A few years ago, Paul Sevigny was an average Wall Street guy in a suit who knew nothing about Manhattan nightlife. He got up at 4:15 a.m. to catch a train from Connecticut. Now he can be found at the same hour, still wearing a suit, but playing records at nightclubs until dawn, when he goes home to his East Village apartment and sleeps. The 29-year-old is known in the gossip columns as the “commodities trader turned D.J.,” a career change that many (himself included) say might not have happened if his sister weren’t Chloë Sevigny, the Oscar- nominated actress ( Boys Don’t Cry ) and fashion icon who is currently appearing off Broadway in Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw.
Chloë Sevigny’s brother has been busy this fall, spinning at nightclubs, fashion events and parties to promote things like Sephora cosmetics and Bombay gin. Mr. Sevigny is so ubiquitous it makes one wonder if he could be the next Mark Ronson, the city’s current hottest D.J., a 27-year-old who spins everywhere from downtown clubs to a recent disco-filled night at the Whitney Museum.
Mr. Sevigny says he is uneasy about his budding status. Like many on-the-make young Manhattanites, Mr. Sevigny yearns for a taste of fame. But what happens if fame plays a trick on you-if you get to be a boldface name, but not because of your deepest talents or identity or ambition? What happens if your 15 minutes come because you can spin records and have a famous sister? Do you keep quiet and milk the fame, or do you walk away?
What’s a guy to do?
“I never really wanted to be a D.J.,” Mr. Sevigny said. “Eight months ago, I would never have thought it. It was really weird. I’m still adjusting to it. Imagine if you were a D.J. in two months-you’re as far away from it right now as I was.”
He was fidgeting and smoking in a booth at Time Cafe on Lafayette Street. Tall and lanky, he was wearing a tweed jacket, a blue Oxford button-down and khakis. He has his sister’s blue eyes, but without her hauntingly knowing air.
Up until this past spring, Mr. Sevigny was working for Dana Giachetto, the flamboyant money manager whose firm, the Cassandra Group, catered to A-list movie stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. But as everyone knows by now, in March the Cassandra Group was immolated in a blaze of client defections, bad press and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. Mr. Giachetto was caught trying to leave the country and jailed. Mr. Sevigny was very much out of a job.
While figuring out what to do next, he D.J.’d at the birthday party of a friend who had noticed that Mr. Sevigny had a lot of cool records in his apartment. Next he was asked to D.J. at Serena, a lounge under the Chelsea Hotel, then at a boutique party for an English fashion house. “It ended up being a great party where a lot of people danced, had a great time,” he said. “Hence, recommendations.” By August, his phone was ringing a lot.
He pushed away his half-eaten cheeseburger. “It’s the funniest thing,” he said. “I’m sitting here doing an interview. You know, six months ago I was behind a desk. A real, regular life. It’s a New York story, that’s for sure. Would not happen anywhere else. It’s so much tied into the whole Hollywood thing. Besides my sister, there was the whole Dana thing. You could think of it as a negative thing. Everything all at once produced more. My sister gets nominated for an Oscar, Dana gets busted and then all of a sudden I’m a D.J. It makes it all the more interesting.”
The year 2000 has been good to Mr. Sevigny. He’s got a nice apartment with a big kitchen and high ceilings in the East Village. He owns stocks and has been watching crude oil closely. He’s not a millionaire: He rides the subway, but takes out a minimum of $200 from A.T.M.’s. He sleeps late and dates a tall, blond, cream-skinned woman named Bay Garnett, whose father, Andy Garnett, was described by The New York Times as “a member of the English aristocracy.” Manhattan File magazine recently named Mr. Sevigny among the 100 most-wanted bachelors in Manhattan.
Rather than the usual techno and hip-hop fare, Mr. Sevigny likes to play songs by the Sex Pistols and New York Dolls, as well as hard-rock hits from the 70′s and 80′s. “People are trying to make it uncool to like rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “Like you’re not hip if you’re not into techno.”
Besides not being a technical virtuoso-he was once witnessed having trouble with the audio knobs at Spa-Mr. Sevigny has an unapologetically amateurish style: He’s an anti-D.J. D.J. He might play four Ramones songs in a row, or play 45 seconds of a crowd cheering at a Guns N’ Roses concert, or just stop a song in the middle and flip over the record. Mr. Sevigny’s fee is somewhere more than $5,000 a night, he said.
