Elisabeth Kieselstein-Cord, a 21-year-old socialite, was on the phone and pissed off. A reporter had been calling her friends. “I haven’t done anything mean –to anyone, in my entire life–so I’m not concerned that someone’s going to be like, ‘Oh, she kicked me,’” she said. “It makes me feel very awkward. You know, I feel like this is the most invasive procedure that I’ve ever done. I really am being eaten up over this one.
“My life is not about cocktail parties,” she continued. “That’s why I don’t feel comfortable being photographed at them. You know what, I’m a young girl, O.K.? And the last thing I want is to have a bunch of obstacles thrown my way because someone has written about me in such a way that is–I’m very upset, I need to go.”
She called back. “I really wish I hadn’t embarked on this labyrinthine journey with you to begin with, because it’s out of control in my mind!”
The journey began over a drink one afternoon at an East Side restaurant named 212. As we entered, the hostess asked if we were with a party of 15.
“Yeah, can’t you see all the people behind us?” Ms. Kieselstein-Cord replied. But not at all in a snide way, she made clear. “I just always say the first thing that comes to my mind,” she said after we were seated.
Ms. Kieselstein-Cord is tremendously skinny, with caramel skin, dirty blond hair, big hazel eyes and lips that were described as “doll-thick” by a character in Woody Allen’s 1996 film Deconstructing Harry , in which she appeared as an extra.
Ms. Kieselstein-Cord’s photograph has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and W. Her father, Barry Kieselstein-Cord, is a well-known designer of high-priced accessories–belts, handbags, jewelry, sunglasses–which are popular in Manhattan, but considered more stylish in places such as Houston and Dallas. Her mother, Cece, is an artist and a socialite.
While Ms. Kieselstein-Cord has been lumped with all the other dewy “It Girls” of New York circa 2001, she professes to be perplexed at the attention she’s getting.
“I find it very bizarre when I go home and listen to my answering machine,” she said, “and there are all these messages from people asking to work with me, about different projects. And I think, ‘Why in the world do they want to do this?’ And I figure, I’m part of the things that make New York New York.”
Ms. Kieselstein-Cord lives in a studio apartment on the Upper East Side. Her boyfriend, Stanley, is 30, works in finance and is “the finest person I’ve ever known,” she said.
Around six months ago, she began working full time with her father. He wants her to run the business one day. “This is what he’s always wanted, ever since I was a child,” she said. “You know, he’s such a happy camper. My dad is such a great guy and I’m his only child, so he’s just thrilled that I can pronounce a syllable. The job description grows every day exponentially. Now everyone’s like, ‘Please leave the company!’”
At first she did personal appearances, but now she presides over the design department. She redraws stuff. Sometimes the design team looks at her funny. At other times she might draw a ring, it will get made right away and someone will buy it right away. She also meets with customers and holds the fort at the company’s boutique at Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue.
After lunch, a car would be waiting to take her to a photo shoot for Gotham magazine. She would be there with other young society women, including hotel heiress Nikki Hilton, who, with her sister Paris, has been portrayed as a loony party girl.
What was she wearing?
“Well, my mom got me these shoes about three years ago in Dallas,” Ms. Kieselstein-Cord said, getting up from the table. “And she brought me this from Santa Fe, a turquoise Indian bracelet. And it’s stretchy, so it’s fun! I think these are actually Gucci shoes, and that would make this the only piece of designer clothing I own! And they’re on my feet .”
A few days later, Ms. Kieselstein-Cord was in her father’s gargantuan uptown house, where he lives and works. Photographs, taken of her by her father, are everywhere: Little Elisabeth on her pony, Snowbell; Elisabeth the teenage model. “There are some in the permanent collection at the New York Public Library,” she said offhandedly.
Ms. Kieselstein-Cord sat on the green-carpeted stairs and talked.
“Roald Dahl is my favorite writer,” she said. “I remember he wrote, ‘The seal came out of the water with a fiendish grin.’ That’s never left me. It’s from one of his short stories. I remember reading that line to my father when I was about 11, and he just went, ‘Wow.’ I grew up reading his books, and I think it influenced my speech pattern and the way I write and the way I think and the way I see the world.”
