The Tiny Big Sister
Last week, the much-maligned stylist Rachel Zoe arrived in New York. She stood in the winter garden at Bottino, all five feet and a few inches tall, in an involuntarily oversized one-shoulder negative-size-four number. Her honey-colored limbs hung limp with several pounds of silver and gold chain attached at the wrist and finger level.
Ms. Zoe, who wears her blond hair boob-length and curled in that done-but-not sort of way, her skin resplendent and metallic, her eyes lined and her lobes bedangled, looks simultaneously older and younger than her 33 years. She has the sprightly, gamine physical presence and vocabulary of a teenager, but the steely-eyed, drawn look of someone who has not let anything interfere with her intentions. She is a “celebrity stylist,” an invisible figure who works to bolster the illusion that stars are always star-like.
But in this increasingly competitive tabloid market, which exhibits an ever-growing fascination with the more banal aspects of celebrity life, Ms. Zoe’s position has grown in significance, and it has pushed her out of the background and into the limelight herself. Each week, at least four of her well-taught denizens (Mischa, Mary-Kate, Rachel, Nicole, Lindsay and Jessica, to name but a few) occupy prime real estate in the glossy weeklies. Photographed on their way to the supermarket, the gym, the inevitable Starbucks or an envelope opening, they appear unnervingly, offhandedly primed for their constant close-ups.
Ms. Zoe has been accused of styling her young wards in her own image. Her most egregious offense has been encouraging them to lose considerable amounts of weight over short periods of time, and her least has been forgetting to remind her miniature self-tanners to wash their hands.
“You wanna know the difference between L.A. and New York?” she asked as she sat down at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, flanked on one side by her husband, Roger Berman, and with Jan-Patrick Schmitz, the florid C.E.O. of Montblanc, on the other. “We just left, like, 85-degree weather for this!”
In her hand was a full glass of champagne. She set it down near her plate, poured a glass of water, then a glass of wine, and so the triumvirate remained, untouched, until the end of dinner. So did the plates of antipasti, which lined up like soldiers at her elbow. She passed those on politely and continued to explain: “I love New York; I used to live here. I’ve only been out there for seven years. I love coming back—it’s just that I don’t really miss it.”
Her husband, whose arm dangled affectionately (not possessively) around her shoulder for the duration of dinner, offered a similar explanation but threw in the words beach, beer and buddies.
“I love this stuff!” Ms. Zoe exclaimed, fingering her finery. “I totally walked into Montblanc today and was like, ‘I like this, this, this, this …. Ohmigod, I like everything.’ And look how well it all goes together!” Mr. Schmitz smiled and concurred that the 20 or so pieces she wore—rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings—complemented each other very nicely.
“Accessories are soooo important,” Ms. Zoe continued. “In fact, I often buy my clothes around my accessories.” The black jersey dress she wore? “Of course! I got it today,” she said.
She tugged on the necklace around her husband’s neck. “I mean, even guys can wear this stuff.” Mr. Berman smiled and lifted his free arm to show off the plate-sized watch on his wrist. “I love that watch!” she squealed. Ms. Zoe is simultaneously effusive and controlled, giggly and stern. “Actually, honey, I want to wear it tonight,” she added, and just like that she undid the strap and put in on her own wrist, which is nearly half the size of the watch.
Does Mr. Zoe reap the sartorial rewards of being married to a stylist? “Well, she’s not styling me per se, but I will occasionally leave the house wearing something and she’ll just look at me and go, ‘You cannot go outside wearing that!’”
It would be foolish to waste an opportunity to solicit free advice from the woman who speaks to her “little sisters” Nicole and Lindsay about five times a day. “There are four things,” she offered begrudgingly. “One: a really good coat. Fur is nice, though not necessary. Two: a good pair of boots. I have like 85 pairs. It’s just sooooo important to have good boots. Three: a good bag. I mean, I have every Chloé bag, but it doesn’t need to be that.” (Ms. Zoe later confessed that Phoebe Philo, the Chloé designer, is a “genius” but that the line is “way overpriced.”) She continued her enumeration. “And four: a really good pair of sunglasses.”
She leaned in. “You know, most of my girls are really smart, and they never mess up. I mean, they can totally dress themselves, but the other day I sent a girl off on press junkets, and we packed all her bags together, and then I saw her in some picture wearing this Y.S.L. dress with riding boots! It was so humiliating.”
