Ian Schrager's PUBLIC Display of Affection

Hotel legend Ian Schrager announced yesterday that his newly-formed PUBLIC brand will be teaming up with residential developers Durst Fetner Residential to launch a new hotel/rental apartment hybrid on 855 Sixth Avenue. Called PUBLIC New York, the 250-plus key New York hotel will be Mr. Schrager’s second site in his PUBLIC brand since unveiling PUBLIC Chicago in September. The building will also feature 60,000 square feet of retail and 315 rental apartments. Fresh from a recent trip to Chicago, Mr. Schrager spoke with The Commercial Observer yesterday about the design of PUBLIC New York, the status of the Clock Tower building, and his love for all things Apple and Trader Joe’s.

ian schrager1 Ian Schrager's PUBLIC Display of Affection

Ian Schrager shares Steve Jobs' obsession with detail.


The Commercial Observer: Will the style of PUBLIC New York be similar to how PUBLIC Chicago was designed?

Ian Schrager: No. It will be the same attitude, the same approach. But it will be different. That’s because it’s New York, and New York is different from Chicago and really we have fun redoing each room (in a) new, original style, but with the same attitude, the same approach.

Who is handling the design of the hotel?

Right now we’re responsible for laying out the hotel, obviously, and all the finishes and a lot of it will be done by my in-house design staff.

But in all likelihood, we’ll also be working with John Pawson, who is an English architect.

And what can you tell us about The Clock Tower project? When will that become an Edition hotel?

Because they  (Marriot International, the owners of the Clock Tower, and with whom Mr. Schrager is a partner) are a public company, I don’t really like to talk about it very much. It’s really their show.

I am thinking that The Dakota, which was built around the same time – I think there was twenty year’s difference. I think The Clock Tower was built in 1909 and The Dakota was built in the 1880s, and so I am very much inspired and would use the Dakota as a point of departure.

Not Gothic, like the outside architecture of the Dakota, but more the inside, with the rich woods, and the proportions, and the way that all works on the inside. We would use that as a point of departure for The Clock Tower.

And what would you say would be the point of departure for PUBLIC New York?

It’s really been very much inspired by Apple and Steve Jobs and the way… every aspect of (the design) is important. The screw in the back of the computer is as important as the screw in the front, and it’s really bared down and simple and pure. When you look at it, everybody gets it, everybody understands it. That basic approach is a real influence on me. Also, the service that they offer in the Apple Stores. When you go in there, you really get the service you need to get in and get out really quickly.

They have that Genius Bar, and you don’t have to wait on line to pay. When I saw that, I asked myself ‘what kind of service is that? Is that luxury service?’ I came away saying ‘no, it’s just the service you need.’ So that was a real inspiration for me and kind of the great service we want to provide.

Also Trader Joe’s, the supermarket was a big inspiration, because it’s a combination of elite, sophisticated shoppers (standing) right alongside bargain hunters, all sharing the same experience shopping in the same store and cutting across all demographics. Both of those two had a tremendous impact on me for this brand.

Do you share a Steve Jobs’ fastidious obsession with glass?

Absolutely. Every single thing is a matter of life and death to me. Because you never really know what thing pushes it over the top. There’s no rulebook. You just try to sort of overwhelm the customer with the details. Not at a kind of superfluous kind of way, just don’t leave a stone unturned and try to make every single aspect – no matter how big, no matter how small – important, so that when it all comes together, there’s a certain alchemy that happens. Which is what happens with (Jobs’ products)… Walt Disney did it like that also, and both those guys have been incredible inspiration as me.

Do you use the same glassmaker as Apple?

Well, I would! I just can sort of empathize with him so much…You never really know what a person’s going to respond to. You just don’t know. Therefore everything becomes important, and to me everything is a matter of life and death.

Will you have any say in the design of the rentals?

No, I won’t.

What do you think the experience is going to be with two separate entities living in one building?

I think it’s going to be a “one plus one makes three” situation. I think that it’s really going to enhance the apartments, because you’re going to be able to provide hotel services and you’re going to be able to pick and choose what you want and when you want it.

You can have all the benefits of having a personal staff, but just pick and choose when you want it. I think it’s great for the (rental) apartments and I think some of the facilities that we’re doing for the apartment, the hotel guests will also be able to use. I think it just makes it better.

I’m very reluctant to talk about the residential. (Durst Fetner Residential) are the experts on that. The only thing I do know is that it will be first rate and of the highest quality and they’ll make every possible effort to make it special. If I didn’t feel that, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it.

What will be the going rate for a room? Will it be similar to what PUBLIC Chicago is charging (that hotel’s starting rates are at $135 a night)?

It’s affordable, but it’s for a new class of person. It’s for rich people and for people who are not so rich and young people and people who are older. Because I think value is going to be critically important going forward.

I don’t think it has anything to do with a bad economy. I just think people want value for their money, and I think if you can stay in a really, really cool place that gives you really, really great service, and you get everything you want and you can pay less than you would at some other hotel that gives you an array of services that you really don’t care about, why would you stay there?

Do you have any other hotels in the works?

We’re looking at a hotel in downtown (NYC) as well. We just won a bid for a hotel in London. And we’re looking to expand quickly. It’s the same strategy that I always had, and that is to go in to these 24 hour international gateway cities. It’s that same strategy, but not make the mistakes I made before by not having a brand. This time I want to do it with a brand.


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