new york | Culture

An Interview with The Redbury’s Creative Director Matthew Rolston

May 31, 2016
Written by: Yasha Wallin

Internationally acclaimed visual artist Matthew Rolston has consistently redefined how people see pop culture, photography and modern beauty. Renowned for his influential lighting techniques and unique approach to art direction and design, Rolston’s career is synonymous with the revival and expression of Hollywood Glamour.

Rolston’s photography has graced over 100 Rolling Stone covers and through the years, his images have been featured in countless other prominent publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair. Deciding to extend his vision beyond still photography into the moving image, Rolston began conceiving, writing and directing music videos and television commercials for such diverse clients as Madonna and Esteé Lauder, to name just a few.

A restlessly creative type, Rolston has once again redefined and expanded the scope of his vision with his latest move into the area of experiential design (including hospitality), product development, and diverse entertainment projects. His first hospitality endeavor, The Redbury Hollywood, became Rolston’s fresh canvas, empowering him to showcase a unique, real-world environment for a style-focused audience. Here, we asked him more about his vision for The Redbury’s latest property in New York, and what exactly “Matthew Magic” means…

  • What was your approach as Creative Director for the new Redbury in NYC?
    The approach for The Redbury New York was to extend the visual brand language that has already been established in the two previous properties (Hollywood and South Beach) in a way that is appropriate for both New York and the specific part of the city in which the property exists.
    “Visual brand language” means design elements that are particular to The Redbury. For example, one of the signature visual elements for this brand is a huge red velvet opera curtain, trimmed in gold bullion fringe. The lobby of The Redbury New York will feature two 40-foot high curtains. A dramatic opening touch!
  • Music plays a big role in the creative direction of The Redbury hotels – what is your personal connection to music?
    Music does play a very large role in the brand narrative I established for The Redbury hotels. Given my own personal interest in music, and my experience as a music video director (I have directed over 100 music videos for artists as diverse as Madonna, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé Knowles, and many others), I tend to look for the soul of things through music.
  • The Redbury New York is adjacent to “Tin Pan Alley.” Can you talk about the significance of this juxtaposition and how that factored into the hotel’s aesthetic?
    Reacting to the hotel’s site, I discovered that the surrounding neighborhood was the original home of American popular music in the early parts of the 20th century, an area known as ‘Tin Pan Alley.’ Because The Redbury as a brand is a music-centric concept, that discovery was a perfect fit.
  • What sets The Redbury New York apart from NYC’s other hotel options?
    The Redbury as a brand has unique qualities. It’s casual but also somewhat theatrical. It’s fun, but it’s a brand that takes service protocols seriously. The overall feeling is quite romantic—but, it’s a mixture—relaxing and exciting at the same time, and who doesn’t want that?
  • What do you love most about NYC?
    The weather! But really, the greatest thing about New York is the incredible concentration of talented and driven individuals. That’s what gives the city such an amazing quality. Add to that the richness of American history, art and culture – plus the thrill of the New York City pace – and you’ve got a city to fall deeply in love with.
  • Your background is in photography – how did you transition into doing creative direction for hotels?
    It was an accident of sorts. sbe’s visionary founder Sam Nazarian personally asked me to try my hand at the first Redbury hotel in Hollywood. I was tasked with overseeing all creative elements of the brand – from the naming of the brand itself, to the brand narrative, and into much more granular details such as color palettes, design materials, welcome protocols…even uniforms.
  • Lighting plays a significant role in your photography and film work – does this also extend to hotel projects?
    Good lighting is incredibly important to me. So many design projects have exciting lighting plans, but those plans serve to dramatize the environment, not the people. Because I come from the world of glamour photography and music videos, I’m actually as interested (if not more so) in how people look within an environment. That’s often a low priority, or altogether forgotten, in many hospitality projects. But not in this one!
  • You’ve said an overarching theme in your oeuvre is romance – what was the last romantic thing you did?
    Romance is a state of mind as much as it is a particular activity. In my mind, simple things are always the best. Dinner out with someone special, candle light, great wine, these are some of the simple things that make life wonderful. And these are things that are readily available at The Redbury New York!
  • You’ve photographed nearly every major celebrity in the world. Is there any one experience that stands out as being a favorite?
    One experience that stands out among many was photographing Michael Jackson near the end of his career. It seems that I am the last photographer to photograph Michael in a formal setting. In fact, my shoot is officially “the last sitting” of Jackson’s career. After my shoot, he never posed for photographs again (although of course he was photographed by paparazzi and documentary photographers). It’s a strange and sad thing to be known for, but nonetheless, an interesting fact of my career.
  • How would you define what some people call “Matthew Magic”?
    My clients came up with that phrase! They’ve said that “Matthew Magic” has something to do with an elevated feeling. Something like the way you might feel after sipping a glass of fine champagne. Bubbly, excited, at ease, and stimulated – all at the same time. A little like experiencing an infatuation. I want people to fall in love with my projects, whether they’re photography, film, art, or a great hotel experience.