Advertising Age | March 6, 2006
URBAN LIVING REDUXBy Jennifer Rooney
Ian Schrager's name is synonymous with groundbreaking
design. Chairman-CEO of the Ian Schrager Co., his career
dates to the 1970s, when he founded New York nightclubs
Studio 54 and Palladium with business partner Steve Rubell.
In the 1980s, he introduced the boutique-hotel concept. Now
he's transforming New York's Gramercy Park Hotel, and his
most ambitious initiative to date is 40 Bond, a residential-
living project in downtown Manhattan that will showcase the
talents of Swiss architects Herzog &de Meuron and, in his
words, "change the way people view living in the city."
40 Bond, in New York’s
Noho district, is
scheduled to open in
spring 2007. The project
reinvents the area’s
buildings. “By taking
advantage of modern
materials and technology,
we were able to create a
modern building rather
than a retro one,” while still
paying homage to the
says. “I feel the same
opportunity with the way
people live as the
opportunity I saw in hotels
and nightclubs,” he says.
“To break new ground and
change the way people
view city living—that really
turns me on.”
How would you define your
design philosophy as it relates
to marketing and business?
They are absolutely inseparable, and
[design is] an essential part as
consumers get more sophisticated. It
is the best way to distinguish a
product. In terms of my own design
philosophy, I never accept the status
quo, and I'm relentless in that I keep
trying to stretch the envelope,
because I think that excites people,
and it's just good business.
Big business is just finally realizing
that good design sells.
At its best, what power does
design offer to sell products
It is the visceral thing that makes us
buy something. It helps make that
emotional connection with the
product. You don't have anything if
you don't have that connection.
It's why people wait on line to buy
Nike sneakers that are four to five
times more expensive than other
sneakers. If it's something that has
great design and has emotional
impact, you may not know you need
it, but you'll still want to buy it.
Do you think all products and
services-even the most mun-
dane can benefit from good
[Author] Paolo Antonelli just put out a
book ["Humble Masterpieces:
Everyday Marvels of Design" that
looks at the design of zippers, Post-it
Notes, thumbtacks, etc.]. There's a
whole book on it. Just because it may
have no frills and be [somewhat
mundane, it doesn't mean it can't
benefit from good design]. Someone
came up for a good design for T-shirts;
we take it for granted, but someone
designed those. And at one time it was
considered innovative design.
To what extent, in what ways
and at what stage do you factor
in the needs and desires of the
consumer, your guests and
buyers, when designing your
When I work with a good designer or
a good architect, we aren't talking
about colors or fabrics, we are trying
to tap into the consumer consciousness.
We're really more social scientists than
designers. It starts with that--what the
people want, what they need and what
they respond to. Sometimes people
don't know what they need, and you
have to lead them to it. The whole
important part of the design is figuring
out what people will respond to.
You've effectively broken with
industry convention with each
new endeavor. How have you
been able to develop pioneer-
ing innovations that attract, and
not alienate, the projects' target
Even with the originality, it's a
balancing act. If it's too before-its-
time, people won't respond to it. But
it's the danger of that, the danger of
toppling over, that enriches the
product and makes the product really
something great. You've got to
challenge people, but not too much.
It's a balancing act that you can't
resolve in focus groups, in marketing
meetings; you really have to rely
on intuition and instinct.
Tell me about 40 Bond. What
are your goals for it and in what
ways will it break with industry
convention-and how will it diff-
er from your past projects?
It's the most ambitious project I'm
working on now. I think we work with
really great architects. The whole
idea was predicated on doing
something "downtown New York"
and capturing the edginess of it.
It was conceived with having
sophisticated layouts, rethinking the
way people live and coming up with a
new way to reflect the way modern
people live, and the vehicle for doing
it was design. And when I say design, I
don't mean only the color. I mean
conceptualizing the way a place
moves and breathes.
What lesson about design from
your early Studio 54 days have
you carried with you and apply
to your projects today?
Starting out in the nightclub business
gave me a leg up because that's more
about the design than anything—
because you have no product. In the
end you have nothing but the
atmosphere you're creating, the
magic you're trying to create, and the
only tool you have to do that is the
design of the space.
What one truth must marketers
understand about design? How can it help their business?
You have to market something with
integrity. The design has to be done
with integrity. The focus has to be on
quality, not on making money first,
because that's a perversion of the
process. If you market with integrity
that's commensurate with the
integrity of the product, all of the
other economic motivations fall into
place and take care of themselves.