Skift Take

With only four hotels, The James brand has earned a disproportionate amount of street cred in the hospitality industry for its "warm modernism" and community partnerships with local cultural organizations.

When The James Chicago launched in 2006, it made a lot of noise with its modernist, residential-style energy seemingly built for a tech or entertainment executive with very attuned design taste.

That residential verve has been copied so many times by so many chains that Lisa Zandee, SVP brand management for The James Hotels, doesn’t really even want to talk about it.

“Sure, we own that, but I’m hesitant to say it because it’s so overused,” she says.

Her restraint sums up the culture at The James. Zandee says, “It’s all about form and function being equally important, and knowing the product, the brand and our customers, which are all pretty much the same thing, really.”

The brand doesn’t work with a lot of name designers because then the aesthetic becomes all about the name designers. Instead, the design vision focuses on tuning into the local neighborhood, which has challenged Zandee and her team in some ways, in terms of communicating a consistent brand voice. The new glass-and-steel building in Chicago, for example, is in stark contrast to the Art Deco heritage at The James Royal Palm Miami.

So what is that brand voice exactly, we asked. How do you describe the experience?

“It’s an artistically inspired hotel but not an art hotel,” says Zandee. “It kind of just works, and it looks great and it feels really good.”

Next up, The James Los Angeles opens in 2016. CIM Group, owner and developer of the two blocks that the property sits on, chose The James brand for its intelligent yet hip crossover appeal.

Zandee says the L.A. property is “kind of like a Hollywood Hills art collector hanging out on the Sunset Strip.”

The 286-room property at the corner of Sunset and La Cienega Boulevards is the first ground-up hotel construction in West Hollywood in almost 30 years. The one thing that ties the new property to the others is the sense of “warm modernism” that defines the brand. The updated Mid-Century Modern vibe provides the right sentiment for guests who appreciate good design but at a lower volume.

“A lot has happened since we opened Chicago in 2006, and we’ve learned a lot about our customer, and not trying to become something different, and always doing more, more, more,” explains Zandee. “If anything with this project, we’re like wait, wait, wait, that’s just too crazy for this space. That’s just confusion. And then when we talk with the consumer, people say they just have so much going on, right? There’s so much out there, so we don’t want to be overwhelming people.”

Cultural Collection

The James brand’s Cultural Collection initiative is a series of partnerships with local cultural arts groups that help the hotels integrate into the community, support local creative organizations, and source creative art and talent.

In Miami for example, the Royal Palm hooked up with the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA)New World Symphony, the Public School fashion line and National YoungArts Foundation. All four were chosen based on their history of supporting local communities and regional arts organizations.

MOCA produced permanent art installations within The James, and guests of the hotel have VIP access to special events at the museum. Miami’s New World Symphony has performed on-property and guests have special access at orchestra events. The YoungArts Foundation created artwork for the hotel, and Public School designed the staff uniforms. Altogether there are over a dozen such partnerships.

Zandee is presently setting up similar arrangements in Los Angeles.

“Our whole community approach and Cultural Collection is about wanting to come into a community, a market that we don’t know, and work with those who are very anchored in the community, and who can introduce us to the community,” she says. “And then in turn, we can introduce our guests to the community.”

We asked, do all of these partnerships drive business to the hotel?

“Yes, I wouldn’t be allowed to do them if they didn’t,” she laughs. “I work for other people who own these hotels. Most of them are REITS, and there are ROIs and justifications and business plans. I spend more of my time on those than art.”

Zandee says it’s too early to talk about what specific partnerships are in development in L.A, but she stresses the value of the collaboration for all parties involved, including The James.

“It gives us a lot,” she explains. “It gives us an authenticity that we would never have because we aren’t them.”

Greg Oates covers hotel/tourism development and travel brand media. He has toured over 1,000 hotels in 50+ countries. email / twitter

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Tags: architecture

Photo credit: The James Los Angeles will overlook the Sunset Strip. Denihan Hospitality Group

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