“I say every day, ‘Oh my God, I would never have been able to have done this,’” Mr. Sevigny said. “It’s similar to that of a member of a band or a successful artist. Thank God I make enough money to really enjoy my off time. I work two days a week! Now it’s turned into snowboarding season, and hopefully I’ll get a lot of that in. Maybe I’ll get some film festival jobs. That’s the great thing as a D.J., it’s kind of like a rock band to some extent. If you can hook up with a gig at Sundance, you’re flown there and you go and hang. Mark Ronson is, like, flown around on Tommy Hilfiger’s private jet.”
“There’s a lot more money on Wall Street than this, man!” he said. Still, he added, “at the top end of D.J.-ing, some of these guys are making millions. In Europe, D.J.’s are huge. Most people say that America’s really lagging behind. I’m sure there would be tons of D.J.’s laughing at my rates. Like, ‘That’s nothing! Are you kidding me?’ Because they’re making hundreds of thousands a night for some parties, for spinning records.”
He knows that his last name has worked in his favor. On a recent night, on his way to spin at Spa, he remarked, “The Sevigny name might conjure up my sister, who could possibly stop by. And you’d be surprised what they pay some actresses to show up at parties.”
“I don’t know if he’d be doing it if there wasn’t a draw on the last name,” said Jake Spitz, a publicist for Spa.
Later that night, at 3 a.m., Mr. Sevigny was in the D.J. booth at Spa with his headphones on, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His sister was there, looking frazzled, overwhelmed and spectacular.
About 75 people were cutting the rug to AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Josie Novack, a personal trainer in a miniskirt, was by the dance floor and not dancing.
“This music sucks,” she said. “It’s too aggressive, too antagonistic. It’s too much of the same stuff. People forget about the feeling . It’s way detached. Negative, pumping, angry energy-not sensual. It’s working if you want people to leave .”
A D.J. and musician named Lex Marsh, who was standing by a sullen-looking Parker Posey, the actress, was also left cold. “It’s obvious,” he said of the music. “Old rock hits. Crowd pleasing. No feeling to it. The thing is to set a mood, and this guy has no idea how to get a mood. He’s here because of his sister. I like his sister, she’s cool, but I can’t think why else he’s here, except he has that name.”
But Mr. Sevigny has his fans. On another night, he was spinning at Eugene on West 22nd Street. Sophie Dahl, a model and Roald Dahl’s granddaughter, was there. The actress Liv Tyler was dancing with a girlfriend. Mr. Sevigny was playing a Blondie song. Nigel Mogg, a rock musician with a rooster haircut, said, “He’s doing a great job. If your personal taste can translate to a lot of other people’s taste, you’re doing a good job. Some people try to be too hip and they play stuff that you don’t know. I hate techno, man. The thing about techno is, do people actually go home and listen to that in their house? It takes balls to play AC/DC and Blondie and New Order and the Cure.”
Another fan is Moby, the techno star, who also grew up in Darien.
“I love the way paul sevigny dj’s,” Moby said via e-mail. “It’s funny cos i’ve known paul and chloe since forever. i remember little chloe as a 12 year old ingenue.”
Mr. Sevigny said that Moby’s approval meant something to him. “That was exciting for me because here’s a guy with a No. 1 album,” he said. “It was one of the first things that legitimized me to myself. Because all the time people come up and tell you you suck.”
World’s Coolest Sis
Paul Sevigny was born in Philadelphia and raised in Darien, Conn. His mother was a Grace Kelly–like beauty and his father, who died in 1995, was an artist. Young Paul was big into skateboarding and had a nine-foot ramp in his backyard. “Sev” headed into Manhattan on Sundays for punk-rock matinee shows at CBGB’s. His little sister Chloë idolized him. “She would do a lot of the same things I would do or whatever,” he said. At 17, Mr. Sevigny went to boarding school, then to college in South Carolina, where he majored in art. “I basically went to the school to sail; they have a great sailing team,” he said.
In 1994, The New Yorker published an article by Jay McInerney which declared that Chloë Sevigny, then 19, was “the coolest girl in the world.” Miss Sevigny was doing things like interning at Sassy magazine, babysitting for the rock band Sonic Youth and befriending a Beastie Boy. Soon she met filmmaker Harmony Korine in Washington Square Park and was cast in the controversial Larry Clark movie Kids , for which Mr. Korine wrote the screenplay. While racking up more movies, she also mastered that rare art of embodying cool while mocking the idea of cool at the same time.
