Steve Wynn talks about the pursuit of excellence and the priceless value of a promise fulfilled.
There are magic moments in the week or two before a resort opens to the public, says Steve Wynn. “It’s my favorite time because we have great fun designing, selecting, and installing, and then looking at it before we open the doors. It’s a delicious feeling. All the scaffolding is gone and the place is being vacuumed, and it’s just you and the employees eating in the restaurants—and you own the place. Some of the decisions we made were made three years before, and just before you turn it over to the public, it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time.” But despite the beautiful things that you will discover in every public and private space—monumental art and carefully considered objects, art and finishes in every room—when Wynn describes the curating of Wynn and Encore, or any of his resorts, he does not launch into an enumeration of things.
Rather, the essence of a beautifully curated hotel, Wynn says, is “keeping the promise that you have decided to make to guests. We are a niche operator—we aim for the top end. But the ‘stuff’ is only part of the contract. We could spend all the money we want on handwoven fabrics, crystal chandeliers, and marble, but the guts of the place are the people who work here and are proud that they are associated with a place that is, in fact, the best. They monitor everything because the alternative hurts their pride.”
Of course, where the “guts” and the “stuff” coalesce is where poetry is made. Curating a hotel, for Steve Wynn, is a simple equation: Make selections in good taste, continue your dedication to ideas large and small, and inspire the people who take care of all these things to love them as much as the chairman himself— and a hotel’s magic becomes “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
On the day I meet with Wynn, big decisions are being made about Wynn Palace, the luxurious second Wynn resort in Macau, opening on the Cotai Strip in 2016. He is also deeply considering bed linens. Yes, sheets. On the table before him are samples of the actual sheets from Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Four Seasons, and the villas in Wynn Las Vegas. He has taken the sheets from the most luxurious hotel groups in the world to ensure that the linens he will introduce to all the rooms and suites at Wynn and Encore at the beginning of 2015— to the tune of $9 million—are better than any other hotel. “We want to say that we have the world’s greatest linen on our beds, but we’re not keeping the promise if they’re not. When you say that you have a higher-quality linen on your beds than any other hotel on earth, and that’s the truth, then you’re doing something.” And you can be sure that he has checked for accuracy. “There was one hotel in the world that had 500-thread-count sheets, and it had 200 rooms. So we went beyond that,” he confides. “This is the simple idea: What does the customer feel? This is next to your body. The way you take a hotel to another level is by considering every single little thing.” Sheets, he laughs, are “this week’s passion.” Other passions he is contemplating include establishing a vegetable farm to supply Wynn’s restaurants, establishing his own dayboat fishing operation for line-caught fish, and dedicated parking for alternative vehicles. “We are always sitting around dreaming up new things, and that is where curating the experience starts—with a group that’s on the make for a better way.”
Grand ideas are what give birth to the more traditional curating of art and objects in the resort. And Wynn credits Roger Thomas, Executive Vice President for Wynn Design and Development, for what they call “accessorizing” the resort. “There is a noticeable element of femininity here, by design,” Wynn explains. “We subscribe to the notion that the feminine side of the personality has to be explored in a resort that’s top end: Women see and react with surprise and delight to detail.” And there is no shortage of opportunity to recognize this methodology. For instance, if you take a moment to look up before walking into Terrace Pointe Café, you will see a delicate wood chandelier created in 1918 by Gustave Eiffel, featuring its original shades of Favrile glass. Perched in the space between the Wynn Resort Tower elevators is a pair of Italian Baroque gilt carvings, discovered in an antique shop in Florence by Roger Thomas and placed just prior to Wynn’s opening. These earlier works coexist in beautiful harmony with contemporary pieces, such as LA artist Lari Pittman’s emotive abstract pieces behind the Wynn registration desk and two celebrated sculptures by Jeff Koons: the monumental Tulips in the Wynn Theater Rotunda and his 2,000-pound, six-and-a-half-foot-tall Popeye, added this year, who playfully flexes, spinach can in hand, on the Wynn Esplanade.
The fact that Wynn is legendary for having paid, by any standards, enormous sums of money to “accessorize” is not the point of filling his resort with its art pieces. To be sure, Wynn and Thomas select pieces that will imbue the resort with the warmth and elegance for which Wynn resorts are known. “But when we start writing checks for $25 or $30 million,” he explains, “these are also cultural decisions we’re making.”
When he opened Wynn Macau in 2006, he not only repatriated an extremely rare copperglazed vase from the 13th century (one of only three in existence) to the Chinese government as a gift, but also acquired a quartet of rare Qing dynasty vases, now displayed in the Wynn Macau lobby. “I said, ‘My employees live here. There’s a wonderful museum in Macau, and it’s not only important that the city expands economically, but also culturally,’” he explains. Similarly, Koons’s Popeye and Tulips are cultural statements that celebrate iconography and art production in America. “At four billion dollars, it’s not such a big deal to have a thirty-million-dollar tulip in the lobby,” he laughs.
“The only people who excel are all alike. They love it. They’re never satisfied, and they get on everybody’s nerves until finally they get on their own nerves, which means they’re done.” —Steve Wynn
A favorite pastime for Wynn-watchers is guessing what Steve Wynn will think of next. Tellingly, Wynn points to Tulips, and to the floral carousel in Wynn’s lobby: “The theme of Wynn Palace is flowers. We are forever testing things we are going to do elsewhere on a grander scale. With each of our hotels, starting in New Jersey, then Mirage and Treasure Island, then on to Bellagio, Wynn, Macau, Encore Macau, Wynn Encore, and now Cotai, we have the opportunity to think of something better, to incubate a good idea or to come up with a new one. The pursuit of excellence is a slow, inch-by-inch ascension. And the only people who ever do it are all alike. They love it. They’re never satisfied, and they get on everybody’s nerves until finally they get on their own nerves, which means they’re done.”
All this, of course, means that Steve Wynn will not only continue to get those magical, preopening moments—in which three or four years of creation and curation have come to fruition— but he will again introduce another idea to Wynn and Encore. And then, almost inevitably, he will begin again.