Decandent chic opulence, probably Paris’s most infamous luxury hotel

Hotel Costes, Paris

A dark, dramatic setting with a decadent aristocratic mood, Costes in Paris is best known for its cafe and restaurant as well as its flower shop, few being aware the premises house a hotel too. Despite its minuscule rooms, the Costes Hotel aims for a luxury positioning, with rates rivalling many other established Parisian luxury hotels.

Costes is also known for its music collection, with over 10 volumes of lounge music, similar to Cafe del Mar and Buddha Bar. In the past years, the Costes brand is associated with a line of fragrances and cosmetics, the best selling items being candles. Another central component of the Costes concept is represented by the flower arrangements, fresh roses in an endless variety of colours can be found throughout the entire hotel, including rooms.

The lobby and entrance corridor is a 24 hour catwalk of ”fashionistas” and courtesans, who frequent the premises for the sole purpose of being seen and mingling with the crowd. This is actually the secret to the success of Costes, which goes beyond interior design, music, dimmed lighting, candles and fresh roses bouquets. Hotel guests and ”outsiders” are treated equally, therefore being almost impossible to distinguish.

The desire to be seen and to mingle with a certain crowd is ”enhanced” by the ever present arrogant and cold service by the staff of the hotel. Throughout my two night stay, I could hardly hear customers complain – it’s almost like there is a non-written rule ”it’s not cool to complain” therefore, waiting for your breakfast cappucino for more than half an hour is as natural as it can get, at the Costes.

On my second day, eager to find out more about the history of the place and the concept I approached the front desk (a dinner table dressed in a velvet cover, with staff having to stare at the light of a candle to see the writing on a piece of paper) and asked whether I could see the manager. I was told there is no manager and no marketing, only a PR person. Although I introduced myself, she would not do the same, however, she was quick to tell me ”’Mr Costes does not do any PR or promotion and there is no such thing as a press kit, photos or history of the hotel”. She also insisted ”Mr Costes is the only person in charge, he himself dining daily at the hotel”. She also added: ”Costes is a concept, which, even us, employees, have a hard time to understand” and she sent me away with a hotel business card, saying that I could send an email to the only email address of the hotel”.

At 700 euros a night for a single room (room only) of a 3 star standard, I thought to myself, that this must be a hell of a concept if indeed it not only survived but flourished since opening in 1991. I asked a good friend of mine living in Paris to come and have lunch with me. She told me there are two things that unless to learn to ”speak Costes” and ”behave Costes”, I shall constantly feel like an outsider and I did!

Food was good but never exceptional, from breakfast, lunch to dinner. The morning of my departure I realized I had become immune to the arrogant and “je m’en fous” trademark service of the entire hotel. Rooms are not only minuscule but they are extremely dark – they should place a flash light in case you drop something (all lighting is dimmed, even if all is switched on). Bathrooms are so small that one needs to be cautious when stepping out of the bathtub (there is no separate shower) as one could fall into the sink. There is also an ”intricate” system of doors – you need to close one to open another one.

Besides the restaurant and the front office, the porter provides the most frustrating service – not only they would not recognize you as a guest but also would mistaken luggage, not to mention times when the front door is not attended at all.

In its own unique way, Costes, is the best example of how lifestyle can overcome service whether in a restaurant or a hotel. The fact that Costes was the only downtown hotel in Paris which still had availability during my stay (while all other major luxury hotels were sold out) could be feeble sign of a weakness of the Costes concept.

Oliver Petcu in Paris