By Andrea Bennett| September 12, 2016 |
Designing and building Steve Wynn’s Palace in Cotai has been a years-long journey with a singular goal: create a destination that is full of joy.
The exclusive Chairman’s Club gives guests an extraordinary show of the fountains at night.
An Italian rock crystal chandelier is the centerpiece and inspiration for the design of Wing lei Bar in Wynn Palace. It is unusual in that, although it was made in the early 19th century, its 18th-century style is reminiscent of Louis XV. The crystals are so densely assembled that you’ll only see layers of cut rock crystal pendants seemingly dripping together. Executive Vice President of Design for Wynn Design & Development Roger Thomas found it in a gallery in the Seventh Arrondissement in Paris and had been waiting some time to build a room around it. Rather than destroy the integrity of such a piece with wiring, Wynn’s designers focused external lighting on it: Its rock crystal pendants now seem lit from within, shedding light on the gilt-bamboo, sparkling mirror, and malachite, lapis lazuli, golden tiger’s eye, and mother-of-pearl inlays in the wall. Standing beneath it, I feel like I’m in an antique, mirrored jewel box. And on a later visit with Steve Wynn, it also becomes something of a metaphor in my mind for the Wynn ethos.
“So, what did you take away from your visit?” Wynn asks me on my return to Las Vegas. I am still processing some astonishment, for all the reasons you’ll read about in this issue of Wynn and many you’ll discover on your own. But I’m curious about this unusual chandelier. “It’s undeniably beautiful,” I say, “but why put a rare piece in a room when few people may ever appreciate its significance?”
The simple answer, Wynn tells me, is “We wanted to. It may be true that the public will never understand that chandelier, but like so many lovely things, you don’t analyze it—you feel it. If the place is consistent, then you know you’re in the best place there is.” But the decision to procure the chandelier wasn’t made lightly; the room’s distinct beauty depends on that particular piece—and that, says Wynn, is something you can’t fake. “If you’re Roger or me, you have to ask, Was all this worth it for one resort? Could we have value-engineered it for $200 million less on décor? And Roger’s answer would be, ‘The premium we paid for the best wasn’t so much higher than for something mundane.’ In this case, I encouraged him to [buy a chandelier whose rarity might not be obvious to most people]. Should there be a price tag for the best hotel in the world?”
The interior of Wing Lei Bar was designed to feel like an antique jewel box.
Planning for Wynn Palace began six years ago, several years after the opening of Wynn Macau, and it was conceived as a destination as much as a resort, Wynn explains. (Incidentally, the cost to open Wynn Palace was roughly that of Shanghai Disney, which also debuted this year.) “In Wynn Macau, we’re in a downtown area and get the cross traffic of four other hotels,” Wynn explains. “If a guy doesn’t like his hotel, he can walk across the street to ours. Cotai is so separate, we had to be so fetching that we became the destination—so people would know they had to come see it and experience it. How do you take an enterprise like this to another level besides just saying it? You review every single detail, over and over. You think about the comfort and happiness of the employees, the distances they have to walk, the emotional experience of the guest moving through the space… And then you revisit them.”
Planning for this or any Wynn resort, Wynn describes, begins when he and Executive Vice President of Architecture at Wynn Design & Development DeRuyter Butler sit down with an idea. “We’re thinking about the most fundamental experience. If you walk through a crummy hallway to a palatial room, it takes the edge off the room’s loveliness in your mind. But if you walk through a palatial hallway, it elevates the whole experience,” he says. “So I took another look at corridors: In all hotels, they’re five or six feet wide. We made them eight feet wide, and the feeling of just walking the hallway is luxurious. We deepened the rooms. We raised the ceilings. We revisited every element of the room, inch by inch, and item by item.”
I recall a moment on a tour of a Garden Villa in which I marveled to a member of the WDD interior design team that even the sprinkler caps on the ceiling are the precise shade of Cotai White that belongs to Wynn Palace. “Thank you,” she said. “Do you know how many times I matched those custom sprinkler caps?” Wynn is amused at the anecdote—but not surprised. “Do you know why we can do what no one else can?” he asks. “No one has the patience, and no one has the dedication to the process. ‘Art is long and life is short’—Kafka [quoting Hippocrates]. This is also taken to mean that the technique and craft are long and life is short. We’re willing to crumple up pieces of paper that were okay but not good enough.”
Wynn explains that when he asks about guests’ takeaway from the resort, he is not soliciting opinions on design or décor, he’s looking for a feeling. “Is it contemporary? Is it palatial? Is it warm? Is it joyful? Is it very fancy? You could go to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it’s beautiful, but it’s from another time and you might not identify with it. You don’t see yourself living in it. You might not call Buckingham Palace joyful.”
The Wynn Chairman’s Club is filled with thoughtful and ornate details, such as polished brass floral trellises inspired by an Art Deco necessaire (or cosmetics case) inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels, and are designed to reflect the fountains outside.
While Steve Wynn certainly has favorite moments and places in Wynn Palace, those are not what he and I are talking about on this day. The point he wants to stress is that the sum of all these laboriously forged elements, these carefully sourced pieces, this custom furniture, is that visceral, gut reaction— something that takes years of development to get just right.
“I learned an important thing from the great advertising innovator Hal Riney. When we were opening the Mirage in 1989, I had been pitched all these grand ideas from the biggest agencies. But Hal was a terse man, and he said, ‘One thing I’ll never do, Mr. Wynn, is show your building before it’s open. No renderings, models, all that hyperbole. If you’re considering us, I have to tell you: A chief executive, a president, a boss has to be able to define who they are. Because if the boss doesn’t know who they are, then guys like us can’t make it up. I’ve seen your model and I believe that your hotel is going to be spectacular, but the last thing I’ll ever do is say that. Your job is to build it; my job is to provoke people to discover it on their own terms.”
When Wynn shot the commercial for the opening of Bellagio in 1998, he took away those lessons. “We didn’t show the hotel in the ad. We had Andrea Bocelli singing ‘Con Te Partiro,’ and a couple on balconies—no talking. All we had were pictures of the lake and the fountain, and water filtering over the woman’s hand. Then, black screen: ‘Bellagio. And so it begins.’ We created the expectation—and then we fulfilled it.”
Wynn is delving into hotel history, he explains, because he wants the hotel to do the talking. “As Hal would say, ‘I can tell you that this is the eighth wonder of the modern world, but I wouldn’t do that. I want to invite people to come and experience it [for themselves].’ If you’re going to write a story, it should be called ‘Wynn Palace Begins.’ You can use that line,” he says with a wink.
“I want people to come to Wynn Palace and love the things they see, of course,” Wynn says. But the things they won’t see or know—the most luxurious employee dining room, a design coordinator painstakingly poring over sprinkler caps, and yes, even the story of that chandelier— are the foundation that Wynn Palace is built on. “And if it makes people joyful,” Wynn says, “then I’ve done my job.”