Industry Insiders: Vikram Chatwal, Living the Dream

Vikram Chatwal is truly at home in the world. The founder and visionary behind Vikram Chatwal Hotels – which include the Dream, Time, Night, and Stay brands – might wake up in New York, where he owns five upscale properties, including the new Dream Downtown. Or he could find himself in Miami Beach, where his Dream South Beach recently opened. Or perhaps he’ll roll out of bed in Los Angeles, Mexico, Thailand, or India, depending on whether he’s dealing with hotel business, acting in a movie, or spending time with his family.

Wherever Chatwal finds himself, his day involves a unique mix of business, creativity, and relationship-building that’s made him a familiar name in the hospitality and entertainment worlds. "I grew up in a strict Indian family that instilled in me the importance of religion and rules," he says. "My father was a wealthy restaurateur, but I always had to earn my own money, so I worked as a busboy and as a housekeeper and at a stock brokerage firm, among other things."

His eclectic background prepared him for the challenges of building and growing a boutique hotel brand in an intensely competitive landscape. But as important as his financial acumen is to the bottom line, his hotels differentiate themselves through their truly singular design aesthetic. The Dream Downtown, for example, makes guests feel as though they’re in a fantasy world, with modern sculptures in public spaces, trendy restaurants and bars throughout, and a swimming pool with windows in its bottom looking down on the lobby below.

People have certainly taken notice. Not only are his existing hotels among the world’s hottest destinations, but the Wyndham Hotel Group recently inked a deal to franchise his Dream and Night brands, with plans to open 100 new hotels around the world over the next decade. "I like to play around with the design and create a story with the hotel that makes it stand out and have an edge," he says. 

Art Basel Miami Ends with Sex, Fantasy, and Insanity

Saturday night in Miami was a clash of nudity and insanity. There were naked girls—proving to be a recurring theme at this year’s Basel—graffiti, and a $150,000 print of Will Smith’s kid performing oral sex on his father. There was the Norwood party at the Shore Club, the Phillips de Pury auction of a Ryan McGinley, Dash Snow, and a Dan Colen at the Webster, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black at The Hole Gallery‘s Playboy party, and the Westway pop-up back at the Shore Club. It was all too much. 

Patrick Duffy’s Norwood party with Mint&Serf at the Shore Club was our first stop on Basel’s big last night. Dipset and Gucci Mane blared through the poolside cabanas, while people danced and sipped on Kanon vodka. Flowing sheer fabric separated the party from the truly awesome graffitti installation by New York artists Mint&Serf. A red and green smorgasbord of fake treats stretched alongside the pool while bulging, tanned bodybuilders posed around it in thongs, a fantastic contradiction. It was an intoxicating mix of bronzer, hip-hop, muscles, and the Mint&Serf crew’s favorite word: swag.

Jacuzzi Chris, an overly swag-centric artist and musician, who came down with the duo, told me, "The most important thing I’ve learned on this trip is to keep it cute and keep it swag." Everyone had an amazing time. Mint said it best: "After going to crazy parties, you get the idea. Everyone has crazy swag. This is the first party that’s out of the box. Louie Vuitton with the bottles and the models, it’s contained. That is wack. This is out of the box. And that’s what art should be, right?"

From the Shore Club, we moved a few blocks down to the Webster, for the Phillips de Pury charity auction of work by Dan Colen, Ryan McGinley, and the late Dash Snow. Fabulous caviar-laced canapes were provided by 21 Grams, a Franco-Japanese restaurant opening in New York this January. People enjoyed the food, drinks, and art until the auction began, especially the 9-year-old girl dancing with a caped man who looked like he was kicked out of Van Halen circa 1991.

Dash Snow’s brother Max got into a bidding war over Dash’s piece, a collage of a dick and skull with Saddam Hussein’s face on a the leg. It was sold to Max for $22,000. McGinley’s’ piece sold for $28,000 at rapid speed. Colen’s piece, a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness film poster manipulated so that Will Smith’s son was performing unspeakable acts on his father, sold for a whopping $150,000. The proceeds went to a charity that builds schools and playgrounds in Haiti. The controversial art clashed with the high-brow atmosphere. McGinley said of the event, "I’m really happy to be part of any charity event. Playgrounds will be built in Haiti because of this event. And this is the first time I’ve been in a show with just them [Dash Snow and Dan Colen], who are great artists and good friends. Anything that promotes the legacy of Dash I’m happy to be a part of."

After the auction, we whisked over to the Playboy party at the Dream Hotel to catch a performance by New York artists The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, presented by Bowery gallery The Hole. The rooftop pool area was packed. People crowded around the VIP cabanas while the Karen Black girls began. Kembra Pfahler’s work depicts a sexual, dark, and savage femininity. The girls are completely nude, their bodies painted a flat bright color, with lace up thigh high boots and demonic make up. Their hair is unbelievably huge and black. They rubbed fake blood on each other, cracked paint filled eggs on their bodies, stood on bowling balls, and sneered. At the end, they brought out a cake. One of the girls was lowered down, and smashed her ass into the cake. She stood up and other girls began viciously eating it out from her ass. Sophia Coppola said, "Love the event. Great people, good taste. Simply amazing, love it." Kathy Grayson, owner of The Hole, hung out with the DJ, acclaimed British artist Matthew Stone, in the elevated booth. She couldn’t have been more pleased. "This event is an awesome juxtaposition,” she said. “Kembra gives a radical take on femininity. To be able to do an event with Playboy, who has influenced this important artist for years, is just amazing. With Kembra, feminism isn’t a dirty word. She is intensely radical. Pure punk vision." 

But Kembra summed it up best: "Anyone that believes in equality is automatically a feminist." After that the night became hazy back at the Shore Club. But I do know one thing: Benni, PJ and the PPP boys for Westway know how to throw a great party. 


Industry Insiders: Geoffrey Zakarian, Pressure Chop

Geoffrey Zakarian is in for a busy summer, but he’s used to the pressure. The chef, restaurateur, author, and TV personality has been a flurry of activity in and out of the kitchen since he began his career at New York’s legendary Le Cirque in 1981. Since then, he has, among other things, been an executive chef at 44, opened the Blue Door at the Delano in Miami Beach, and owned critically acclaimed restaurants Town and Country (both now closed). In addition to his work as the executive chef of New York’s white-hot Lambs Club and as a judge on the Food Network series Chopped, he’s been preparing his latest restaurant, Miami’s Tudor House, a “gastro cafe” at the newly-opened Dream South Beach hotel.

“In keeping with the Miami theme, it’s slightly more art deco than a cafe, serving cafe food at a higher level than normal,” he says. While the French-influenced American cuisine in which he specializes has modern elements, Zakarian says he’s reaching back in history more than ever, digging into 100- and 200-year-old cookbooks for inspiration. “The more I go forward, the more I go backward,” he says. “It always leads me to simpler times.”