With its unhurried expansion of the Cheval Blanc brand, LVMH is slowly but surely redefining the concept of a luxury hotel.
It is one of those quintessential Maldivian afternoons in which a single fluffy cloud sails across the sky like a slow-moving ship and the slender palm trees seem to stretch to the sun. My fantasy island—a football field–sized patch smothered by a mound of snow-white sand—is silent save for the whisper of a light breeze and the churning of the rising tide. I flatten myself across the surface of a daybed, attempting to lure the low sun’s rays onto every square inch of my body, and slowly drift off to sleep.
Pop! The cheerful explosion of a fresh bottle of Champagne snaps me back to reality, in which my island for one is actually Cheval Blanc Randheli, an exquisite new resort in the Maldives’ Noonu Atoll. Propping myself up against a bright yellow pillow, I scan the beach for the source of the sound. To my left and right, the fingerlike shadows of palm trees line empty white lounge chairs. Behind me, the turquoise swimming pool ripples only from the wind.
“Madame,” says my majordome, or butler, appearing suddenly at my side to place a bubbling flute in my hand. “I thought you might be thirsty.”
To be sure, the maisons of Cheval Blanc, the hotel brand of the French conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, present a spectacular version of reality. Cheval Blanc Randheli, which opened last November as the brand’s second property, immediately raised the bar in the Maldives—a country already flush with extravagant properties. The resort and its predecessor, Cheval Blanc Courchevel, are certainly not unique in the world of fashionable travel; Bulgari, Armani, and other high-luxury houses have all debuted their own hotel chains in recent years. LVMH, however, is slowly but surely—and unsurprisingly—establishing its particular brand of hospitality as the standard bearer in the field, if not for luxury hotels in general.
LVMH’s first property opened in 2006 in the tony French Alps resort of Courchevel 1850, where Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate’s chairman and CEO, transformed a mountaintop chalet in the Jardin Alpin area into an haute-couture sanctuary. Extravagant details were in excess, from the atelier filled with Louis Vuitton products to the 37 rooms and suites adorned with miles of silk, leather, velvet, and fur. Stationed near the entrance to the maison (LVMH’s preferred term for its properties), a mirrored horse sculpture was erected as a symbol of the new hospitality brand, whose name is a reference to the group’s 150-year-old Château Cheval Blanc winery in St.-Émilion.
At the time, LVMH had been broadening its reach in the luxury world at a rapid pace. In the previous decade alone, it had acquired the Scottish whisky distiller Glenmorangie, the Dutch yacht manufacturer Royal Van Lent, Donna Karan International, and Tag Heuer, among others. The group had also announced plans, in 2001, to create Paris’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, a Frank Gehry–designed art museum that opened this October. The conglomerate’s aggressive expansion, however, did not carry over to its nascent hospitality brand. “Courchevel proved to be incredibly successful, but we knew we were entering a competitive world,” says Olivier Lefebvre, head of hotel activities for LVMH Hotel Management. “While it was an obvious extension for us as a luxury brand, it was important to us to get everything right before we went any further.”
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