It’s fitting that it took an artist—filmmaker Jean-Pierre Marois—to revive the fin de siècle splendor and bohemian verve of the legendary Parisian building where Marcel Proust came to unwind, Depeche Mode stormed the stage, and Philippe Starck made his name. But for Marois, Les Bains was a project he was born to take on. The building belonged to his father, so he was intimately aware of its rich, storied past.
I have seen wonderful hotels ruined by remodeling and great places denuded by design. The trick is to abide by the aura of the place. I want people to feel the accumulated history, the years of incredible stories, and the lives that have touched the place.”
To achieve this at Les Bains—his third hotel—Marois knew that he had to be innovative, but fortunately he is no stranger to innovation. As a hotelier he proved so adept at turning around his first endeavor—a business hotel in Paris—that the bank urged him to undertake another project, which ended up being a popular boutique hotel in the city. But unlike most hotel impresarios, he is also a successful filmmaker. He helped produce the star-studded “Mary” by Abel Ferrara; Oliver Stone’s documentary “South of the Border”; and directed the satirical “American Virgin”; among many other credits.
Though the skillsets for these two professions seem unrelated, Marois insists otherwise. “Looking for a hotel is like looking for a book to adapt into a screenplay, and finding the right architect is like choosing the director,” he explains, “and both projects are all-consuming!” He pauses a moment, then adds, “In film and hotel design, a single deficiency detracts from the whole. Everything has to be in harmony, the camera work needs to complement the acting, the editing must enhance the material, just as design must illuminate a building’s nature, and welcome new life.”
Thanks to the outstanding joint work of architects and designers Vincent Bastie, Tristan Auer, and Denis Montel (RDAI), Les Bains now shines as a vibrant, connected, international clubhouse and hotel. Yet noting Marois' two professional passions, it’s easy for one to see why the building particularly spoke to him—even before the architects and designers hit the stage. “The history of this glorious space would make a great film, a kind of building biopic—its different incarnations, characters, and intrigues!” he enthuses. “It’s too good. I’m actually planning to do a documentary about it!”
The very mention of all these larger-than-life characters gets Marois thinking again about how character is at the heart of both a good film and a good hotel. “As a filmmaker, I know how to gather talent for an incredible story and move everyone towards a beautiful creation,” he says. “The secret is to be humble and let the hotel emerge from this incredible mix of history and drama. We are servants of the project. Nothing is forced, nothing is heavy-handed, everything is geared so the hotel flowers from the space.”
Les Bains is just a short walk along tree-lined boulevards, past galleries and cafes, to several museums, including the Pompidou Center. In other words, it’s the perfect setting in which to yell out, “Action!” Indeed, shortly before the hotel opened, Marois was asked what kind of movie this tantalizing new hotel would be. “An instant classic!” he said, with a warm laugh. Happily, the reviews are in, and as usual, the prescient Marois was right.