How Ian Schrager invented the boutique hotel

Small, heavily designed, and service-focused hotels existed long before Ian Schrager came along, but it took this American impresario to popularize the "boutique" hotel as a phenomenon -- one associated with exclusivity, superstar designers and chefs, destination lobby-cum-lounges, and, above all, celebrity.

Little wonder that Schrager famously started out in the nightclub business. He and his pal Steve Rubell founded Studio 54, the notorious New York City nightclub of the late 70s and early 80s that drew everyone from Michael Jackson to Mick Jagger – and a whole lotta white powdery drugs. Then came a tax scandal and the club closed. The duo started another club, but their main focus soon became the Morgans Hotel, which they founded in 1984, along with a company of the same name.

Andree Putman, who designed the Morgans Hotel in 1984, also led the hotel's renovations in 2008. For the most part, she stuck to her minimalist guns, using lots of grays and beiges and mood lighting, plus a signature black-and-white checkerboard motif -- her nod to New York City taxicabs.

He then opened up the Royalton in New York.

Designed by powerhouse decorating duo Stephen Alesch and Robin Stadnefer of Roman and Williams, the Royalton achieves the kind of sultry mystique to which most boutiques only aspire.

Then the Hudson, also in New York.

The Hudson's novelty has worn off a bit after 10 years, but the Philippe Starck-designed public spaces remain striking. Note the enormous chandelier above the front desk.

Followed by the Delano in Miami.

The lobby, designed by Phillipe Starck and decorated with billowing white curtains, chairs, and objects by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames and Salvador Dali, can become a mob scene.

Then he ducked off to London to open some hotels, but returned to the States to open the Clift in San Francisco.

The cavernous lobby is dark and moody and selectively lit to highlight a collection of funky furniture whose designer roster is the hotel equivalent of name-dropping.

And the Mondrian.

In 2005, Schrager left Morgans to create the Ian Schrager Company. He teamed up with his friend, the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, to open the Gramercy Park Hotel (and its residential project next door, the recent subject of an amusing little lawsuit).

Designed by artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, the Gramercy Park's design is heavy on velvet, old-world goods -- like the matador's jacket in the lobby -- and world-class art.

With exception of the Gramercy, all of his hotels are now run by Morgans, with which Schrager parted ways several years ago. He hasn’t done much since 2008, when he announced that he was teaming up with Marriott to develop a new, 100-hotel boutique brand. With the economy slow to recover, Schrager may fall below the radar for a couple of years. But Schrager is an icon, an innovator, and an indefatigable creator of buzz -- and you can bet he hasn't built his last destination hotel lobby.

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