It's no surprise that the wild and whimsical Phillippe Starck is behind the design of Beverly Hills' newest tourist address. The SLS opened late last year, a complete refurbishment of a former Méridien hotel which could not seem further from its corporate past. I find a towering model of a horse with a lampshade on its head in the foyer and, hanging outside the lifts, digital "oil portraits" of 18th-century gents that morph into monkeys.
This is the first of Starck's projects with SLS Hotels, with whom he has recently signed a 15-year exclusive contract in North America, but his signature touches, seen previously in Ian Schrager hotels, are still in evidence. The lobby doubles as a bar/restaurant, with high-backed mismatched chairs and quirky Murano glass chandeliers. But the design-devil is really in the detail. Everything, from the wry photos depicting people waiting that are hung in the lifts, to the white plaster hands reaching out of the spa walls bearing white flowers, candles and feathers, is by Starck and is unique.
Functional really means fun in this hotel. The rooftop, complete with two pools, cabanas and a bar, has ornately framed oversized mirrors stacked around the edge to disguise the safety railings – and give the clientele something to gaze at beyond their navels. And instead of a chocolate on your pillow, there is a little shelf by the bedroom door that is stocked with such quirky treasures as a kaleidoscope.
For all its inimitable characteristics, the SLS remains a very LA address. It's located on the roaring boulevard of La Cienega (a motorway by UK standards), and there's a red carpet running from the valet park forecourt into reception. A separate red carpet takes you to "Bazaar", the buzzy restaurant/bar/ shop that's got American glossy magazines in a lather as much for its cool design as its innovative tapas. These include food-science-esque dishes such as caviar cones with crème fraiche and exploding olives (the essence of green olives and olive oil in a gelatinous shell), courtesy of chef José Andrés, the chap largely credited with bringing a Spanish culinary revolution to the US. Andrés designs and manages the food and drinks for the entire hotel, room service included.
Starck has yet to be commissioned to create a film set, but this theatrical hotel is surely the ultimate LA pitch.
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, 465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, US (001 310 247 0400; slshotels.com). Set in the Beverly Hills/West Hollywood borders, the hotel is two minutes' walk from the Beverly Center shopping mall and a 10-minute walk from Rodeo Drive's gleaming boutiques. La Cienega Boulevard not withstanding, the area is pretty pedestrian-friendly.
Time from international airport: half an hour from LAX, a ride that costs $60 (£40) in a taxi.
Every functional question has a creative answer in this 297-room hotel, so much so that you almost wonder whether you've fallen down Alice's rabbit hole. My Studio Suite had a giant plasma TV that materialised in a mirrored wall, the bed appeared to be floating and the bathroom became one with the bedroom courtesy of a sliding wall. Thankfully navigating all this is intuitive. Low lighting plus a sleek Sixties aesthetic means rooms are cool and calm enough to allow a good night's sleep.
Freebies: SLS custom-made shampoo, conditioner, body cream and face wash come in industrial-sized bottles that render them pretty impossible to pop in your suitcase. Be warned: the remaining posh potions and lotions on display have hefty price tags; ditto the specially commissioned Christian Lacroix-designed bottles of water.
Keeping in touch: Wi-Fi/high-speed internet access for guests travelling with laptops, though a charge is made; dual-line cordless telephones with voicemail, DVD/CD player, iPod docking station, newspaper delivery (chargeable) and, in the larger suites, Apple Mac computers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start $314 (£209) per night, room only. For bookings: 00800 325 45454; luxurycollection.com/sls.
I'm not paying that: Hotel del Flores, 409 North Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills (001 310 274 5115; hoteldelflores. com) has double rooms from $80 (£53) per night.