With its latest makeover, the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Boulevard is keeping up with its upscale Bel-Air neighbors. The boutique hotel has poured $3.7 million into redoing its 161 rooms, lobby, common areas and restaurant.

"We needed the renovation. The rooms get tired after a certain period," said Efrem Harkham, owner of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills Luxe properties and chief executive of Luxe Worldwide Hotels LLC, a marketing, sales and reservation service for independently operated hotels.

The Bel-Air Luxe's rooms were last spruced up five years ago. The hotel recently finished a $10 million expansion of its ballroom that added 6,000 square feet to the seven-acre grounds.

To craft the look of the Luxe, Harkham hired Los Angeles designer Mary McDonald, whose specialty is home interiors. He eschewed hotel designers to ensure the Luxe would have a style apart from other hotels.

McDonald splashed the Luxe rooms, which top 600 square feet, with grays, blacks and whites. Driftwood is also used throughout in details and centerpieces, giving the hotel a laid-back, natural feel.

"The comparison between what it was and what it is today might as well be different worlds," said Seth Horowitz, general manager of the two Luxe properties.

The design is contemporary, but Harkham didn't want it so "hip" that seasoned professionals would feel uncomfortable conducting business. He said the Luxe doesn't market its "cool."

Already, the changes are paying off. Last week, the hotel was booked with guests coming for the Nissan Open golf tournament as well as special events, and to visit the nearby UCLA and the Getty Center.

In addition, Horowitz said that the renovation has allowed the management to boost average room rates to more than $200 a night, compared to under $200 prior to the work.

Meanwhile, Luxe Worldwide Hotels reaped the benefits of the stellar performance of the hospitality industry last year. The service added 52 hotels with just over 5,200 rooms to its membership, which includes about 200 hotels with a total of 20,000 rooms around the world.

Total revenue at Luxe Worldwide's member hotels rose to $33.4 million last year from $20.1 million the prior year. Average daily room rate rose slightly to $158.64 from $157.54.

Accessory Action
As owner of City of Industry-based belt maker Leegin Creative Leather Products, Jerry Kohl sold to retailers, but never planned to get into that business himself.

But about seven years ago, one of Kohl's retail customers decided to open up a Dallas store called Brighton Accessories, named for a Leegin brand. After one year, the store racked up $1.2 million in sales in a 400-square-foot space.

Seeing those results, Kohl started his own Brighton Accessories stores. Today, there are close to 100 stores across the country, and Kohl expects to add 10 to 15 locations this year.

Kohl said he's not looking to put the upcoming Brighton Accessories units in any particular region. In fact, he said the mostly mall-based stores perform pretty much anywhere. He's only had to shutter one store since he began retailing.

"The strategy is to do what feels good," said Kohl. "We have always done terrific."

At Leegin, the Brighton retail division now makes up about 30 percent of the total company revenue, which topped $300 million last year, according to Kohl. And he said that he doesn't see the retail sales slowing down any time soon.

The Brighton Accessories stores have generated what is almost a cult following. Its customers are typically 30-year-old to 70-year-old women who have the disposable income to buy a pricey purse, but are comfortable getting their clothes at J. Jill Group Inc. or Chico's FAS Inc.

"The ladies who buy our things are like groupies," said Kohl. "Every day we pinch ourselves thinking this can't be possible."

At Brighton Accessories locations, the handbags and the jewelry are the most popular items. A Brighton purse costs around $300, while a watch costs in the range of $80 to $100.

Despite Brighton's retailing success, Leegin hasn't given up on selling wholesale. The company supplies 5,000 small retail outlets nationwide and has a sales force of more than 100 to keep its leather goods in the stores.

When Brighton first opened stores, Kohl acknowledged that Leegin's retail customers were concerned Brighton Accessories would draw customers away and sap sales. But he said that the opposite has occurred: Sales have risen for Leegin's retail customers because Brighton Accessories stores have raised awareness of the brand.

And Kohl stresses that Leegin is intent on catering to its retail customers, even taking storeowners to China to show them where Leegin makes its goods. This Friday, about 40 of them will travel to tour Chinese factories where sunglasses, handbags and watches are made.

Jazz Central
Jonathan De Veaux wants to take Inglewood back to the golden age of jazz.

His new club, the Savoy Entertainment Center, is named after Harlem's famed Savoy Ballroom, where legends such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday ruled the stage.

"We are trying to recapture the class and cache of the Harlem Renaissance," said De Veaux "We dress up, listen to jazz, have a little food."

The 12,000-square-foot club opened this month near the Forum and Inglewood City Hall. De Veaux is aiming to attract the 30-and-over crowd.

De Veaux has experience running clubs. He owned the Carson club Bistro 880 until it shut down a year ago. After that, he turned to insurance, opening up a Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. agency in Los Alamitos. But he couldn't shake the entertainment bug.

For the new club, De Veaux envisioned a venue for professionals who were looking for a classy night out. He said these clubgoers, perhaps tired of the Sunset Strip scene, aren't given enough choices.

"People are looking for an alternative," said De Veaux. "You can go downtown, you can do the West Hollywood thing, or if you live in the area, you can come here."

The Savoy Entertainment Center will feature regular jazz performances. De Veaux is still working out the schedule, but expects the venue to be open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Airport Fees
The decision to sharply boost fees for shuttles that circle LAX is not good news for Chicago-based PRG Parking Management LLC. Better known as the Parking Spot, the company has 4,595 spaces at two facilities near LAX, and it makes 17,500 shuttle trips a month to LAX.

Starting next month, shuttles will be charged 80 cents per trip, up from 32 cents per trip. The charge will go up to $1.60 per trip in September of next year.

That means that by late next year the company will pay $28,000 a month to cover the $1.60 per trip charge, up from about $5,600 before the increases, according to Mark Wildman, a vice president at the company.

The Parking Spot has no plans to reduce the number of shuttle trips or to pass the charge along to its customers. At its Sepulveda and Century boulevard lots, open-air parking costs $12.95, covered parking is $15.95 day and valet is $16.95 a day.

"It is a tough pill to swallow that the access fees are going up so dramatically," said Wildman. But he added, "We are looking at this as the cost of doing business."

Los Angeles World Airports, which oversees local airports, estimates that the increases will result in income of $2.5 million annually, much more than what it has been getting.

Stockholm Story
Trendy retailer H & M; Hennes & Mauritz AB is going Hollywood.

The Swedish import has leased 10,000 square feet on Hollywood Boulevard from CIM Group Inc. across the street from the Hollywood & Highland complex. CIM will renovate a former restaurant to ready the location for H & M.;

The Hollywood store is the third H & M; has announced in its arrival on the L.A. scene. A 25,000-square-foot store is slated for the Beverly Center, and a 12,000-square-foot store is planned for Old Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard.

"Selecting Hollywood Boulevard signals the renewed attraction of Hollywood as a retail and entertainment destination," Shaul Kuba, CIM Group principal, said in the statement announcing the lease.

* Staff reporter Rachel Brown can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 224, or at rbrown@labusinessjournal.com .

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