DANC­ING KING

Ian Schrager, co–founder of leg­endary Stu­dio 54, looks back.

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view CA­ROLE SABAS Photographs RON GALELLA

—Over 35 years after its starry, starry nights, Stu­dio 54 re­mains, in the minds of many, a night owls’ pan­theon–cum–Dionysian cult. Opened on 26th April 1977 by a cou­ple of en­ter­pris­ing friends in Brook­lyn, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the 54th Street night­club is one of those ur­ban leg­ends peo­ple who knew it still talk about with in­cred­u­lous grins. For 33 months, the for­mer CBS tele­vi­sion stu­dio con­verted into a deci­bel–pound­ing fac­tory made the head­lines of the morn­ing dailies. The New York elite throng­ing at its door her­alded in an age of mon­eyed chic. Which star was it who made off with one of the bus­boys wear­ing only skimpy gym shorts for a pri­vate post–club party in his Fleet­wood limo? Who was it that left a Hal­ston purse full of Quaaludes on the sofa in the women’s toi­lets? Ev­ery night added an episode to a re­al­ity–TV se­ries be­fore its time, star­ring the likes of Mick Jag­ger, Cher, Andy Warhol, Jackie O, Valentino, Far­rah Fawcett, Calvin Klein, Ryan O’Neal, Liza Min­nelli, and Michael Jack­son, the only teenager al­lowed to play with the DJ’s sound and light ef­fects.

Sim­ply be­ing in the same room as th­ese stars was suf­fi­cient to turn the heads of New Jersey’s well–heeled young elite, care­fully picked out from the crowd of wan­abees by Steve Rubell perched on his stool out­side in the street. The voices of Glo­ria Gaynor, Ste­vie Won­der and Grace Jones boom­ing out from two huge speak­ers made the floor vi­brate. Fren­zied laser beams swept over the dance floor and the darker cor­ners con­verted into al­coves for flirt­ing, and more. The idea, as Ian Schrager ex­plains to­day, was to bom­bard all the senses, per­ma­nently. It was like a theme park for adults. De­pend­ing on the evening, the venue could be in­vaded by an army of Hells An­gels on scream­ing Har­leys, made to look like Beijing with guests on palan­quins (,Mr Chow’s birth­day in 1977,), trans­formed into a gi­ant rose gar­den (,St Valen­tine’s Day 1978,), drowned in four inches of glitter (,New Year’s Eve 1977,) or un­der a trailer of pop corn (,1978 Os­cars,). Watch­ing Gen­eral Moshe Dayan, the Six–Day–War hero, with his patch over his eye, chat­ting up Gina Lol­lo­b­rigida, was enough to cre­ate a buzz. In­ter­viewed one evening by The New York Times, live from the mez­za­nine bal­cony, Tru­man Capote dressed in leather from head to toe, ex­plained what was so ex­cep­tional about the dance floor be­low: “This is the night­club of the fu­ture. It’s very demo­cratic. Boys with boys, girls with girls, girls with boys, blacks and whites, cap­i­tal­ists and Marx­ists, Chi­nese and ev­ery­thing else — all one big mix!”

The party was ex­plo­sive, phe­nom­e­nal and,… short–lived! What was it that pushed it over the edge? The dé­cor in the shape of a moon snort­ing a spoon­ful of white pow­der? Or Steve Rubell’s pub­lic state­ment that “only the Mafia makes more money than we do”?

On 14th De­cem­ber 1978, 30 Feds car­ried out a sur­prise raid, grab­bing rub­bish bags full of ban­knotes, and ac­count ledgers al­legedly hid­den in a false ceil­ing. Two years later, both men re­ceived a three–and–a–half–year prison sen­tence for tax eva­sion, ul­ti­mately re­duced to 13 months. Just after the open­ing of a third–floor ad­di­tion to the venue — the home of ev­ery ex­cess un­der the sun. On 4th Fe­bru­ary 1980 Liza Min­nelli belted out her torch song, “New York, New York”, at the two Icar­ian founders’ farewell bash.

