If you’ve endured a few rounds of the Teflon niceties that count for cocktail-party conversation these days, you might suspect that New York is moving toward a more sensual social culture where, increasingly, words don’t matter. If you had attended the party that Dior Homme’s chief creative director, Hedi (sounds like “Eddie”) Slimane, threw in Chelsea on March 10, you’d agree that the term “chattering class” can be tossed into the dustbin of history.
Mr. Slimane’s invitation to this brave-and loud-new world began with a tactually interesting all-black envelope that looked like a sheet of those perforated strips that you rip to open express-mail envelopes. The details of the soirée (for the Dior Homme boutique on East 57th Street, which opened on Feb. 7) were printed on the envelope, which made the cardboard slick found inside appear pretty useless-although, in retrospect, it contained a clue about what to expect: a black-and-white image of a ribbed runway flanked by walls of large and small stereo speakers.
And walls of sound were exactly what invitees first encountered upon entering the loft space at 545 West 22nd Street. Wailing acid guitars and organ-rattling bass-and-drum rhythms-courtesy of D.J. Spencer Product-assailed the ears, while Mr. Slimane’s lighting scheme messed with the eyes. The center of the room, where most of the guests were gathering in clumps, was kept murky, save for the periodic, jarring explosions of the paparazzi’s flashbulbs, while, on the left side of the room, some of the more extroverted guests were lounging on red-lit mattresses raised on a stage-like platform. On the right side of the room, a dozen or so lithe, dissolute men and women posed on what looked like a raised runway bathed in white.
They were the bartenders.
In order to get a drink, you had to get one of them to crouch down to your level. What happened next was a high-volume game of telephone: You shrieked your order to the bartender, who rose, sauntered over to a team of bottle jockeys pouring drinks below stage level, repeated the shriek and, eventually, returned with the goods. Later in the evening, some of the lazier hirelings began lounging on the runway/bar, making it easier to order, but just as easy to get a snootful of ass when the order-taker turned away to get it filled.
Into this super-sized sensual feast came model Helena Christensen, musician David Byrne, actor-director Vincent Gallo, socialite Fabian Basabe, artist Andres Serrano, model Sophie Dahl, Elle fashion-news director Anne Slowey, Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, and P.S. 1’s Alana Heiss and Klaus Biesenbach. Most gathered in small clumps and, after realizing that a) trying to hold a conversation above the din was both painful and tiresome, and b) it was too dark to scrutinize what anyone but the bartenders or the red-lit exhibitionists were wearing, many of the guests seemed to drift into a speechless altered state. It was like watching a bloodless version of the “Bela Lugosi Is Dead” sequence in The Hunger.
And there near the entrance observing this tableau was Mr. Slimane, looking pale and fragile-a little like the David Bowie character in that movie.
“What kind of mood did you want to convey with this party?” The Transom asked the fashion designer, holding our digital recorder as close to his mouth as possible. It didn’t quite work. Mr. Slimane could be heard saying-in a hoarse voice, naturally-that he “DIDN’T WANT TO DO ONE OF THOSE OPENING-STORES PARTIES”-by this we think he meant a typical store-opening party-but the music drowned out everything else. And when we asked him about his idea to have the bartenders standing on the bar, he replied: “ALL THE WORLD IS ABOUT STAGE, SO I WANTED TO EXPERIENCE THAT IDEA WITH THOSE BARTENDERS.”
At his last Paris show, Mr. Slimane made a similar point, lighting the crowd around the runway more than his clothes, and this time he seemed to be playing with light and sound. Mr. Slimane glanced across the room to a third stage that had been set up with a drum kit and microphones, and said that he was looking forward to seeing Sonic Youth-the art-noise band fronted by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore-perform later.
“I JUST THOUGHT I WANTED TO BE AT A CONCERT OF SONIC YOUTH,” Mr. Slimane said.
The Transom then suggested to Mr. Slimane that his shindig seemed to be about seeing and hearing, but not talking.
“IT’S JUST ABOUT ENJOYING,” he replied.
And, of course, selling. With so many parties built around marketing an image or a product these days, the superficial, narcissistic nattering of hundreds of opinionated, drink-swilling New Yorkers was really beside the point. Which is why Mr. Slimane’s soirée felt like a taste of the future, in which the marketer saturates the consumer with his message, leaving room for nothing else.
A week earlier, the folks at Cargo-a magazine that represents a future in which advertising and editorial content become increasingly indistinguishable-had achieved a similar but much less art-directed effect at a party celebrating the publication of their first issue. Once again, the music was cranked to conversation-killing levels, leaving a visual frieze of human still-lifes involving such manly pursuits as shaving.
Nadine Johnson, who helped plan the Dior party, said she wasn’t at the Cargo affair. But she could speak on the subject of Mr. Slimane: “He’s into art, music and light,” Ms. Johnson said. “I know that Hedi was very conscious that it was going to be a loud party, because the night before he said to me, ‘Do you have your plugs?'”
