Skift Take

Pendry has built an interesting boutique-feeling brand on top of actual luxury knowledge and operations. The result is something differentiated in the market and worth keeping an eye on.

Series: On Experience

On Experience

Colin Nagy, a marketing strategist, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across the luxury sector, hotels, aviation, and beyond. He also covers the convergence of conservation and hospitality.

You can read all of his writing here.

Despite all of the flood of new brands proliferating in the hospitality space, a sizable gulf still exists between the land of the boutique and the land of luxury. Boutiques often push a very compelling sell, but fall short when it comes to the soft skills: anticipation, creature comforts, and true attention to detail. My litmus test is to call and ask if the property does turndown or keeps a keen eye on how the arrival occurs — canaries in the coal mine to determine the level of service and detail at a property. 

The boutique landscape, originally homespun in the eras of great hoteliers like Ian Schrager and Liz Lambert, has scaled into something more mass-produced and focus-grouped from larger hospitality groups. And lines between luxury and boutique don’t often intersect as much as I would like. But this is starting to change. 

Enter Pendry, a boutique brand built off of the luxury savoir-faire from its parent brand, Montage, founded by Alan Fuerstman, almost 20 years ago. Though you might not have noticed during the curtailment of travel in the pandemic, Pendry has been quietly building up an interesting footprint within urban centers, where it is bringing a younger, fresher, art-centric approach while also not losing touch with where it came from — one of the most storied names in high-end hospitality.

The brand’s portfolio spans West Hollywood, Baltimore, San Diego as well as a newly launched property in Park City, Utah and others, including one in Washington D.C. scheduled to open later this year. 

The strategy is clear: build a new brand for the next wave of luxury travelers who are more concerned with the usual tropes everyone is running after, such as art, feeling connected to the nuance of a city, experiences, et cetera.

Of course, the strategy is rife with risks. As Pendry scales and builds more properties, hiring and retaining the same level of staff as they do at Montage is a challenge. It is easy for a storied luxury brand to get their pick of the best hotel school graduates and alums from top-tier properties. It is another thing for people to take a chance on a newly launched brand that doesn’t have the built up equity and prestige.

Also, as Four Seasons, Mandarin, and every other luxury brand are on the hunt for talent, paying above market to staff back up after pandemic-related layoffs, it means that Pendry has to be exceptionally crisp on their recruiting sell, and what they are offering to a candidate in terms of their training and career growth. All of these are surmountable, to be sure, but will be a near-term challenge as the brand continues to scale.

The real unlock here is the luxury operations know-how and many of the hidden elements that go into a great experience: hiring, training, and knowledge ported from two decades of building Montage. When you couple the two and execute well, you create something special. And it is clear to me this is the case so far with Pendry.

Mike Fuerstman, Alan’s son and co-founder of the brand, told me the two brands cannot be decoupled. “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the foundation built by Montage to the Pendry brand,” said Fuerstman.

“We have essentially deconstructed the Montage hotel guest experience and rebuilt it for Pendry, utilizing the same principles that allowed us to be successful with Montage. Our approach to hiring, training, learning, and continued education, are exactly the same for each brand.” 

Fuerstman also told me they labored over the high impact and wow moments: the arrival, the scents, the art, the surprise amenities. This is all coupled with a strong staff culture. Understanding the psychology of a well-heeled guest and that hard-to-find level of emotional intelligence and empathy is an attribute you see with the best hospitality brands and hoteliers.

The properties sit nicely in their environs but also add something. The recently opened New York property felt like nothing else I have experienced in New York. It reminded me of the ultra-chic Upper House in Hong Kong, where you are cocooned amidst skyscrapers among warm wood, perfect lighting, and best of all, quiet. The property and service are warm, discrete, and inviting, juxtaposed against the business of Hudson Yards just outside.

“We collaborated with Gachot Studios and (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) to fuse California and New York design elements, bringing forth a (South California)-calm aesthetic with warm glowing amber light everywhere as a counterbalance to the dynamic energy of Manhattan,” Fuerstman said. “The lighting became the artistic statement that the property is known for.” 

And it is the lighting that truly struck me at the property, both in the rooms and at the Pendry bar. It is something that I always notice and know how difficult it is to get right. I could tell the labor and work that went into fine tuning the vibe. Bar Pendry is a future classic in the way we think of Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle now, with gold flake ceilings, and layers of warm light that make everyone look amazing. A lobby garden room had high ceilings, lush greenery, and natural light, and the connected coffee shop, Black Fox, was perfectly aligned with the brand. 

Appealing to a Wider Variety of Travelers

The Park City property is a much needed design update to the typical ski lodge and hotel. There’s a worldliness that will sit well for the traveler who hasn’t just skied in Park City, but also Hokkaido, Japan and Zermatt.

“We worked with SB Architects, Meyer Davis, and KES to create a modernist take on a traditional alpine lodge,” Fuerstman said.

There’s a chic Japanese steakhouse, a rooftop pool, clean, modern lines, and most importantly, the service standard people expect from a Montage with a hyper-modern wrapper. It stands out from other properties in Park City, which are playing in old alpine tropes and feel dated. 

Fuerstman has a heavy hand in all of the hotels, something I noticed in our conversations. He’s obsessed with the three-dimensional, multisensory experience that a great hotel can be. Similar to how John Morford hand picked all of the books in Park Hyatt Tokyo, he selected the tomes in the New York property — I noticed his handiwork with a Tadao Ando placed book on the shelves — and also the artwork across the properties.

“I personally love the light and space-based arts movement, and we pick a signature light and space piece for each property,” Fuerstman said.

“The more hotels we open, the more I find lighting to be the most crucial and often overlooked element, so I focus a lot of time on lighting design.”

It’s rare that a brand impresses me enough to dig deep, as I did with Auberge last year. But the momentum, the delivery of a significant property portfolio in a short time, and the service of Pendry mark them down as a brand to keep an eye on when it opens the Pendry Natirar in New Jersey’s Somerset County, Tampa and Cincinnati.

It’s clear this isn’t cookie-cutter boutiques catering to fads, but something stemming from both deep wells of taste, built atop a luxury chassis.

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Tags: boutique hotels, future of lodging, hotels, luxury, On Experience

Photo credit: A bar in a Pendry hotel Pendy

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