In 2005, Schrager formed his own eponymous company and for his first project contracted the artist Julian Schnabel to help him transform Manhattan’s Gramercy Park Hotel. (The reopening garnered acclaim, and Schrager eventually sold his stake in the Gramercy to his partner, real-estate developer Aby Rosen, in 2010.) Subsequent projects included two high-end residences he built in Manhattan as well as a partner- ship with Marriott International to develop the Edition brand of hotels. Though the Edition collaboration was initially a flub—only two locations opened, and the management of one of them, in Waikiki, removed Marriott as its operator—Schrager is now leading the charge once again. A London outpost is set to open this fall, and additional launches are planned for New York, Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, India, and China. Ever the devoted entrepreneur, Schrager established his own hotel brand, Public, with a location in Chicago two years ago and is planning to roll out several more in the years ahead. Surface talked with him about the current state of the hospitality industry and his ambitions for Edition and Public. You’ve been credited with creating the term “boutique hotel.” More recently, the term “design hotel” has entered the lexicon.
How do you feel about these phrases now?
I think we did the first hotel ever that was really design-sensitive, mode-breaking, and game-changing. We did something very sophisticated. The way we described what we were trying to do was that it was “boutique.” I never liked the term “design hotel.” It doesn’t capture the point or the ethos of what we’re trying to do. Boutique, the way we used it, had to do with fashion. I’m from New York, and fashion’s a mainstay here, and that was very much what was on our mind. A lot of our friends from Studio 54 were great fashion designers.
When we got into the business, all the other hotels were kind of like white bread. They were trying to be all things to all people, so we called them “department stores.” We were a boutique because we had a very specific, focused attitude, and we weren’t trying to be all things to all people. The way we used boutique has now been adopted as part of the English language. Everybody’s using it, and everybody’s having a debate about what it means. To me, a boutique has nothing to do with size; it has to do with focus. You can have a 2,000-room boutique hotel.
You’re collaborating with Marriott on its Edition brand. When it launched in 2007, right at the start of the recession, it seemed to be an unfortunate time to begin such a major venture.
Interview by Spencer Bailey. Portrait by Grant Cornett.