Hotel mogul Ian Schrager knows what luxury hospitality is all about. Lucky for you, he’s making it so everyone else can too.Ian Schrager is undoubtedly one of the most creative and prolific hoteliers of our time. He’s credited with creating the concept of a boutique hotel — under his company Morgans Hotel Group, he opened Morgans Hotel in New York in the mid-1980s, followed by the Royalton and the Hudson, as well as the Delano in Miami, the Mondrian in Los Angeles and several boutique properties in London. Seven years ago, Schrager, who got his start in nightclubs (he and business partner Steve Rubell launched the legendary Studio 54), sold that hotel group and went on to reimagine New York’s historic Gramercy Park Hotel. Now, Schrager is working on several new projects, including Edition Hotels (in partnership with Marriott) and Public Hotels, the first of which opened in Chicago late last year. Billed as a “new breed of hotel,” it delivers the sophisticated interiors Schrager is known for at what’s considered budget pricing (rooms start at $165 per night). We asked this man on the move about the changes he’s seen in his almost three decades in the industry, about his affinity for old ?buildings and why he’s hired a fashion stylist for his hotels.
American Way: Why did you originally decide to go into the nightclub business and, later, the hotel business?
Ian Schrager: Restaurants, nightclubs and hotels are all hospitality. It was a logical progression to go from nightclubs to hotels. The goal is the same — looking after your guest.
AW: What did you learn as a nightclub owner that translated or crossed over into hotels?
IS: Creating magic and excitement, and a very distinct experience. With the nightclubs, there was no discernible product; it was experiential. But I was able to take that magical experience and layer that approach onto a product: a hotel.
AW: What’s different about creating a hotel today versus 20-plus years ago?
IS: Hotels were really commodities 20 years ago. It was a different time and a different landscape. The focus was efficient execution. Now, you must distinguish yourself, be innovative and provide evocative visuals. And, of course, great service and great value.
AW: Do you think what’s considered good service has changed or that guest expectations have changed?
IS: Guests’ expectations have definitely changed. Luxury is defined differently now, and the old-fashioned notions of luxury are completely outdated.? For me, now, it is essential to provide comfort and simplicity.
AW: What hotels do you admire that you had nothing to do with?
IS: The old Carlyle hotel in New York, where JFK used to stay; the old Claridge’s in London; the Okura in Tokyo; and the Hotel Bel-Air, because it is so quintessentially California, and I love the grounds.
Getting Personal: Ian SchragerFavorite sheets: Pratesi
Favorite destinations: Turks and Caicos, St. Barths and Paris
Always in the carry-on: BlackBerry and iPad
Currently reading: A biography on John Adams on my iPad. I love biographies.
Best way to unwind: Hang out with my family and do nothing
Secret to successful traveling with babies and kids: Patience
AW: What are the criteria for you when deciding to take over an existing and, often, a historically significant hotel? What is it about those properties that attracts you to them?
IS: For me, it is a very visceral and emotional decision. It’s not at all logical. It’s the same feeling I get when I see great architecture. I also see potential where others may not.
AW: Do you feel a certain responsibility when taking over or redoing an iconic property, like the Ambassador East in Chicago or the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York?
IS: Of course. I always want to maintain the essence of the icon. But I don’t ever want to look back. I always aim to make the property better and to look forward.
AW: In your opinion, what elements make a good hotel room?
IS: Comfort, good taste, functionality, simplicity, ease of use, less is more.
AW: I notice that for the Public you credit a clothing designer.
IS: I have worked with Freddie Leiba for many, many years. He is a great stylist and has really good taste. I always go to him to help me put the looks together for the uniforms. He makes the staff look cool — in, as I say, “a nonuniform uniform.”