Unique selling points: how hotel gift shops could do more to float your boat

Hotel gift shops are more often than not a big disappointment, says Picky Nicky

Danae Diaz illustration
What we should look for in a hotel gift shop, as explained by Picky Nicky. Illustrator: Danae Diaz
(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

You are in a great hotel, somewhere fabulous; it’s the summer; perhaps you packed well, perhaps you did not, but you need a pair of sunglasses, hat, swimsuit or a pair of sandals. Or you just fancy having a nose around to discover a local brand, or perhaps an object made nearby, or a vintage piece to take home. Something you could never find otherwise. Of course, the best thing is to head out of the hotel and do the groundwork yourself, but you are on holiday and the hotel is exquisitely designed, so the hotel’s gift shop should have just what you need.

Instead, you are faced with a random assortment of items, bought because the receptionist’s cousin and the assistant director of rooms’ neighbour made them or, worse, the hotel owner’s husband/wife/mistress/partner thought they were pretty. The offering is shockingly overlooked. It’s counter-intuitive, since hotel owners really want to keep you on their property and charge things to your room.

Illustration of Pellicano Hotels Mezzatorre

Island dream: the latest edition to Pellicano Hotels, Mezzatorre is housed in a 16th-century watchtower on Ischia, a 40-minute speedboat ride from Naples. mezzatorre.com. Illustrator: Danae Diaz

(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

Things are moving in the right direction at Aman resorts. In 2017, Karen Schneider joined the company after working for the likes of Saks and Neiman Marcus in the US. Her job is to refine the offering and develop exclusive products for the group’s 34 properties, such as Frescobol Carioca shorts in custom prints and items sourced locally to each resort – like the home accessories by Catherine Denoual Maison that I bought recently at Amanoi in Vietnam. In October, a stand-alone store will open at Amanpuri on Phuket, in a new pavilion designed by a leading Japanese architect (to be revealed to our readers exclusively later in the year).

I am impressed by Four Seasons’ The Surf Club in Miami, which now houses a branch of New York gallery Les Ateliers Courbet. With brands including Lobmeyr, Nymphenburg and Puiforcat, and pieces by designers including Tadao Ando and Aldo Bakker, its edit reflects Miami’s design credentials and lives happily with the Richard Meier architecture and Joseph Dirand interiors. And for your beach essentials, there is the À la Mer boutique next door, run by the Istanbul brand Haremlique, which also make the great fringed towels stocked by Aman.

Illustration of São Lourenço do Barrocal

Grape escape: I'm looking forward to bringing home wine, olive oil and local crafts from my stay at São Lourenço do Barrocal, a hotel on a 19th-century estate in Alentejo. barrocal.pt. Illustrator: Danae Diaz

(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

Most adventurous and fun of all is a tie-up between MatchesFashion.com and Pellicano Hotels that has turned a 1930s boat into a pop-up shop filled with fashion and accessories. Over recent weeks, the yacht made its way from Hotel Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole to La Posta Vecchia near Rome, stopping at the group’s newest property, Mezzatorre in Ischia. Hoteliers, it’s time to shake things up.

What Nicky wants from a hotel store in the summer...

Swimwear: You can’t go wrong with Orlebar Brown, Eres and Lisa Marle Fernandez.
Sweaters and T-shirts: Polo shirts with hotel logos are fine – for the staff. Instead stock some unisex crew-neck cashmere in basic colours.
Sandals: Tuscany’s Hotel Il Pellicano has just launched its own range with Birkenstock. Follow its lead and offer something different.
Eyewear: Wayfarers and Aviators would be a good start.
Local craft: Source the work of the best, most respected local craftsmen. Guests will be pleased to buy original art gifts that they won’t find at the airport.
Vintage and antiques: Hook up with a good local dealer so clients can trust the edit and provenance.
Books: Yes, we do want to learn about the area and country, and no, we don’t want spa books.

As originally featured in the July 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*244)

Also known as Picky Nicky, Nick Vinson has contributed to Wallpaper* Magazine for the past 21 years. He runs Vinson&Co, a London-based bureau specialising in creative direction and interiors for the luxury goods industry. As both an expert and fan of Made in Italy, he divides his time between London and Florence and has decades of experience in the industry as a critic, curator and editor.