The past 40 years have not been kind to the Watergate Hotel in Washington. Designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti and opened in 1967, the bold, curvaceous building is forever associated with the 1972 burglary that led eventually to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
Since then, its “gate” suffix has been slapped on nearly every misdeed and brazen act of villainy — even those involving deflated footballs. The name lived on, but the hotel itself was not so lucky. It was shuttered eight years ago and sat withering and ignored.
Pity the Watergate no longer. The hotel has undergone a $125 million renovation since it was purchased at auction in 2010 by Euro Capital Properties for $45 million. It reopens this summer with chic midcentury touches and cheeky references to its infamous past. Guests will be reminded to “make sure your recorder is off.”
The Watergate’s stylish makeover includes a full cadre of staff uniforms designed by “Mad Men” costum designer Janie Bryant. Although she had never tackled outfitting an entire hotel staff, she wasn’t shy about doing her part to make the nation’s capital a more dapper place.
“There were a lot of period uniforms on ‘Mad Men,’ but I’ve never designed uniforms for a hotel. I loved it,” she said. “Next I’m going to take over designing uniforms for all the airlines. Are you ready for that?”
We would pay extra to fly with Bryant-attired flight attendants. In the interim, we’ll have the Watergate. We chatted on the phone with Bryant about her contribution to the hotel.
Q. What was your first thought when you were approached about the project?
A. I think traveling is all about glamour and that’s what I was thinking about in designing the Watergate uniforms. It’s all about the guests having this experience of glamour and of luxury. The uniforms are such a big part of the overall experience. I really think we accomplished that.
Q. Did you look back into archives from the hotel for inspiration?
A. I wanted it to be different and I wanted it to be modern, although there is something that really spoke to me about uniforms of [the 1960s]. Something that I always loved about designing ‘Mad Men’ was that the uniforms were really well-tailored. There’s an elegance about the fit of the uniforms. It was a big priority.
Q. How closely did you work with the interior designer of the hotel?
A. In my job as a costumer designer, I always work very closely with the production designer. In this case I really wanted to see what the colors of the restaurant were going to look like, what the rooms were going to look like, and what materials were being used. I envisioned the staff and servers as actors on a movie set and thought about how they are going to look within the space.
Q. Did you have a trick that you used to make sure that your uniforms didn’t come across as costumes?
A. No, actually my background is as a fashion designer. I didn’t study costume design; I got into the business after I was working on 7th Avenue with a designer.
Q. Did you have to step back at some point and think: I’m not designing something that’s for a specific period. It’s not 1967, it’s for today.
A. I knew I wasn’t designing for a film or a television show. It is in a modern period, and a modern setting. It was more about the inspiration of the 1950s and the 1960s rather than replicating that look. It’s not a period show. It’s a modern, luxury hotel. It’s just taking little bits of inspiration from the past. I’m doing my part to bring glamour and luxury back to travel.
Interview was edited and condensed. Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.