From Studio 54 to PUBLIC

8 Feb, 2018

Ian Schrager can rightfully claim to be the guru of the boutique lifestyle hotel concept.

Along with Anouska Hempel, who founded the Blakes Hotel in London in 1978, Schrager was one of the first to inject 'lifestyle' into hotels when he and his partner Steve Rubell opened the Morgans in New York in 1984.

While neither had ever worked in a hotel before launching their first property, the pair were already well-known as co-founders of Studio 54, the quintessential New York discothèque of the late 1970's, frequented by luminaries as diverse as Michael Jackson, Cher, Mick Jagger and Donald Trump.

The disco experience inspired Schrager to transform the staid hotel lobby into a social hub and activity centre, a concept that remains at the forefront of branding efforts to appeal to millennial guests to this day.

HUDSON Hotel New York
Photo credit: HUDSON Hotel New York 

In fact, Schrager and Rubell reverted to the idea of hotels almost by default.

Studio 54 was closed due to the pair being convicted of tax evasion for which they served over a year in prison. Upon being released from prison, Schrager and Rubell, attempted to launch another night club concept, Palladium, which was unsuccessful due their failure to obtain a liquor licence.

Shortly afterwards, the two entrepreneurs turned to hotels, purchasing the Executive Hotel for US$60’000, using the property as collateral, which became the Morgans.

Morgans a roaring success

Following the success of Morgans, Schrager and Rubell opened the Royalton Hotel and Paramount Hotel, both of which were designed by the iconic Frenchman, Philippe Starck.

These properties exemplified what can be termed "cheap chic," where affordable luxury was offered in a 'stylish and sophisticated' environment.

Schrager also created the "Urban Resort" with his Delano Hotel in Miami and Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, also designed by Starck. These were followed by the Hudson Hotel in New York, where he further developed the lifestyle hotel concept when he opened the Clift Hotel in San Francisco and the St. Martins Lane Hotel and the Sanderson in London, all three designed by Philippe Starck, as well.

But Edition has not met expectations

One of Schrager's least successful endeavours, however, has been his partnership with Bill Marriott to create the Edition brand, a luxury boutique concept designed to compete with Starwood's highly successful W brand (which has now been absorbed into Marriott following the merger with Starwood).

From its beginning, the brand was plagued by hotel owner lawsuits and, in spite of being launched over a decade ago, there are only four edition properties operating today.

Schrager goes “PUBLIC” 

Schrager's most recent creation is PUBLIC which he launched in 2011.

The name alone suggests the direction in which Schrager was heading, i.e. away from what is “flashy” or “slick” and towards what he describes as “accessible luxury” with an emphasis on service.

Characterising himself as “anti-design, anti-flash, suspicious of the ‘wow factor’" and “completely sick of slick,” Schrager intends PUBLIC to appeal to both upscale bargain hunters and traditional budget consumers looking to trade up.

Photo credit:  PUBLIC Hotels 

Attitude - not design...

The PUBLIC concept has borrowed from the luxury, boutique and limited-service segments to create a brand that is simultaneously ‘aspirational’ and affordable, according to Schrager, who notes that, “My hotels were never about design. They were about an attitude, an approach and an experience. It’s something the industry never understood.”

Indeed, the PUBLIC brand seeks to reconnect with the boutique movement’s roots while making it accessible to a new class of consumers and seeks to be 'inclusive', rather than 'exclusive'.

“The idea behind the boutique, as I saw it, was meant to touch people emotionally and viscerally and offer guests a truly unique experience,” notes Schrager.

Photo credit:  PUBLIC Hotels 

Retailing served as a model

For his latest venture, Schrager explains that he drew inspiration primarily from the retail outlets of Apple and Trader Joe's, a supermarket that sells specialty products at a discount.

Drawing on those service-oriented retail concepts, he is inserting a new stripped-down hotel category called "essential services" into the well-segmented US hotel market.

Excellent service is the cornerstone of the PUBLIC experience, but the brand does not intend to offer “superfluous” services (e.g. bed turndowns).

For Schrager, this marks a new approach devoid of excess and a rejection of old-fashioned concepts of luxury. “Luxury is no longer about spending the most money; it is about getting the best value and being made to feel special,” remarks Schrager.

Chicago gone, but an opening in New York

PUBLIC has had some 'teething problems'.

The first PUBLIC property, the former Ambassador Hotel in Chicago, opened in October 2011, but was not a success and was subsequently sold in July 2016.

However, Schrager will probably have more success with the new-build PUBLIC property in his home town that opened recently on the Lower East Side.

The property features two restaurants by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a French celebrity chef, three lounges, a grocery counter, wired public spaces for co-working, and a next-generation performance space by Carlos Quirarte and Matt Kliegman.

The poet and song-writer, Patti Smith, performed at an opening party on 6 June.

PUBLIC Hotels - Penthouse
Photo credit:  PUBLIC Hotels