Chat ‘n’ Chew
Bill Boggs, the talk-show host who credits himself with inventing the art of conducting interviews while eating, has something to say. But first he has to finish chewing.
“Mmmmm,” he intoned at Osteria del Circo one recent afternoon as his gleaming choppers did overtime on a particularly hearty chunk of some brown piece of something. “Bison!” he said. (Swallow.) “Very healthy. Probably better for you than chicken. Did you know that?”
The Emmy-winning Mr. Boggs, 6-foot-1 and rakish in a tan-and-coiffed game-show-host kind of way, is full of such interesting information and is currently imparting it to audiences every Monday night at the Triad Theater in BillÊBoggs’ Talk Show Confidential, his one-man show that opened in December.
The hour-long jaunt down memory lane covers the highlights of the many shows Mr. Boggs has hosted and produced and touches on the “truth” about dozens of what he estimates are the 8,000 celebrities he’s interviewed (a.k.a. “the egomaniacs I’ve been coddling all these years”).
Television hosts as stars-or wannabe stars-are nothing new. You’d be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t aspire to be the guest on someone else’s show. The crop of spotlight-seeking hosts has only expanded since the mid-90’s talk heyday, where anyone with a first name could land his or her own hour of TV chat. In recent years, talk maven Maury Povich’s fertility problems with anchor and talk queen Connie Chung constituted news, while Oprah Winfrey-only slightly more recognizable than Katie Couric’s colon-started a magazine that has her mug on the cover every friggin’ month.
But Mr. Boggs, who’ll admit to his age only in NBC years (“Older than Matt Lauer, younger than Chuck Scarborough”), is kind of late to follow this trend. He was a television presence for decades before he started pairing chat with chew. When his parents discouraged him from pursuing acting, he began his television career in the 1960’s in his native Philadelphia, moved on to become a local celebrity with his own talk show in North Carolina, then came to New York in the mid-70’s and hosted Midday Live with Bill Boggs, which aired on the late WNEW (Channel 5) for 12 years. He went on to host and produce shows on half a dozen major networks.
While his peers might often be better recognized on the street than the people they’re interviewing, Mr. Boggs remains happily on the periphery. He’s familiar-looking, but not traffic-stopping; accomplished, but not boastful. A woman, he said, recently stuck her finger in his face at a party and pronounced, “You don’t know who I am, but I’m going to make you squirm! I know where you live! My friend Gina lives in your building on 78th and Park!”
Mr. Boggs looked back at her unfazed. Twice divorced, he now lives with Pip, a dachshund, on Central Park South, and told her so.
“Oh, you’re not Tony Roberts?” the woman said.
But Mr. Boggs hails from another era of television host: the host as quiet gentleman. And though he’s now seeking a small ration of celebrity, his present show shines its light more brightly on his many interview subjects over the years than on himself.
In his show, he talks about them-from Margaret Mead to Arnold Schwarzenegger-as if he were talking about his childhood baseball hero or an oft-ogled pin-up girl.
“Often in the middle of an interview, I think: ‘Wow! I can’t believe I’m interviewing Sophia Loren! Or Sean Connery!’ There’s this little boy’s voice,” he tells the audience.
He was nearly spitting with excitement when he related to us how singer Peggy Lee invited him to talk at her bedside after an interview-an anecdote he left out of the show due to time constraints.
“I sit down next to her, and she takes my hand and is caressing it, and suddenly I think: ‘Am I supposed to sleep with Peggy Lee?'”-he took a sip of water (timing is everything!)-“‘Because if I’m supposed to, I don’t want to! I’m not in the mood!’ That line always gets a laugh.” (He admitted to us that he’s had liaisons with a few of his 8,000 guests, but declined to name names-except to say that Lee and he were never intimate.)
He talks about having Dr. Spock fall asleep on his show and about the time he tried to cajole the bulge-battling duchess, Sarah Ferguson, on his Food Network show, Bill Boggs’ Corner Table (a show that still periodically airs) into eating a Twinkie on-camera. (She checked the food’s fiber content and politely declined.)
The idea of eating and interviewing, which he perfected on Corner Table, was originally given to Mr. Boggs by his friend, the comedian Marty (Igor) Feldman. On a beach one morning, Feldman-stoned and probably suffering from the munchies-suggested melding afternoon talk television with food. (Ironically, Feldman died shortly thereafter following a bout of food poisoning.) The gimmick worked.
“We have a lifetime of familiarity of sitting at a table, eating and talking,” Mr. Boggs said, scanning the dessert menu. “And when it’s on-camera, you can capture some of that relaxation-that comfort people associated with eating at a table.”
