Text Carlo Mazzoni
It is one of the biggest rooms of Hotel de Russie. On the table lies a Louis Vuitton box: inside a collection of postcards. The legacy of bygone times: these are the postcards you would find at the concierge of major hotels, featuring oil paintings of promenades and mountain view balconies that distilled true elegance for the sake of those who love travelling the world. The reference echoing in the mind reminisces a time when hotels were the backdrop for Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Miss Marple based detectives such as At Bertram’s Hotel. There are many such postcards: they bring back memories from my childhood. I flick through them, their titles sounding like the titles of detectives or romantic novels, the kind you pack with you when leaving for a long journey.
It is a habit of mine upon entering a new hotel room to look immediately for the evacuation map and to check my room’s dimensions compared to the others. I ponder how, back in the days, five-star hotels had much larger rooms. The Negresco, Hotel Bristol, the Continental, Hotel Imperiale – they exist in many cities and towns, seaside or mountain resorts. A noble or more garden-variety type of nomenclature that springs up on the esplanades of Europe, punctuating the itinerary of Jules Verne’s journey around the world in seventy-nine days or featuring on the Monopoly squares.
At the end of every holiday, my mother used to give me five thousand lire: postcards were between a hundred, two hundred lire and stamps seven hundred, which meant that with my five thousand lire pocket money I could afford up to six. I would buy them from the concierge – sometimes he would give me a few free ones so that I could buy more stamps. He even suggested adding them to my mum’s hotel bill, she would have not even noticed. But I was resolutely against. It was my primary school’s game, the legacy of an old Twentieth Century tradition. The first postcard I received was the one my grandfather sent me from a trip to Marrakesh: it bore the image of a fez he would have brought home to me as a memento.
Rome, Hotel de Russie. We are here for the opening of a new Louis Vuitton space inside La Rinascente, the third store next to the one on via Condotti and the one in San Lorenzo in Lucina. The name Rinascente and 1920’s Italy: journeys were long and suitcases – an entity in themselves. Vacationing was turning from an aristocratic prerogative into a bourgeois tradition, hotel etiquette replacing court rules. Lampoon pursues pleasure but never luxury: the aesthetic pleasure of d’Annunzio– it was the Vate (the Poet) who coined the name Rinascente – the pleasure of being able to read other people’s traces and not to just leave our own.
The Art of Travel through Hotel Labels. Claridge’s in London, the Governor in New York, La Mamounia in Marrakesh, The Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles, Inglaterra in Havana, Cairo’s Bristol Hotel and Astor House in Shanghai. Postcards were turned into labels decorating the latest trunks specifically designed by Louis Vuitton for the opening at La Rinascente in Rome. Trunks that could easily have been carried from one of the rooms of the Grand Hotel in Biarritz, carrying the belongings of a Guermantes Duchess who had just alighted in Rome on her way to Venice on a trip on the Orient Express. The concierge on duty would apply the Hotel Flora label – yet one more – on the trunk as a result of the registration procedures.
Inside the vast room of Hotel de Russie, I flick through the postcards as if they were a deck of cards. Come Christmas, I will buy some stamps. Many more than I could afford with my five thousand lire. I will write Christmas wishes as I would on the walls. I will drop them in the mailbox, the red lacquer metal ones.
Image cover: The Art of Travel through vintage Louis Vuitton Hotel Labels – Ph. Carlo Mazzoni