Q&A: Boutique hotel icon Ian Schrager
08 JUNE 2015 7:57 AM
Ian Schrager is credited by many as having co-created the boutique hotel segment. He shared his thoughts on that segment’s past and future during a main stage Q&A at the Boutique Hotel Investment Conference.
NEW YORK CITY—When hotel legend Ian Schrager talks, people listen.
That was the case when the boutique hotel segment legend took the stage last week for a Q&A during the Boutique Hotel Investment Conference.
The 15-minute conversation covered a lot of ground, including Schrager’s thoughts on design as a problem-solving process, the importance of good partnerships and the big brands’ encroachment into the boutique space.
Below are the highlights from the session, which was moderated by Donna L. Quadri-Felitti, incoming director of the School of Hospitality Management at Penn State.
Q: How do you make properties timeless?
Ian Schrager: “Something is never trendy provided it’s executed well. … Make sure the execution is superb. Then you can be as provocative as you want. …
“Good taste is something that never goes out of style. It’s always relevant; it translates across all ages, all locations, all states of wealth. It’s the common denominator.”
Q: You’ve had good partners, such as Steve Rubell (with whom Schrager collaborated with to create Morgans Hotel Group) and Marriott International (with which Schrager is collaborating for Edition Hotels). What makes for a good partnership?
Schrager: “Complementary skills is the most important thing. A good partnership is based on one partner being able to do something that another partner can’t do. … But you have to like each other. There has to be an admiration and affection for each other. Life is too short not to like your partner.
“My partnership with Steve was unique. I’ll never have another partner like that. We were best of friends. But my partnership with Marriott is great. I like all those guys. And it turned out to be a very fulfilling, rewarding partnership for me.”
|Schrager has collaborated with Marriott International on the Edition brand, which includes the London Edition (pictured). (Photo: Marriott International)|
Q: You are driven by details. How do those details turn into revenue?
Schrager: “The guest notices the details. I never know which detail is responsible for pushing something over the top. There’s no way to know. Therefore, every single detail becomes a matter of life or death. That spark happens when all of the details come together so that the totality of it is more than the sum of each individual part.”
Q: You turn unusual boxes into timeless experiences. What structural elements do you look for when you scout out potential buildings and sites?
Schrager: “I’m trying to think about how the space will be used by people, what will make it dynamic, what will make it enjoyable. It’s always easy to stick in the functions and make sure they’re operationally effective and efficient. There’s latitude with that. What’s hard to do is to create the magic because there’s no formula for it. There’s no rule book for it.
“I generally don’t care very much about the outside of the building because people spend their time on the inside. Most of the time in places like New York, people don’t look up very much. …
“It’s figuring out how it’s going to work, where people are going to be, how they’re going to hang out, where the restaurant’s going to be, what are the money-making opportunities.
“I can feel the way it’s supposed to work. I’ve been at this thing for so long. I get to a certain point where I’m confident there’s only a universe of certain possibilities, certain solutions. That’s what design is. It’s about solving problems.”
Q: When you look at fashion, entertainment and food, who does lifestyle well?
Schrager: “There are a lot of people out there who are doing good jobs. What would be really good for the industry is if somebody came along and made a contribution and had a new idea.
“I was just talking with (Marriott President and CEO) Arne Sorenson today, and he was asking me where I think hotels will be 25 years from now. ... It takes somebody to come up with a new fresh idea, a new fresh approach. I would applaud that and I hope that happens.
“I’ve made my contribution and I keep refining it and hopefully looking for new things, but I think there are a lot of men and a lot of women out there that are doing a lot of fine jobs.”
Q: Does that competition drive you?
Schrager: “Everything drives me. (That competition) doesn’t drive me in particular. I’m just happy there are a lot of people out there being successful with it. One of the things that was very good for this space was when the economy turned good and financing was available. It allowed a lot people access to the business.”
|Schrager isn’t intimidated by competition. On the contrary, he thinks it’s good for the boutique segment. (Photo: Patrick Mayock)|
Q: You’ve always kept your focus small and different. Is that something the big brands understand or can replicate?
Schrager: “I’m so tired of hearing another brand for millennials. It’s just so boring to me. I think the industry is missing the point again. To me there’s no age group attached to buying an Apple product. You need to do a product that appeals to everyone of a certain sensibility, not a certain age. …
“The market is fast. The big hotel companies never quite understood that. They are now beginning to understand it.”
Q: Your aesthetic seems to have become more refined and luxurious over time. Why?
Schrager: “When we got started, I didn’t have any money. I never thought that rich materials or sumptuous materials were necessary to pull off a luxury experience. It’s the way they were put together and the feeling they provoked. We never did marble in bathrooms because we thought it was an institutional signal that we were a fancy hotel. We tried to do something alternative. …
“Design is problem-solving process. Sometimes you can have too much money and make a lot of mistakes. At the end of the day, it’s how it makes you feel rather than how it looks. I think people like not getting the same signals of luxury. They like going in and seeing something different.”