MILAN — It was nearing midnight. On television screens in the bar of the Principe, on the last day of the men’s wear shows here, a World Cup match was playing. Unusually for this venue, every kick and call could be heard. Roughly half the tables were filled with couples or groups drinking quietly, and at the overstaffed bar, at least five servers waited to fill orders.
How times have changed. Not long ago, the bar at the Hotel Principe di Savoia was the watering hole de rigueur for much of the fashion industry, at least during the city’s fashion weeks. On any given evening during fashion week, while the D.J. played a thumping set, the room would be packed and spilling out into the hotel lobby. Getting a drink at the bar was a famously protracted undertaking, and it wasn’t uncommon to see brands, companies and cliques set up at rival tables like a high school cafeteria. Here, the John Varvatos crew. There, the London P.R. set.
“For 20 years it’s been just about the only place I can think of,” Nick Sullivan, the fashion director of Esquire, said in May, reflecting on his frequent trips to Milan.
Then, abruptly, that all changed. The Principe is one of the properties of the Dorchester Group, a hotel group owned by an investment fund led by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei. The sultan’s institution of a new penal code in line with Sharia law, which is to mete out harsh punishments for gay sex and adultery, has caused many in the fashion industry to renounce their longtime hotel of choice and urge others to do the same.
Key editors including Anna Wintour of Vogue and Cindi Leive of Glamour have announced that their staff members will not patronize the property; François-Henri Pinault of the luxury group Kering has said that he will join the boycott, and his companies are likely to do the same. On June 13, just before the beginning of the men’s fashion season, the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C., sent out a press release urging the industry to avoid the Dorchester Group’s hotels, which include — in addition to the Principe — 45 Park Lane and the Dorchester in London, and Hôtel Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice in Paris.
Among Americans, rumors even circulated that cameramen were stationed outside the hotel, ready to snap photos of those who dared to defy the boycott. They proved to be unfounded, but few seemed eager to venture into the hotel, and those that did would speak only if granted anonymity because their employers had forbidden them to speak publicly.
At the several occupied tables, only one guest was recognizable from the insular fashion sphere: Antonio De Matteis, the chief executive of the Neapolitan suiting label Kiton, who for years has stayed in the Principe when in Milan. “I think he made a mistake, the owner,” Mr. De Matteis said. “Before it was full. Now it’s empty.”
“A fashion island hit by a nuclear bomb” was the description of a London-based, fashion-show regular who booked a weekend stay at the hotel before hearing of the proposed boycott and would speak only on condition of not being named. “The staff were obviously more attentive to customers as there aren’t many left,” she added.
Weren’t there? Therein lies the rub. Certainly the numbers seemed smaller than in any visiting Americans’ recent memories. One publicist said she had only sent one invitation to the hotel for a boarding guest, a United States-based editor who had also been unaware of the boycott.
“I was personally embarrassed to be staying there,” the editor said. “I didn’t want to tell people I was there.”
But the bar scene at the Principe has long been primarily an Anglo-American one, said Mr. Sullivan, Esquire’s fashion director, a New York-based Englishman. Apart from fashion weeks, one Milan-based correspondent said, the Principe is no longer a spot of choice for drinks; many prefer one of the competing hotels, such as the Bulgari.
While no one spot emerged as a replacement for the Principe bar as fashion week’s party destination of choice, two front-runners were bars at the Westin and the Park Hyatt, both of which screened World Cup games. (Mr. Sullivan watched at the latter.) And one raucous scene could be found late Monday night, at the Loolapaloosa bar on Corso Como, where a huge contingent of Brazilian models (and a few of their non-Brazilian admirers), gathered to watch the Brazil-Cameroon match, and then partied well past 3 a.m. after Brazil’s win guaranteed the team a place in the knockout round.
Meanwhile, at the Principe, the U.S.-based editor staying there cautioned against conflating a fashion-world avoidance with an avoidance of the property by all guests.
“At breakfast this morning, at a normal time, it was bustling,” he said. “It seems like the hotel is as full as always — just not with any fashion people at all.”