Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Art of Hotel Living

In art, literature, film and personalities I've always been drawn to doomed decadence. To me, the journey from having it all to having nothing is fascinating. Whether that "all" is money or talent or social standing, I am gripped by people's ability to waste it all in the most dramatic way.

Caravaggio's astounding painting and genius for capturing light was all set against an infamous backdrop of dead prostitutes, brawling and, eventually, exile. Gatsby had everything he wanted except the flashing green light at the end of East Egg where Daisy lived. The Tenenbaum children were prodigies, making them all flawed and flailing adults, unable to cope in the real, chaotic world. And Edie Sedgwick, raised riding horses in the bosom of a large, wealthy family wound up cast out of Warhol's Factory addicted to drugs and dead at 28.

Deviance, decadence, escapism, denial - these base and torturous human behaviours often manifest themselves in one particular place. A hotel. Since the invention of maid service, room service and the mini-bar, checking out of your life and into a hotel has firmly represented that all is not - or is about to be not - well. A person's state of mind must be considerably altered to find solice in arming oneself with just the bare essentials and take up residence in a hotel.

The Chelsea in New York has a long history of writers and artists in residence. Jack Kerouac wrote much of 'On the Road' there. Dennis Hopper met the man who would eventually produce 'Easy Rider' there. And Leonard Cohen wrote a song about it. More recently, The Chateau Marmont, temporary home to Hollywood's runaways, featured as the third character in Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere". The audience quickly learned everything they needed to know about Johnny's character by his disconnected existence at the Hollywood hotel.

My friend Rosanna told me about Patti Smith's autobiography. Rosanna felt that Patti's stay at The Chelsea was more about looking cool than realising that people in hotels often produce great work because they are alone, lonely and without distractions. My friend went on to explain how she believed that "living in an impersonal space makes you want to create things that defines who you are, and express yourself".

As I enter my third week in a hotel, Rosanna's words resonated strongly. With the clothes in the wardrobe the only link to my real life, to myself even, I recognise the desire to define myself through creating things. Hence why this is one of the longer blog posts.

The Shakespeare & Co. bookshop in Paris embraces the traveller's need to create themselves out of a rut. As you roam the Narnia-esque bookshop, tiny enclaves holding typewriters and rudimentary bunks appear through the gloaming. Artists and writers passing through are welcome to a bed for the night so they can gather their thoughts and, possibly, their minds.

Bur perhaps my favourite study of hotel living is Wes Anderson's prologue to The Darjeeling Limited - 'Hotel Chevalier'. Natalie Portman's character tracks down Jason Schwartzman ordering grilled cheese in a Paris hotel room.

Portman: How long have you had this hotel room?
Schwartzman: I don't know.
Portman: More than a week?
Schwartzman: More than a week.
Portman: More than a month?
Schwartzman: More than a month.

Hotel Chevalier is the perfect capture not only of decayed love, but of the cathartic aloneness one finds at the other end of the world in a hotel bathrobe.

All photos by me, except the typewriter which I stole from here

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stuff hipsters hate

Thanks to Instagram and Picnik, now you too can create emo hipster photos for your blog!

Speaking of emo hipsters - I'm thinking of moving this blog over to Tumblr. Anyone who
- Has a view on that
- Knows how to do it
- Wants to offer moral and emo support
...please get in touch.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Letter from America: Third time's a charm.

I am back in fabulous San Francisco for a couple of weeks with work and, now clocking up a total of 3 months here since May of last year, it really does feel like a very nice home away from home.

On the work side, I'm here doing brand strategy for a super cool app with some very exciting technology behind it. As such, I had the opportunity to do a brand workshop from the client's Command HQ in Paolo Alto. Just south of SF, Paolo Alto is a sweet suburban enclave just riddled with tech start-ups. You can't buy a Soy Latte without overhearing someone discussing their latest round of VC funding.

The client's house is your classic American modern home pimped out to the nines with screens and servers. Every room has been re-purposed to house tech and engineering teams all "wired in" and making the future happen. For someone with a barely concealed Geek Fetish, such as myself, their place is pretty nerd-tastic. The app I'm working on has already launched in Beta, so watch this space to see how the project develops!

