DirectoriesAdd Your Business
News Archive Search
A hotelier is breaking the mold once again
IN the world according to Ian Schrager, the master of the ultrahip hotel, there's no greater currency than a boldface name checking into a stylish guest room or hanging out in the chic bar or restaurant. Mr. Schrager cut his teeth among the in-crowd in the late 1970s and early '80s, as co-founder of the Studio 54 and Palladium nightclubs in New York City, and has since courted the slender, fashionable and martini-prone with such gusto - from the Royalton and Paramount hotels in Manhattan to the Delano in South Beach and the Mondrian in West Hollywood - that he has earned rock-star status of his own.
Yet on a brisk morning last September, in the fashionably dim corridors of his Gramercy Park Hotel, Mr. Schrager found himself strolling alongside a new and decidedly unhip admirer, a strait-laced septuagenarian who, incidentally, has quite a reputation as a hotelier himself.
"One of my managers called and said that Bill Marriott wanted to come by and tour the property," recalls Mr. Schrager, 61, sitting recently in his Greenwich Village design studio. "I said, ‘Hmmm, Bill Marriott?' "
Mr. Schrager, whose father was a Brooklyn garment worker, evokes Robert De Niro in accent and attitude: "So I go over there and give him the tour myself," he says. "I mean, it's Marriott! They are like Wal-Mart. No matter what you think of the brand, you have to respect it. For me, it was like getting the Good Housekeeping seal of approval."
And so began the whirlwind courtship between Mr. Schrager and Mr. Marriott, a closely watched pairing of virtual opposites that was consummated in June with shotgun efficiency on the bohemian rooftop of the Gramercy Park Hotel.
With Mr. Schrager dressed coolly in a black Nehru shirt and blazer, and Mr. Marriott buttoned-down in a gray suit and tie, the men played down their differences and announced plans to create a new brand of boutique hotel. Also known as lifestyle hotels, boutiques are distinctive for their innovative, individualized and intimate designs, and "destination" bars that lure travelers and locals alike. Mr. Schrager popularized the concept in the early 1980s.
"Ian is going to be developing a new experience for people looking for more than just a bed, and breakfast," Mr. Marriott proclaimed.
Their plan is straightforward enough: Mr. Schrager will design some 100 boutique hotels for the as-yet-unnamed brand in major cities across the United States, South America, Europe and Asia, and Marriott International will operate them. By tapping a range of renowned architects and designers, Mr. Schrager plans to give each property a distinct character. Financing will be provided by individual developers, many of which already own Marriott properties. Mr. Schrager and Marriott will each take a cut of the developers' profits.
MARRIOTT is hoping to leverage Mr. Schrager's aesthetic ingenuity and cachet with its own marketing and organizational muscle to gain entry into the boutique segment, among the fastest-growing in the hotel industry. According to Smith Travel Research, an independent lodging industry data firm, the United States hotel industry racked up $25.3 billion in operating profits last year amid record high occupancy rates. Marriott estimates that the global market for the boutique segment is $6 billion to $7 billion a year, of which about half is in North America.
"We've partnered with Ian because he is unique, and we don't have anyone who can do what he does," Mr. Marriott says.
While Marriott has $12 billion in annual sales worldwide through its 2,900 properties, the company is notably absent in the boutique segment. Starwood's W line, with 21 hotels worldwide, is the biggest player, but hundreds of independently owned boutique hotels have mushroomed across the world's major cities in recent years, industry analysts say.
Similar to its recent deal to create family-friendly theme hotels with Nickelodeon, Marriott's partnership with Mr. Schrager will enable the company to extend its reach. Its current base includes the modestly priced Fairfield Inn brand, the midmarket Courtyard, the more upper-tier Marriott brand and the luxury Ritz-Carlton, but the company is aiming to capture a fresh crowd of younger, affluent travelers who want five-star amenities amid snazzy, more individualized surroundings, industry analysts say.
"Every traveler has all these needs at different times, and hotel companies are creating portfolios of different price and service levels in order to build loyalty across a family of brands," says Bjorn Hansen, a managing partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers who specializes in hospitality and leisure. He adds that Marriott's affiliation with Mr. Schrager "brings an instant image of being able to bring something innovative to a more conservative hotel company."
Some industry analysts, though, are bracing themselves for a culture clash, with Mr. Schrager's team of artists and designers trying to meld their edgy sensibilities into Marriott's cookie-cutter template. On the day the deal was announced, the hospitality industry consultant Jim Butler asked rhetorically on his blog: "What will Schrager do when Marriott criticizes the color of the silk hanging from the ceiling, or some innovative design feature in the restrooms?"
To be sure, Mr. Schrager is famously obsessive about the details of his work. At the Gramercy Park Hotel, for instance, he is known to protest if the bouquets in guest rooms do not contain exactly 10 pink carnations or if the lights are too dim. (He likes dim corridors to contrast against a burst of light in guest rooms.)
As Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine and Mr. Schrager's friend, puts it, only half-jokingly: "Ian is a perfectionist and a control freak. Everyone is terrified to even move a chair without his permission."
Ms. Wintour adds, though, that she considers Mr. Schrager's move to be wise and reflective of broader fashion industry trends. "In my neck of the woods, if you will, more and more people are working within the mainstream," she says.
Citing such collaborations as Vera Wang designing for Kohl's, and Isaac Mizrahi for Target, she says: "I think it's terrific that style and fashion are winding up in places that are accessible to everyone. Ian is a natural at tapping into whatever is going on in the culture, and he also knows the right time to change."
THE designer Calvin Klein compares the partnership of Marriott and Mr. Schrager with his own relationship with Unilever, the consumer products behemoth, which he says turned his namesake fragrance into a worldwide household brand. "This is a win-win," Mr. Klein says. "Marriott has the resources and infrastructure to manage a global brand, while Ian has the ability to create it. The cynics will always find a negative side, but my experience has always been that with the right partnership you can do anything in the world."
Mr. Schrager, for his part, concedes that partnering with Marriott will likely require some tough compromises. Marriott, for example, will probably require him to brighten the hallway lights a bit for safety reasons, and those stylish notepads he likes to leave in rooms might prove too costly to a mainstream hotelier.
"The properties might not be as quirky or individualized as I might make them if I were doing this alone," Mr. Schrager says. "But Apple manages to pull off really sleek designs that everyone of all ages responds to. And believe me, I'm not going to have a book of standards. It will be. ..." He pauses for effect. "The anti-chain."
More important, though, Mr. Schrager says that working with Marriott will instantly cast him into his rightful place as a major player in the "lifestyle" market segment, and in the longer term position him to build a mass customer base for his innovations, à la Apple, Nike and Sony.
"Right now, the impact that I have had on the market is not commensurate with the number of my ideas that have influenced the industry," Mr. Schrager says.
The biggest example of this, he says, is the boutique hotel boom. Despite his role in pioneering the very concept, he remains a relatively minor financial player in the segment. "It has always been a nightmare of mine, that I would have an idea and somebody would come and make the money off of it," he says.
More philosophically, Mr. Schrager goes on: "Look, if it's not your original idea, if it's an interpretation then it doesn't have the ethos, the gravitas, the heart with all the depth and dimension to it. And it won't evolve into something else. Design is just a marketing tool. My ideas come from the heart."
External article: To read complete article: Click Here
Source: The New York Times
Visit our sponsors