BY MATT TYRNAUER PHOTOGRAPHS BY ABBEY DRUCKER| July 22, 2011 |
Suit jacket ($258) and pants ($128), J.Crew. 14 Main St., East Hampton; jcrew.com. Dress shirt, Ralph Lauren Black Label ($275). 41 Jobs Lane, Southampton; ralphlauren.com. Shoes, Tod’s ($425). 650 Madison Ave., NYC; tods.com
Hotelier and real estate developer André Balazs is constantly extending the boundaries of his empire with a collection of hotels and landmark architectural properties around the world. It all began with the Chateau Marmont almost 20 years ago, followed by The Mercer, a game-changing boutique hotel in Soho. The family of Standard Hotels redefined cost-conscious luxury and seduced an emerging global tribe of fashionable and cutting edge travelers. Balazs’s reach now extends to the East End with Sunset Beach, a hotel-restaurant-beachwear boutique inspired by the south of France and nestled on what was once a very sleepy cove on Crescent Beach.
To go with the island ambience, Balazs created his own signature rosé with Sagaponack vintner Wölffer Estate Vineyard. This summer the father of two launched a new project, StndAir, a private plane set to transport stylish travelers from Manhattan to the Hamptons and other posh resort communities in Balazs’s trademark retro-chic style. Here, Balazs talks about his plans for expansion, not only in the air but also overseas.
HAMPTONS: You started an airline… ANDRÉ BALAZS: That would be a stretch, but we bought an airplane, put it that way—a Cessna Caravan. Painted it red; I thought it had to be red. It seemed like there was nothing commercial out there flying in red. It’s like the Swiss army emergency planes. I wanted to stand out, like the old Braniff International Airways. I guess it’s been on my mind for a while, since I tried to buy the Pan Am logo right after the airline folded.
H: What gave you the motivation to launch StndAir? AB: Years ago I started flying the seaplane to the Hamptons, and to me, it was never convenient enough. There were never enough flights, and it was never fun. I wanted to make it very easy, accessible and in keeping with the Standard brand of hotels, of which I consider Sunset Beach to be a part. The same idea we try to get across at the Standards is at play here: that unique experience, a certain carefree style and the euphoria of travel. What’s luxurious is often very simple. That’s very much Sunset Beach—like that perfect French bistro you stumble on in Provence. What’s luxe about the StndAir plane is the concept of time and ease. It’s a wonderfully charming, oldfashioned seaplane, but you don’t have to have billions to partake.
H: Do you think this is going to catch on in a big way? AB: Once you’ve flown out to the Hamptons, you simply can’t take the car again if you can afford the few extra hundred dollars. The speed, ease and comfort with which you can go from the East River at 23rd Street to any place in the Hamptons is so great. It changes your whole perception of the weekend—or a day. I have literally flown out for lunch, gone waterskiing and gone back the same day. You can go surfing in Montauk in the morning and go back to the office to work for the day. It’s dabbling in that consumer psychology of when does one realize that spending an extra few dollars to get on a seaplane is more worth it than sitting on the LIE for three hours? By what measurement of your own life and your own time and the value of your time do you say, It’s worth it?
H: Do you have very good-looking pilots? AB: We do have very good-looking pilots. We have a very, very good-looking hostess who welcomes you on the dock at 23rd Street. She gives you your branded bottled water. Then we pass a jug of rosé around on the flight.
H: Did you have to get special clearance to land in the water in front of Sunset Beach? AB: No, it turns out you can land many places. We fly to Quogue, Westhampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton. The plane also goes to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Provincetown. One of the specials that I would want to introduce is the “After Boom Boom” fare, where if you go to the Boom Boom Room at the Standard in Manhattan, we’ll hold the plane for you at 6 AM Saturday morning, so you can enjoy your evening and then take off and be at Sunset Beach in time for breakfast. Why not have a whole night out on Friday and then enjoy Saturday in the only appropriate way to make up for what just happened on Friday? Then you can come back and sleep in your own bed on Saturday night and be totally fresh on Monday.
H: Is it true that a flight can cost as little as $50? AB:Actually, $29. We have a unique online booking that works through Facebook or our website (stndair.com; 855-786-3247). You click on the day and time you want to fly. If you’re the first one to reserve, you pay the least, and it goes up incrementally for each person who signs up. It’s a like a populist version of NetJets.
H: Any plans to go up against Richard Branson? AB: Not immediate. We would like to expand it to other destinations on the East Coast and take it down to the Standard in Miami for the winter for island runs—Key West, the Caribbean. I don’t see it landing in Malibu any time, but you never know.
H:What are the brand expansion plans for the hotels in general? AB: I think the next two foreign spots will be London and Rio, for different reasons. London because it is such a central point. The London hotel, for which construction started in September, is a sister to The Mercer and the Chateau. It is a small [38 rooms at this point] luxury hotel; it’s a conversion of an old fire station in Marylebone. And Rio because it is such a vibrant market, and its culture is a good fit for us. It would be very interesting to do a Standard Sport hotel, something that’s related to athletics, whether it’s surfing or skiing. A resort, but a very sportive resort, not a passive resort.
H: I have heard you are in the running to make Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK Airport into a hotel. AB: We are making a bid to preserve the TWA terminal, and we want to even enhance the terminal itself, but hotel rooms can be built around it without touching or diminishing the original perspective of the building. I think it is one of the greatest examples of 20th century architecture, and we ensure the ability of people to experience the uniqueness of the original design. Saarinen and the collaborators on the interiors, including Raymond Loewy and Warren Platner, were creating an environment where the glamour of travel was not only still relevant but celebrated.