Saturday, 17 April 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 6: The Waikīkī Edition, the first Edition Hotel to open from hoteliers Ian Schrager and Bill Marriott

Photo courtesy of francesjane. 

Honolulu has long been in need of a new hotelier to clear the stagnancy that has settled over O‘ahu's hospitality trade.

Ian Schrager, together with Bill Marriott, may be the hoteliers to do it.

Ian Schrager—yes, that Ian Schrager, of Club 54 fame—established the Edition Hotels & Resorts brand with J.W. Bill Marriott, Junior—yes, that Bill Marriott, of Marriott Hotels fame—to, as the Marriott website enthuses, "combine the personal, individualized and unique hotel experience that Mr. Schrager created with the operational expertise Marriott is known for."

From the foregoing explanation it should be apparent that the Edition Hotels & Resorts are not going to be in any way boutique hotels, but instead tarted-up Marriotts. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Ian Schrager created the concept of the boutique hotel in 1984 with the opening of his Morgans Hotel in New York City. Schrager started with a derelict 1927 flop-house that happened to have excellent bones, his Morgans Hotel Group inexplicably managing to purchase the structure while also using it as collateral. He then retained the services of the venerable Parisienne interior designer Andrée Putman, without whose expertise the boutique hotel as we know it might well have never been born.

The Morgans Hotel was a tremendous success, and Schrager opened eight hotels over the following 15 years, each with French post-modernist designer Philippe Starck. The Royalton and Paramount in New York, the Delano in Miami, and the Mondrian in West Hollywood soon followed, all masterful examples of stylish packaging selling average hardware.

What Schrager hotels did possess was a sense of arrival and occasion. His hotels made people feel glamorous and sleek, and those reasons are enough for many members of his demographic to overlook poky rooms or thin walls or non-existent services.

Schrager and Starck perfected their formula of gloss and surreal yet carefully considered idiosyncrasies at a string of properties, including New York's mammoth, 1000-room Hudson Hotel. Housed in the former headquarters of PBS-affiliate WNET and with a face that only a father could love, the Hudson compensated for it's cell-like rooms with public spaces pulsing with zeitgeist. After opening the Clift Hotel in San Francisco and the Sanderson and the St. Martin's Lane Hotels, both in London, Schrager divested himself from the Morgans Hotel Group in 2005 to concentrate his energies on his Gramercy Park Hotel project in New York, crafted in close collaboration with artist Julian Schnabel and, now, the Edition Hotels venture with Marriott International.

The first property in the Edition Hotels portfolio is rumored to be opening this July, in Honolulu. While July is only slightly less than two months forward, details remain illusive, but from what our sources have told The Hawaiian Sybarite, "The Waikīkī Edition" will occupy the building that was known formerly as the ʻilikai Hotel's Yacht Harbor Tower and will offer 350 rooms.

Apart from those precious few details, Honolulu's FOX affiliate KHON 2 reported that "[o]ne part of the redevelopment involves bringing in internationally known Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto to open Morimoto Waikiki Restaurant."

Ian Schrager's foremost talent always was, and remains, the contriving of compelling spectacles. Schrager's website credits him with the creation of "pioneering concepts" such as "the hotel as home away from home, the hotel as theater, 'cheap chic', 'lobby socializing', the indoor/outdoor lobby, the urban resort, and the urban spa."

It has been our experience of Schrager's hotels that they are very much like the fashion world's top models: fulfilling objects for idolatry and pleasant enough to look at—as long as it's remotely. But once you pay the near-extortionate price to get close enough for the satisfaction you've been conditioned to crave, you see how tawdry and threadbare and, often, just plain ugly they are without the flattering lighting and the cocophany of media hype.

Still, we'll take Schrager's overpriced and under-delivered universe of "hotel as theater" over the recent decades of the Hawaiʻi tourism-industry's stubborn commitment to mediocrity. A combination of vast overdevelopment, cruel underpricing, wrong-headed marketing, absentee American and Japanese landlords, local slothfulness and simple, vulgar greed have left Hawaiʻi resting on its laurels with an embarrassing bric-a-brac of failures of innovation in the visitor-industry.

It is the hope of The Hawaiian Sybarite that Ian Schrager will lead Marriott and its hulking, tasteless horde towards a more sensitive, more well-designed, and hopefully, more stylish future. We hope that Schrager will present alternatives to the sterile sameness of the typical Marriott property, et al, and we maintain the hope that he will introduce a concept for the Hawaiian hotel of the 21st century that doesn't rely on shameful acts of cultural prostitution or environmental degradation.

The marriage of Ian Schrager and Bill Marriott, Jr. is one whose days are seemingly numbered from the beginning. Ian Schrager is a wheeler-dealer, an æsthete, an ex-con and will forever be powdered with the excessive glamour of the late 1970s, whereas Bill Marriott is a conservative, Latter-day Saint businessman, the son of a conservative, Latter-day Saint root beer salesman. How exactly the businessman behind Studio 54 and the businessman representing the polyester of religions will pool their respective talents and synergize remains baffling to us at The Hawaiian Sybarite, but we are hoping that the opening of The Waikīkī Edition will be just the boot in the ass that all hoteliers in Hawaiʻi need in order to raise their game to a level that begins to befit our archipelago.

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