It is one of the most unlikely pairings in travel history. The first family of hospitality, Marriott, has teamed up with legendary king of cool Ian Schrager, to create a new type of hotel. Edition, debuting this autumn, is the first globally branded lifestyle hotel project to be executed on such a large scale and is a collaborative project split 50:50 between Marriott International and the Ian Schrager Company.
The first Edition will debut in Hawaii in October, with Istanbul set to open in February 2011. Four further openings are scheduled in Mexico City, Miami, Barcelona and Bangkok, followed by other 21st century global hubs. All hotels will be unique, and characterised by personalised design spaces and contemporary service. This element has been developed by Schrager, who is the creative consultant on the design, concept and marketing of the project, while Marriott International’s operations expertise will ensure the global reach of the brand.
“When Ian does something he aspires to reinvent the hotel experience and inspire people,” says the president and managing director of Edition Hotels, Dan Flannery. “He always talks about touching people in an emotional way and getting an emotional reaction. He wants to do something that almost feels magical.” Flannery is a hotel industry veteran. Appointed in 2008, Flannery was previously at the Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park South as vice president and area general manager. He brings his operational expertise to the project. “I can take some of the cultural best practices and operating standards from Ritz Carlton and help shape the operating standards for a new company,” says Flannery, whose office is in Schrager’s New York HQ.
Although it has been ten years since Marriott’s rivals Starwood launched the highly successful boutique W Hotel concept to much fanfare, Flannery insists Marriott are not playing catch-up: “Ian is brilliant. He is very, very passionate and very involved in all of the details of developing a new brand. I used to work with Cosmopolitan CEO John Unwin in Las Vegas, who had worked with Ian for eight years. I had barely finished telling him about the opportunity with Ian when he said ‘absolutely – do it. I will learn things from Ian that I couldn’t possibly learn from anybody else. He has a great read on pop culture and understands things about the business from a different point of view,’ which has been true.”
The key to Edition does not just centre around the Schrager design template. “Design gets a lot of focus and a lot of attention but we are really trying to think about the entire guest experience, how people feel about style on many levels and how to do something unique and original that reaches people,” says Flannery. “Undoubtedly, however, Schrager’s touch is everywhere – from the graphic design, the uniforms and the music programming to the tea spoons and the coffee cups.”
The 353-room Waikiki Edition Honolulu, for example, will have Schrager’s trademark style and simple interiors designed by Yabu Pushelberg. Most rooms will have oversized windows and some will boast terraces. The luxury property will feature a restaurant run by Japanese fusion chef Morimoto, a new nightclub called Crazybox, a Sunrise pool surrounded by landscaped gardens, a private lagoon and a Surf and Bikini Boot Camp.
In contrast, Edition Istanbul will have only 77 rooms with rosewood and soap oak walls, oriental silk rugs, marble bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling glass rain showers. There will also be a penthouse ballroom and a colossal 20,000ft² ESPA spa.
Each of the highly stylised hotels has been created to provide a ‘home away from home’ that equally appeals to leisure and business travellers. Every hotel will offer functional, technologically sophisticated working environments that allow for conducting business in an ‘office away from the office’.
The name of the luxury game
According to Bill Marriott, the name ‘Edition’ took several months to work out and ultimately emerged from Schrager’s team. It was chosen to reflect the sophistication of each hotel, and the manner in which they fit into the local surroundings and culture.
Flannery admits the downturn has affected the project but the cycle is turning. “If the economy was better we would have more third party developers involved,” he says. “We are now starting to see a lot more interest and a lot more signs that the money will get off the sidelines and back into the development for interesting projects. You can always find somebody who has capital and an appetite to do something different.”
Flannery does not believe that the luxury market is oversaturated or that the timing is bad as luxury is being redefined for a new, more austere era. “In some respects it has been perfect timing,” he reveals. “The market has been challenged for so long that the timing is fantastic for something that is exciting and makes people feel good but without the pretence.”
The Edition managing director also feels that the boutique hotel concept still has relevance despite the emergence of new hotel concepts from intimate small-scale eco hotels, i.e. The Scarlet in Cornwall, to large city resorts, the Aman Delhi. “We have stopped using the term ’boutique’,” admits Flannery. “I think that size isn’t necessarily an important factor in doing something that is original, which can be done on a bigger scale.”
It’s a marriage of minds that many thought wouldn’t work. “Bill Marriott and Schrager come from different cultures and styles but they have a great mutual respect for one another,” says Flannery. Bill Marriott is a devout Mormon who listens to Glenn Miller. Schrager’s background and past couldn’t be more different. A scene maker from the 70s whose Studio 54 nightclub was a favoured haunt of Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and others, Schrager even spent time in prison for tax evasion. The design trailblazer has long mellowed but his eye on the zeitgeist remains as sharp as ever. “It has always been very personal to Ian,” says Flannery. “He has designed something that will appeal to his personal taste and people like him. The hotel industry is very personal to him. He loves it.”