Edition, the lifestyle hotel brand developed by Marriott International with design legend Ian Schrager, has opened in London to great fanfare. Janet Harmer and Amanda Afiya talk to the people who aim to keep the 173-bedroom property with the dynamic Berners Tavern at its heart at the forefront of the captital's hotel scene for many years to come. Photography by Adrian Franklin and Nikolas Koenig.
When the news broke that Ian Schrager and Marriott International were collaborating on a global, lifestyle hotel concept, the intake of breath was palpable. How would the renowned and fiercely independent Schrager, credited with creating the first boutique hotel with the launch of Morgans in New York nearly 30 years ago, possibly agree to work with the corporate behemoth that is Marriott, with more than 3,800 hotels in 72 countries across 18 brands?
Each partner brings something to the table that the other does not have. In the case of Schrager, he has the instinct to capture the spirit of the times to create a product that consumers are only just realising they want, while Marriott has the power and stretch to develop a brand on a major scale.
"Like any of my working or personal relationships, it can be challenging at times, but this one works," explains Schrager.
The London Edition is the second hotel now bearing the Edition label, joining the Istanbul property, which opened in 2011. Following â¨a rocky start for the brand when the original Edition, which launched in Hawaii in 2010, was retagged following a disagreement between Marriott and the owner, it appears that the brand is now set to grow apace. Future hotels have already been confirmed for Bangkok, Miami Beach, New York, China (three) and Mexico City. Paris is expected to be announced soon as the location of the second Edition in Europe, while Schrager hints there is room for a second Edition in London.
Globally recognised as probably the single most influential contributor to the rich and exciting variety of hotels in operation today, Schrager is as enthusiastic about the London Edition as he has been about every one of the previous 15 hotels he has launched.
The New York-born 67-year-old is thrilled that his vision has been realised. "We wanted to create a truly original, elevated experience for London, a sophisticated hotel with spectacular design, where you can enjoy delicious food and beverage, a great dancing club and, above all, the best service," he says, speaking the day after the opening. "No-one else does all these things together."
Returning to work in London for the first time in 15 years since launching the Sanderson and St Martins Lane hotels, Schrager has faced plenty of challenges in transforming what used to be the Berners hotel into the London Edition. Originally five conjoined Victorian houses, the building was first converted into a hotel in the early 20th century.
"Your immediate instinct upon walking into a building like this is to change everything, but as a grade II-listed property, we couldn't do that," explains Schrager. "So we had to enhance what was already here, while also looking forward and focusing on creating excellence."
Schrager's earlier work may have been all about creating a design statement rather than comfort - dark corridors and complex lighting being criticisms in the past. Today, though, he wants the guest to enjoy a space that is not only eye-catching but also fully functioning.
When you walk into the hotel lobby via a glass-walled vestibule, initial impressions are somewhat chaotic. There's a Donald Judd-inspired bar in blackened steel to one side and a black walnut communal table fitted with Apple desktop computers and outlets for personal laptop use on the other. Scattered in between are an antique billiard table, a deep leather sofa in khaki, and Salvador Dali-inspired floor lamps. Above, a giant custom-made Ingo Maurer silver sphere goes some way towards filling the imposing ceiling space.
There is no danger of anyone categorising the style of this space. "I would die if anyone said it was minimalist, modernist or Edwardian," Schrager says. "I wanted to throw unlikely things together and create an alchemy and a sparkle."
The guest bedrooms feature floors and walls panelled in dark walnut or light oak, giving the impression you are in a cosy cabin aboard a private yacht. With oatmeal-coloured George Smith lounge chairs and sofas, linen and silk drapery, and original artwork, the result is sophisticated yet simple. Following the same style, the loft-style penthouse, with its full kitchen, feels like a private apartment.
Back in the public spaces, the Punch Room, a cocktail bar with the look of a discreet 19th century private club, provides a total contrast to the funky basement night club - reminiscent of Studio 54, the legendary nightclub created by Schrager in New York in the 1970s.
The biggest buzz, though, is provided by Berners Tavern, where Schrager's intention was to create an edgy restaurant within the style of a traditional, aristocratic manor. Here the juxtaposition of the new and the old is evident throughout and particularly in the closely packed artwork, which features contemporary photography by Hendrik Kerstens within baroque-style gold frames.
The zinc-topped bar sitting in front of an illuminated, amber-backed display provides a focal point, while two giant chandeliers inspired by New York's Grand Central Station, help scale down the vast 5.5m-high ceiling.
