Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Synonymous with inimitable style is The Standard—a worldwide destination for its hotels, bars, restaurants, spas, and nightlife wonderments. Guests know when they are at The Standard; it has familiar touches, but with unexpected twists. In Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, visitors travel from around the globe to relax and revel in its spaces.
Artistic choices like installations, pop-ups, fundraising parties, and more are coupled with food, beverage, and entertainment options galore. During the winter season in New York, we make sure to ice skate in the rink at the High Line location before dancing upstairs at Le Bain. And at the East Village location, we enjoy mulled wine in hand-sewn yurts.
Recently, the brand named Landis Smithers its new chief creative officer. “It came out of the blue for me, but it seems to be an almost perfect use of the skills I have developed over the years at other brands,” he said of the news, referencing his past work at expressive places like Grindr and Playboy. Elevating the sensuality that The Standard is known for, Smithers is already making waves, uncovering a new layer of the brand that has yet to be seen. He’s already debuted his first installation at the High Line location and is working on opening up a new location in London.
To learn about this and more, Whitewall spoke with Smithers.
WHITEWALL: Tell us bit about your new role as chief creative officer of The Standard.
LANDIS SMITHERS: Re-imagining a brand’s strengths for new generations, extending lines of business in new directions, finding talent and giving it a stage to do its thing…all moments that The Standard brand thrives on and is ripe for right now.
WW: What do you like most about The Standard as a brand?
LS: Honestly, this is probably the first brand that I’ve been a long-term loyalist of before I was invited to be a part of. The High Line location was truly my New York home for almost a decade. It wasn’t about a particular space or room, but about the kismet that happened in that hotel. The people you met. The events constantly popping on site. The white hot chocolate with tequila in the Living Room at winter. Things that you would not find elsewhere, but you grew to anticipate at The Standard. I came in feeling “at home” in advance.
I even used the front desk staff as a reference when I was interviewing . . . many of them have known me for years.
WW: What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
LS: Well, I came in with a game plan. Kind of a dream roadmap on how to grow a brand that is a legend in its space, but has permission to go much further. It has only been about eight weeks in at this point, so keeping my head above water as I learn a new industry is the simplest goal right now. The rest will happen soon enough. I’m not terribly patient.
WW: If any, what markets is the brand planning to expand to?
LS: Ah, the future forward stuff. Well, London opens next year. Our first property overseas, and a rather impressive property at that. It will form the foothold and platform for the rest of our expansion in the next few years, as we, you know, aim for total world domination.
WW: The Standard celebrates a sense of sensuality, expression, and a touch of voyeurism that is unique and eloquent. How do you plan to continue that, and elevate it?
LS: I’m always surprised when industries shy away from basic human nature, particularly when their services provide a space for exploration. Hotels have always been places where you can re-imagine yourself, even if for just one evening. They allow retreat, experimentation, give you a base in new cultures, encourage intimacy of all kinds, and of course, they invite all aspects of human curiosity to unleash themselves.
Personally, I have shot a ton of my favorite models in rooms at The Standard over the years, for a series I called “RESERVATIONS.” Mainly because a hotel room is the last place we have to be truly anonymous, and to live without judgement. I watched time and again as the models relaxed in these rooms and unfolded in front of my lens.
Now imagine turning that insight and our stages over to creatives of all kinds. Directors, writers, chefs, musicians . . . and letting them be as sensual, as experimental, as transgressive as they want, and often can’t be elsewhere. Now imagine cross-pollinating their talents. Then embed guests in a space where that creation is happening alongside their personal journeys. Suddenly it becomes much more than a place to lay your head. It becomes a space to extend yourself.
WW: You’ve always enjoyed telling stories, and in a variety of ways. What types of stories do you like to tell most? How do you enjoy telling them?
LS: I believe life is beautiful. I believe life is hard. And between those two truths often lie the best stories. The ones that mix our desire for something beyond our day to day with the struggle to reach an often distant ideal. I encourage the models I work with to tell me their stories as we shoot. I look for their off-guard moments. I try to stimulate the brands I work on to do the same thing. Always waiting for their off-guard truths to emerge.
WW: You’ve produced television and print campaigns, working with brands on strategies like Dove, Old Navy, and Coors. What is most important for you to convey for a client? How do you get messages across? What types of campaigns do you enjoy working on most?
LS: I want brands to stop worrying about being something for everyone. There is no such thing. Life doesn’t work that way, never has. I want brands to focus on making their product unique, or their offering special, to push themselves away from the expected. And then I want them to surprise everyone by being a bit fearless, and much more culturally engaged. Here, I feel I may have found a place that actually wants that, across all platforms, and is as impatient as I am to step forward from the expected.
WW: You were previously the creative director at Playboy (during its transition from print to digital and modernizing an approach to women) and were the head of marketing at Grindr. In terms of how culture recognizes and communicates gender and sexuality, what do you find is the most important?
LS: That’s a big question. With a remarkably simple answer. Culturally, in America, we believe we are a puritanical, “moral,” almost chaste society. In actuality, in practice, we are something completely different.
I have been able to focus a lot on youth culture, and the shifts, often seismic, happening from generation to generation. The Playboy of Hefner’s heyday was not as relevant to the Playboy of a millennial male. Many men wanted women who were powerful, not playthings. They spoke of Rihanna, not Marilyn. The Grindr of today was not even the Grindr of the founder’s generation. I joked that the app had gone (in under seven years) from “neck to knees” photos with made up names to full face profiles with Instagram accounts connected. Younger users were defining usage of the products and even functionality of the tech in their own image. They removed shame, they removed the shadows, they used it for travel, for content, for brotherly advice.
I learned to adapt to gender fluidity, lack of definitions, a broader expectation around what self-expression could be within sexuality. And often outside of sexuality. In other words, the sexual revolution isn’t coming. It has already happened. Whether or not we respond and adapt to it is the only real question. How do we represent and even encourage that? Because they haven’t waited, and they don’t need our approval. It’s genius.
WW: How do you feel today’s culture is propagating or appropriating sexuality? What are you hoping to do in regard to that at The Standard?
LS: The Standard is pretty unique. We get to laugh at the parts of culture we find oppressive, we get to encourage action, we get to have fun. When it comes to sexuality, why deny what goes on in the windows of the High Line or around the pool in Miami? We don’t judge. We don’t exclude. And that alone sets us apart from “cultural appropriation,” doesn’t it?
WW: Tell us about the “Double Double” installation at The Standard, High Line and working with EVERYBODYNEEDSUS for it—one of your first projects as CCO. What did you want this piece to be like for the audience?
LS: Imagine taking an underused space, and giving a collective of creatives free rein to build, with the only guide being “stop them in their tracks, make them want to engage.” The fact that EVERYBODYNEEDSUS riffed off Kim Kardashian’s iPhone case and created this monumental, LED lit, mirrored sculpture that you can’t help but turn your gaze (and phone) on . . . it is a clear indication of the future potential we have to unlock.
WW: What are you working on now?
LS: I have an ever-growing list of projects, but just landed from a London tour of duty. Between meeting local creatives and eating amazing food and exploring the city, I added to that list with collaborators and social initiatives and challenges that I know only this brand can take on authentically.
Add that to what I’m dreaming of for the rest of our properties, and the areas beyond the brick and mortar that we have to grow, and I’d say I’ve got a full agenda for quite some time.
That’s a pretty good feeling, to be honest.