She said that her father would be returning soon and that “he’s going to be so happy to see me , we’re not going to get anything done!”
She eats cheese and red meat. She told a story about being in a buffet line when someone put Rocky Mountain oysters on her plate. “I said to a waiter, ‘I didn’t know there were oysters in the Rocky Mountains,’” she said. “And he said, ‘Oh, those are testicles of bison.’ And I screamed, ‘Bulls’ balls?’ And they shot out of my mouth! Like ping-pong balls, like from one of those famous shows that people go to in the Far East, you know? It was a disaster! Anyway, that’s the meat that I don’t like.”
Asked what else she doesn’t like, she did her high-pitched Pikachú cartoon voice–a voice she says she did before the cartoon came out–and said, “I find it very unpleasant to be in the presence of snakes.”
She discussed all the attention she’s been getting lately.
“I didn’t exactly elect to have myself written about,” she said, mentioning a surprise birthday party Stanley threw her recently. “It was very private, and all these people that I didn’t invite showed up. Like Ivanka Trump, who I went to school with, who’s a lovely girl–it’s just we’re not friends. And all these, like, supermodels and important people were there. I was confused as to why they were there.”
The New York Post ‘s Page Six column reported that she’d been “shaking her bodacious body atop a table” at her party. She said she was “horrified.” “My dad read that to me,” she said. “Whenever someone says, ‘You’re in the paper’–and I get that maybe every day now–my heart drops, and I wait to hear what it is. There are always these spottings of me where it would be impossible for me to be. You know what, I find it amusing. I’m very lucky; nobody’s said anything bad. I can’t get so upset over these small things, because I’ll drive myself crazy . I mean, what is Page Six anyway? What is all of this stuff? It’s pieces of paper that get torn up the following day.”
Ms. Kieselstein-Cord has been in the family business since she was a toddler. Collections were named after her; she was photographed for advertisements. She spent more time with adults than playmates.
“I loved music, I sang, I was very happy,” she said. “I was very pensive as a child. This is completely bizarre, but I was always interested in psychology and philosophy and the occult , strangely enough. I don’t mean white magic, but I was interested in alternative ways of living. Homeopathic herbs, as a little kid. My kindergarten letter actually says to my parents, “Elisabeth is oddly precocious, she actually explained the other day” –mind you, I was 5 –”that she was ‘genuinely shocked’ by so-and-so’s behavior.” Now is that speech pattern of a 5-year-old? No. So I was a little odd.”
She attended Manhattan’s all-girls Chapin School, which she said she “hated.” She said her class was plagued with eating disorders and drugs.
Once, in fourth grade, someone held her down and tried to cut off her hair.
“My father had told me, ‘If anyone gives you a problem, punch them in the face,’” she said. “He treated me like a son; he wanted a son. He thought of me as Mini Me.”
So she kicked a girl named Nicole, punched a girl named Lindsay and pushed a desk over on a girl named Alix.
“These are not people we hear about anymore,” said Ms. Kieselstein-Cord. “I don’t think they’ve done much with themselves.
“I looked like one of those waif models growing up, like Kate Moss,” she continued. “I wasn’t one of those girls who was really sturdy-looking and athletic and cool, with like long, thick hair.” Once, a peer brought in a photograph of Ms. Kieselstein-Cord from a charity event and announced, “See, Elisabeth isn’t that pretty–look at this picture!”
At the time, her parents were socializing with fashion designers and rock stars. Young Elisabeth shook hands with Ronald Reagan at the White House. At a dinner party in Paris, she met supermodel Elle Macpherson and Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of the rock band INXS, who died in 1997 (from, it was rumored, autoerotic asphyxiation). He took a shining to her. She was 12.
The people at the party were “shocked that I was there, because I was younger,” she said. “And I remember he and I talked the whole night, and my mother had this hawk eye out and she’s like, ‘Wait a second, what are you doing with my daughter?’ He’s like, ‘I’m in love with your daughter; I want to write a song about her.’”
