- Photography by Mr Christopher Sturman
- Words by Ms Alice Rawsthorn, design critic, International Herald Tribune
Whenever you check into a hotel and see something that looks as if it: a) might be fun; and b) was designed in this century, not the last one, you should say a quiet "thank you" to Mr Ian Schrager. It was he who invented the "designer hotel" in the 1980s, which has since been widely copied, sometimes well, often not so well: though blaming him for the lame imitations would be like chiding Le Corbusier for the dodgy tower blocks designed by lesser architects, or Rihanna for karaoke caterwaulers.
Not that the copycats have rattled him, because Mr Schrager, now 67, a genial New Yorker, who looks and sounds like a character in a screwball comedy, is soon to open The London Edition on Berners Street in the UK capital as the second of a planned global chain of hotels. It combines the visual pyrotechnics expected of any of Mr Schrager's ventures with the gleaming marble, stucco and wood panelling of a traditional London gentleman's club. Mr Jason Atherton will be running the restaurant, called Berners Tavern, and tucked away in the basement is a space for talks and screenings. This space will also feature what Mr Schrager promises will be "a great little dance club", which brings us to another reason to thank him.
In the past, everyone circled overhead and grabbed our ideas
Mr Schrager did not invent the nightclub, but the better ones owe something to Studio 54, the discotastic New York club he ran in the late 1970s with a college friend, Mr Steve Rubell. The day after its opening, the front page of the New York Post featured a photo of Cher boogying beneath an enormous neon man on the moon that lit up suggestively when a spoon sprinkled tiny white stars up his nose.
As well as upping the ante for nightclub production values, Studio 54 popularised what are now standard marketing ploys. It wasn't the first club to use a velvet rope as a barrier to entry, but deployed it so flamboyantly - Mr Rubell refused to admit anyone "ugly" - that it became part of its mystique. Nor did he and Mr Schrager invent celebrity culture, but by encouraging the paparazzi to lurk outside night after night, they did much to foster it.
Studio 54's reign ended in 1980, when its owners were convicted of tax evasion, and served 13 months in prison. (Ms Diana Ross sang at their send-off bash.) After their release, they opened a new club, the Palladium, designed by the Japanese architect Mr Arata Isozaki. (Cue a stream of starchitect commissions by other companies.) They also anticipated the now common practice of forging commercial collaborations with artists, by commissioning work from Messrs Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel, among others.
The neverending party
From left: Mr Bob Colacello, Ms Jerry Hall, Mr Andy Warhol, Ms Debbie Harry, Mr Truman Capote and Ms Paloma Picasso at a Studio 54 party for Interview magazine, 1978
Expectant revellers queue up outside the renowned nightclub, 1978
Ms Jerry Hall and Sir Mick Jagger attend an "Oscar" party at the nightclub, 1978
Dancers at Mr Schrager's Palladium, which opened in 1985
But their next venture proved even more influential. "You know, we got into the hotel business by accident," recalls Mr Schrager. "When we sold Studio 54, we were given promissory notes that the owner couldn't pay, so we traded them for a hotel he owned." They hired Ms Andrée Putman, the grande dame of French interiors, to reinvent it as Morgans, a crisply chic hotel for the growing band of yuppie globetrotters. It opened in 1984, followed by another New York hotel, the Royalton, where the enfant terrible of post-modernist design, Mr Philippe Starck, created one of the finest (now, tragically, destroyed) interiors of the 1980s.
Mr Rubell died of Aids in 1989. Mr Schrager went on to open more hotels with many of the same elements - dazzling lobbies, dazzlier loos and "castings" for eye candy staff - thereby saving yet more young globetrotters, then and since, from staying in the same sort of hotels as their grandparents.
Having sold his first hotel company in 2005, Mr Schrager built another, and is now working with the Marriott chain to create Edition. "I've never done anything on a really, really big scale before," he says. "In the past, everybody circled overhead and grabbed our ideas. This time, I'll be out there like a bat out of hell, doing a lot of hotels fast before anyone copies us."