Outside of work, there is only really time to eat. So I have been hitting the breakfast, lunch and dinner scenes pretty hard. For breakfast, I can nip out of my hotel to The Ferry Building for a Bluebottle coffee with a goat's cheese and apricot jam sandwich. Lunches, grabbed from nearby South Park in the Soma district consist of "Super Tacos" from Mexico au Park, or a Jalapeno Popper from The American Grilled Cheese Company. And dinner has been anything from hipster pizza at Delfina, Lobster Po Boys at Anchor & Hope, posh fried chicken at Foreign Cinema and even a quick and dirty Burger from In "n" Out. Calories on location don't count, right?

And finally, in this travel journal-esque post, to note that I have just returned from a rather wonderful weekend in Napa. Carrie Bradshaw's response to Mr Big's announcement that he was moving to Wine Country was "If you're tired you take a nap-a, you don't move to Napa!". And how wrong she was. My friend and I left SF yesterday morning with bags under our eyes and full of work anxieties. After mucho vino and mucho lolling in the hot tub in the cool and pleasant rain, we drove back today feeling well-rested and ready for another week.

Working abroad has its downsides - jetlag, disorientation and feeling forced to pull the plug on your life at home. But they are far outweighed by the upsides - new sights, new friends, new experiences and - for those who find it hard to switch-off - the chance to have a change of scene while still showing up for work each day! Clearly Napa didn't quite get its hold on me, yet!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

How does Mr. Porter measure up?

Check out my piece on the Pitch Design blog now. Currently available log-in free! Click here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Checking out – a new buzz word or the answer to monetizing location-based social networking?

Last week I feverishly posted about Venmo’s new “check out” service without much pause for explanation or analysis. So now, in a slightly calmer state of mind and with a few days spent mulling over the benefits, I’m back with more.

Venmo is an app which “makes it fun and easy to pay and charge friends” and is currently only operational in the US. Venmo acts as a social payment platform by allowing people to exchange money using their phones. Users can then socialise that transaction by attaching a message to the payment and posting it to Twitter or Facebook. It’s this social element which builds unique user stories around purchases – every brand’s dream.

Last week Venmo announced an extra service, which allowed users to attach their location to their socialised transactions – a behaviour Venmo have termed “checking out”. To me, this is exceptionally exciting.

Retailers are already getting on board with the idea of rewarding customers who check-in to their stores and unlock badges associated with offers and deals. A couple of weeks ago, Foursquare launched the ‘Century Club’ badge for people checking in for 100 days on the trot at the same place – rewarding their most frequent and loyal customers. I’m assuming it’ll be coffee shops and delis who will win Century Clubbers – low value purchases which are part of a person’s daily routine.

For any retailer or brand, loyal customers are their bread and butter – a guaranteed flow of trusted consumers. But for retailers with a higher ticket price, or for those wishing to distinguish between frequent, low-spending customers and occasional, high-spending ones, Venmo Places will be right up their street.

In my first job out of university I worked as the wholesale manager for a small boutique food company. After a few months I noticed that I was spending most of my time liasing with, negotiating with, advising and managing a handful of small independent food stores who, together, contributed to just a fragment of yearly sales. Meanwhile, our biggest wholesale customers were being ignored – placing high orders but rarely given the time to be sold in on new products and up-sold on their monthly orders. Having recognized this, I developed a simplifyed order process for our smaller customers, which took the pain out of managing them, and in turn, gave me more time to focus on our more profitable customers.

This is exactly what Venmo Places can offer – visibility on who your most valuable customers are. Not just those routine-orientated Foursquare Mayors who will stop by and check-in every day regardless.

By seeing spend against check-ins, retailers can map tailored rewards to a broad range of customers. They will have invaluable insight on the customers who spend $4 a day every day for a year ($1,460p/a) deserving little treats, and the customers who come in once a month and drop $250 ($2,400p/a) and who, with a little bit more attention and incentivizing, might be upgraded to a bigger monthly spend. It’s business basics with a modern flair. Call me geeky, but that seems like pretty powerful stuff.