Steve Rubell died in 1989. Ian Schrager, mean­while, went into the lux­ury–ho­tel business and joined forces with the Mar­riott group. He now plans to open over 100 ho­tels all over the world un­der the Edi­tion brand name. At the same time, he has launched his own chain of ho­tels, Pub­lic. His watch­word: no com­pro­mise. And be­cause he con­tin­ues to think that a good trance is the se­cret of a suc­cess­ful night out, most of th­ese ho­tels will have their own dance–floor. Tai­lor–made for the re­ally se­ri­ous par­ty­go­ers.

You are work­ing on a book about Stu­dio 54, to be pub­lished VOGUE HOMMES by Riz­zoli in 2015. What is your main mo­ti­va­tion? There are al­ready so many doc­u­ments, books, films, web­sites on the sub­ject.

That’s true. And I’m so not a nos­tal­gic pe­rIAN SCHRAGER son! But Berry Gordy, [!founder of!] the Mo­town la­bel, once said that “If the hunter doesn’t tell the story, the lion will.” I want to set the record straight. We are do­ing two books, ac­tu­ally. A beau­ti­ful–images book, to at­tempt to con­vey the en­ergy, the vibes and the feel­ing of this very spe­cial place. Only pho­tos with a few cap­tions and de­scrip­tions to ex­plain the con­text. And also a mem­oir. I am in­ter­ested in putting into per­spec­tive what hap­pened.

The de­fin­i­tive book on the dis­co­ma­nia age? VH

Well, ac­tu­ally, Stu­dio 54 was not so much about disco.

IS It was the 70s. A cross­roads of all the cur­rents that were hap­pen­ing at the same time. The so­cial con­text cre­ated Stu­dio 54. There were tremen­dous changes go­ing on. The birth–con­trol pill had fully made its way into the every­day life. Europe — and the rest of the US — were tilt­ing over, and every­body was rolling into New York. It was the emer­gence of the gay scene, which was start­ing to set the cul­tural stan­dard, tak­ing the ba­ton up from the Black peo­ple, who had set it be­fore them. Stu­dio 54 was in the mid­dle. A so­cial cor­ner. Things don’t hap­pen in a vac­uum.

It ex­plains why ob­servers al­ways men­tion the per­fect mix in the crowd VH to ex­plain its suc­cess. Your cast­ing–like se­lec­tion at the en­trance is part of the legend. Yes, but Stu­dio 54 was not an elit­ist club.

IS You re­ally think so? Look­ist, at least. VH

Steve ex­er­cised the same dis­cre­tion you ex­er­cise for

IS a din­ner party at your home. You sit some­one out­go­ing near some­one who is not, to en­sure you have a pleas­ant din­ner with good con­ver­sa­tion. So yes, it’s not po­lit­i­cally cor­rect to do that in a pub­lic form. But it was not about the looks. It was about the vibes, about the spir­its you can pick up from some­one. We wanted to cre­ate a space where women were not both­ered by men, a per­fect set for fes­tiv­i­ties, for light­ness and ex­cite­ment. Some­thing al­chemic be­tween all kind of dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Mak­ing good evenings while mak­ing good business. Clearly, to­day, I will let in all the bankers (&laughs&). But to­day would re­quire another sort of place. I’ll let some­one else do it. But you are in the process of set­ting up night­clubs again. You started

VH with your Edi­tion London ho­tel, with a lounge that you wanted to call Crazy Box. Your part­ner, Mar­riott Group, chose to call it The Base­ment. Which al­ready shows a di­ver­gent sense of fun, no? Let’s say that I have to fig­ure out an ap­pro­pri­ate way to

