Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, and Marcel Proust all called the Ritz Paris, nestled in the elite Place Vendôme, home, so when it closed temporarily for renovations in July of 2012, a little piece of Parisian history was put on hold.
Tomorrow, the iconic hotel will open its doors yet again—and with all-new, luxurious features to entice travelers from around the world. Classics like the Bar Hemingway with cocktails by Colin Peter Field and the Duke of Windsor suite remain, now complemented by a winter garden with a retractable roof in summertime, a Chanel spa, and even more boutiques in the Ritz Galerie.
To mark the reopening, the Ritz enlisted director Zoe Cassavetes to create a short film that embodies the spirit of the hotel and Vogue.com took opportunity to talk to her. Inspired by Paris at night, Cassavetes created a whimsical and surreal love story starring Ana Girardot and Andrés Velencoso. Watch it exclusively above and get the backstory on the drama from Cassavetes herself here.
Zoe, what was it like to work with the Ritz on this project?
I had such a great team, and then when we got the job, it was such an incredibly—it wasn’t scary, but it was a little overwhelming, this undertaking, because we couldn’t shoot it in the Ritz, as the Ritz was under construction, so it was about creating this dreamy world that fit in with the idea of the Ritz. It was challenging, but my team was the dream team of all time. Everybody did their job so well, and it was fun to create a magical place from nothing. It’s not very often that you are even allowed to do that in your job, so to be able to dream and make all of these incredible spaces and go outside the realms of reality sometimes was just so exciting.
I think my earliest memory is going with my parents, maybe it was the ’70s, which sounds like a long time ago.There would be people from all parts of the world there. You’d have the sheikhs with their turbans and a general having a drink at the bar. I just remember being like, “Wow, I want to live here.”
Since you couldn’t shoot in the Ritz proper, what were some of the locations you used in the film?
We ended up shooting in the Fontainebleau Castle, which is about an hour and a half outside Paris. It was just the time of the heat wave in Paris, and it was just one of the days we were shooting—thank God we were in a castle where it was nice and cool! [laughs] . . . The production and design team were allowed to go into the Ritz and they took some ashtrays, glasses, and things that are part of the Ritz to make this mixture of the castle and the Ritz. I came out at six in the afternoon the day before we shot, and the entire party scene was basically done, which was previously just an empty castle room. I walked in and I was like, “Oh! Best party ever!” The amount of magic that was allowed to happen on the set was just incredible.
What inspired the dreamlike plot of the film?
I really had this idea in my mind when I was first thinking of the story of having this guy driving through Paris at night when there’s nobody around, against the decay and the sparkling lights, and what it would look like. There was something sort of romantic about it—and then there’s Andrés who’s like, you know, romantic! [laughs] I just could see it so well, this guy driving around the city, who couldn’t sleep. It really set a tone that was almost a little bit of a film noir feeling to it. . . . It was a conscious effort of staying true to the Ritz, and not just the Ritz I’ve heard about, but the Ritz that I’ve spent a lot of time in and known, and trying to create this cat-and-mouse romance. In the beginning I thought, I want people to think, “Is she real? Is she not real? Do they know each other?” and bring up all those questions in a short period of time, which keeps you engaged, I think.
It’s a bit of a romance story, like you said. Is that a reflection of your relationship with your husband, who is French? Did you have a particularly romantic rendezvous with him in Paris during your courtship?
Many! Have I been lucky enough to spend an evening or two in the Ritz? [laughs] Yeah. My husband is a musician and a DJ, and he had deejayed at the Ritz one night and they had given him a room, so we stayed there. It was so great. It feels like the luxury of the past. All time kind of stands still when you go in there. You don’t want to wear jeans, you want to dress up, and you want to try to be a part of this glamorous old world, no matter what. I love that about the Ritz. The spirit never changes.
Walking into the hotel sort of feels like stepping onto a movie set in a way. You have to change your whole self to fit in to this magical, timeless world.
It’s true. I would not dare to wear jeans in there. In a way, yes, but there is that elegance and I think as the world becomes more casual, there are these beacons and places that still exist for us to go and sort of remember that we’re more than just workout pants! [laughs]
It can be hard sometimes!
I’m in L.A., so there it’s just all workout pants. But I digress. . . .
What is your earliest memory of the Ritz?
I think my earliest memory is going with my parents, maybe it was the ’70s, which sounds like a long time ago. I just remember feeling like it was this big palace and that there was a lot of action going on there all the time. As a little child, things were just swirling by and people were so, so stylish. There would be people from all parts of the world there. You’d have the sheikhs with their turbans and a general having a drink at the bar. I just remember being like, “Wow, I want to live here.” And my parents seemed so cool and so comfortable there. It was this destination that was special, and they always felt like they were treated so well there, and I feel the same today. Even when I go back to have lunch, they bring a Ritz dog bowl over with water in it for my dog. It’s those personal touches—and I worked in the hotel business for about five years, so I really have an intimate understanding of how a hotel works and what makes a good hotel work. It just never ceases to amaze me that they keep such a high standard of things.
To many people the Ritz is memorable for being home to Coco Chanel’s apartment or for being Hemingway’s, well, house really—do you have a specific reference for the hotel?
I’m a huge Hemingway fan and I’ve read all of it. I think he made me fall in love with Paris even more than I would have normally. If you go in the Hemingway bar you can—or you used to be able to—leave a note for someone there who would come in at a later point, maybe six months, maybe a year, maybe two days later. You could leave it with the bartender, and then he would pass on the note. I just love being able to go in there, and sometimes there’s just a letter waiting for me. Even if it just says, “Hi Zoe, I’m having a margarita. Love!” The beauty of it is that they make you feel individually special. I love all of those personal moments.
That’s what stands out when you’re traveling, something personalized, just for you.
It’s just a tiny second of time that makes you feel special and welcome. Even if you’re traveling to the most beautiful place in the world, traveling still does some wear and tear, so to know that your hotel is going to care about you is really special.
Do you have plans to visit the Ritz this year?
I’m shooting this summer in L.A., so I’m kind of landlocked here, but we still have a place in Paris. The minute I land, I’ll put my bags down, I’ll take a shower, and then I want a drink at the Hemingway bar.
That sounds like the perfect ending to a long plane ride.
Exactly! And then I’m going to pass out—at the Ritz!