I asked Mr. Sevigny about his sister’s fame. “There’s a downside for her,” he said. “She still hasn’t made that much money, so as far as that’s concerned, it’s not like she’s set up for the rest of her life. You’d imagine for somebody on the cover of every magazine in the country it would be, but it’s not the way it is with Chloë. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on a girl her age; we’re talking about a lot of money, you know, some decisions-she turned down over $3 million worth of shit last year.”
Does he advise his sister?
“Yes, she’ll usually run everything by me, or the majority, if it’s a big thing,” he said. “I guess a brother and a sister always do. We’re close, and since our father died, that makes it even closer.”
While his sister was picking up heat in Hollywood, Mr. Sevigny was doing Wall Street: runner, clerk, trader at “a small boutique.” Last year he began dating Emma Forrest, a 23-year-old British journalist who wrote a novel called Namedropper . “I don’t really speak to him anymore,” Ms. Forrest said. “There’s no animosity, but I keep hearing about him and reading about him being this super-hip cool guy. And what I liked so much about him was, we were just complete dorks. He was the only person I ever met who was a bigger dork than I. We would just sit around and talk in baby voices and pretend to be Furbies, the child toy, the little furry ball that talks. We’d pretend to be Pikachu from Pokémon. And he was really great to me. I met him like a week after I moved to New York from England, and he was really my mom for a year.”
But there were problems. “I’m not a very stable person and neither is he, and two crazy people don’t make a sane one,” Ms. Forrest said, laughing. “He’d be saying what an incredible human being George Bush Sr. was, and I’d just burst into tears. And I’d be in floods of tears as he’d go on to say that George W. should be President by virtue of being George Bush’s son.”
Another recurring issue was apparently Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel American Psycho, whose protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is a well-dressed serial killer. “It’s his favorite book,” Ms. Forrest said. “He would say, ‘I am Patrick Bateman.’ I would say, ‘You mean you want to torture and murder women?’ and he would say, ‘No, I don’t mean that.’ I would say, ‘Which part of Patrick Bateman do you relate to?’ He never managed to explain that one. I remember I said, ‘You know it’s a satire,’ and he snorted and said, ‘You just don’t understand it.’ He just worships that book.”
(Coincidentally, sister Chloë played Bateman’s secretary and near-victim in this year’s movie version of the book.)
Things didn’t work out with Ms. Forrest. But then Mr. Sevigny landed his dream job-with the luckless Mr. Giachetto.
“People had been telling me about Dana for like two years,” Mr. Sevigny said. “‘Oh, Dana , Dana, Dana, you gotta meet Dana, Dana’s making me tons of money.’ I didn’t really pay much attention. Then, all of a sudden, Chase gives him $100 million. I was like, ‘Maybe I should meet Dana.’”
He was there for two months. “Imagine that,” he said. “I was there when the shit hit the fan.”
On a recent Saturday night, Mr. Sevigny sat down for pasta at an East Village restaurant before a night of doing laundry. He was wearing a snug white turtleneck sweater, tightish blue jeans and white tennis shoes by Marc Jacobs. He had just returned from a D.J. job at a Boston department store. In exchange for three hours of playing records, Surface magazine paid his fee and put him and three friends up at a four-star hotel.
“It’s starting to become too much like a real job, which isn’t really what it should be,” he said. “It’s working out so well that it’d be nice to keep doing it for a while, but you also realize how fragile the whole thing could be. And if I continue to become more and more of a D.J.-I certainly don’t want to be a D.J. a couple of years from now. I don’t know if I prefer to be a D.J. a year from now.”
In fact, a few days after being interviewed, Mr. Sevigny said he was getting out of the D.J. business altogether. “It’s just not the right thing for me,” he said. He added that he plans to spin records just one night a week, and that he would soon start work at Cheap Date magazine, which he called an “anti-fashion fashion magazine.” Cheap Date is edited by his girlfriend, Ms. Garnett, and written largely by sons and daughters of the wealthy. Contributors include Harmony Korine, who wrote the screenplay for Kids, the film that helped make Chloë Sevigny famous.
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