Hutchence began calling Mr. Kieselstein-Cord, asking if he could take his daughter out to dinner. Her father said no.
In the ninth grade, she was picked as the singer for an all-boy rock band from the Collegiate school. “It was the best thing ever for me,” Ms. Kieselstein-Cord said. “Because I had no friends at school. I couldn’t relate to anybody.”
In 10th grade, she transferred to the co-ed Trinity School. “I don’t think people could figure me out,” she said. “Because there I was, in my Patricia Field outfit, winning some scholastic award and running with all the school charities and giving speeches and winning awards for writing. And my stories would be in all of the school magazines, and when it came time to put on Shakespeare plays, there were some people that actually cried when I gave this silly Shakespeare speech.”
She started wearing pink cowboy hats, electric blue tights and teddy-bear back-packs “before anyone thought they were cool,” she said.
It was all part of a plan, of sorts: “I think I have an ability, and I used it very much as a crutch, to seem less intelligent than I am,” she said.”
Ms. Kieselstein-Cord ended up at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Three weeks into her freshman year, her parents told her they were separating. She came home.
“I was their only child, and I didn’t know who else was looking after them,” she said. “I couldn’t understand it, because my parents were the kind of people that danced together in the kitchen, you know? And there was so much laughter . They were always together and they always took me along and we were so tightly knit. I couldn’t stand it.”
She couldn’t save their marriage, so she moved to Paris and became a fashion model. “My first job was for American Vogue and Steven Meisel shot it, so it isn’t like after that I had that much of an issue ,” she said.
She said she was “very lonely,” but that Paris was “a period of enlightenment.”
“I grew up really fast,” Ms. Kieselstein-Cord said. “I don’t know if I had ever made myself a sandwich before I went to Paris.”
But she was a lousy model. “I wouldn’t go to my appointments,” she said.
So she moved back to Manhattan. College would have to wait.
She said she is currently reading the new Steve Martin novel, Shopgirl .
“I think he’s a very talented actor; I was interested to see if he could write,” she said. “And you know what? He can. I think he’s somebody that, the more he continues writing, the more he’ll improve. But I thought it was an auspicious start. I’m two pages into Shopgirl and I don’t know if I’ll finish it.”
Those who keep an eye on the city’s rich think Ms. Kieselstein-Cord has avoided the bad vibes that have fastened themselves to the Hilton sisters and many of their well-financed peers.
“I think she’s very promising,” said Vanity Fair society editor Kristina Stewart. “I think she’s one of the good ones. I see Elisabeth at every fashionable sandbox, from Southampton to St. Tropez. I think people are going to be interested in what she’s wearing, where she’s going and with whom for a long time to come.”
Over at Manhattan File magazine, editor Cristina Greeven agreed. “It doesn’t hurt that her father’s Barry Kieselstein-Cord and her mother’s very social and well-liked, so she kind of already had the in,” Ms. Greeven said. “And she’s got the looks, to boot.”
“She has a really strong image right now,” said publicist Jessica Meisels. “She’s not too trendy. I remember a year and a half ago, when cowboy hats were big, and right before, I remember seeing her out in like a cowboy hat. She had the cowboy hat before Madonna.”
Ms. Meisels recalled a party last fall. “There were tons of models there,” she said. “When she walked in, it was like Julia Roberts had arrived: ‘Elisabeth!’ She stood outside in the freezing cold, took her jacket off and posed. And she does not have that scandal behind her. She has not created enemies on the scene.”
One day, walking down Fifth Avenue, Ms. Kieselstein-Cord said, “I truly believe that I’m living in the best time and place. I mean, this is the most gentle time. We have it so good . We have medicine . When you think about the Crusades –and do you know more people were killed in the Crusades on a monthly basis than even the Holocaust? I mean, there were just so many slaughters throughout history, so many terrible things–and the sad thing, they’re still going on all over the world. We’re just not aware of them, because we’re so tightly tucked in America. I would never wish to be anywhere else. I mean, I’m living in such lucky circumstances.”