But as so often happens-and despite his parents’ early warnings-the stage beckoned once he’d perfected on-screen table talk. So he jumped at the chance to sing in Our Sinatra, the Off Broadway review, in 2001. Its producers removed a few songs to give Mr. Boggs time to share his various Sinatra stories-from disguising himself as a busboy while a teenager so he could see Sinatra perform at Atlantic City, to having him as a guest on his own show.
Later that year, he did some stints as a “guest celebrity” on a cruise ship and developed a presentation about his career for the passengers.
“It was so much fun! And I realized I needed-needed-to have the traction of something really creative in my life. I needed a performance outlet, needed to get onstage,” he said, scooping up some pineapple sorbet. “Wait, I have to have a bite. Mmmm.”
The pretty young waitress came over, and Mr. Boggs introduced himself to her. There was no glimmer of recognition on her face, but he didn’t seem to mind.
At a Drama League luncheon a year and a half ago, John Houseman Theater founder and artistic director Eric Krebs encouraged the host extraordinaire to develop a show, and offered to put money into it.
“So last March, I went home to my mother’s house in Philadelphia and sat down at the table, where I used to do my homework, and I sketched out the outline of the show. And that was it,” he said.
Mr. Boggs is arguably at his finest at the show’s end, where, while showing photos from his career, he recounts to the audience words of wisdom he’s collected from the august types he’s known. Like a child presenting treasured and cataloged shells, Mr. Boggs recites the maxims and aphorisms while beaming. Pushing his plate away, he repeated part of the monologue.
“Sinatra? He said to me, ‘Sometimes you have to scrape bottom to realize how wonderful life can be.’ … Burt Lancaster put his arm around me and said, ‘You will live many lives, Bill, many lives, and just be the best person you can be in each of them.’ Tommy Tune? ‘Every day is a student of yesterday.’ Then there’s Duke Ellington, who sat me down at the piano while playing with one hand and said, ‘Be happy in this moment Bill, because this moment is your life.'”
In the Triad audience at one recent performance, talk-show host Richard Bey-who, unprompted, stood up to salute the rest of the theatergoers-was seated next to sexpert and radio talk-show host Dr. Judy Kuriansky. At the line about Ellington, Dr. Judy, for perhaps the fourth time, sighed an audible “Uh-huh. Absolutely.”
When reminded of this moment at lunch, Mr. Boggs cringed.
“I know!” he said. “The whole time, she’s going, ‘Oh, yes … oh, yes …. ‘ And I’m thinking, ‘Dr. Judy, shut up! This is my show.'”
-Anna Jane Grossman
I Want My QVC
“I’m one of those New York fancy chefs,” narrates chef Rocco DiSpirito at the beginning of his reality-TV show The Restaurant. Now, the “fancy chef” will not only be on NBC arguing with his publicist at the gas station and driving his Mitsubishi S.U.V. to his mother’s apartment in Queens; he’ll soon be selling his cookware on QVC!
It’s no secret that other high-profile Manhattan foodies thought Mr. DiSpirito was selling out by turning himself into a mini-industry on TV. When Mr. DiSpirito tried to film a chef demonstration at the Four Seasons, owner Julian Niccolini wouldn’t allow the cameras into his restaurant.
“I’m running a real restaurant here, and we’re going to focus on serving great food to nice people, not on a TV show,” he said after the incident. Mr. DiSpirito has told reporters, “If there’s people who think I’m no longer an artist and I’ve sold out, I’d say that the good chefs sell out every night: Their dining rooms are sold out every night.”
Mr. DiSpirito just keeps on selling. On March 10, he celebrated the publication of his new book, Flavor, and the launch of his line of cookware on the Home Shopping Network at Rocco’s on 22nd Street. He started the afternoon by dividing the crowd of QVC staffers and journalists into groups of four. Each group stood around its own table setup, equipped with omelet pan, eggs and garnishes. Mr. DiSpirito demonstrated how to make a fluffy omelet in five minutes or less and everyone else followed along, a demonstration he will repeat on the Home Shopping Network on March 29. Afterward, he treated his already-stuffed guests to a lunch of mushroom broth, salmon and cheesecake.
When the TV cameras stopped filming Mr. DiSpirito preparing the food in an un-chef-like navy V-neck sweater and blue Oxford underneath, The Transom asked him how other chefs felt about his upcoming QVC appearance.
“Well, I’ve only heard it thirdhand,” he said. “I’ve heard some remarks that sound bitter. No one’s ever told me to my face that they’re jealous.
“I think that there’s competition-rivalry-in every world,” he pronounced.
Mr. DiSpirito will remind one who has a hard time imagining Anthony Bourdain or Jean-Georges Vongerichten competing for that QVC slot that different chefs ply different orbits in the foodie solar system.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who love what I’m doing, as there are people who can’t stand it. I think everyone chooses their own path. I may be making the biggest mistake of my life-I have no idea. But you gotta take risks and move with it and see what happens.”