Backstage at the Four Seasons

Published on: November 22nd, 2011
A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Backstage at the Four Seasons

Course: Theorizing Luxury

Prof. David Brody

The lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Manhattan

IMAGE  flickr/Alain Poder | license: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The entrance above isn’t the one we used. Instead, my class walked into the service entrance of New York’s Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street. This may have seemed like the wrong entrance for a course called Theorizing Luxury.
One thing immediately becomes clear in this gleaming back-of-the-house space.
The service entry leads to an area that the Four Seasons refers to as the “heart of the house,” and even though this space is meant for staff only, every effort is made to make these hallways—filled with uniforms, cleaning equipment, and room service trays—spotless, as if a imperious guest might accidentally wonder into this hidden region to check for dust.
As this shows, The Four Seasons takes its service seriously and does everything it can to make certain that its highly organized service design operations function perfectly. Carts line up, even picked-over food looks miraculously well organized as it awaits cleanup on trolleys, and signage implores hotel employees to take their critical role in the delivery of luxury seriously.
After being taken into the laundry room and looking at the giant drums that wash and dry sheets and towels, it became evident that these bastions of luxury do not get maintained without tireless effort. Several men and women could be seen carefully loading sheets into the enormous pressing machines that iron these linens, ensuring that when they were brought upstairs they would fit perfectly with the rest of hotel’s luxurious décor.
Some of these sheets may have been on their way to the hotel’s Presidential suites, the next stop on our behind-the-scenes tour.
Theorizing Luxury, which meets once a week in a seminar format, interrogates how the design of luxury depends on labor to make it appear seamless, perfect, and desirable to wealthy consumers.


Curious? Apply online for the Design Studies program.

Further reading on luxury:

Theorizing Luxury is next scheduled in Spring of 2012.

Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.