Ah, To Be Less "Hip"

Alan Weiss

I’ve just returned from another Ian Schrager hotel, The Hudson, after having promised myself I’d never stay in one again. (I’ve been to the Royalton and W, for example.) But my client was having a meeting there, and the convenience overruled my better judgment.

These hotels are so minimalist, that if they were any more minimal, they would cease to corporeally exist. The lighting is very low and the entire staff is dressed in black, so that on the one hand you can hardly see them, and on the other they often scare the pants off you by emerging from the gloom like the mole people in the old Flash Gordon series. Where is Ming the Merciless when you really need him?

The rooms are reminiscent of those Japanese overnight "residences" in which the occupants are semi-interred in sarcophagi. Everything is tiny and mysterious. You feel like a giant as you try to manipulate the tiny controls and sit in the diminutive furniture. And it’s always dark, since the management has discovered rare light bulbs which apparently function like electric black holes, sucking in all available ambient light. You shave by feel and comb your hair by memory. (In the Royalton, I had a teeny fireplace in my tiny room. I called for a bellman to light the fire. "But it’s August and hot!" said the manager. "I don’t want the heat," I said, "I want the light.")

You would swear that you’re in a Fellini move gone bad.

The hotel has no sign whatsoever, as if only those sufficiently in the "know" should even deign to find it. The doorman looks like a mugger. When he grabbed my bags out of the limo, I pounced on him the way any true New Yorker would, and a serious battle ensued until a security guy–who looked like a bodyguard for a rapper–intervened and calmed me down. When I gave the guy a huge tip and apologized for the misunderstanding, he mumbled, "It’s not the first time…"

The Hudson does not provide newspapers, which would apparently be too much of a concession to the bourgeoisie. However, it does provide a special guest pass because, "Our bar is so popular that our bouncer will deny entry unless you can prove you’re a guest." I wondered if he would also provide The Wall Street Journal.

What is the story behind this nearly terminal dose of hipness? I’m convinced that Schrager actually built these places as a huge joke, to prove that a sufficient amount of cachet will motivate people to discomfort, humiliate, and otherwise abuse themselves. Why subject yourself to such indignities?

Of course, this is simply the old high school "in crowd" on a grander scale. I remember the football players and their biker chicks determining what you should wear, where you should hang out, which classes to dismiss and which to disrupt, even how to carry your books. I always resisted the in crowd, not out of great courage, but really out of the fear of sharing their future, which was usually dismal, and chronicled by Billy Joel far better than I could ever describe it.

The same goes for the currently, ardently, bizarrely "hip." I understand that Schrager has already had to cut back on his hotels, and that the pernicious novelty is finally wearing thin. Life’s not about being "in," it’s about being "out"–out in the world fearlessly striving to be yourself in a culture and environment often hell-bent on trying to make you into something else.

In fact, maybe the ultimate hipness is being so unhip that you refuse to follow or belong to the pack. There may be predators out there, but somehow they seem less of a risk than surrendering yourself to the herd.