"I often compare putting a hotel together to old-time movie production," says André Balazs. "You come up with a story line, you hire the writer, the director, the stars, the set designer."
Indeed, the hotelier's propertiesfrom the Mercer in New York City to the Standard in downtown Los Angelesare more mise-en-scène than cookie-cutter hospitality. And rather than serving a larger brand image, each Balazs property tells a story about its unique history and place. The Standard hotel in Miami, for example, is a conversion of the old Lido Spa, complete with communal steam rooms. "We wanted to find a way to go back toward the Greek and Roman ideals of what a spa was," Balazs says. (Think Fellini's 81⁄2, not Vidal Sassoon.) Then there's the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. Balazs restored the Gothic castle but held back just enough to keep the boozy glamour from the days when Jim Morrison was caught swinging from rooftops. The hotel delivers luxury with an aura of mystery, a film-noir crash pad with fine linens.
Now Balazs, 50, is hoping for hits with new residential projects in Manhattan. The über-condo of the bunch is 40 Mercer, in SoHo. It was a parking lot. But rather than putting up a faux-cast-iron loft building to mimic the neighborhood, Balazs hired the French architect Jean Nouvel, who created a modern structure of glass and steel. The building is entirely sold out.
That should free up Balazs to focus on his next hotel, a Standard over the High Line in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. And in development: hotels in Chicago and London, and an eco-resort in Costa Rica.
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