Swaddled in a black fur coat against the chilly night air, an opera singer is standing on the sidewalk, belting out the Etta James classic “At Last.” Spotlights behind her illuminate the sky, while a crowd of expensively dressed people gathers around the velvet ropes, vying to get into one of the biggest parties of the season. This isn’t a gala or a movie premiere, however; it is the opening of Bisha, the newest addition to the growing roster of luxury hotels in downtown Toronto.
The grand scene continues in the packed lobby, whose decorating scheme could be described as “more is more.” Resembling a Russian oligarch’s townhouse, it features blown-glass sculptures suspended from the ceiling, walls sheathed in black velvet, and flooring in a dizzying optical-illusion pattern of black, white and grey marble tiles. A model in gold body paint beckons visitors into a bar, done up in more marble and velvet, the walls hung with framed Alexander McQueen silk scarves.
While its neighbours — The Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La Hotel and the forthcoming Nobu condos — attract guests with their established reputations, Bisha is a newcomer committed to try twice as hard. From its maximalist aesthetics to some 3,000 pieces of artwork on display (including some by Andy Warhol and L.A.-based conceptual artist John Baldessari), it’s clear that this hotel intends to stand out by virtue of its bold design choices. The boldest of those is located seven stories up — an entire floor designed by four-time Grammy winner Lenny Kravitz.
Though primarily known for chart-topping ’90s hits like “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over,” Kravitz has spent the past 15 years establishing himself as a respected interior designer. Since its founding in 2003, New York–based Kravitz Design Inc. (KDI) has lent the rocker’s signature aesthetic to a wide range of projects, including a 47-storey condo building in Miami and product collaborations with Rolex, Leica and CB2.
The company’s aesthetic, Kravitz explains via email, is soulful, elegant, glamorous and organic — not unlike the artist himself. “Every project Kravitz Design does is different. We have been very fortunate to do so many projects in various locations using different styles,” he writes. “Toronto is a first for us and we were inspired by the spirit of the city and its cultural diversity.”
To Charles Khabouth, a co-owner of Bisha, Kravitz was an ideal candidate for collaboration. “I like his aesthetic. I like who he is as a person and what he stands for as an artist and tastemaker,” says the nightclub impresario and CEO of hospitality company INK Entertainment, who spent nearly a decade developing Bisha. “The whole concept behind this brand is not to feel like you’re in this super-high-end stuffy environment — it’s hip and cool, but it still has the fine elements of a luxurious hotel.”
Kravitz states that he was interested in the idea of Bisha after his very first meeting with Khabouth. “There were many similarities in our aesthetic vocabulary and influences.” Together, they landed on the starting concept that Kravitz describes as “warmth, intimacy and glamour,” — specifically ’70s glamour featuring a mix of masculine organic materials and feminine accents. His favourite touches are the custom wallpaper and bespoke built-in furniture. KDI has worked on hotels in the past, but Bisha marks the first time the firm has had creative control over an entire floor. One of the 14 rooms and suites on the so-called Kravitz floor is a 2,000-square-foot condo with a 1,000-square-foot terrace plus views of the CN Tower through massive two-storey windows. The rooms embody both the Kravitz and Bisha brands to a tee — black lacquered wood, oversized brass table lamps and orange upholstered settees and headboards.
While stars of his stature can be unpredictable, the “American Woman” singer was nothing but professional throughout the process, Khabouth insists. “Honestly, I thought he was going to be a lot more difficult, but he turned out to be very accommodating, understanding and, at the same time, super-creative. He has a completely different look on design.”
With the merging of these two industry rebels on Bisha, anyone looking to party like a rock star need look no further.
By Jeremy Freed – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Spring 2018
Photos: Simon Berlin; Bisha Hotel