"I think we've created a kind of organised chaos, which is totally original and already a big hit," says Schrager, who chose to work with Jason Atherton because he believes he is a great operator as well as a fabulous chef. In fact, he is so impressed with Atherton that he has already invited him to oversee the food and beverage in the New York Edition.
Creating a destination restaurant for each Edition is something that Schrager believes is essential to the success of the hotels. "We want our guests to eat with us because this is the place in the city where the locals also like to eat. There will be no need for them ever to ask the concierge for a restaurant recommendation, because the best place to go is right here."
Each Edition hotel will be unique, providing a subtle reference to the city in which it is located. "There won't be any clichés, though," says Schrager. "So don't expect to see any soldiers in funny black hats in London or the Empire State Building in New York."
Schrager is not the designer of the hotels - that role belongs to Yabu Pushelberg in London and others elsewhere. Instead he describes himself as the director of Edition, responsible for creating the concept, marketing, branding, food and beverage and entertainment, while Marriott leads the development process and manages each hotel.
Interestingly, the appearance is no longer the most important aspect of a luxury hotel today for Schrager. "It has got to be sophisticated, have exciting visuals and great food and beverage, but those things are nothing without the fundamentals of treating guests with dignity and grace," he says.
Does he believe he will leave a legacy? "I'd like to think I'd had an impact on hotels and changed the industry in some way, but ultimately my legacy is my children."
It was 17 months ago that David Taylor joined the London Edition as general manager after spending five and a half years in the same role at the Hoxton hotel in London's Shoreditch.
"While everyone has been involved for a considerable period in working towards the London opening, Marriott has spent 10 years on creating a visually striking lifestyle brand undepinned by the best service," says Taylor.
"Bill Marriott [executive chairman and son of the founder of Marriott International] didn't rush into anything because it was essential for the concept to have longevity. He approached Ian Schrager because he is the godfather when it comes to creating interesting hotel spaces, and looked to Marriott's own Ritz-Carlton â¨luxury brand for its service standards."
The commitment that Marriott has shown in creating Edition has been immense. It made an $800m investment to acquire the properties in London, Miami and New York so that it could establish the brand - a rarity in this world of asset-light, global hotel companies. Now that the London hotel is up and running and the other two developments are well under way, all three hotels are thought to be on the verge of being sold to sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
The positioning of Edition within the â¨London hotel market makes it clear that it will be competing with established lifestyle hotels such as One Aldwych, Sanderson, St Martins Lane, W and the Firmdale group properties, as well as the likes of Four Seasons and â¨Mandarin Oriental, which both pride themselves on exemplary service.
For Taylor, service at Edition is all about authenticity, with the staff, for instance, having the knowledge and enthusiasm to tell the story behind the ingredients being used to mix a drink in the oak-panelled Punch Room.
"Edition is an enchanting space and on top of that we are layering it with experiences and memories," explains Taylor.
Having received an astonishing 10,000 applications for jobs at the hotel, Taylor led a selection process which included inviting potential staff - via social media - to a number of open evenings, held at an art gallery. "We had 200 people in the room at a time for what was essentially a social event," he says.
"Members of the management team and corporate team from New York observed the interaction between the individuals and, after comparing notes, we invited for interview the ones who we felt would best fit the brand.
"It was more important that we employed super-engaged and friendly staff who are excited by what we are doing. We can teach someone to use Micros Fidelio [hotel management software] within 24 hours, but we can't teach them to be charming."
The current team of 250 is expected to grow as business levels increase. With Marriott's sophisticated distribution platform in place, occupancies of 75-80% are forecast in the next few months, with the £295 opening rate expected to rise quickly to around £350.
The opening of Berners Tavern, the 140-seat all-day dining restaurant at the heart of the London Edition, takes chef-restaurateur Atherton into another league as far as the capital's restaurant scene is concerned.
The Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social will remain the place where the 2012 Catey Chef Award-winner cooks, pushing the envelope gastronomically speaking. But Atherton has been catapulted into another world of hospitality with the scale and scope of the breathtaking dining room at Berners Tavern, where he has signed a 10-year lease, and his work there with Schrager.
Atherton says: "In our industry, we have visionaries and I sat next to one at the GQ Awards the other night - Oliver Peyton. What he did with Coast and Atlantic Bar & Grill â¨was genius and it's the exact same thing with Ian Schrager and hotels."
