St. Regis brings the Gilded Age forward

BETHESDA, MD—Throughout its history, the St. Regis brand has aged without forgetting its roots in New York City, where the wealthy Astor family influenced its inception.

“The St. Regis was born in the Gilded Age but continues to define the modern era by celebrating its legacy and leveraging its unique history in a way that speaks to today’s luxury traveler,” said Lisa Holladay, VP and global brand leader of The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, and Bulgari at Marriott. “The brand’s founding family, the renowned New York Astor family, helped shape the definition of taste and sophistication of the modern world. The Astors were vanguards of their time, pushing the envelope across fields, including technology, culture, design and the arts.”

Inventor, writer and investor John Jacob Astor IV, the son of Caroline Astor—who was a known American socialite toward the end of the 19th century—founded The St. Regis New York in 1904, nearly 10 years before his untimely death; he perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912 (he was one of the ship’s wealthiest passengers). The New York Times, at the time, declared the property as the “finest hotel in America.”

“When our flagship hotel was built more than a century ago, The St. Regis New York offered guests modern comforts that were almost unheard of at the time, such as air conditioning, central heat and working telephones,” Holladay said. “…The ability to transcend the ordinary in every way, whether it’s through the latest technology, thoughtful design or anticipatory service is really what guides the brand.”

Nearly 100 years after The St. Regis New York opened its doors in Manhattan, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide acquired the iconic property, eventually leveraging the St. Regis name to build out the St. Regis Hotels & Resorts brand. Now in Marriott International’s portfolio, the luxury hotel chain has 43 properties across 21 countries.

“Today, our guests experience the exquisite and extraordinary at our hotels, receiving a taste of what it might be like to have been part of the Astors’ world,” she said. “We create this through elements, including subtle and refined design, bespoke and anticipatory services, thoughtful amenities and unique experiences, as well as partnerships with like-minded brands and those who resonate with the next generation of style icons, athletes and musicians.”

The typical St. Regis guest is becoming increasingly younger, expecting more from the brand in the following areas: fashion, design, technology and culture. “They are global influencers and tastemakers who are cultured, driven and highly accomplished,” Holladay said. “In line with evolving trends in luxury travel, St. Regis guests seek one-of-a-kind experiences and want to be part of exclusive experiences when they travel.” To fulfill their needs, the brand develops partnerships with local tastemakers.

“Today’s luxury traveler is seeking meaningful travel experiences that speak to the vision of their innermost idealized selves,” she said. “Centered around the idea of ‘Live Exquisite,’ we further our guests’ personal journeys by working to perfect every aspect of every moment and aspiring to an ideal that transcends the ordinary in every way during each day. This might be providing a traveler visiting or conducting business in Shanghai the best address from which to explore the city, or it might be mixing the perfect Bloody Mary, our signature cocktail, for a guest of The St. Regis New York.”

The St. Regis New York has been serving its Bloody Mary since 1934, when Fernand Petiot, head bartender at the time, invented it. “The St. Regis New York still serves the original Bloody Mary recipe, while all our hotels around the world celebrate their destination by creating their own version of the iconic cocktail, including a local twist.”

Like the brand’s iconic Bloody Mary cocktail, St. Regis’ rituals and traditions have attempted to “bring to life the exquisite and the extraordinary” for more than 100 years. “We do this through a commitment to excellence, from the moment an agreement is signed to the moment we open our doors—and beyond,” she said. “I continue to be surprised at how much our heritage resonates with guests, owners, and fans of the St. Regis brand. There is a genuine enthusiasm for being connected with a brand with such deep history and tradition, and we have been fortunate to work with people who care about the brand as much as we do.”

Some of the brand’s signature rituals include Evening Ritual, Afternoon Tea and Midnight Supper. “True to our social history, St. Regis brings people together, which to me, is something to celebrate,” Holladay said. “I’m also proud to say that I can now craft a superb Bloody Mary and also wield a sabre to open a bottle of Champagne.”

Not only does the brand have a rich history, it also has passion for fashion and glamour. “Apart from the extraordinary story of St. Regis, we are also set apart from our competition through style and design, butler service  and this idea of the ‘best address’ in each destination,” she said.

St. Regis began its partnership with American designer Jason Wu in 2011. Some of his creations over the years include “A Date With Wu,” where guests can spend the afternoon with the designer and receive a customized gown in return; and “Grand Tourista Bag,” a spacious travel tote designed exclusively for the luxury hotel chain. Also on the fashion front, the brand in 2015 partnered with Marchesa co-founders Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig on an exclusive collection of couture wedding dresses.

As for the St. Regis Butler Service, it has remained in place since Astor introduced it at The St. Regis New York at the beginning of the 20th century. Other brand services include packing services, beverage service, garment pressing and e-butler services.

“Through design, F&B, hotel programming and amenities, each St. Regis property reflects the unique culture of each destination,” Holladay said. “So inherently, the exterior and interior design and experience offered will differ whether you are in a St. Regis in New York, Bangkok or the Maldives.”

One way St. Regis sets its properties apart is through designer suites. “These suites feature designers with an authentic tie to a destination,” she said. “For example, The St. Regis New York offers the Tiffany Suite, located just two blocks from the iconic jeweler’s flagship store.” The luxury hotel chain has launched designer suites worldwide in collaboration with numerous brands—including Dior, Bentley and Bottega Veneta.

“We want our guests to feel as though they are authentically participating in their destination throughout their stay,” Holladay said. “Through our consistent, exceptional level of service, signature brand rituals and traditions, we remind our guests that they are staying at one of our more extraordinary hotels.”

