Stephen Alden, Chief Executive Office, The Dedica Anthology
Stephen Alden, CEO at The Dedica Anthology, speaks to SPACE Editor Can Faik about his exciting new luxury brand and how they are making guests feel welcome across their portfolio…
The Dedica Anthology is a new brand in luxury hôtellerie, born out of the passionate belief that travelling should be a presence, not an absence. Unveiled in April 2018, The Dedica Anthology is a collective of contemporary-minded hotels that occupy exceptional landmark buildings in key European cities.
What was your background in hospitality prior to launching The Dedica Anthology?
I have spent my whole career in the hospitality industry, having known from an early age that this was where my passion lay. Moving into the international luxury hotel sector seemed like a natural step and I have never looked back. Having trained in Switzerland, I’ve worked in 11 countries including the US, where I opened the St Regis in New York and had the privilege of leading the St Regis and Luxury Collection brands globally for Starwood; and the UK, where I was for nine years CEO of the Maybourne Hotel Group (owner of Claridge’s, The Connaught and the Berkeley) and subsequently CEO of The Set (London’s Café Royal, the Conservatorium in Amsterdam and the Lutetia in Paris). All of this combined experience has given me a unique personal platform from which to launch Dedica.
What does your current position involve?
As CEO of The Dedica Anthology, I am focused on building a new brand in luxury hôtellerie. I was attracted by the entrepreneurial nature of this challenge, which requires me to be involved across the full spectrum of activity with our portfolio, from managing investor relations to leading on architecture and design projects, to igniting creative and operational concepts that will differentiate our brand. I believe we need a particular blend of skills, flair and detail to succeed in our business. I call this ‘hotelcraft’.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The past 18 months have been transformational for the brand, and it is overall the satisfaction of seeing our vision of curated contemporary hôtellerie coming to life – and then taking it to the next level. I enjoy seeing our team of highcalibre professionals come together, and the spirit of camaraderie. Having supportive investors makes it all the more gratifying. I love our wonderful buildings and their histories, and with our brand headquartered in Milan we have the Lombardian lifestyle – the Italian Lakes, the Alps and the Riviera – as a tremendous source of inspiration.
What will The Dedica Anthology have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition, especially in the competitive contemporary luxury hospitality sector?
I am first and foremost a hotelier. But I believe that traditional hôtellerie should not restrain us. We have an obligation to reinvent, challenge and update if we are to keep pace with our international guests’ contemporary lives.
It has always been a guiding principle of mine to create places where people want to be – and return to. It’s my passionate belief that travelling should be an immersive experience in the present. You’re here, now – alive in the moment, drawn in to every nuance of your new experience, rather than being ‘away’. A beautiful hotel stay has the power to transform you – and I think this is the new language of luxury. If guests can experience moments at Dedica that help them to get to know themselves better, I will be very happy!
What are The Dedica Anthology’s unique selling points?
We are the custodians of an incredible collection of properties in key Italian cities and across Europe, each one steeped in the soul and spirit of its location and with its own fascinating story to tell (hence our name: ‘Anthology’). This inspires our re-imagining of each property for the future. Secondly, two of our signature features are roof terraces and sociable lobbies – and you will find either or both of these at all our hotels, creating both wonderment and an easy sense of belonging. Thirdly, we have a subtly Italian attitude in our DNA which lends a natural warmth, sociability and generosity of spirit to everything we do – there is no other luxury hotel brand that champions Italy in this way.
What can you tell us about Dedica for the Arts?
The concept was inspired by the natural richness of our hotels’ artistic legacy, starting with Palazzo Gaddi in Florence. This was originally two palaces built by noble Florentine families, one in the latter days of the Renaissance and the other enhanced by important frescoes and other art work during the late-baroque period of the 18th century. As part of the hotel’s sympathetic renovation, guided by the historic interiors specialist Guy Oliver, we embarked on the professional restoration of a canvas by Ranieri del Pace which is integral to the fabric of the building. At the same time, we are looking to renovate the world-famous New York Café in Budapest – part of our New York Palace hotel and originally created in the 1890s with the ambition of being ‘The most beautiful café in the world’.
