The Latin word Lutetia, believed to signify ‘marsh’ or ‘swamp’, makes us think of how european cities are not only history infused, but living history
1910 is the year of Hotel Lutetia’s opening in Paris. Same year was the Great Flood of Paris, a peculiar time when the city looked more like Venice than Paris. People steered boats down the Rue de Maine and the Cour de Rome near the Saint-Lazare train station. That weird and special year saw also the initiative of the Advisory board of the department store “Le Bon Marché” which decided to open a specific stay-in location for their important clients: there the Lutetia hotel was born.
Bon Marchè, founded in 1838 and revamped almost completely by Aristide Boucicaut in 1852, is in fact History, being one of the first modern department stores globally renown. Now, under the property of LVMH, it sells a wide range of high-end goods, including food in an adjacent building at 38, rue de Sèvres, called La Grande Épicerie de Paris.
On a parallel side, the Lutetia, significant in the history of Paris for being a transition from the Art Nouveau of the day to the then emerging style of Art Deco. The Hotel is located at 45 Boulevard Raspail, in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, the only luxury Palace hotel on the city’s Left Bank.
Both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements emerged as reactions to major world events; the Industrial Revolution and World War I, respectively. While Art Nouveau main features include curving lines and organic forms, Art Deco is recognised through industrial designs and sharp edges.
The architects at the time, commissioned sculptor Léon Binet and later, Paul Belmondo (father of actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo) to decorate the hotel’s facade in the ‘Art Nouveau’ style comprising branch-like depictions with imposing floral details intermingling with grape vines and grape clusters. The overall effect was a Parisian style with a new twist.
Fashion icon Sonya Rykiel’s redesigned in the ‘80s, marking a the Art Deco’s twist. Starting with her own shop in the hotel, she successively implemented art deco heritage elements in rooms, brasserie and Michelin-starred restaurant. Not to be outdone. Guests from sculptors Hiquily and Arman to filmmaker David Lynch designed their own suites too.
It was not until six years ago that another renovation took place, when the ambitious project of Jean Michel Wilmotte, an eclectic French architect known on the international scene, among other things, for his restorations at the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, began, adding a contemporaneity feeling to the ambient.
The Lutetia quickly became a place where the anonymous could be found alongside the famous, where art, philosophy, science and politics were continually mixes and re-matched without ostentation. Its early success was interrupted by the First World War, when the French government evacuated the occupied city.
The hotel itself (like other Palace Hotels in Paris) was requisitioned during the Second World War by the occupation forces and used to house, feed, and entertain the troops and officers, a hard and memorable period which nevertheless contributed to shape its prestige and myths. Finally, in 1944, the Lutetia became once again a crucial centre for displaced people and families reuniting with their loved ones. Joyce, Camus, Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, Hemingway, Matisse, Picasso, Josephine Baker are just few of the names part of its history.
The new Lutetia as we know it nowadays, finally re-opened after its last four years long renovation in 2018, counts 184 (down from 233) fully soundproofed rooms, each with custom 1930-style furnishings and solid marble bathrooms. The gastronomic offer includes a lounge open all day under a historic skylit, a Mediterranean-inspired brasserie, under the supervision of Michelin-starred chef Gérald Passedat and a 24-hour room service.
Le bar Josephine is a must for its cocktails, live jazz and the incredible fresco, carefully restored during the 2014-2018 renovation. To fly back to roman times, he Akasha Spa features a 56-foot mosaic, and the whole structure is equipped with large lounges for special events.
In the 50’s, in a city – and a hotel – celebrating its freedom, the soundtrack that opened the era was indeed jazz, with a capital J. The Lutetia is once more the venue for artistic collaboration. Accomplished musicians like the actor Andy Garcia, a guest at the hotel, used to sit in front of the keyboard and play into the night.
At the end of the 1950’s, Juliette Greco met another French artist, equally loyal to the hotel: Serge Gainsbourg. Eddy Mitchell composed blues song ‘Au Bar du Lutetia’ which still today represents the signature music of the hotel.
The Latin word Lutetia is believed to signify “marsh” or “swamp”. The name used to indicate the little island in the middle of the Seine, whence modern Paris originated. It is visible in the roman-like letters engraved in the hotel’s facade. It makes us think of how european cities are not only history infused, but living history.
45 Boulevard Raspail,