Cheval Blanc: 3 questions for Olivier Lefebvre

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The latest addition to the prestigious Cheval Blanc collection, Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, was inaugurated in mid-October on Saint-Barthélemy. Olivier Lefebvre, Head of LVMH Hotel Activities, talks about the development of Cheval Blanc and the creation of a new center of expertise in “experiential luxury”, LVMH Hotel Management.

What makes Cheval Blanc hotels so distinctive?

Olivier Lefebvre: Rather than “hotels” we prefer to call them Maisons, to emphasize the intimately residential character of Cheval Blanc properties. The brand has been built from the initial success of Cheval Blanc Courchevel with a very exclusive vision right from the concept phase. The number of rooms is voluntarily very small to offer ultra-personalized service, and living areas are extremely spacious and decorated with an ultimate sense of detail.
All our decisions are guided by four fundamental values: craftsmanship, exclusive privacy, creativity, and the French art de recevoir. We want to satisfy the strong demand for an innovative offering in the ultra-luxury hospitality business that is consistent with the expectations of a younger clientele avid for unique experiences, coupled with extremely caring and tailor-made services.
Taking the notion of service to the ultimate level is a Cheval Blanc signature. We apply the same warm and highly personalized approach to welcoming our guests in Courchevel, Saint-Barthélemy or the Maldives. We aim to offer them a customized stay right from their first visit, rather than wait until they’ve become loyal guests at our Maisons. We try to anticipate their desires and surprise them with thoughtful attentions throughout the entire time they are with us.
Our Maisons all share essential features, notably exceptional locations, a limited number of rooms, private, ultra-high-end services, innovative and varied culinary and well-being experiences, plus art that is naturally integrated in the premises. At the same time, they each have a distinctive identity inspired by the environment of the destination, revisited with a touch of daring modernity. So there are infinite possibilities…!

The opening of Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France on October 15 marks a new stage for LVMH Hotel Management. Unlike Courchevel and Randheli, for this project you rethought an existing property.

Like the Maldives, Saint-Barthélemy is a favorite destination among high-net-worth individuals, or HNWIs – people who have financial assets in excess of a million dollars – and who seek exceptional places for a week of vacation with their family or friends. This is thus a natural location for a Cheval Blanc Maison, but it had to be on the Flamands Bay, the most beautiful beach on the island and no doubt one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean. Urban development rules are extremely strict on St-Barth and new construction was not an option. So we kept a very close eye out for opportunities for nearly five years before acquiring the Hôtel Isle de France in July 2013.
Then we gave ourselves an entire season to better understand this mythic property, to identify its strong points and learn from both the local staff and from guests. We wanted a seamless transformation and made sure we retained the magic of the place and the much-appreciated service philosophy that existed, while adding the refined touches and sense of detail that define Cheval Blanc. The teams embarked on an ambitious training program and new positions were created, all centered on the same end goal of excellence at every level. For example, we introduced the Alchemist, who we describe as an “experience designer”, someone who imagines bespoke experiences based on the desires of our guests. The Spa was also renovated and now proposes Guerlain signature treatments, an exclusive offering in the entire Caribbean. And we revisited the color palette, creating a special “blush” pink that embodies the Maison, a color that evokes the glamour of St-Barth in the 60s. Plus there’s an extensive range of exclusive amenities, new tableware, totally redesigned uniforms, and the hypnotic artwork created by Manuel Merida in the restaurant, ‘La Case de l’Isle’.
Initial feedback from loyal guests of the previous property have been extremely positive. They both recognize their hotel they loved and are curious about and indeed delighted with the changes and new offerings. We definitely think we’ve met the challenge, including satisfying new guests.

What’s next for Cheval Blanc?

Our collection of Maisons currently counts three properties: Cheval Blanc Courchevel, which opened in 2006, Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives, inaugurated in November 2013, the recently reopened Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France. We’re also pursuing our international development with several projects in the design or construction phase around the world. Ultra-luxury hotels are the second-largest discretionary expense item among HNWIs after art, and this segment continues to have an extremely attractive growth outlook.
La Samaritaine in Paris will of course be a major step for Cheval Blanc. This is one of the most eagerly awaited upcoming openings among guests, the media and the hotel industry, and we will not disappoint! This is an exceptional project from an architectural standpoint, a true jewel of art déco heritage that we are reviving with Peter Marino. This new Maison will have 71 rooms, designed with a very residential spirit, a gourmet restaurant, a contemporary brasserie, and a spa. Its location in the heart of historic Paris will offer absolutely stunning views.
The hospitality branch gives the entire LVMH Group prime access insights into the expectations of a very-high-end clientele and their families. We’re fortunate in that we have direct contact with our guests and serve them in a privileged context during their vacations, make sure they are totally comfortable day and night.
Cheval Blanc has exciting development plans, both in terms of our geographic footprint, but also by continually adding to our expertise in “experiential luxury” and ultra-refined service.