Making Modestly Priced Hotel Spas a Big Draw

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14 of 25 > GO TO Next 2005 Woman to Watch

For Claire Darrow, creative director at André Balazs Properties, a day at the spa is less a matter of rest than of market research.

Claire Darrow, creative director, Andre Balazs Properties.
Inspired by the communal bathing traditions of Europe and Asia, Ms. Darrow, 31, helped develop a holistic spa at The Standard Miami, the newest in André Balazs’ moderately priced Standard line of hotels for frugal sophisticates. As of this summer, guests will luxuriate in the Turkish hamam and clothing-optional mud lounge at no charge.

Filling a niche
“There’s a huge hole in the marketplace for spas that aren’t super-expensive,” Ms. Darrow says. “We’re filling that niche.”

After graduating from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art, Ms. Darrow worked as a graphic designer, a job she found “one dimensional.” She joined Mr. Balazs’ team in 1997, moving to Los Angeles for a year at the 1998 launch of The Standard Hollywood to “give the hotel flavor,” she says.

As creative director for both The Standard properties and Mr. Balazs’ luxury hotels, including The Mercer, Raleigh and Chateau Marmont, Ms. Darrow today enjoys a decidedly multidimensional role that spans marketing, design, event production and project management.

“For Claire, every detail is part of the marketing plan,” says Jodi Sweetbaum, managing director at Lloyd & Co., New York, agency of record for The Standard brand. “She really understands what it takes to market a lifestyle.”

Communicating through design elements
From staffers’ uniforms to the hotels’ custom-blended soaps, Ms. Darrow ensures that every design element communicates the brand’s reputation for high-touch elegance and style. That proclivity shines in her marketing efforts for the hotelier’s recent venture into residential real estate. For architect Jean Nouvel’s SoHo building in New York, opening in 2006, Ms. Darrow art-directed and co-wrote a direct mail piece in the style of a children’s book. The story of two SoHo dogs who fall in love introduces a welcome touch of whimsy to the serious business of luxury real estate.

Her muse
Ms. Darrow’s muse? Her Chihuahua Jacques. When Mr. Nouvel met the pup, she says, the architect took one look and said, “That is the perfect graphic element.”

Looking ahead, the company plans to expand the hotels’ retail stores and branded products.

“Our audience is very sophisticated, intelligent and worldly,” Ms. Darrow says, “and the challenge is to bring them things that are unexpected, enhancing the brand without overtly advertising it.”

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