IS de­liver se­ri­ous danc­ing to th­ese se­ri­ous peo­ple! For me a night– club means “let­ting your hair down”. Se­ri­ous, se­ri­ous, sweaty danc­ing! We were very much after that at Stu­dio 54. Steve and I put the whole fo­cus on the dance floor. Not the bar. Not the lounge area. The dance floor. Ev­ery­thing was kind of flow­ing from there. When we made Pal­la­dium [!their night­club after Stu­dio 54!], I re­mem­ber Steve won­der­ing: “Do peo­ple still want to dance?” Night clubs should be night clubs again. Elec­tri­cal. Roll the car­pet, and let the ex­u­ber­ance hap­pen! No huge space. No bot­tle ser­vice. No in­ter­na­tional su­per­star DJs. No Jay Z. The night­clubs we are do­ing are strictly in the con­text of our ho­tels, but I hope to keep them spon­ta­neous and in­no­cent. Not mind­less, but make it raw! At least in the Pub­lic ho­tels that I’m do­ing on my own. In New York, it will be on Chrystie Street in 2015 (!another night­club, ob­vi­ously dif­fer­ent, will be set up in the Edi­tion ho­tel open­ing on Times Square in 2017!). At Pub­lic Christie, I don’t want to tar­get the Mil­len­ni­als, or the boomers, or any group. My main mem­ory of Stu­dio 54 is the tuxedo peo­ple danc­ing with the peo­ple in jeans, the lady in a fancy ball gown with the kid with no shirt on. That’s what makes a place en­er­gised. May­hem! I want the rock mu­si­cian and the ge­ol­o­gist! Sen­si­bil­ity con­nects the peo­ple. Not the age. You ac­tu­ally recre­ated Stu­dio 54 for one night, last year. How did it go?

VH Great. It’s what ac­tu­ally made me think that a real

IS night club would work again, if in a dif­fer­ent for­mat. It was a spe­cial event for a friend of mine who owns Stu­dio 54 ra­dio chan­nel. We rented the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion — on 254 West 54th St, now a the­atre — and we did the same light ef­fects. Well, a rea­son­able ver­sion of the orig­i­nal ef­fects. I took my kids, 19, 17, 16 and 15 years old. They loved it! Do you get why Bianca Jag­ger said she’d rather be dead than talk about

VH Stu­dio 54?

I can’t re­ally speak for her. But I guess be­cause

IS she was so closely iden­ti­fied with that place dur­ing the era. Maybe she thinks that it dis­tracts from the se­ri­ous kind of rep­u­ta­tion she would like to have now. Maybe it is be­cause there were a lot of drugs as­so­ci­ated with Stu­dio 54. Which there were not, in re­al­ity.

Well, you used to leave the scene early, maybe you didn’t get to see VH ev­ery­thing? Ha, they used to say that our main mis­take was that I left IS too early, and Steve too late! It’s true that I was there un­til the evening turned the cor­ner, then, around 1 or 1.30 am, I would go home. But I mean it. When the Feds raided us, they could only find five ounces of co­caine in the whole club. I re­ally don’t know why we were the only ones as­so­ci­ated with the idea of drugs, at a time where Grand Master Flash’s “White Lines” was play­ing all over the ra­dio!

And who in­vented all the crazy birth­day party themes? Bianca Jag­ger VH as Lady Go­diva on a white horse, the Dolly Par­ton in a farm set with real pigs, sheep and cows? I did. Get­ting the con­cepts and pro­duc­ing all th­ese IS events, that was my job. One of the big­gest nights I had to do in three days was Valentino’s birth­day. Gian­carlo Gi­ammetti came up with this cir­cus theme. I put up a ring with sand and mer­maids on a trapeze. Gi­ammetti got Fellini to lend us the cos­tumes from his film, The Clowns. Valentino was the ring­mas­ter in that red jacket, and Ma­rina Schi­ano came as a palm reader with a par­rot on her shoul­der. For us, th­ese nights were mar­ket­ing tools to pro­mote the club.

And you had no qualms about go­ing to great lengths to im­press, even VH us­ing mid­gets as sets? Our Hal­loween par­ties were al­ways the cra­zi­est ones. IS For that one, I was in­spired by the painter Hierony­mous Bosch. Usu­ally, I worked with Mark Ravitz on my sets. He’s the his­toric set de­signer for David Bowie. Karin Ba­con, the fa­mous event plan­ner, helped us find the tal­ents. Mark had de­signed dif­fer­ent doors, and be­hind each of them, there were dif­fer­ent “vignettes” in­spired by the paint­ings of Hierony­mous Bosch. I re­mem­ber the scene of a fam­ily of mid­gets eat­ing cock­erels in­stead of tur­keys to keep the proportions. There was a plas­tic glass floor, with pur­ple light and white mice scur­ry­ing un­der it.

