‘Everything must change for everything to be the same’ may sound like fortune cookie mumbo-jumbo, but when the Ritz Paris reopened in 2016 following a top-to-tail renovation, the hotel’s mantra provided some clarification to return guests faced with a conundrum: why, after a four-year closure and a rumoured cost of $450 million (Dh1.6 billion), did things seem so familiar?
Fresh coats of paint and gently spruced-up interiors meant rooms felt that bit brighter; although somehow rejuvenated, suites remained classically styled – the changes hardly seemed drastic. Still, Ritz guests don’t need to be told that the best cosmetic surgery is designed to go unnoticed; while the property’s surfaces were retouched, its innards were rewoven. Tech was modernised, water pressure sorted and air-con future-proofed - all unglamorous but essential undertakings for a hotel that had opened in 1898, in a palatial old pile that dated back to the early 18th century.
So, after I’d checked in last week I wore a bathrobe in the same peach that greeted the first hotel guests – the colour flattered the complexion, insisted Marie-Louise Ritz, the wife of founder Cesar Ritz. My bathroom still featured a golden tap shaped like a swan and service, as ever, was discreet and assured.
One of the most significant changes, though, relates to what is absent. When the hotel closed, its contents were put in storage. About 80 per cent have been returned. The remainder, alongside other pieces removed during renovations past, will be auctioned in Paris from April 17-21.
In total, the sale will offer some 10,000 individual objects spread across 3,500 lots. It’s a huge undertaking, but Artcurial, the Paris-based auction house facilitating the sale, has form. It arranged similar events for Parisian grande dame hotels including Hotel de Crillon, which earned six million Euros. There’s good reason to believe this sale from the more historic Ritz will surpass that figure.
I get a sense of how comprehensive the offering is when auctioneer Stephane Aubert shows me some of the trove. After admiring paintings, sofas and fabrics spanning a chronology of lavish decorative styles, I’m momentarily disturbed by a sinister, life-size Father Christmas, ambivalent about a white piano and dismissive of a Louis XVI-style dog bed, which apparently belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
More to my liking is the idea of hosting a Ritz cocktail party at home. Minibars are listed at Euros 400-600; three stools from The Ritz Bar will start at Euros 1,500; and countless sets of glassware are embossed with Ritz Paris insignia. I imagine casually inviting guests to sit on a duo of floral-print Louis XV-style Chesterfield chairs (Euros 800-1,000). ‘Oh, these old things? I picked them up in Paris; they used to be in the Coco Chanel Suite at The Ritz.’
It’s a nice fantasy, and the property’s peerless heritage means intense competition for the most coveted lots is likely. But before they are dispersed forever, Artcurial will offer all and sundry a bit of Ritz magic fleetingly. From April 12-16, a free exhibition will precede the auction, with three storeys of Artcurial’s listed Champs-Elysees headquarters transformed into approximations of The Ritz using furniture from the auction.
And of course, after the auction ends, The Ritz will remain. While I disliked its Hemingway Bar – too touristy – it’s otherwise a class act. And even if they’re wealthy enough to buy whatever pieces they wish, the hotel’s most committed guests will still need to return to the hotel to enjoy its breakfast of pastries, silken hot chocolate like melted ice cream and French toast as sweet and spongy as a fresh souffle.
For more on April’s exhibition and auction see artcurial.com; rooms at The Ritz Paris start at Euros 1,000 (ritzparis.com).
The Telegraph Group London LTD 2018