“You have to keep moving or it dies,” explains Ian Schrager, the infamously obsessive hotelier who, with late business partner Steve Rubell, invented the boutique hotel in 1984 with Morgans, on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. It was then a completely novel concept, of course, which Schrager would parlay into a string of eight high-profile, high-impact Philippe Starck–designed hotels in New York, Miami Beach, Los Angeles, London, and San Francisco. No longer involved with the Morgans Hotel Group, which he walked away from in 2005, Schrager is currently keen on his collaboration with Marriott International for a series of one-off hotels, dubbed Edition, in “international gateway cities”—even if it means giving up ultimate control. This is unimaginable for anyone who knows the perennially hip hotelier, a man who once urgently summoned Anda Andrei, his design right hand, because the ice he ordered installed in the urinals in the lobby men’s room at New York’s Hudson hotel was precipitously melting. And Schrager definitely wanted ice at all times in the hotel’s urinals. So what, Schrager desperately wanted to know, was Andrei going to do about it?
One of the people duly impressed by Schrager’s attention to minutiae, not to mention by his high-stakes 2006 gamble with artist/filmmaker turned hotel muse Julian Schnabel on Gramercy Park, was J. W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., the 78-year-old chairman and CEO of Marriott International, who wrote in Marriott on the Move, the folksy blog he began in 2007, that the Gramercy Park Hotel was his “very favorite” Schrager hotel. If Marriott International is not known for its cutting-edge aesthetics or for courting the too-cool-for-school crowd—“We’re a nuts-and-bolts operation,” Marriott says—the company that began with a nine-stool A&W Root Beer stand run by J. W. Marriott Sr. and his wife, Alice, in Washington, D.C., in 1927 has an unimpeachable reputation for its management, its employee relations, its high-tech reservations system, and its 33-million-member-strong Marriott Rewards program. It is also a pioneer among large hotel companies for its adoption of environmental practices. The company currently has more than 3,500 properties in 70 countries (including the Ritz-Carlton chain, New York’s storied Algonquin, and the daring new 2,000-room Arquitectonica-designed Cosmopolitan, in Las Vegas), which translates into roughly 610,000 hotel rooms—a detail that dazzles Schrager.
Schrager and Marriott met shortly after Marriott began hearing news of Schrager’s new haute-bohemian hotel, the one with the over-the-top lobby fitted out with red-velvet drapes, a custom-designed Aubusson carpet, and an oversize crystal chandelier. “I want to see that property,” Marriott recalls thinking. So his people called the hotel to arrange for a tour. On the appointed day, Schrager was there to greet Marriott at the bronze-framed front door and give the industry icon the grand tour. At some point, Marriott remembers Schrager saying, “I really would like to hook up with a company to do a series of unique hotels.”
“I think the days of provocative and edgy are over,” says Schrager, seated in his bi-level office in Greenwich Village. In other words, the time is past when Schrager would bet the farm on an enfant terrible with a lot of panache and even more ideas but little confidence-inspiring, real-world experience. This time out, Schrager is acknowledging the changed times (and the exigencies of collaborating with Marriott International) with clear-headed choices that guarantee Edition hotels will not be full of aesthetic tricks or look-at-me design statements. In short, there are no dodgy three-legged chairs, no perplexing bathrooms lit like cocktail lounges, no mannered maneuvers that inevitably come at the expense of comfort and function. The Waikiki Edition, which opened in October 2010 and marks the debut of the brand, is mercifully free of the ironic gestures and tongue-in-cheek moves that so many found so seductive in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and into the 21st century. “No less glamorous, but more comfortable and easy,” Schrager explains of the seismic shift from then to now.