I am in Provence, at mellow-stoned Crillon le Brave, gazing out of the window at a jumble of warm terracotta roof tiles. Above them, swallows flit, feeding on the wing, and beyond them, tidy rows of vines dominate the sweep of land that runs to the foot of Mont Ventoux. The hotel, which sits at the centre of the village, is formed from nine stone houses, many with grey shutters and branches hanging heavy with fragrant wisteria.
It reopened for the season this summer under the Maisons Pariente umbrella, the first of three hotels that this new hospitality house will bring to the French market this year. While the name Pariente might, as yet, be unfamiliar in the hotel world, it is a legend in the fashion industry due to the label Naf Naf, which brothers Gérard and Patrick founded in 1973.
Look up Naf Naf online and the potted history on its website describes it, in 1984, as having earned a place on the international scene with its “joyful, feminine and sassy” designs. Many will remember it as the technicolour uniform of the raving set. The Nineties, a decade of growth for the company, were all about “colours, quirkiness and expansion”.
So here I am at Hotel Crillon le Brave, looking to see if any of these themes have translated into the Parientes’ vision for hotels. The church bell of Saint-Romain tolls on the hour behind me as I wait for a telephone call with Patrick’s two daughters, Leslie Kouhana and Kimberley Pariente, who, together with their father, are behind this new venture. The phone rings and the story unfolds.
When Patrick Pariente sold Naf Naf in 2007, he moved into real estate. A few years later, one of his projects was L’Apogée in Courchevel, a new-build hotel to be managed by the Oetker Collection. This gave both him and Leslie, who had joined the family business, an insight into the luxury hotel industry, if not a taste for it. “We learned the pleasure of creation,” Leslie told me, “from L’Apogée”. But whilst that may have proved pleasurable, it was their trip to Hotel Crillon le Brave that was the starting point for the company.
Someone had told them that the hotel was up for sale. It is an intriguing story which started in 1988, when Canadian Peter Chittick saw the potential in the postcard-perfect Provençal village with its hotch-potch of houses, and acquired enough of them to open a hotel the following year with 18 rooms and the authentic feel of a village undisturbed. More houses were acquired over time, along with stables that were converted into a spa, the thick stone walls creating a cool silence with lavender filling the troughs.
The Pariente family, by then with Kimberley on board as artistic director, bringing her experience from the world of fashion (she studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles) came, saw and were definitely conquered by Crillon le Brave’s charms. And so in 2017 they bought it and renovated it bit by bit during the closed months in 2018 until this year, when it reopened as a 33-room hotel with two newly built suites and eight newly designed rooms – from €350 (£316) B&B – in Maison Roche, one of the hotel houses, courtesy of architect and designer Charles Zana.
He has, with his warm colours and use of polished wood and smooth stone, created the feeling of home that the Pariente family were after, as well as introducing a spare, contemporary, look, (the remaining 23 original rooms in the hotel do in comparison feel somewhat dated and corporate) while very much maintaining the village feel that has been at the core of its success. The newly designed lobby has a shop, where Provençal pleasures tempt alongside stylish dresses. It draws on both the fashion and commercial experience of the Pariente girls.
“Our concept is for our hotels to feel like a holiday home that guests return to, sometimes with their friends, other times with their family. We want them to be in places that we love to visit,” Kimberley told me. With this in mind, St Tropez was an obvious next place to go, for they had holidayed there frequently when young.
Zana was again called upon to imbue the stone houses that make up their second hotel, the 34-roomed Lou Pinet, with homely warmth and the feel of the Riviera in the Seventies. It opened in July (rooms from €450 B&B), surrounded by lavender and herbs on the edge of St Tropez.
Art, curated by Amélie du Chalard, sets the tone, with pastel murals drawn in bold colours on the dining room walls by Parisian artist Alexandre Benjamin Navet. Terracotta floors and red and yellow sofas give a bright and breezy feel – an aesthetic not that far from Nineties Naf Naf.
From the coast to mountains, Le Coucou Méribel will complete a hat trick for the group. It opens in December and will be aimed at families. It will have 55 bedrooms (with the majority connecting rooms), two private chalets, two restaurants, a spa, two swimming pools and two kids’ clubs for toddlers to teens. Design comes courtesy of Pierre Yovanovitch, who draws on authentic materials, especially wood, to achieve his trademark purity and balance, and a network of artisans to create his “Made in France” finish.
In a few years will come Paris, in fashionable Le Marais, providing all possibilities for Pariente junkies – from countryside to city, sun to snow.
“Do you have any ambitions to launch internationally?” I asked. There was a slight pause before the sisters answered in tandem. “If something is right we will just see how it goes,” said one; “Step by step,” said the other. But possibility hung in the air.
And so, the telephone call finished and I went in search of lunch, which was more elusive than I would have expected. But it was 3.30pm, the kitchen had closed and room service is not a thing at Hotel Crillon le Brave. My pleas for sustenance did not fall on deaf ears, though, and before long the very able general manager Frédéric Veyrier had asked the very able chef Anissa Boulesteix to conjure up a salad of baby spinach leaves and summer truffles that was well worth the wait.
It is still early days to see how Maisons Pariente will shape up in the hospitality business. But in the terms of the old mantra – location, location, location – they are spot on.
Scott Dunn offers seven nights at Crillon le Brave from £2,100 per person, based on two sharing a Deluxe Room on a B&B basis, with private transfers and British Airways flights (020 8682 5000, scottdunn.com).
Read the full expert review: Crillon Le Brave