The chance to "stay with Armani" is what the world's first Armani Hotel promises its guests; a peek into the lifestyle of the white-haired and perma-tanned godfather of Italian fashion, who is rarely photographed looking pained by his lot in life. "I am thrilled to open the doors of the Armani Hotel Dubai and invite my guests to experience my world," Giorgio Armani was quoted as saying when the hotel opened in the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, at the end of April. As I slowly drive up to the private entrance, I feel a sense of anticipation and excitement, and find myself craning to take in the heights of the glass spike above me. Given that I'd spent the night before chasing a speeding cockroach around my bathroom, I reflect that it's probably a good thing Mr Armani is not coming to stay with me.
As I'm politely ushered from my car into reception, I'm left to wonder at my surroundings for a brief moment before an attractive young man in a slim-fitting black Armani suit promises to take care of me. As we walk past arching bronze sculptures, origami-like flower arrangements and glossy, constantly buffed chocolate-brown limestone flooring, it's apparent that the security barrier half-way up the driveway is there to keep the tedious inadequacies of real life - as well as gawping tourists - at bay.
It's a Sunday lunchtime and even though the 160-room hotel was apparently full the weekend before Ramadan, the only other guests that I can see are an Emirati gentleman waiting for his ride and a well-dressed group of Japanese women. The Armani Hotel Dubai occupies the first eight levels of the Burj Khalifa; rooms cost from Dh4,200, including taxes, for a studio, while the handful of more expensive suites on levels 38 and 39 go for up to Dh48,000 (including taxes, breakfast and transportation) per night for the Armani Dubai Suite. It is the latest in a catwalk procession of hotels to have been turned out by fashion houses with Bulgari, Missoni and Versace all launching branded hotels and resorts onto the five-star hotel scene.
The trend represents the latest evolution of the luxury travel market: lifestyle tourism. It's no longer enough to serve gold-dusted cappuccinos and offer a turndown service to attract a wealthy clientele; what guests now crave is a "lifestyle experience". Of course, the philosophy only works if you aspire to what a brand represents and believe in the authenticity of what's on offer. That's why Oliver Key, the general manager of the Armani Hotel Dubai and formerly of London's Savoy, is keen to stress that everything I see around me has been approved by Mr Armani himself.
You don't have to know very much about high fashion to recognise that Armani's signature is everywhere: silk and leather wall coverings, highly polished, rich brown "zebra" wood and limestone flooring, textured concrete, black-lacquered furniture and accessories, silvered fixtures and silk furnishings - all in a restrained colour palette. A few days before the grand opening, Key says, the designer arrived with his entourage at 11.30pm and paced the floors until the early hours to make sure that everything was exactly as he wanted it. Everything whispers good taste in a very European kind of way apart from the persistent branding; the word Armani is everywhere from the silver embroidery on the towels to labels on cushions, cutlery and furniture, and the names of the bars, restaurants and retail outlets. If you happen to slip and bang your head on that highly polished floor, there's no danger of forgetting where you are.
Anil, the suave charmer who met me in reception before showing me to my room, turns out to be my lifestyle manager. He tells me that some guests have been disappointed by the hotel's understated chic but I'm not one of them. It's beautiful. I've checked into an "Ambassador Suite"; for the grand sum of Dh7,000 per night, I have a large living and dining area with a bureau and dining table and chairs, while the bedroom with a modern four-poster bed leads through to the dressing and bathrooms, the latter with a rainfall shower and tub. Practical, but possibly ugly, amenities such as the widescreen television are all hidden behind sliding screens and it takes a few moments to explore the room to find the things like wardrobes that must be there somewhere.
In contrast with the straight, windowless corridors, in the hallway, sealed with glass doors at regular intervals to reduce any noise, my suite positively undulates, reflecting the curves of the Burj Khalifa. Given that there are 160 or so floors above me, it feels strange that I don't feel like I am inside the world's highest skyscraper. Anil waits patiently for me to pay him some attention. Is there anything that he can do, he asks? It's at this point that I realise I don't have a lifestyle that needs managing. I don't have any laundry to do, or need to throw a surprise party for 40 of my closest friends in the next 10 minutes; I don't even have an iPod that's tricky to plug into the speaker unit.
Instead, he shows me to the Armani /Ristorante; one of seven restaurants in the hotel, it serves authentic Italian food from an open kitchen using imported ingredients. There are also Indian, Japanese and Mediterranean restaurants, a deli, a cafe and a nightclub called Armani/Prive. The restaurant is empty so the chef comes over to introduce himself before whipping up a delicious and memorable-tasting menu. The highlights include giant prawns with cannellini beans, a pea and truffle risotto infused with citrus, a medallion of veal with a slice of fois gras on top, served with gravy poured from a small golden jug, and three incredible desserts including a tiramisu and bavarese.
This last is an impossibly perfect bauble of a pudding; a sphere of hand-blown sugar, filled with vanilla cream and a fruity crème brulee, sitting on a cassis sorbet. The six-course degustation menu costs Dh550. It's only when I'm stirring my coffee that I realise I need Anil: I cannot for the life of me remember the number of my hotel room. He is supposed to have given me his mobile number in case of just such a lifestyle emergency but perhaps, sensing that I am a hopeless case, he hasn't. However, staff manage to reach him and I head upstairs.
The next stop on my exhausting schedule is a 90-minute appointment at the Armani/Spa (Dh650). A "bespoke sensory experience designed by Armani" is promised by the literature so I am slightly disappointed when the pre-treatment consultation consists of a few questions as to whether I am feeling stressed or not. The changing area is also a bit of a letdown: it's chilly, the lockers are too complicated to secure, and there are no private changing areas except the showers; next time I would undress in the treatment room itself. But more importantly, I cannot fault the massage and facial that follows. My 22-year-old South African therapist, who told me that she had once worked at the nearby Address Downtown, moved silently around the treatment table, and had wonderfully soft and gentle hands. When she's finished I feel lighter and completely refreshed.
As I leave the spa, the receptionist informs me that my new lifestyle manager Vito - I wonder what happened to Anil - has already informed Armani/Mediterraneo, the buffet restaurant downstairs, that I will be late for my reservation. When I finally make it to dinner, I realise that even the buffet spread is very Armani, because there isn't an untidy heap of food in sight. Entertained by the giant dancing fountains outside, I tuck into small plates of antipasto, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, followed by a lovely miniature crumble. The pastries and juices served for breakfast the next day are also exceptionally good. All the staff I meet chat amiably about London, moving to Dubai and their love of all things Italian.
But nothing, even life at the Armani Hotel Dubai, is perfect. You would think that for Dh7,000 per night there would be two bathrobes, one under each sink for potential guests. I frown at the omission but instead of reaching for the phone to complain, I'm surprisingly unruffled. It'll turn up, I think. Niggles over the spa's facilities aside, the second faux pas occurs when I head back to my room at about 10pm after supper. There is a light on by my door to warn me that the room is being serviced. The black-clad member of staff is silently folding bathrobes - two of them this time - turning down the bed and generally removing any trace of chaos. I haven't been in my room for most of the day, so why on earth are you here now, I think to myself?
But my irritation quickly passes as if by magic - and it's precisely this kind of magic that world-class hotels are able to conjure. The secret lies in its grown-up staff, considered design, great food and, above all, the unostentatious but omnipresent service that anticipated my every whim, let alone any actual needs. I feel more relaxed after checking in for 24 hours than at the end of a recent two-week stay in Rome. Mr Armani clearly leads a charmed life. Whether you have the money to experience it with him is another matter.