As far as celebrated Christmas trees go, Claridge’s annual unveiling is guaranteed to cause a collective gasp from guests and visitors alike. In the case of this year’s goofy woodland scene by Dolce & Gabbana, it will melt even the most hardened of ‘bah humbug’ hearts.
Fashion designers, it seems, have a knack for producing fantastical tree creations at Claridge’s and both John Galliano and Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz have all done a spectacular job in the past.
This is of course one fashionable hotel with plenty of fashion history. It is a home-from-home to many a designer from Diane Von Furstenberg to Marc Jacobs. Furstenberg has even designed suites here while Jacobs has also left his mark on various corners of the hotel.
To design a tree however, Claridge’s only requisite is that you are a lifelong friend and guest. Take John Galliano for instance, the then creative director at Dior. During a stay at the hotel in 2009, he was asked if he would like to design ‘something different’ for the Art Deco hallway beneath the staircase. Up until then, a traditional spruce had stood, festooned with classic decorations and gift-wrapped parcels.
“When the first drawing came in from Dior’s office with John’s vision for a frozen, tropical tree complete with snakes and leopards we realised that we had entered into a whole new world with our trees,” says Paula Fitzherbert, group director of communications. Luckily for Galliano, Claridge’s forward-thinking general manager thought it was a wonderful idea and gave Galliano free creative reign.
More art installation than Christmas spruce, the sculptural trunk was lit as if it were covered in ice. Reflections of serpents and leopards danced eerily on the ceiling. It was so successful the designer was asked produce another tree the following year.
As Fitzherbert notes: “This is the luxury world and you have to keep upping your game with even more elaborate designs year after year.” Galliano’s follow-up design for Christmas 2010 entitled ‘Under the Sea’ with its shimmering silver leaves and wisps of pink coral certainly didn’t disappoint.
By now, novel trees were becoming a Claridge’s tradition, as are the glamorous launch parties, which accompany them. Each tree takes six months in the planning and is put up overnight at the end of November, while guests are sleeping. The last bauble has to be on by 6am.
In 2011 Alber Elbaz was asked to work a bit of Lanvin magic on a tree, which he did with typical tongue-in-cheek humour. His theatrical production featured handmade silk figurines of himself as a treetop fairy, as well as other fictional characters including Mr and Mrs Lanvin, their maid and Mr Lanvin’s mistress, all seated together on a sofa.
A year later, Stefano and Domenico brought a touch of Sicilian Christmas to the foot of the famous staircase. Their tree was adorned with handcrafted Sicilian puppets known as ‘pupi’ as well as festive Italian glass baubles and snow sprinkled on top.
The creative duo are said to have enjoyed the experience so much that they asked if they could do it again, which brings us to Christmas 2014. Inspired by children of the world, branches are decorated with baubles and flags, while at its base toy deer and squirrels nod their mechanical heads. My nine-month old niece wanted to eat them but other, older children admired the Christmassy scene without feeling the need to chew anything soft.
Finally, a trip to see the tree wouldn’t be complete without Christmas tea in the tearoom and a round of carols from local choirboys and girls. And for guests who are lucky enough to be staying here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there are organised horse drawn carriage rides around Mayfair. Customary hot chocolate and mince pies are also served on Christmas morning, which makes me dream of finding myself a room at the inn.