Ms. Zoe’s eyes lit up as Robert Verdi, the celebrity stylist best known for his riotous 2004 Emmys commentary, bounded into the room, requisite sunglasses perched on his bare head. They squealed, said hello and discussed their recent trip to Chicago together. “Are you staying for dinner?” she asked. “Honey!” he said. “I just came to see you. I’ve got to go.” They kissed.
When The Transom asked whether Mr. Verdi and Ms. Zoe were acquainted through their mutual profession, she said, “Welllll, he’s not really a stylist. He’s more, y’know, like television.”
Once dinner was finished, the guests gathered in front of the restaurant to smoke cigarettes. Ms. Zoe ran out and made sure everyone would be ushered to the nightclub Cain, where the remainder of the evening would take place. “You guys are all coming?” she pleaded, and helped to usher the last remaining guests into cars. A guest begged exhaustion, and Ms. Zoe said, “Well, isn’t that always the excuse?” Then she winked.
“When this place was great, I wasn’t cool,” said Jay McInerney, slightly rumpled and starting to slur. He gazed thoughtfully over the tent full of well-dressed revelers who drank cosmopolitans, chewed French fries from paper cups, and shouted to be heard over 1980’s chartbusting tunes like “Bust a Move” and “It Takes Two.” They’d gathered here to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Odeon, the bar whose fame Mr. McInerney helped immortalize back in 1984 with his first novel, Bright Lights, Big City.
Like the character depicted on his book’s cover, Mr. McInerney stood on the sidewalk beneath the bar’s iconic neon sign. Tonight, however, its red letters were nearly invisible behind a humungous bar mitzvah tent that had been hoisted for the occasion.
“I used to go sit in this bar in 1980 and 1981 and try to stretch a drink over an hour and a half and watch the cool people and see if I could like meet a girl, you know?” Mr. McInerney explained, shouting jocularly. And then, more quietly: “In some ways, it was more fun being a hanger-on—an outsider.”
Of course, Mr. McInerney crossed that line a long time ago. “That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? I think that’s really sad,” he said. “Where are the fucking real celebrities?”
“It’s really good to have a place where writers go, because at least then it becomes written about, you know?” said Brian McNally, one of the Odeon’s original three owners. He surveyed the guests, who ranged from original Tribecans to younger scene-sters who spent the bar’s formative years in strollers, and said, “There are a lot of people here that I don’t know.”
Was Lynn Wagenknecht, the third Odeon founder with the McNally brothers—and who is now the bar’s sole owner—pleased with all the writerly love? “Yeah, it’s just great! I’m glad,” she said. “Write, write, write!” Swirling around her in the crowd was the promise of writing-to-be. As the guests traded stories, the bar’s legend fed on every flavor of nostalgia, from the meaningful to the maudlin.
“I will say that we’re all happy the Odeon’s still here, after everything that’s happened to the city. A lot of great places have gone under,” said actor Chris Noth, who wore blue pinstripes and a smirk. The Odeon, he suggested—and Mr. Noth has always been surprisingly sensitive to Manhattan’s modulations of class and gentrification—was emblematic of that increasingly elusive “place where New Yorkers hang out and not just tourists; where adults hang out and not just teenagers.”
Still, Mr. Noth wasn’t on board with the “write, write, write” agenda: “This is one of those great parties where I didn’t think there were journalists,” he snarled.
James Sanders, a writer and architect who lives on Duane Street, pointed out that the Odeon was essentially more populist than posh.
“Everyone thinks of the Odeon as this big celebrity place, but the reality is that it’s the best neighborhood bar in the world,” Mr. Sanders said mistily. He noted that many of the bar’s old, nonfamous regulars had been invited. Of the party organizers, he said: “I applaud them for rewarding longevity and stability in this kind of crazy world.”
Of course, longevity is a polite way of suggesting that people get older, and that cities do, too. The Transom was saddened to note only the scarcest of debaucheries around the D.J. booth, where rebels indulged themselves in—the horror, the horror!—dancing and smoking. A handful of guests wore “Women for Bloomberg” buttons, with little irony. And with the exception of a lone whiff of pot, the downstairs restrooms were being used for their intended purposes.
