A conversation with Ian Schrager about simplicity, luxury and the Tampa EDITION
Creating a brand, or a hotel, that simply stands out in an overstimulated society is no easy task. So in 2021, as we wake up from the status quo, can we stop doing too much? According to Ian Schrager, we most certainly can. In fact, it can even be simple. Not to perform, but in its essence. A chance to awaken a world where simplicity doesn’t seem so complicated. Where luxury, comfort and quality are all ideas that arise from editing excess to give strength to what you create. As with writing and design, it may have always been as easy as good editing. In honor of my conversation with Ian Schrager, I’ll keep this introduction short and simple. Because let’s face it, the hospitality icon behind Studio 54, EDITION Hotels and many others, hardly needs to be presented. And if you’re not already familiar with his innovative yet timeless design and approach, I’ll let it say the best as we discuss the upcoming opening of his latest project, The Tampa EDITION.
Natalie Stoclet: How do you find a suitable hotel concept in Tampa?
Ian Schrager: A hotel is supposed to demonstrate where it is, what time it is and the people who live there. This is the only criteria I have. I have to balance this with my own standards and aesthetics. I have to reflect the city’s culture and way of life, but not through clichés. If I’m setting up a hotel in London, I don’t need to have Big Ben statues for sale in the gift shop. I have to reflect the culture in a subtle way. In Tampa, we can’t have a restaurant with heavy food because people aren’t going to eat it! Tampa is a sunny city on the water and we have to get this. The finishes and details are consistent with the environment, they are very pristine. It’s a subtlety that we try to encapsulate in the design. It’s DNA and vibration, not something literal. This is how we do it and luckily we have never missed it.
NS: What is the spirit of Tampa as a city? What do you think makes her special?
IS: Tampa is a city that really makes sense. It doesn’t take long for me to put my arms around a place. In fact, it can only take me a few days. I enjoy everything while walking or cycling. It is the nature of what I do to understand the DNA of a city. And I can say that people love to live in Tampa. It’s a good quality of life. There is a great food scene. Compared to New York, if you are in a car and the light turns green, a taxi driver behind you will certainly honk its horn, that does not happen here. That tells me a lot. He doesn’t have the intensity or hostility of New York. It’s a city in the sun, but it’s not just a vacation spot. It is a real city, alive and breathing. This is what I think is so special about it.
NS: What was the first step in your design process for The Tampa EDITION?
IS: We design the rooms first. Because the rooms are tough. There is no tolerance for mistakes. If you’re designing a bathroom and a woman can’t do her makeup because the lighting isn’t right, or a man bumps his elbow into something while shaving, that doesn’t is not good. This is the opposite of the usual hotel design, we have a different approach. In what we do, we are very product oriented. Even obsessed with the product. In most of the big hotel companies, they think of the execution, the loyalty program, the points, the reservation system. If you have a good product, this tip doesn’t matter. You can’t fool people when it comes to products, they always know it. What we do, and what others like me do, creates a distinct product and a high experience. You have to offer something fun and unique, everything else takes care of itself.
NS: Nothing bothers me more than poor lighting in a bathroom or a locker room.
IS: Exactly! The lighting in the hotel is really sophisticated. It’s luxury for me. Pure luxury.
NS: What does modern luxury mean to you and to EDITION Hotels today, and how do you see it evolving?
IS: Luxury changes every day. Everything in life changes, it is probably the only constant law of life. I don’t think luxury is a commercial classification. I don’t think you have to be rich to enjoy luxury. I think luxury is about humanity and state of mind, and how you feel. Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel taken care of? Do you feel protected? For me it is luxury. It is the feeling you get when you walk into a friend or family’s house and they take care of you. It is for me an authentic luxury. Today, we must withdraw the claim. Luxury must be accessible to all who want it. This is what makes it modern. The trivialization of luxury. You make it accessible to people. I think this is a very important idea.
NS: What is the relationship between simplicity and luxury?
IS: Leonardo da Vinci said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. I think luxury and simplicity are absolutely synonymous. I think anything pretentious, artificial or free, lacks luxury. They are trying too hard. In fact, you can’t access luxury if it isn’t simple. It’s the yin and yang of it all. Simple isn’t just better, it’s best. Simplicity puts you at ease. It’s like what you do as a writer. It is more difficult to write a short, precise and concise piece than it is to write a long, disjointed piece. It’s like that. Reduce everything to its essence, not minimalism, but simple.
NS: The hardest part of writing is editing. There is so much you want to share and everything seems important to you, but when you introduce it to someone, they get overwhelmed and you don’t understand the essence of what you are saying.
IS: Do you know what it is? When you have a lot of words, when you have a lot of design, it obscures the strength of what you’ve done. He doesn’t come out. I truly believe that simplicity is always strength and power.
NS: What’s your favorite design element in The Tampa EDITION?
IS: It’s like asking myself which of my kids I like best. It’s hard. It’s all a matter of life and death for me. We go over every detail until it feels right. I love public spaces, they are very exciting and beautiful. I like the rooms because they work well. I love our gardening and landscaping, which we really have to be good at in a place like Tampa. What I love most is that when you put all of these things together, the chemistry begins. It is more than the sum of the individual parts. This is when you create a very special place.
NS: What is the art of combining residences and hotel rooms in the same building?
IS: What’s funny is that when I create a hotel, it’s my personality in the room. It’s my aesthetic, and people kind of have to buy into it. When I create an apartment, I have to provide a canvas, a sophisticated envelope that will take on the personality of the people who will live there. It is almost exactly the opposite goal. Having an apartment and living above or next to a hotel is the best, the best way to live. It is effortless. You can call downstairs to bring up food, to fix the dishwasher, to put a hot water bottle in your bed at night when you come home from vacation, it’s just the perfect way of life. You have all the perks of ownership, all the privacy of ownership, but you also have all the entertainment, outlets, and amenities that a hotel offers right at your fingertips. I think it is the most desired way of life and the future way of life because it does not complicate your life. Life is so fast now and so complicated. It is an antidote to it. You can go home and it can be a refuge. I think you are going to see it become much more prevalent in the years to come.
NS: Where you once went in your neighborhood to go to a spa, gym or pool, now you can do it all in one building. How does this create integration with an existing community?
IS: The idea is that you can go to The Tampa EDITION and get a feel for what Tampa is like. It’s a microcosm of Tampa, the best the city has to offer in one hotel. Of course, people will be leaving the building at some point. The idea is that you can come here and leave feeling like you have an authentic view of Tampa.
NS: The Tampa EDITION is located in Tampa Water Street, the world’s first WELL-certified community. Has it changed the way you approach the design process?
IS: No. I don’t think a good architect is going to design a new building that doesn’t have this certification. It’s morally responsible, and good architects always will. I don’t even see WELL certification as a marketing opportunity, I see it as a requirement. You must have this.
NS: What do you think people are wrong about designing the hotel industry today?
IS: They are doing too much. A lot of people don’t have a vision, they reproduce what they see, but maybe they do it in a different color. You have to have a vision for something, a passion for something, you have to have an idea. If you don’t have it, you can’t remove it. You can try to do something derivative, but it’s not the same, because sophisticated people, knowledgeable people will make a difference.
NS: What are your hopes for The Tampa EDITION in the future?
IS: I hope the public spaces are full and that there are no rooms available. But I hope the spaces are filled not only by the people who visit the hotel, but also by the people who live in Tampa. It must be a gathering place, a center of activity. I hope it will have been adopted by the people of Tampa as their own. Hopefully, we can keep hosting Super Bowl victory parties over the next few years. And I hope to see you there when it’s open!