"LisbonI love it," says hotelier Grace Leo-Andrieu, explaining why she decided to open her latest property, the luxurious Bairro Alto, in Portugal's capital. "It's one of the last European cities to be discovered. It's really coming up solidly, like Dublin was in 1996 when I did the Clarence and some parts of the city were still slightly seedy. Lisbon is at exactly the same moment right now."
We should listen when Leo-Andrieu makes a pronouncement like that. It's not only that her career history is a catalog of successes, but also that she's quietly been setting the standard and the style of the haute-small-hotel world since the first project she took on with her newly formed hotel-management company in 1990: overseeing the design, management and launch of the Montalembert on Paris's Left Bank. Her work there attracted the attention of U2 lead singer Bono, owner of the Clarence in Dublin, who put her in charge of developing and launching the hotel. With the relaunch of Lisbon's Bairro Alto in November and the Cadogan in London this past spring, Leo-Andrieu and her company, Grace Leo-Andrieu International (GLA), will have been involved in the design, management, marketing or ownership of a total of 32 hotels around the world. GLA's portfolio includes properties in France, England, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus, the Seychelles, India, St. Bart's and Mustique. Each hotel is vastly different from the others, each features exquisitely sensitive service, and each is much-imitated. Usually poorly.
In these days of ubiquitous wenge wood, it's hard to comprehend that when Leo-Andrieu opened the cool and sexy Montalembert, it was honestly shocking. Paris had never seen pin-striped carpets and angular sofas paired with Louis-Philippe armoires before. It was an instant hit, especially with the fashion crowd, and it sparked a boutique revolution.