My first time in a Shinola Hotel room was at the start of the pandemic, when a friend came to visit and invited a few of us for a cloistered meeting in the living room of his studio in the size of an apartment.
I found the design to be clean and charming, with a comforting minimalism that I would have gladly transplanted into my own home. Earth-toned mid-century seating, paneled walls, and filtered lighting invoked a Crate & Barrel advertisement, only in Shinola’s iteration the vintage trend was balanced with an industrial-chic component reminiscent of its watches – steel accents and black trim for a hint of Detroit grain. For my well-traveled friend, the hotel was “pretentious”, but “comfortable”. Another jet setter in 2019 called it one of the nicest places she’s ever stayed.
This weekend, however, I returned to find the four-year-old Shinola looking a little dated – its once-trendy “retro-hipster aesthetic” is starting to look like a relic forward. (That’s to say nothing of the staff, amenities, and views, which aside from the slow construction project on the site of the old Hudson, remain extremely pleasant.)
It was while I was standing in the shower that I started seeing him. The rust-colored bands along the tile; natural fiber bags containing various items, including a roll of toilet paper; the serif font used to identify others, such as a napkin: BATH. My suspicions were confirmed when I squeezed a tube of shower gel to smell musky – like the one from the Commes des Garçons incense series that a hip friend started wearing during the pandemic. Google the words “popularity of musk fragrances”, and a March 2020 article is the first to appear.
I continued to build my file once back in the bedroom, where I saw a harmless abstract painting in muted tones. I thought of a local artist who had made pieces like this many years ago, but whose work had since evolved.
If you’ve heard of the “imminent” “Vibe Shift”, you can see that Hotel Shinola is unlikely to survive – at least not without an overhaul.
For the uninitiated (and, if so, congratulations), I’ll save:
“The Vibe Shift refers to a slang term used in a February 2022 New York magazine article, it describes a dramatic cultural shift that makes current trends seem outdated while a wave of new trends is inaugurated,” explains the Know Your Meme website. Consider downtown after the Great Recession, which transformed almost overnight from interesting, edgy, and empty into some kind of post-college campus for millennials selling mortgages, filled with a bin literal sand. It was a change of mood – locally, anyway.
The New York article didn’t do much to explain exactly what the change would be, only assuring us that it was coming. But the same day it popped up, a friend from the Bay Area shared a blog post that I think described the preference pivot.
Titled “Too many places are STERILE and TORCHED – let’s make them COOL and FUNKY”, it describes a rejection of the aesthetic that is “clean, but in a charmless, lifeless, cookie-cutter and sans serif that makes you think of ‘direct-to-consumer-optimized business models and chronological brands.’” What people want now, he argued, are “ungrammable hanger zones (UGHZ) “
“What we have in mind specifically is the kind of warm, welcoming and unpretentious place that proliferated in the 90s, during the more picturesque and older era of globalization,” continued the blog, Blackbird Spyplane. “The type of tearoom, coffeeshop, dive bar, pizzeria, etc. that carries signifiers such as:
Slow internet / no internet
A hodgepodge of mismatched china/mismatched furniture, possibly including an ottoman and an old sofa
Maybe, like, a burlap coffee sack pinned to the wall next to a Japanese parasol as decor.
A bulletin board with a bunch of “DRUMMER WANTED” and “CATSITTER AVAILABLE” flyers
The piece made me dream of AJ’s Music Cafe in Ferndale, long closed, where pets were allowed inside, live music was sometimes impromptu and, yes, the internet was slow. I hadn’t enjoyed this weird place enough, I told myself.
Of course, I’m not delusional; I know the Shinola Hotel is the epitome of a luxury brand. But I wondered how long it would last before it needed a makeover or was replaced by a newer, hipper boutique hotel. Or perhaps, in their never-ending quest for “authenticity”, the privileged would reject the trend altogether and make their new move to the decades-old Courtyard Marriott.
Without the pandemic, the Shinola might have had more time. Although his brand, which co-opted the “renaissance” of Detroit, is a sinking currency on its own, the pandemic has dimmed whatever shine remains. Covid-19 marked the end of so many things – mental health, careers, marriages, life as we knew it. It goes without saying that such a profound change should be reflected in the cultural space.
My mood board, for one, looks a lot fancier as we respawn. Recently, I found myself festooning windows with chains of old surgical masks and draping a perfectly good glass table in an assortment of lime green clothes.
To that end, the common “living room” on Shinola’s first level, where an array of bright, ceiling-high contemporary artwork helps offset what might be mistaken for a Crate & Barrel showroom, can resist change.
And in the hotel’s defense, not everyone considers it dated – yet. For an older man I met in the elevator, the vibe remains “funky”.
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