Stu­dio 54’s best as­set was your in­cred­i­ble celebrity line up. How did VH you get all th­ese peo­ple in­volved? Steve was friends with many of them, I knew some. IS We had an in–house pho­tog­ra­pher, and as we also wanted the pho­tos to cir­cu­late in Europe, we worked with AP Images. Ev­ery morn­ing, we would send pho­tos to the mag­a­zines all over the world. Be­fore us, it was only gossip about rich peo­ple, the so­cialite scene. We in­vented the celebrity cul­ture at the same time as the gossip mag­a­zines were emerg­ing. That cul­ture for me ended with Paris Hil­ton, by the way. Th­ese Kar­dashi­ans&… What does it mean? At least our celebri­ties had ac­com­plished some­thing. Now you be­come a celeb, and then you have to fig­ure out some­thing to do. How about fash­ion? You opened with the fa­mous store, Fiorucci, as

VH a sort of spon­sor. Do you think that fash­ion has taken over the celeb cul­ture?

Not re­ally. We were in the golden age of fashIS ion back then. Calvin Klein, Hal­ston, Yves Saint Lau­rent, Lager­feld, Ver­sace, Ar­mani were all stal­warts at Stu­dio 54. Fash­ion was a main­stay. Now it’s more about fast fash­ion, no? Zara, the big cor­po­ra­tions, and J.Lo. I’m not into that. Ac­tu­ally, I strive to build the con­trary. I want to go back to simplicity. Time­less qual­ity. I am all for Her­mès now. Which comes down to the com­plete op­po­site of your Philippe Starck

VH years. You in­vented the “bou­tique ho­tel” con­cept, which seems to have spread all over the world, for all eter­nity. I know! I cre­ated that mon­ster! ($laughs$). I’m mov­ing

IS away from that over–de­sign, to­day. No more de­sign­ers. I want good taste, good qual­ity. We are sell­ing our apart­ments on Christy Street with that base­line from Leonard da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ul­ti­mate so­phis­ti­ca­tion”. Don’t worry about how it looks, but about how it makes you feel. Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bring some quirk­i­ness, some edgi­ness, spe­cially at Pub­lic. Like im­plant­ing a gourmet, healthy fast food in that Christy Street so­phis­ti­cated res­i­dence–ho­tel condo. Or a night club. You once bid against SI Newhouse to buy “De­tails”. Do you re­gret

VH that you didn’t get into the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try? No. In jail, Steve and I de­cided that we should try the

IS ho­tels be­cause we wanted a day job. Some­thing civilised. We did con­sider fash­ion, first. We almost went into business with Stephen Sprouse. But it was too big an in­vest­ment, and there was no cer­tainty that it would pay off. Re­grets are not some­thing I have. My only one is what hap­pened at Stu­dio 54. It will al­ways bring bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries. But if I had done some­thing else than the ho­tels after it, I would have been an ar­chi­tect. One who rein­vents him­self all the time. I love to put things to­gether, to ma­nip­u­late the peo­ple, to watch th­ese waves danc­ing, and whoop­ing, and hav­ing fun. But I don’t go on stage, it’s not in my na­ture.

VH

One of the rea­sons for Stu­dio 54’s suc­cess was its per­fectly as­sorted clien­tele and the galaxy of stars who went there to party the night away, in­clud­ing Andy Warhol and Bianca Jag­ger ( above ). The most un­likely en­coun­ters took place at Stu­dio 54. To wit, Woody Allen and

Michael Jack­son sit­ting to­gether ( left ).

The club’s reg­u­lars in­cluded fash­ion de­sign­ers, from Calvin Klein to Yves Saint Lau­rent, and Hal­ston, pic­tured

here with Liza Min­nelli ( be­low ).

Grace Jones per­formed a num­ber of times at Stu­dio 54,

adding another jewel to her disco queen crown ( with Olivia New­ton&–&John&, op­po­site ). Steve Rubell, Ian Schrager’s part­ner in the ven­ture died of Aids in 1989

(with Hal­ston and Liza Min­nelli, be­low & ).

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