The secret of Schrager's success: treating all his guests like stars

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The Independent US

Ian Schrager took the lessons he learnt from running the legendary Studio 54 nightclub and applied them to hotels.

Ian Schrager took the lessons he learnt from running the legendary Studio 54 nightclub and applied them to hotels.

He saw how people wanted to rub shoulders with celebrities, liked to make grand entrances and were impressed by the air of exclusivity. He also realised that there was a generation of people that simply wasn't catered for by the hotel trade: guests who didn't give a hoot about trouser presses or rooms draped in chintz. Schrager answered their call.

In the late Eighties I made my first visit to his Paramount hotel off Times Square in Manhattan. The cab pulled up at an anonymous grey door. A man dressed in a neat black suit, and looking as though he should be on the cover of GQ, opened the car door. This was a bell-hop, Schrager style.

Past the tinted door and you were suddenly in a dramatic, cavernous lobby with a galleried restaurant, from which star-spotting diners could survey arriving guests. You just knew you were at one of New York's hottest addresses.

Like so much else connected with Schrager it was, in part, an illusion.

In those years the area off Times Square was bleak. I never saw a famous face. And there were the bedrooms - not much larger than rabbit hutches. But the staff knew the best clubs, the magazine store sold cult fashion titles and the rooms did have cute Philippe Starck stainless-steel bathrooms, headboards made to look like Vermeer paintings and stylish stationery for you to pinch. The extensive adult video list even included lesbian and gay selections. The message was clear: this was a hotel for a new generation of liberal-minded aesthetes.

At the Delano in Miami he pulled the same tricks, opening slightly away from what was perceived as the heart of the action. Once more, the all-white lobby was like a brilliant theatre with its giant drapes billowing in the wind. The rooms, designed as always by Starck, were also pure white - from the sheets to the potted orchids.

You woke up thinking you must be in hospital - an impression not helped by the fact that the only spot of colour was a single green apple placed on a ledge inscribed: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

In London the formula has been repeated at both the Sanderson and St Martins: low-key facades, celebrity bashes to establish hip credentials, and good-looking staff. You'll pay from about £200 a night. And even when the trendsetters are tempted to move on, Schrager is adept at maintaining a buzz around his ventures. The key to this is the restaurants. Schrager ensures that his hotels are hip places to be seen and appeal to residents, not just transient guests.

And his hotels have another seductive feature. Throughout the year you receive postcards asking you to visit, gifts celebrating new launches - even a card at Christmas. You are made to feel you belong to an exclusive club. I wonder how many he sends?