Toward that end, Schrager tapped pros with impressive portfolios of built work. For the Waikiki Edition, he chose Toronto- and New York–based partners George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, whose 95-member firm is the subject of a 2009 monograph, Yabu Pushelberg, filled with glossy photographs of their exceptionally polished work for, among others, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, the W Hotel Times Square, and the Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo. Asked why he chose Yabu Pushelberg, Schrager says, “The scale of this is what’s interesting to me. I wanted to put forth ideas and have someone capable of doing them fast, before anyone could copy them—either visually, operationally, service-wise, idea-wise, or ethos-wise. With that, execution was important, and the professionalism and ‘one-stop shop’-ability of Yabu Pushelberg was very important. All the designers have to fit these criteria!”
All the designers also have to make their peace with Schrager and his company’s intensive design reviews. Which are not subtle suggestions, but hands-on emendations. “You have to work hard to gain Ian’s trust,” says Pushelberg, who also recalls Schrager saying, “I want to go back to my roots,” as he pointed to Andrée Putman’s Morgans, noting its clean lines, subtle palette, and discreet chic.
Schrager now talks a lot about business travelers, about families on vacation, about that most elusive of all things—service. Whether attributable to Schrager or to Marriott International, the service at the Waikiki Edition is stellar—from the doormen and the concierge to the waitresses at Crazybox, the hotel’s bunker-like, raw-concrete-lined nightclub.
If in the old days the staff at every Schrager hotel was conspicuous for its pulchritude as opposed to its prowess, by contrast the Waikiki Edition staff is, of course, comely, but more about making sure that the SUV is at the airport when your flight touches down or that you have an eight o’clock reservation at Chef Mavro. Which is not to suggest that the Waikiki Edition does not have Schrager’s signature sparkle, the impossible-to-pinpoint X factor that has been his genius since Studio 54 and that has always distinguished the original boutique hotels from the hordes of derivative wannabes. (A telling detail: Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “Heaven Can Wait” was playing in the lobby the afternoon I checked in.) The hotel also has a bit of Schrager’s swagger, the self-assurance of a man with a Mercedes 600 idling at the curb, a Gulfstream IV waiting on the tarmac.
To immediately establish a sense of place—Hawaii—there is a billboard-scale, wall-mounted assemblage by surfer turned artist Herbie Fletcher, made from broken-in-action surfboards, behind the Waikiki Edition’s laminated oak plywood front desk. There is also an open-sesame-style floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the lobby that leads, at 4 p.m., to an otherwise out-of-sight lounge that lurks behind. Elsewhere, there is a spa, a gym, a 9,200-square-foot ballroom, and, in addition to a swimming pool, an oval “lagoon” lined with sapphire-blue mosaic tiles, surrounded by a sand-and-pebble beach. There is also an outdoor drive-in theater, minus the cars, showing movies, videos, and art installations.
Pushelberg describes the Waikiki Edition as “easy, serene, chill.” And the palette at the hotel backs him up—all white and cream and greige and putty and ecru with soaped-oak walls in the lobby and, in the rooms, custom-designed white-washed ash furniture and soft, rheostat-controlled lighting. The only dark wood to be found in the sand-carpeted rooms is in the frames of the leather-webbed desk chairs, modeled after Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s iconic 1929 Chair 611. In the suites are L-shaped white-cotton sofas, circular tea-height tables, and white-linen-upholstered lounge chairs. The built-in platform beds with quilted headboards and integrated side tables are particularly well designed.
Adding a touch of richness to the rooms are overscale, sliding Mozambique blackwood shutters with operable louvers that control the sun and cordon off the bathrooms. Introducing “a lost innocence from back in the day,” according to Yabu, is a shallow white shelf on which rest a pair of notebooks with vintage hula girls on the cover, a ukulele, two starfish, assorted seashells, and a pair of white-framed images of the Pacific. Three sprightly colored sarongs hang from hooks beneath the shelf.