The Closing: Ian Schrager

Ian Schrager <em>(photo by Marc Scrivo)</em>
Ian Schrager (photo by Marc Scrivo)

Ian Schrager is chairman and CEO of Ian Schrager Company, a hotel and real estate development firm established in 2005. Prior to establishing the company, Schrager was at Morgans Hotel Group, which he cofounded in 1984 with the late Steve Rubell, with whom he created the legendary nightclub, Studio 54, in 1977. Schrager’s more high-profile New York projects include the 2006 redesign of the Gramercy Park Hotel as well as residential properties such as 40 Bond and the Gramercy Park Hotel’s 50 Gramercy Park North condos. Schrager is also famous for pioneering the boutique hotel concept, but the hotelier is now moving into more value-oriented hospitality. His mid-priced Public hotel chain, which launched its first location in Chicago (the only hotel he owns), is set to open another location in New York’s Herald Square by 2014. It is being developed by Durst Fetner Residential. Schrager is also working with Marriott to bring his Edition hotel chain to the Madison Square Park Clock Tower.

What is your full name?
Ian Schrager.

What is your date of birth?

Where’d you grow up?
In East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Do you still live in the 8,500-square-foot penthouse at 40 Bond?

Do you have any other homes?
In Southampton.

How many kids do you have?
I have two kids from a former marriage. My wife has two kids, and we have a one-year-old baby son. His name is Louis. He’s named after my father.

How’d you and your wife [of three years, Tania Wahlstedt] meet?
She used to dance with the New York City Ballet. I knew her because my first wife also danced with the ballet. For some strange reason, I have a preference for ballerinas.

What were you like as a kid?
Very active, obsessed with basketball — the way I became obsessed with business — and very competitive. I played guard. I had a bunch of scholarship offers, but my father wanted me to concentrate on my studies, so I didn’t play in college.

Describe your personality back then.
I was always kinda passionate and competitive, but also very shy. And it’s still the same. … I can get up and talk about my work in front of a million people, no problem, but when I go to a cocktail party, I’ll hold onto my wife’s hand and gravitate toward the corner. Funny.

How’d you first get into the nightclub business?
I was a practicing lawyer for a couple of years. I didn’t really like it. I happened to be Steve Rubell’s lawyer at the time.

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Is that how you two met?
Actually, we met in college [at Syracuse University].

Didn’t you date a woman at the same time as him?
He was a few years older. He was dating her and then I got up to school and I started dating her while he was dating her. We weren’t friends at that point. [But] I think it’s the way that we dealt with each other through that process that made us become friends.

What was your favorite celebrity sighting at Studio 54?
[Legendary pianist] Vladimir Horowitz because he was such an unlikely person to be there. He came to watch with earplugs in.

Crate & Barrel named a sofa “Ian” in your honor and you sued them. Why?
Because they didn’t even have the courtesy to ask. They kinda have this attitude that they can do whatever they want to do. They had to withdraw the name. If they would’ve asked I probably would’ve said no … but they just went and did it and then they had the nerve to tell me that it had nothing to do with me — even though the [store merchandise] buyer said it was inspired by Ian Schrager.

What’s your favorite hotel to stay in?
It’s really only my hotels that I like 100 percent.

Do you think some of the W hotels in New York City are similar to yours?
No. To me, the Ws have no ethos, no originality, no vision. They’re replications of what they see. It’s like between Coca-Cola and Royal Crown Cola. … My customers don’t go to the W. It’s not their cup of tea.

What’s your biggest pet peeve with hotels today?
I think I’m kind of bored with this over-the-top design with no reason for it, no vision for it. It’s not authentic.

Do you think you’re compromising your hip, sleek, cool brand by partnering with the Marriott?
No, not at all. I’m a consultant to Marriott. It’s my own private label.

You’ve moved into the value-oriented hotels sector with Public. Why?
It’ll have a bigger impact on the industry than the boutiques had. … They’re value-oriented hotels with great service and style. That’s the new twist. I got the idea from an Apple store. When I went in there, with the Genius Bars and the way everything is so [much] like a cult, where you get great service by their brand ambassadors, I came out thinking, ‘Is that luxury service, or what is that? It’s essential.’ Everything you needed they gave you … [without the] array of services nobody really cares about.

In 1979, you and Rubell pleaded guilty to income tax evasion at Studio 54 and served nearly two years in prison. What did you take away from that?
It was unreported $400,000 in gross income. I guess I must’ve been thinking the rules didn’t apply to me. It didn’t take away my enthusiasm or passion for life, but I came out of it knowing that I had to play by the rules that everyone else does. … We lost everything. We had nothing. [But] we were able to come back and pick ourselves up off the floor and dust ourselves off.