Design Plus: Muji Invites You To Stay

The “unbranded” Japanese brand has opened a hotel in China

by Mark Tungate , MAYDREAM

There are plenty of fashion-branded hotels. Last time I looked, you could stay with Armani, Missoni, Bulgari and the Spanish footwear brand Camper. (Happily, the latter’s hotel in Barcelona is nothing like living in a shoe.) Most of these brands have simply licensed their names to professional hotel operators, although Camper owns its hotels. Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel, bought the Pelican Hotel in Miami on impulse.  As one does.

The Japanese brand Muji is the latest to join the throng, having opened a hotel in Shenzen, China (a second will follow in Beijing in March). Personally I’ve always had a good relationship with Muji. It’s a minimalist, no-frills brand, none of whose products bear any trace of a logo.

Muji even features in one of my favourite books: Pattern Recognition, by the science fiction writer William Gibson, whose heroine is physically allergic to logos. Naturally, design agencies use her as a consultant: the worse she feels, the stronger their logo must be.

The brand’s streamlined aesthetic stretches to furnishings, stationery and homeware. Its toothbrushes are works of art – I buy four of them at a time (or is that too much information?).

Needless to say, Muji’s hotel reflects the values of the brand, and a launch statement describes it as “anti-gorgeous” yet “anti-cheap”. That translates into lots of blond wood, plenty of natural light, and spotless white and cream furnishings. Just looking at the bed makes you sink into a meditative state. Quick! Bring coffee! In a beige cup!

The PR blurb goes on to say that the hotel “seeks to provide a physical experience of the Muji philosophy through the texture of the towels, the placement of outlets and light switches, menu and venue of the restaurant, and more”.

Restaurant, you ask? Yes indeed. It’s called Muji Diner. There’s also a gym, a library of 650 books and (naturally) a store where you can buy the brand’s products. Curiously, in today’s all-streaming world, the rooms also feature wall-mounted CD players. Maybe that’s a retro touch: the brand did launch in 1979 after all. Not coincidentally, I suspect, the hotel has 79 rooms.

By the way, I forget to mention earlier that Ikea also has a hotel in its native Sweden. Call me a snob, but I’d prefer to stay with Muji.