Yabu Pushelberg on Ian Schrager
George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg are, naturally, the creative duo behind the design studio Yabu Pushelberg, an award-winning international team that have crafted interiors for the likes of the Four Seasons, the St. Regis Hotel, and fashionable retailers like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys.
But it wasn’t their well-established independent sphere of design work I talked to them about, rather their long-term collaboration with hotelier Ian Schrager. Their latest project with Schrager is the Edition series of hotels, launched with the Mariott Group and expanding across the globe. Yabu Pushelberg designed the inaugural Waikiki incarnation of these “lifestyle” concept hotels, and are currently working on the Miami branch, but the London Edition is the next set to open, in September in the former Berners Hotel close to Oxford Street. It also bears their design imprimatur,
I’ve profiled Ian Schrager for today’s Independent Magazine, but here is a Q&A with the design duo discussing their relationship with Ian Schrager – man and myth – that’s a neat companion piece.
Can you remember when you first became aware of Ian Schrager?
Glenn Pushelberg: We were young- just out of design school, it was the late seventies and it was all about Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell’s Studio 54. We flew down to NYC from Toronto, with our wildest, most planned out night club outfits in tow. We were very strategic in how we would get into the club- so instead of joining the gaggle of people in line at the door- our plan was to walk down the middle of the street in our crazy outfits and get noticed by the finicky door man and get invited in. It worked. The club was everything people remember it to be. It had an incredible vibe- we ended up staying until the bitter end with George falling asleep on the speakers. That was our first Ian Schrager experience.
How did you first meet him?
Glenn Pushelberg: Because of the success of Studio 54, we were fascinated by him. One year, coincidentally, we were staying at the Royalton Hotel- before its Schrager/Starck transformation – and a mutual friend who was a consultant to developers, introduced us to Ian and we had lunch with him. It was around 1994- right before he opened the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach. During our lunch he proclaimed that Miami Beach was going to be a hot spot that would attract jet-setters and wealthy sun seeking North Easterners. I remember thinking “Miami Beach?” of all places. He forecast the success of Miami and Miami Beach – and we realised that he truly was the Zeitgeist of where the world was going…
George Yabu: Years later, Ian and his right hand woman, Anda Andrei came for a visit to our studio. They came to tire-kick and suss us out; to find out if we had what it takes to work on a project of his. They didn’t bite at that time.
I read that he approached you in 2000 to collaborate on the renovation of The Shore Club, and then later on The Royalton, neither of which you were able to work on. How long was it between your initial meeting and the first project you worked on together?
George Yabu: Fast-forward five years from his studio visit, he came back again and asked us to renovate The Royalton Hotel. He still owned it at that time. We immediately told him that he shouldn’t gut the hotel that was originally designed by Philippe Stark. Instead, we intentionally talked ourselves out of the project by telling him that he should lovingly restore and freshen it up cosmetically because if he holds into it, it will become a hotel classic like for example, The Beverly Hills Hotel; albeit a touch more quirky. We asked ourselves, we can’t out do Starck and why would we want to? Forfeiting this opportunity, we were holding out for a bigger prize.
As for the Shore Club, what Ian wanted from us was a light renovation. A, paint-and-textiles-makeover which wasn’t delicious enough for us to sink our teeth into; despite the fact that being associated with him would shine a bit of sparkle on us. However in thinking back, that would have only helped our careers!
Could you tell me a little about idea behind Edition hotels, and your role in the project?
George Yabu: Interestingly, the Editions moniker had many blank pages that we could fill. There was no precedent, other than the desire of the owners and Marriott to be have a hipper and newer offering in the world of hospitality. Essentially, a potent competitor to W hotels which ironically, had a mandate to expand upon Ian’s concept of the then nascent and now derided term, “boutique hotel.”
How long has the project been in development?
George Yabu: Edition London has been about two years in the making.
Given the scale of the project and the number of hotels, how challenging do you find it as designers to create something fresh for each location that still has an Edition handwriting?
George Yabu: We always begin a project with a story; composing both a visual and written narrative. By doing so, we establish things like “who” or “what” kind of character would desire to stay at this hotel. A fictional guest profile(s) per se. To develop this we question ourselves: what is this fictional guest’s line of work and what do they enjoy doing in their spare time? We also pick up clues on the hotel’s geographic place. In the case of The London Edition, we questioned things such as, “is there any historic precedent to respect and exalt?” and how will local Londoners interact with the hotel? From there, we begin to develop the overall concept, but staying cognizant of the regional characteristics that end up giving the hotel a unique voice, yet with a consistent Edition brand message.
What do you find exciting about working with Ian? And are there any challenges?
George Yabu: I like the fact that we can be challenged by putting something out there, an idea that we like or really want to make some waves with, while respecting the desires and aspirations of the guests who will stay in one of Ian’s establishments. Simultaneously, he would ask a question that inspires us to ask ourselves, “what if?” Like, what if we did this instead?
Glenn Pushelberg: We can always bounce ideas off of him- sometimes they grow, are further developed, or are thrown out- but at the end of the process, the results always become great ideas that end of benefitting the project in many ways.
Could you tell me a little about the interiors for Edition London. How did the ideas evolve?
George Yabu: The public areas have been strongly restored and within the interior spaces, we’ve inserted some interventions of modern furniture and finishes, along with a few compelling pieces of art. The mandate for the guest rooms are essentially about “going against the grain” and against what is conventional. They are a soupçon of unconventional. For example, we chose to go with an almost all-wood interior. We intended for the design to give the guests a sense of reward. We want them to feel rewarded for staying at this hotel, by creating a unique atmosphere and aesthetic experience that gives them a sense of belonging and satisfaction.
What is Ian like to work with?
Glenn Pushelberg: Having worked with Ian on the first Edition (Waikiki), and then collaborating with him on Public and now a few more Edition properties, we genuinely respect him and understand him. What’s great about Ian is that he is constantly challenging us, and we are challenging him back. Because he lives and breathes hospitality- his ideas are endless and sometimes this results in starting from scratch because he feels strongly about an idea. We will materialise his idea and then he edits it even further. Evidently however, our back-and-forth collaborative efforts result in some amazing designs. We understand each other. He gets us and trusts us, and vice versa.
George Yabu: Challenging in ways that are often good and sometimes maddening. Ian should read this as a testament to his brilliance and his singular desire to stand out; to reinforce his title of master creator of the world’s – if not best – the most unique and most talked about, homes away from homes. Great client – he always challenges you – he thinks about the process 24-7 benefits.
Best hotel, best results.
More information at yabupushelberg.com
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