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W's New Standard


In his style war with Ian Schrager (though not, of course, in his wealth war), Barry Sternlicht is at a disadvantage. Even his hippest hotels -- the rapidly multiplying Ws -- are seen as derivative (their decorative Granny Smith apples appeared first at the Delano), and some of his properties are downright dowdy, like the Westin and Sheraton chains. But now the CEO of Starwood Hotels may hook up with ultrahip, perpetually tan André Balazs, owner of the Mercer and L.A.'s ever-cool Chateau Marmont. "Barry's credibility is as a businessman," says a source. "This would be a sexy association for him."

Sternlicht is eying Balazs's recession-ready Standard in Hollywood, whose Wallpaper*-ed rooms start at $95. A second Standard is about to open in L.A., and Balazs has bought property with Cape Advisers at Lafayette and Delancey Streets for a third. "We've been talking to Starwood as well as other companies," confirms Balazs. According to a Starwood insider, the hypercompetitive Sternlicht -- who once contemplated buying out Schrager and who wooed away bar czar Rande Gerber -- might also look to Balazs to spruce up brands like the Westin. If Sternlicht brings money to this potential marriage, Balazs (who's already married to Katie Ford) can offer his impeccable decorating sense -- and the right sort of guest list. "You can't make a hotel hip just with furniture," he insists.

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