him. He obviously represents the expression ”French refinement” and he is the type that likes to leave his work to speak for him. And indeed, his career makes for one great speech. After heading prestigious hotels all over the world, in the late 90’, he returned home to Paris and entered the race of being the best of the best as general manager of Plaza Athenee.
The place of our discussion is in the main lobby, where the 5 o’clock tea comes accompanied by pastries imagined by a pastry chef who won the award of World Pastry Chef. This kind of details are what Mr Delahaye considers as very important in keeping Plaza as the place to be from the most famous shopping street in Paris. ”The level of luxury went up. The sophistication of food, the sophistication of everything. I think the increase of quality of luxury went really high. The main reason is the race of being better as everyone wants to be better. Paris is a good example. You had the Plaza Athenee and then you had Goerge V as the main competition. Then, suddenly, you had the arrival of Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula. Big spenders. So, we closed the hotel and made a huge renovation. Then we added Alain Ducasse, we added the Dior Spa. So there is a big competition. But it’s good for the guests, they would be the winners!”
Being dressed so that people feel comfortable in your presence is one principle Mr Delahaye applies when choosing his attire. It is also the way Plaza Athenee makes the guests feel good immediately they enter the flagship address of Avenue Montagne. I felt it since the day of my arrival. One step out of the taxi and the doorman who took my trolley got a glimpse of the name tag and in the next second he said in a perfect English, but with a French touch that made me think I have been missing Paris so much: ”Welcome to Plaza Athenee, Monsieur Baches!” For sure, the tall, white dressed guy, in his 50s, acts natural but underneath the smile there are hundreds of ideas and details meant to maintain Plaza’s well deserved success. How do you keep your place in Pole Position? ”This is all in the details. There is everything that you do. That’s how you keep Plaza Athenee all the time at its best. Going on details, details, details.”
Mr Delahaye’s vision proved to be so refined and his methods so efficient that, starting with Plaza Athenee, he was dared to create an entire collection of exclusive hotels in some of the most famous cities from Europe and United States. „His Baby”, as he warmly names Dorchester Collection, took the name of the prestigious hotel in London and systematically extended to include 10 ”jewels” as we speak. ”You need to have hotels in the best locations. That’s the most important. Our hotels have to be in the best locations. After that it is a lot of team work.” Even if each hotel has its own identity, there is a certain mood you pick up when you enter. And I can only think that it is the social instinct of Mr Delahaye and his deep knowledge of lifestyle for which he has selected only addresses seen as the top meeting places in their cities by the locals. As much as I have experienced the collection reunited under the Dorchester brand, there is no mistake. I would name only the lobby of Dorchester hotel itself in London where you need to book a table with weeks before, the lobby of Milan’s Principe di Savoia, named Il Salotto for the way it blends all the VIPs in a cozy atmosphere, and La Terazza of Hotel Eden in Rome, from where you can have the view of the city but also the view of the best dressed Romans. La Galerie, as the lobby of Plaza Athenee is named, makes a powerful statement of French chic attitude. The narrow hall guarded by high columns is a must for the Parisians and has a special rumor that could be recorded and played as the official soundtrack of refined luxury.
”Once you start to travel, you carry on. You want to travel more and more and more. I think travel gives confidence. Feeling luxury is almost the same thing. Once you touch luxury, you don’t want to go to the coffee shop. It’s difficult. It’s like a drug. You want quality. You want to have the nice fabrics to touch. You like to have nice leather. Once you see a marble like that, you want to see it only like that. I think it is important that once you travel, you travel in style.” Plaza makes the best example of travelling in style and the fine details Mr Delahaye adds to its ”master recipe” makes the taste so intense that it justifies the high rates. Apart from having the best Bang & Olufsen TV set, a tablet to order the room-service and all the gadgets you dream of, there is still the human touch to make you smile because of small but sometimes precious gestures. I would name here finding my phone charger arranged beautifully with a Plaza logo embroidered red ribbon and making sure that I have a few chocolate muffins waiting for me next day even if they were out of the permanent breakfast menu. ”There are all these devices, the technology, the apps, they are great! Everything is quicker in corresponding with your guests. But let’s not forget the human relation. This business will still need the people. There are the people that you come to see. When you come to Paris you need to go to the café to see a waiter. You don’t go to have a coffee from a machine. I think service is still very important so we must be careful not to lose the human touch. The humanity of the relation.”
Mr Delahaye is a reason to believe that luxury travelling will only get better with time. Being so good at creating trends, he carefully chooses the best from the young generation of the hoteliers but also the technology features that actually help. Even if there is not a thing to contradict his gentleman attitude, at the end of our conversation I ask him why he’s wearing an Apple watch when he is clearly a match for Audemars Piguet or any other luxury watch brand. ”My wife is killing me on that. I cannot sleep without it. I tried it three years ago, I was one of the first in France to have it. I have a collection of luxury watches, but this is so practical. I have a meeting the next minute, the watch sends me the message, I love it. It’s not elegant but nobody is perfect!” A good vibe reaches me and it is not related to some technical feature. On the contrary it is the sincere smile of Mr Delahaye so well matching the human side of Plaza Athenee. At the end of the day, after you tasted the Alain Ducasse recipes and every other sophisticated detail the hotel has to offer, you want to go upstairs and feed your soul with Paris. At the 4th level, on the corner, there is a velvet sofa from where you have the Tour Eiffel only for you.