Out of sheer respect to Chris Corbin â¨and Jeremy King, Atherton reverts to the Wolseley in drawing comparisons for Berners Tavern.
"It's no secret that they are massive heroes of mine. With their Savile Row suits, they are quintessential British restaurateurs. I am extremely lucky to have opened nice restaurants and now have my own Savile Row suits, but I don't take it for granted. What got me here is sheer hard work," he says.
Coming up with a food offering to sit among such a stunning room would intimidate many a chef, but Atherton wasn't fazed. "When you get a dining room this jaw-dropping, you've got to underplay the menu."
Many all-day dining establishments may "stick to this and that", but Atherton says he doesn't want to do Wiener Schnitzel. "For me, it's how far can we push veal before it breaks, how far can the kitchen go? How is it going to stand up to 250 covers?"
Critical has been the integrity and provenance of the ingredients, he says, pointing to the main course of Creedy Carver duck, braised leg, caramel apples and turnips (£24.50). "While I've got to get the price point right, I'm not going to use anything other than the best in the country. In my opinion, it's the best duck in the world."
Such standards will, no doubt, put pressure on his GP, but Atherton dismisses any concerns. "Over the coming three months, the GP will get there. I'm not opening a restaurant just to make money, I'm opening a restaurant to create something great. Is the quality right and is the price right? I have to get that right first. How you make your margin is down to skill and common sense."
Atherton is passionate about satisfying his customers. He recalls an episode at Pollen Street Social, where he had to ask a TV personality to keep the noise down. A couple of days later he received a letter from a guest who had been sat at the table next to the celebrity, saying the noise had spoilt the first-year anniversary dinner he had been saving up for.
"This guy had saved for four months to come to Pollen Street. It broke my heart. It's unacceptable. So I rang him up, gave him a refund and said come back and we'll give you the full works. You're playing with â¨people's dreams, people's emotions, their memories."
In terms of hard work, there probably isn't any other British chef putting in more hours than Atherton. As most of us happily pop from any one of his four eateries in the capital to the next, it's easy to forget that this restaurateur is operating in London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. And there's more.
A jamon bar is scheduled for Hong Kong this December. Next year, he's looking to â¨open at the Dubai Marina (working title Marina Social) and he has plans for PMQ Social (the former Police Married Quarters) in Hollywood Road, Hong Kong, for a 70-cover restaurant, 80-cover bar and pastry shop â¨with award-winning executive pastry chef Andres Lara.
Then there's the Broadway, a new designer complex in Sydney, where he hopes to open in 2015, not to mention the suggestion of a second collaboration with Schrager and Marriott at the Edition in New York, casually thrown in by Schrager during our interview.
Oh yes, he's playing with the big boys now.
Central to the success of Berners Tavern is head chef Phil Carmichael. "My relationship with Phil is a bit like my relationship with Gordon Ramsay when I was at Maze," explains Atherton. "Phil is a die-hard chef, one of the old Maze brigade; in fact, he was the first chef I ever employed at Maze."
Cardiff-born Carmichael has worked for Atherton for 10 years. He spent three years at Maze in London's Grosvenor Square, as senior sous chef, before opening Maze Prague, which achieved a Michelin star within its first year. He then moved to Cape Town to open Maze at the luxury One&Only resort, leaving in October 2010.
A year's break then saw him return to the Atherton stable in November 2011, where he helped with the set-up and launch of Esquina tapas bar in Singapore and Little Social in Pollen Street.
Inspired by the design of the hotel, which celebrates Great Britain, Atherton and Carmichael have worked hard to deliver a menu that focuses on prime produce from throughout the land. Think braised Wye Valley leeks, Cornish crab salad, leek and potato vinaigrette and brioche crumb (£9.50), Blythburgh pork belly, hispi cabbage and apple 'coleslaw', caper and raisin (£19.50), and chocolate éclair, Devon vanilla cream, chocolate sorbet.
"We've had very positive feedback from the press so far, people are loving the simplicity of the food and the fact that we are concentrating on flavours and ingredients," says Carmichael. "And that's just the opening menu, obviously you start at a certain level and keep tweaking and tweaking.
Having opened many restaurants for Atherton before, Carmichael says the launch of Berners Tavern has been on a "different level". "The media scrutiny has been immense this time. It's London, so that makes it more intense for starters, but because of the interest in the hotel and it's Jason's first foray into all-day dining, the pressure is intense.