PARIS, I LOVE YOU
After a four-year-long revamp, the style set's favourite Parisian address, The Ritz, is once again hosting guests for fashion week. One long-time regular, Mary Symons, made her own return recently and recounts how, despite the hotel's changes, it remains the same
Hotels mean different things to different people. I have had an affinity for them since I was a child – each one embedded in my memory, often representing a different time in my life. As with most affairs, there is always one that stands out. And as the Ritz Paris reopened its doors for the first time in four years this July after a $200-million (U.S.) renovation, I was eager to reignite the flame with my one true love.
For over 30 years, I have returned again and again to the Ritz Paris, which originally opened in 1898. Sometimes the visits have been frequent; other times, years have slid by in between stays. I'm not alone with my recurring sojourns. Many of the most iconic figures in fashion – from Coco Chanel to Anna Wintour – have been regular patrons. With Paris fashion week currently taking place until Oct. 5, it's once again become a choice address for the final leg of the biannual runway tour.
Courtesy Mary Symons
In the early years, I would spend weeks at the hotel with a cherished second cousin once removed, who herself had been a returning guest since the 1930s. We always had the same rooms; mine on the first floor, which featured the highest of ceilings and French doors overlooking the Vendôme garden. The paintings and details of my room were so comforting, it immediately felt like I had never left it. The scene a few floors up was another matter. My cousin had quite distinct preferences and on arrival she would have her room completely reorganized. I once went to check on her and saw two workmen and a maid overseeing the comings and goings of furnishings as they converted the space to her taste.
Once settled in, other routines were quickly re-established: the Bar Vendôme for lunch, and often L'Espadon for dinner, always on the banquet looking out into the garden. Cocktails were at Bar Hemingway. Colin Peter Field, the head barman, once wrote me a note that read, "Sometimes, very rarely, time stands still. Mary, you are the symbol of the true Ritz friend and client. Maybe you have been here forever, perhaps in another life?" Not everything remained the same, however. The never-ending parade of interesting international guests, both famous and accomplished, kept the landscape vibrant.
One evening after we had a small exchange with a neighbouring diner, I received a delivery to my room: a spectacular Buccellati watch with a note indicating that the fellow guest had noticed me admiring it earlier in the day and hoped I would accept it with his best wishes. Despite the late hour, I excitedly took the watch up to my cousin's room. It was immediately dispatched back to the sender with a stern note on Ritz letterhead.
Years later, my husband and I would return often and once spent Christmas in the Marcel Proust suite. My regular room had been taken by a member of film director Woody Allen's entourage. Allen and his wife were occupying a suite directly across from us and I recall being awakened by a child playing in the small foyer between our suites early on Christmas morning. I opened the door and found the director engaged in animated conversation with his child.
Courtesy of the Ritz Paris
Over the years I have consumed innumerable cocktails at The Hemingway Bar, each adorned with a signature orchid or rose, handed to me by Field. Field has held court over this legendary bar since it opened in 1994 and has been ranked best bartender in the world by both Forbes and Travel + Leisure magazines. He keeps the history of the bar alive, while providing guests with his unique service, which involves regaling them with tales of the psychology of mixing cocktails as well as that of the drinker.
The Ritz is a vault of memories for me and it didn't need to change as far as I was concerned. I didn't want it to, despite the promise of an updated Ritz Club featuring Chanel spa treatments and a fresh take on the hotel's opulent aesthetic. But I was not disappointed on my return this past August. I was greeted warmly by long-time chef de reception Georges Gharbi. His enthusiasm was infectious as he showed me around the new Ritz. My beloved room is no longer, but the very spectacular new suites incorporate all the details seasoned guests love, including old-fashioned light switches and swan faucets in the gilded bathrooms.
The hotel is brighter; reinvigorated, in fact, but not just because the carpets are new. The history for all of us returning regulars can still be felt in the walls, along with the inimitable amber scent that continues to greet guests on arrival. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.