In furthering these projects, we are effectively becoming part of a tradition of artistic patronage that has existed since medieval times. So we decided to make it an intrinsic part of our brand engagement: The Dedica Anthology would act as a cultural catalyst, supporting initiatives in the cities where we have hotels as well as pursing our own Dedica commissions. We are collaborating with the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome and various galleries and museums on artistic and literary projects, and introducing work by living, often local artists, in a variety of media, into our properties.
Can you tell us more about the re-opening of the Nice and Florence properties for 2020?
We took a bold decision to pause operations in these properties for over a year, in order to create something truly transformational with their renovations. When guests return to Palazzo Gaddi in Florence in March 2020 they will discover the lovingly curated restoration of a noble building and its museum-quality art, bringing these wonderful spaces sympathetically back to life, and a new contemporary spirit inspired by art and enlightenment. You can almost reach out and touch the Duomo from its rooftop terrace.
In Nice, Hotel Plaza will reopen in May 2020, reclaiming its position (since 1850) as an emblem of glamorous, sociable, luxury hospitality on the Côte d’Azur. The roof terrace is being completely redesigned by David Collins Studio (with whom I have previously collaborated at The Connaught and The Berkeley) and will re-launch as a relaxed, all-day destination for bistro chic dining – with an open kitchen and an uninterrupted view over the Mediterranean as far as the eye can see. We are also reducing the number of rooms from 172 to 153, and their re-design is being artistically directed by Patrizia Quartero and our own Dedica Design Studio; our three exceptional signature suites will be created by Yvette Adams, who also worked on the Aman in Tokyo.
Is The Dedica Anthology looking at any countries in particular for new openings in the future?
We are exploring and considering new opportunities in several international destinations, including Milan, Courmayeur, Florence and London.
Where would you love to open a Dedica Anthology Hotel?
One of our ambitions is to have a cluster of properties in Milan and the neighbouring regions of northern Italy – Liguria, the Italian Lakes, the Alps reinforcing the fact that the Lombardian lifestyle is part of Dedica’s DNA.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to the US and Asia?
Across Europe, hotels are typically reducing the number of keys in order to create more spacious guest rooms and bathrooms and more suites, in response to demand. There’s also a shift from ‘presidential’ to ‘residential’, with lavish suites being replaced by sophisticated apartment or townhouse-style accommodation designed to give guests a sense of having the keys to their own front door. European hotels are more focused on developing vibrant restaurant and bar concepts with a very open mind, taking inspiration from fashion and other luxury sectors and brands. This link with fashion is more identifiable in Europe, compared to the US and Asia. Where big brands predominate in the US and Asia, in Europe there’s a trend towards smaller properties with their own identities and personalities.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
The rise of the sociable lobby, like a club with all-day service, co-working spaces and a constant movement of people. I would also highlight our concept of ‘natural contrasts’: not being afraid to contrast different periods and styles of architecture and design. Increased focus on landscaping, lighting and creating indoor/outdoor spaces that allow the guest to experience the best of both worlds. Virtuous digital technology that’s intuitive and user-friendly. And importantly – the adoption of sustainable principles, which has become an integral part of the planning process and not just a marketing tool.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design is critical as a way to differentiate a hotel, but your choice of designer is more than just about design: it’s a statement of your ambition for the property. For example, our ambition for Hotel Plaza in Nice is that it will be one of the most sought-after addresses in the Côte d’Azur, and to achieve this we have not been afraid to call on the talents of a combination of great designers: David Collins Studio for the roof terrace and public spaces, Patrizia Quartero for the guest rooms, Yvette Adams for the signature suites. These choices reflect our bold vision for the hotel and its place in the city. We will entrust our Rome project to Guy Oliver because I want to be able to leave our mark there, our own layer of patina. Our spas are also being remodelled, which underlines how important it is to us that mind, body and soul are treated with the utmost care and expertise.