FEATURES : NEW YORK

Alex and Companies

By Tom Ran & Sarah Williams

Published February 24, 2009

Original artwork adorning the wall by Daniel Joseph

Photo: Jordan Provost

Original artwork adorning the wall by Daniel Joseph

Music Hall turntable stocked with vintage vinyl

Photo: Jordan Provost

Music Hall turntable stocked with vintage vinyl

Inscribed onto the bathroom mirror

Photo: Jordan Provost

Inscribed onto the bathroom mirror

Fully stocked Smeg fridge with more than beverages

Photo: Jordan Provost

Fully stocked Smeg fridge with more than beverages

Alex Calderwood

Photo: Jordan Provost

Alex Calderwood

Queen size bed, Smeg fridge, and foldout sofa bed

Photo: Jordan Provost

Queen size bed, Smeg fridge, and foldout sofa bed

Hair products from Rudy's Barbershop

Photo: Jordan Provost

Hair products from Rudy's Barbershop

Ace stationary with blank music sheets and Dean Markley guitar strings for the guitar in the room

Photo: Jordan Provost

Ace stationary with blank music sheets and Dean Markley guitar strings for the guitar in the room

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Alex Calderwood has a history of turning nothing into something. He looks at unloved and abandoned spaces with an optimistic eye, seeing potential to infuse them with new life, art, and music. Throughout his career he’s shown an interest in creating cultural hubs from organizing parties in Seattle, to Rudy’s Barbershops, to Neverstop’s experiential marketing events. After many successful ventures, he’s become one of the most innovative hoteliers in the country by launching the Ace Hotels.

Now he’s bringing that instinct to one of Manhattan’s forgotten neighborhoods. South of Herald Square, amongst the random shops and sidewalk hustlers, sits the Hotel Breslin. Built in 1904, it was once a stomping ground for New York’s creatives. It spent many years as a forgotten beauty until Calderwood spotted its potential. Today he’s laying down roots in the city and giving the hotel new vitality.

The Ace New York is more than a hotel. It’s a space that houses collaborations with artists, architects, musicians, and local businesses, creating a place that feels like home, but better. Its aesthetic is raw but refined, designed with the urban traveler in mind. Details like original artwork, a selection of vinyl, and Smeg refrigerators stocked with goodies make each room personal. There is a welcoming and unpretentious atmosphere here, traits that are a reflection of Calderwood himself. We had a friendly chat with him to find out how it all began.

The Scout: What did you do before Ace, Rudy’s, and Neverstop?
Alex Calderwood: I used to throw parties when I was back in Seattle, and that was about the time we started Rudy’s. Before all of that, when I got out of high school, I decided to take a year off from college. I was registered to go to Seattle University, which is a Catholic college back in Seattle. But then I got an offer from a sportswear company that was just starting in Seattle. I worked there over the summer. Eventually they asked me if I wanted to stay and offered me a full-time job, so I decided to do that; and frankly, I just kind of never went back to school. I ended up working for those guys for a few years and then left and went on my own, and that’s when I started traveling internationally a lot. We were specialists in what’s called “dead stock.” I travelled all over Europe and Japan and did that for a few years, which was great. All these things kind of started Rudy’s; and then after Rudy’s, all the work that I had done in the music world, like concerts and all that kind of stuff kind of morphed into what is now Neverstop.

Did Neverstop come before Ace?
It did. Neverstop started in 1998, just about a year before Ace.

Opening a hotel is extremely challenging, more so than a magazine, store, or restaurant. Despite all his successes as a pop culture mogul, Nigo said in past interviews that he is daunted by the task— even with an incredible track record in street wear, retail, music, salons and cafes. What enabled you to be successful despite the huge challenges of starting a hotel business?
I was lucky in the sense that we were in Seattle, so the barrier to entry in New York, Tokyo, or London is much more difficult. That was part of it, being in Seattle, so it was easier. We lucked out in that we found a property that was achievable and we were able to do it on a really resourceful budget, and that’s how we got our foot in the door in the hotel industry, basically. We just thought it would be interesting to do it, and then after we opened we got a lot of good feedback from consumers and from the industry. We thought, “Maybe there is something here, maybe we should do more.”

So everything was pretty organic, with one thing leading to another?
I think everything was organic and gut instinct.

Did you ever look to other hoteliers like Andre Balazs and Ian Schrager? Merging the party and club scene to the hospitality industry?
Everyone’s aware of what they’re doing, but I think what we do is evidenced by… just go check out what we do, it is different. I think what they do is great, and what we do is what we do.

You’ve worked with a wide range of talent, including Kaws, Alife, and Roman & Williams. What were some of the most memorable experiences and what does good collaboration mean to you?
Well, I think the collaboration process is certainly most interesting to us and certainly in everything that we do. When you bring really good talented individuals together or talented groups of people together, that combination will be better than if we did something just ourselves. I’m a firm believer in that.

To answer your question about the most memorable experience, I couldn’t really peg one as the best. I would say doing the New York hotel has certainly been very exciting and a huge learning process for me. I feel I’m still constantly learning. It’s like that phrase they say, “When you stop learning, you stop progressing.”

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