I've enjoyed many scandalously frolicsome evenings at luxury hotels. There was the time a visiting uncle treated me to a beer and a salad. There was the time a porter informed me that the oak-paneled stalls in the bathroom lobby were reserved for paying customers and their guests. I'm as at home in that rarefied milieu as I am using words like "rarefied" and "milieu." They might as well leave custom-embroidered LARRY bathrobes in every suite.
Tragically, my luxury-lodging adventures have never included the sort of mysterious, vaguely sensual encounter depicted in "The Stories Begin Here," a new Waldorf Astoria campaign that downplays the usual gallant-concierge/comely-buffet-wench-handling-steaming-tray-of-bacon images in favor of underdrawn atmospherics. It plops a meet-sexy tale - gal offers to reattach guy's missing button - in the lap of the Chicago Waldorf's gilded lobby. Did you know that this lobby has one of the world's most esteemed chandeliers? You will after you experience the campaign. Oh, will you ever.
"The Stories Begin Here" wants viewers to see themselves in Alexandra, the stunning yet thoughtful couturier that serves as its protagonist, or in the accomplished, scruffily handsome fellows she encounters during this particular Waldorf stay. Similarly, it wants viewers to regard the Waldorf as the velvet-roped playground in which all their high-life inventions might be realized.
And that's the problem. I suspect that few luxe-hotel regulars, excepting the ones who turn over their imaginations to the more extreme options on the hotel pay-per-view menu, have daydreamed about an experience of this sort, and that such experiences don't rank especially high on their hospitality bucket lists. As a result, "The Stories Begin Here" plays out as self-idealizing farce, an attempt to sell a fantasy so magnificently specific as to verge on the ludicrous.
Give the Waldorf Astoria folks credit for attempting to craft something unique and sparkly, though. "The Stories Begin Here" uses a custom-ordered short story by Simon Van Booy as its multimedia jumping-off point. Its photos were snapped by Bruno Dayan, renowned for his icy shots of hollow-cheeked models. The campaign's video components star Olga Kurylenko, a model and former Bond girl. Waldorf Astoria did not skimp on the talent, clearly.
But these three individuals - who, per the press release, "ideated and developed the campaign as a unified team on set" - devised something that's more tonally akin to Red Shoe Diaries than to anything that exists in the realms of customer-attraction and -retention, not to mention something that wholly ignores the stated goal of showcasing the Waldorf's "inspirational environments and bespoke service." The presentation is kinda neat - as you read the story, it points you towards the multimedia accompaniment - but the content itself feels off-kilter both for what the Waldorf was and is (stately luxury brand) and what it appears to want to be (hotbed of mysterious youthful sensuality - and hey, check out the chandelier).
Some of the text/content juxtapositions are just plain silly. After a passage that reads, "There were always more feelings than words to describe them. Silence is never just silence," we're treated to a Soundcloud clip of "city ambience" (game-changing work by the intern tasked with holding a live mic on Park Ave.). When Alexandra enters the Waldorf lobby, the clip that follows does little more than highlight the hotel's gale-force recirculation. Following the 34th contractually mandated description of the surroundings, we're offered the opportunity to click on a series of photos, one of which appears to be an extreme close-up of dried apricots. Dried apricots = fancy. That's what Pa always said.
While Van Booy is a far more able words-putting-together-type-person than I'll ever be, his descriptive passages veer towards unwitting parody. Alexandra isn't just a couturier; she's a "true couturier." In this world, inspiration can be derived from "a bowl of lemons" or "the color of water." Every banality is a mystery to be solved and solved again ("she wondered if he wrote under a pseudonym, but then realized that every name is a pseudonym. Language merely points - the rest must be imagined").It's all way too pretentious, even by the standards of luxury-brand marketing. Really, I'd rather see the gilded toilet stalls. At least those exist somewhere in the real world. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the lemon store to get inspired.