A bit of an old soul, graphic designer Lauren Brits describes herself as, “one of those annoying creatives that believe they were born in the wrong era.” Her interest in a different time and place became the inspiration for a project of hers called, “Hotel Chelsea: 130 Years of Dreams, Deaths and Debauchery”, a fictitious coffee table book styled to look like a classic hotel ledger, that she created while studying at the Stellenbosch Academy. The book documents the stays and stories of people such as Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and James Dean. She says, “I fell in love with the hotel when I read about it in Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, where she writes of her and Robert Mapplethorpe’s time spent there. My insides literally did back flips when I read of the people that had stayed there.” One paragraph in particular was Lauren’s sole inspiration for the project, and is a page she still keeps bookmarked. In the words of Patti Smith:
“A week or two later I waltzed into the El Quixote looking for Harry and Peggy. It was a bar-restaurant adjacent to the hotel, connected to the lobby by its own door, which made it feel like our bar, as it had been for decades. Dylan Thomas, Terry Southern, Eugene O’Neill, and Thomas Wolfe were among those who had raised one too many a glass there. I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde. There were musicians everywhere, sitting before tables laid with mounds of shrimp with green sauce, paella, pitchers of sangria, and bottles of tequila.”
Lauren spent days online sourcing imagery and researching The Hotel Chelsea’s rich history intertwined with those of the iconic musicians, writers and artists who roamed its halls. Every image that she used was actually taken at the hotel. Placing a great importance on details, she printed out each image and scuffed them by hand to make them appear like real photographs that had been worn and handled. Each of the signatures in the “registry” is also the exact signature of each artist. Lauren says, “I love incorporating hand elements into my work. It gives the piece a sense of depth, intimacy and personality. Most of the fonts are hand generated, with the handwritten type done with my left hand (as I am a righty), to create a real grunge and angst feel. I wanted the book to look as if these eccentric artists had scribbled in it in a drunken rage or drug induced state. The type writer elements were also all typed out by hand on my old type writer and scanned in, to further enhance the feel of that time and era.”
The hotel was closed down to guests in 2013, and 2014 marked 130 years since its opening.