Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Lifestyle: UK Vogue, GQ, Tatler - Ian Schrager

Studio 54 made him famous but Ian Schrager's latest project may be his crowning achievement

By Julie Earle-Levine
September, 2008

HE has been called the ‘King of Cool’, an arbiter of great vision and taste, ‘master of the ultra-hip hotel’ and a swashbuckling developer, but ask Ian Schrager, dapper in an Hermes pinstripe suit, where this style comes from and he shifts uncomfortably.

“I am not sure where this style comes from. I am not even certain I have good taste,” says Schrager, in a raspy Brooklyn accent.

Few would agree. Many would assert that Schrager not only has impeccable taste but that he creates it. Schrager, whose tanned skin and broad smile defy his 61-years, has spent nearly half his life creating spaces for the rich and famous to flock to, including boutique hotels in London, New York, Miami and LA. He has a colorful past. Of course Schrager was most famous for opening Studio 54 in Manhattan, once the world’s hippest nightclub where Bianca Jagger celebrated her birthday by riding half naked through the club on a white horse. He has also served 12 months in jail for tax fraud, where he and his friend Steve Rubell came up with the idea of a boutique hotel business. Four years later, Morgans, the world’s first boutique hotel opened in New York and the duo went on to open a string of hotels including the Royalton, Philippe Starck’s first-ever hotel project. Schrager’s new talent is combining hotels with high-end residential properties for the very, very wealthy.

When it comes to stunning buildings, New York has many, but Schrager’s second residential project, 40 Bond in downtown Noho, resonates with style. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the architects best known for Tate Modern, the 11-storey building is a modern take on the neighborhood’s cast-iron architecture. The exterior is cast entirely in greenish Coke bottle glass that glistens when the sun strikes it. Inside, there are wide-plank Austrian smoked oak wood floors, 11-foot high ceilings, fireplaces and envy-inducing outdoor terraces. Ricky Martin has bought here, as has Mario Testino. Schrager will live in the three-storey, 8,500-square-foot penthouse.

Schrager has been doing business in his mobile office – a black Mercedes - then walks in to greet me. He shakes my hand but is looking at the wall where he has spied a light fixture is not as it should be and demands to know why. I ask him if he is a perfectionist and he says. “Ha. Perfectionist is an understatement.” He might try 30 or 40 shades of white before he picks the right one. He can recognize if a bouquet, which he has decided must be a precise size and colour, is missing stems. “I don’t have to count them.” A potential buyer at the building recognizes Schrager and seizes the moment, asking, if the gleaming, wavy white walls in the foyer are plastic. Schrager’s face tightens, but the man who some say will simply walk away if he doesn’t like what he is hearing, just replies: “It is Corian marble.”

Schrager says he is actually very shy and does not like to be photographed. But once he warms up, he is charming, his conversation a steady stream of topics. Boutique hotels, Lifestyle apartments, concierges who will cater to how we live. His ideas stem from his roots in the nightclub business where he developed the production skills for acting on creative ideas. “Out of necessity I had to do these big productions and parties and the success or failure of what I did was really predicated on how exciting and magical you could make the space.” This thought process translates to hotels and to residences. “You get an idea, you try and realize it, you build it. It is exactly the same.” He is an avid reader of magazines and hunts the streets of New York for creative, individual ideas.

After leaving the Morgans Hotel Group in 2005, he developed his namesake, Ian Schrager company. His new focus is on “managing one’s life’ or rather, having someone else manage it for you. Schrager was at his weekend house in the Hamptons where estate managers do everything for you from writing party invitations to hiring a nanny. “I thought this should be applied to city living. City managers can really make your home somewhere you can enjoy.”

Schrager predicts there will be demand across the board for this kind of living, not just by the super wealthy and that it makes 40 Bond a standout. At the time of writing there were just three of the building’s 27 apartments still for sale. They cost $3 to $10 million. He insists the building’s appeal is not just the design, rather the services that come with it.

Schrager has plenty of other projects on his plate. Recently, he signed a deal with Marriott where he will develop 100 boutique hotels for a new brand that will be launched in major cities across the US, South America, Europe and Asia. He is working on a hotel in Miami, plus another high end hotel in that city as well as a sizeable project (a hotel and residences) on Manhattan’s 10th avenue with developer and friend Aby Rosen He is also looking to close a transaction in Las Vegas and would like to do some more hotels in LA, New York and in London. “Over the next five to seven years I’d like to get to ten or twelve private label hotels and sell it or go public with it. That is the strategy.”

Clearly, Schrager shows no signs of slowing, but his approach is different these days. He works hard to strike a balance with work and family. And he’s spending time on his own immediate environment, 40 Bond. For now his new home is an empty shell, and he doesn’t want to share the specifics other than to say it will be very simple, with most materials from Europe, the woods, marbles and raw finishings. He’d like to keep the rest a secret. “Once something goes mainstream, for me it is over.”