Mick Jagger. Michael Jackson. Cher. Stevie Wonder. Karl Lagerfeld. Pat Cleveland. Diane von Furstenberg. Norma Kamali. To say that Studio 54 was the place to be, may in fact be the understatement of the last four decades. To celebrate the nightclub’s 40th anniversary this year, co-founder Ian Schrager looks back to the Studio’s history with a new coffee table book, out now, and an upcoming documentary to be released at the end of the year.
Surprised by the growing interest in the hotspot years later, including from his daughter, Schrager thought it was time to look back on the offering that made him famous. “I always had bittersweet memories of Studio 54, it took a long time for the wound to heal,” says Schrager, who opened the locale in six weeks with business partner Steve Rubell in 1977. “I naturally came to a place where I felt comfortable talking about it."
Though Schrager contends he was a “shy” nightclub owner (“Steve wanted to hang out with everybody at the bar and I went up into the DJ booth to play with the lights. I liked to look at the whole thing from the outside,” he muses), he doesn’t deny that Studio was a kind of sanctuary for all types of people. “Studio represented some kind of human ideal,” he says. “It was a complete freedom in a very protected, secure environment. There wasn’t very many things that you would do at night and you could get up the next morning and walk away from. It was a time of innocence, spontaneity.”
Nowadays, that so-called life without repercussions no longer exists with the advent of tabloid sites like TMZ and social media and Schrager knows it. “Celebrity culture today is a victim of its own existence,” he says. “It’s become a complete parody of itself and there are celebrities who have done nothing and they’re celebrities and nobody knows why they’re celebrities, so I think that’s changed.”
The night that Cher made an appearance at at Studio 54 was enough of a big deal to land the nightclub on the cover of the New York Post. “It was unheard of for a nightclub to be on the front page of an important daily newspaper in New York City,” he remembers. “Not to mention we were two guys from Brooklyn, not Manhattan, so it was a whole wild ride.”
Nowadays, Schrager has only been able to find that same kind of utopia in East Berlin. “East Berlin has the same kind of energy, rawness that Studio had,” says Schrager. “It’s so funny, they don’t allow you to take your phone into certain place because they know that social media has changed everything, but there's an energy there that’s almost lifts you up when you’re in there.”
Studio 54 is out now via Rizzoli.
Diana Ross by Bettman/Getty Images.