Nothing to Prove

Ian Schrager teams up with Marriott on a global line of defiantly unhip boutique hotels.

DESIGNERS: Yabu Pushelberg

PROJECT: Waikiki Edition


“I’m turning my back on ‘design on steroids,’” declares Ian Schrager. It’s quite a renunciation for the onetime Studio 54 co-owner, who, in his collaborations with Philippe Starck, essentially invented the market for provocatively designed boutique hotels. More surprising is that his latest, the Waikiki Edition, in a revivified 1960s hotel tower overlooking Honolulu’s yacht harbor, is the first of a projected hundred-property international collaboration with that most unhip of companies, Marriott. Yet with Schrager as the self-described art director and Marriott promising consistent, superior hospitality, there “is an opportunity to capture a huge market,” says Edition’s managing director, Daniel Flannery: travelers seeking bespoke design plus “the great service I was never able to deliver on my own,” Schrager says.

He sees the Edition brand as an update of the boutique-hotel concept. “Having the best-looking place in town isn’t enough anymore,” he says. “You have to have a great business center, a guest room that’s incredibly functional. You have to have everything.” Undergirding this, he believes, should be “simple, sophisticated, confident design. No tricks—no three-legged chairs and things we did because we were looking to get noticed.” Indeed, Schrager thinks hotels competing for market share with the steroidal style he pioneered “are with yesterday’s idea,” which is why—apart from the chance to go global—he teamed up with a powerhouse service-provider like Marriott.

The 353-room Waikiki Edition isn’t entirely trick-free—it has a private artificial beach surrounding an eight-inch-deep pool—and the concrete-and-steel Crazybox nightclub, with a ceiling constructed from 40,000-odd antique lightbulbs, recalls Schrager’s past. Yet the overall design, by the firm Yabu Pushelberg, has the not unwelcome flavor of a beach house fixed up by someone with instinctive good taste and, in Schrager’s words, “nothing to prove.” The scheme contemporizes Hawaiian and
seaside traditions and materials elegantly and (as with a broken-surfboard collage in the entry, by the former champion surfer Herbie Fletcher) wittily. The whitewashed-plywood front desk and lobby bar resemble sea-softened driftwood; the pickled-oak wall boards express the simplicity of a weathered shack; and the ubiquitous oversize teak shutters reference Hawaii’s Colonial architecture.

Surprisingly for a Schrager hotel—in which, traditionally, the lobby was everything—the utterly simple guest rooms are the Waikiki Edition’s most successful spaces. Apart from canvas upholstery and mattress-style cushioned headboards, analog lamps and appliances (with actual switches!) offer relief from the overdesigned electrical systems plaguing luxury hotels.

Whether future Edition hotels will meet Schrager’s aesthetic standards remains to be seen. “I don’t have the final cut,” he admits of the Marriott partnership. But, he adds, “The most important idea is great service, and the design serves that experience… . Maybe with this hotel, I’ve grown up.”

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