Ian Shrager is back in town. The man behind Studio 54 has returned to London 15 years after he introduced Sanderson and St Martin’s Lane hotels. On the same street in Fitzrovia as Sanderson comes The London Edition, the latest hotel from a brand he conceived in partnership with Marriott International. So what’s on offer this time? Redefining luxury is the quest of the moment. Charu Gandhi, former Head of Design at Morpheus Developments, speaks about delivering “liveable lux” for multimillion pound interiors. Mary Colston, talking at her Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool, says, “I avoid the word as everyone’s idea of luxury is different.” Ian reckons, “The definition has changed. We’d rather be known for service than anything else. To me, luxury is having no formula, being subversive to the status quo and unafraid to break the rules.” With a little help from New York hotel specialists Yabu Pushelberg.
“It’s a different reality,” is how Ian sums up The London Edition. A cubic glass vestibule – past immaculate staff – opens into a “new kind of gathering place”. “Lobby socialising” accompanies his “hotel as theatre” descant. Partying with a purpose. This is hotel lobby-meets-bar-meets-office-meets-meeting room. Times they are a-changing. Free state of the art wireless internet access is available throughout the hotel and in a corner of this cavernous space is a black walnut table fitted with Apple desktops and laptop outlets. Conference rooms, it transpires, are terribly passé. The grandeur of the Grade II interior former Berner Street Hotel is seriously sensational. A Belle Époque ceiling dripping in stucco, the icing on the architectural cake, competes with enough marble to make Enya burst into song.
Ian winks, “I do like an element of surprise!” In place of a chandelier dangles an outsized silver egg, a sculpture hatched by Ingo Maurer. Equally unexpected is the oak weatherboarding of the reception at the back of the lobby. A reproduction Louis XV Gobelins tapestry behind the rustic reception desk is one of many unexpected juxtapositions of scale, style, texture and period. But, thanks to the hotelier’s eye, they work. Portal, a three dimensional digital artwork by artist Chul Hyun Ahn heightens the high octane eclecticism. Beyond reception is The Punch Room, a clubby fumed oak panelled den dedicated to private partying and the odd game of billiards.
Off the lobby is Berners Tavern. Ian’s respect for genius loci continues. A salon hang of a whopping 185 pictures against a rich taupe backdrop rushes up past (plasterwork) scallops to a voluminous stuccoed cloud crescendo. Burnished and furnished with chestnut mohair banquettes and bleached oak tables, this interior ranks as the chef d’oeuvre of The London Edition. Ian’s penchant for theatricality elevates the kitchen to stage: sliding glass doors offer diners tantalising glimpses of what Executive Chef Jason Atherton’s team are bringing to the party.
More scallops (the edible kind) for starter come with cucumber, black radish and jalapeño on a bed of lime ice. Main is roasted stone bass, caramelised cauliflower, fennel and cockle velouté. Triple cooked chips and honey roast parsnips on the side. Dark chocolate with mint ice cream for pudding. Posh nosh. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Blenheim Palace Sparkling Natural Water. It’s amazing how easy it is to spend £260 on a lunch for two on a wintry afternoon. It’s 3pm and the restaurant is jammers. The lights dim, the music gets louder. The tables will be turned two or three times later, reveals the waitress. Food is served till midnight.
A marble staircase sweeps guests from the lobby, Sunset Boulevard style, to the 173 bedrooms. Upstairs the tempo not so much changes as grinds to a halt. Listen… sshh… silence. London’s busiest street may be a plumped up faux fur cushion’s throw away but the cacophony of shoppers goes unheard. Ian also separates the frenetic public areas from sleeping quarters, both physically and acoustically. A sound insulated internal envelope inserted into the basement lets clubbers dance the night away unfettered. Hotels tend to bring out the kleptomaniac in even the most morally incorruptible (if it’s not alarmed, it’s for taking) but clients are actively encouraged to pilfer the branded glasses in the club. Good for marketing, apparently. Getting distracted, back to the bedrooms.
Yacht cabins are the inspiration – Ian likes holidaying on boats. From the smallest 22 square metre room to the sprawling 195 square metre penthouse with its terrace tucked between Mary Poppins chimneypots, all are cocooned in either dark walnut or light oak panelling. A “no colour colour palette” is part of Ian’s understated “anti design” agenda for the bedrooms. “It’s an effort to make people feel good rather than the place look good. It’s a compilation of unlikely pieces, designs, finishes and details put together in a way where alchemy happens.” Traditional tufted slipper chairs by George Smith sit below gilt framed Old Masters. Hang on, they’re anything but. This is, after all, Ian Shrager at work. The ‘Masters’ are new – painterly poses remastered by photographer Hendrik Kerstens. Upon close inspection, his daughter Paula transmogrifies from a Vermeer sitter to a contemporary girl wearing tinfoil on her head. Off each bedroom, subway tiled bathrooms feature enclosed rainforest showers.
The last word – double entendre intended – belongs to Ian Shrager. “Since we invented the boutique hotel everything has become monotonously similar. There is always room for something really unique and original. Always! The London Edition is the next generation of lifestyle hotel, one that has incredibly exciting visuals; great, friendly, attractive and personalised service; exciting food and beverage concepts; and a unique vibe. There is simply nothing else like it currently in the marketplace. We tried to capture the details of life in the details of the architecture.”