LES BAINS</br>A New Chapter
A New Chapter

How to revive a sleeping giant of the nightclubbing world – Les Bains Douches – while respecting its legacy as the after-dark playground for a Who’s Who of subversive notables in the Eighties? With the formidable Marie-Line manning the door the mythic nightspot was as a popular rallying ground for artists, intellectuals and designers, with among regular punters Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Claude Montana, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and punk priestess Edwige Belmore. Joy Division even recorded a live album there in 1979.

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For interior decorator Tristan Auer, who gave Esensual Living a personal tour of ‘Les Bains’ during the final stages of its completion, against a symphony of hammers and drills, it was a question of pushing egos aside to focus efforts on a loving restoration of the original features that came to define the site’s personality. “The role of a decorator here is crucial because it’s a place that belongs to everybody, to the collective conscience. If you talk to anyone about how Les Bains used to be everyone has a favorite story, their own relationship with the place. The role of an interior designer is to preserve that and not impose any kind of decor,” says Auer, one of three architects tapped for the project. Prize-winning architect Vincent Bastie was tasked with restoring, reinforcing and reconfiguring the building, its facade and spaces; Denis Montel (RDAI) designed the site’s restaurant located on the ground floor. Other collaborators include creative director and brand designer Alexander Kellas, also the brains behind the visual brand identity of the Château Marmont, the Hôtel Americano, the Chiltern Firehouse and the Hotel Cipriani, and Jean-Pierre Marois, founder of Le Cabinet de Curiosités de Thomas Erber, who consulted on accessories and novelties for the site.

Bains Douches aficionados will recognize the site’s mythic entrance, with its David Rochline fresco, and the restored monochrome mosaic dance floor designed by Philippe Starck in 1978 when Les Bains was transformed into a club. The site’s name and iconic tiled decor hark back to its roots as private 19th century bathhouse frequented by intellectuals and writers, from Marcel Proust and Émile Zolato the Bohemians of the Belle Epoque. It was also popular with workers from the nearby Les Halles food market who would roll up at dawn after their night shift to shower and swig coffee and calvados. With Jean-Pierre Marois at its helm the new twist for the storied site, which today occupies an entire Haussmannian building and has been renamed Les Bains, is its positioning as a party hotel, with 39 rooms including an 80 sq m penthouse with a vast south-facing terrasse. A series of site-specific contemporary artworks come dotted throughout, carrying on the site’s tradition as an incubator for artists. “It is not a pastiche of the past, we are in the year 2015. It was a place of exchange, people didn’t come to get wasted and party,” says Auer.

Les Bains also boasts a first-floor private apartment in what used to be the office of Hubert Boukobza, the former Les Bains Douches owner who recently issued a tell-all autobiography of his years there: “Dix mille et une nuits” (Ten Thousand and One Nights). Le Réservoir, located in a 15 metre-high space that formerly housed the water tank of the Bains Guerbois bathhouse, offers a private dining room for 12 people. Hotel residents also have exclusive access to the Chinese salon on the ground floor, with its moody, 19th century décor, while the basement will operate as a spa by day and a club by night. “It’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” says Auer of the space with its iconic blue-tiled pool. “Before, there were divers with walkie-talkies, palm trees and sun loungers – they would reinvent the place each week.”

From mosaic on the white marble head boards to Joy Division records on the shelves, details in the suites nod to the site’s past lives. Fittingly the bathroom is king, replete with a mini hammam. The materials and workmanship are impressive, from the curved lines of a Seventies-style sink cabinet in lacquered mahogany to straw ceilings with a David Hicks-esque motif picked out in racing green and gold. The references are broad, from the Eighties-style mini library in the entrance to the artfully distressed carpet that “looks like it has aged across 200 years”. “There is no total look, it’s like an apartment that has lived through different eras,” says Auer. Special furniture designs pay homage to iconic Bains Douches residents, like Gainsbourg’s carpet or Warhol’s sofa.

The stylish suites have touches of humour and a subtle Playboy vibe (think vintage porn posters), as if Hugh Hefner could walk out of the bathroom at any moment, his dressing gown loosely tied. The idea, says Auer, is that guests can trot up to their rooms to refresh themselves in between tunes, the music still ringing in their ears, or to carry on the party, although it’s not about trying to force the success of the original club. “It may happen, it’s the magic of the accident, but we can’t recreate it and it would be a bit pretentious to claim we could,” says Auer. “It’s not about being the next party place, it’s about creating something authentic and of a high quality; a place for people to create their own stories.”

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les Bains

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