The St. Regis brand has a pipeline of 22 signed hotels—all but one are located outside of North America. “Given its relatively small footprint, we believe we have an exciting opportunity to grow the St. Regis brand in urban and resort locations in a combination of established global hot spots and emerging destinations,” she said. “Our pipeline really speaks to this and underscores the brand’s tremendous growth prospects.” The hotel brand expects to open properties in Cairo; Amman, Jordan; and Zhuhai, China, in 2018. In 2019, St. Regis has plans to open properties in Hong Kong and Riviera Maya, Mexico.

“When you look at where St. Regis will be expanding in the coming years, I would say location, growth in the luxury sector and an increase in business travel are key drivers behind our pipeline,” Holladay said. “Just as important, however, is the brand’s performance. Globally, St. Regis is a brand that really performs well with a high premium against the competition—driving a strong ADR and RevPAR, and that strong performance appeals to a variety of owners, regardless of whether they’re seeking to convert an existing asset to a premier luxury brand (such as an upcoming opening we will have in Toronto), build a new hotel and/or add a residential component.”

Residences within the brand’s hotels “continue to be a strong component and complement to the brand, especially as we enter new markets,” she said. The luxury brand also considers adding residential offerings to properties undergoing renovations.

“Asia and the Middle East remain an important focus for our growth, and we continue to be opportunistic about European destinations,” she said. “St. Regis is in a unique position right now in that our brand awareness is stronger than our footprint. This gives us an incredible opportunity to continue to grow and be successful in markets where steep competition may currently exist, such as London, Paris or Los Angeles.”

In North America, there’s opportunity to grow in gateway cities, including Beverly Hills, CA; Boston; Dallas; Seattle; Chicago; and Vancouver.

“St. Regis will continue to evolve across the next decade with unprecedented growth on the horizon,” she said. “As a brand, we are excited to push the boundaries and innovate with the design of our properties, the destinations we enter, and how we are helping to define a new era of luxury travel.” HB

1880s: Caroline Astor, the matriarch of the St. Regis brand, creates the rituals that endure at St. Regis today, including Afternoon Tea and Midnight Suppers.

1904: Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, renowned businessman and son of Caroline Astor, debuts The St. Regis New York. $5.5 million was spent to construct the hotel with marble floors, crystal chandeliers and antiques. Every room was also equipped with telephones, central heat and air conditioning—cutting-edge technology that defined St. Regis’ reputation for embracing innovation.   

1912: After helping his wife and nurse into a lifeboat, John Jacob Astor IV perishes during the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.

1927: Heralding a new era of style and innovation, The St. Regis New York adds two new floors, including a magnificent ballroom known as the St. Regis Roof.

1932: The Old King Cole mural, an original work by celebrated artist Maxfield Parrish, is unveiled in its new home at The St. Regis New York. In 1948, the mural was made the centerpiece of a new bar at the hotel, the King Cole Bar.

1934: The St. Regis New York head bartender, Fernand Petiot, creates the iconic Bloody Mary cocktail. The Bloody Mary remains the signature cocktail of the St. Regis today. 

1960: Mexican hotel mogul Cesar Balsa buys The St. Regis New York’s leasehold, outbidding two other buyers who both wanted to demolish the hotel and replace it with an office building.

1965: The St. Regis New York is purchased by hotel conglomerate ITT Sheraton, renaming it The St. Regis-Sheraton.

1988: The St. Regis New York is named a New York landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; the hotel closes for restoration.

1991: The St. Regis New York reopens after a $100-million renovation, restoring it to its former grandeur while adding state-of-the-art technology.

1992: ITT Sheraton designates 28 of its premier hotels as the ITT Sheraton Luxury Collection, with The St. Regis New York as the division’s flagship.

1999: Starwood Hotels & Resorts acquires ITT Sheraton and The St. Regis New York, and launches a brand of luxury hotels under the St. Regis name. Five hotels are launched: Beijing, Rome, Houston, Washington, DC and Aspen, CO. 

2008: St. Regis adopts polo as its signature sport, hosting the 1st annual St. Regis International Cup in England, one of the U.K.’s three major international polo matches. In 2010, St. Regis chooses Nacho Figueras as the very first St. Regis Connoisseur in honor of the brand’s signature sport.

2010: A landmark year for St. Regis, 2010 sees the openings of four highly anticipated hotels and resorts, doubling the brand’s global footprint in two years.

2011: The St. Regis brand celebrates the announcement of fashion designer Jason Wu as the next St. Regis Connoisseur. This year also marked the openings of The St. Regis Bangkok; The St. Regis Florence; The St. Regis Tianjin; The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort; The St. Regis Shenzhen; The St. Regis Doha; The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort; The St. Regis Abu Dhabi; The St. Regis Mauritius; and The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort.

2012: By the end of 2012, St. Regis opened in 30 destinations around the world, nearly tripling the brand’s footprint in five years.

2013: St. Regis debuts two firsts: The Family Traditions at St. Regis program and Beyond, The St. Regis Magazine. Additionally, the flagship St. Regis New York completed a multimillion-dollar, full-scale renovation.

2015: Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman, co-founders of luxury fashion brand Marchesa, are appointed St. Regis Connoisseurs.

2015: Award-winning singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum joins St. Regis as a Connoisseur and the curator of the worldwide Jazz Legends at St. Regis series.

2016: Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts complete a merger, with St. Regis Hotels & Resorts joining Marriott’s Luxury Brands Group.

2016: St. Regis Hotels & Resorts opens its first-ever private-island resort with the debut of The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort.

2018: St. Regis Hotels & Resorts will open in Zhuhai, China; Cairo; and Amman, Jordan; and the renovation of The St. Regis Rome will be complete.