In the corner of the tent, a pair leaned into a potted tree and reminisced. Peter Astrom had long silver-gray hair and plastic architect’s glasses. Colette wore dangling rhinestone-crucifix earrings the size of business cards, glitter at the corners of her eyes, and a black, homemade hat that twisted upward dizzyingly and culminated in a point about a foot above her bright blue hair.
“Everybody’s more elegant now,” said Mr. Astrom. “At that time, in the 80’s, everybody looked like artists, painters, nobody gives a damn—you know—and look here: Everybody’s dressed now in this time. Manhattan has changed a lot. It’s like a new generation …. I don’t like it.”
“It”—money—“pushed away all the creativity of Manhattan, and that’s the sadness of Manhattan. It can only be yuppies and, at the worst, all the people who are moving in now are super rich. You will not have the creativity that we had at that time in the 80’s, and that’s the sadness.”
But, The Transom asked, at least you’re still an artist, Mr. Astrom?
“Yes,” he said.
“And,” said Colette from beneath her hat, “he’s a potato! He’s a potato!”
By midnight, the tent outside was being packed away, and at 1 o’clock the lights came on and everyone was hustled off. So where were all the 24-hour party people? And where, pray tell, was the coke?
“That all went out with the club scene,” explained one Odeon old-timer who wore a black shirt with moons, stars and rhinestones. “Now they’re talking about putting additions on their houses and what the shape of the swimming pool is.”
Sebastian Piras, a photographer and former regular, seemed to agree. “It’s like watching an Epcot Center version of Odeon,” he said, adding later: “This is like the Alamo of partygoing, O.K.? The Odeon.”
Champers by Design
On Monday night, the candlelit penthouse atop the Soho Grand Hotel held a few hundred folks, each sipping from flutes of the just-uncorked 1998 Perrier Jouët Fleur de Champagne, which costs $130 a bottle.
Everyone likes champagne. But does it make any sense, in the grand scheme of things? One wonders: In light of this delightful and quirky beverage, how did the swillers and sippers feel about the creationism-lite theory of “intelligent design”?
“I believe in a higher being,” said socialite Ann Dexter-Jones, “and I don’t think it’s Citibank. Let’s put it that way. I’m spiritual; I believe in being spiritual. I’m open to everyone’s opinion, even if I don’t agree.”
The recently single Court TV host Kimberly Guilfoyle-Newsom was dressed neatly in black. “Intelligent design is one way to look at the world. It’s an interesting concept,” she said. “Groups have come out for separating church and state. But they are [interested in] looking at the Bible from an educational standpoint. Let people study it from an academic point of view.”
But things have proceeded beyond that, no? Isn’t President George W. Bush trying to bring religion into, well, everything? “I think there was less discourse and more focus on foreign policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East,” she said safely. “But it’s resurrecting with Bush’s Supreme Court decisions of John Roberts and Harriet Miers.”
Each guest had, it seemed, a hyphenated last name. Writer and legend Anthony Haden-Guest was enjoying some bubbly as well.
“Unfortunately, if I’d been asked about this when the whole thing came up, what I would have said would seem very funny, which is that intelligent design does not explain George Bush,” he said. “Intelligent design is clearly nonsensical. Most of the universe has been very unintelligently designed.”
Have you been intelligently designed?
“I’ve managed to avoid a great many number of collision courses … in my life,” he said.
Like what? Tell me one.
“No.” An awkward silence.
What question would you like to answer?
“Ask me if the celebrity culture is dead.”
Umm, O.K.! Is it dead?
“I’ve seen it die in my lifetime several times,” Mr. Haden-Guest answered gamely. “I saw it die in the 1960’s and be reborn. Within about 20 minutes. With backstage passes, and Dylan and Lennon and Jagger emerging and much more celebrated than any previous group. Now they say it’s going to die again. But it’s not going to happen. It’s the way we see the world. [Celebrity culture] is our religion.”
Heavy! One wondered if he was serious or just drunk. After all, Mr. Haden-Guest admitted drinking a little too much at an unusually early age.
“I was first drunk when I was 7,” he recalled. “I was a page boy at a wedding, and I wore a Scots kilt, which embarrassed me. So I drank too much cider. Britain cider is like beer, except it’s made with apples. So I’m a lush, am I?”
But Jean-Marie Barillère, the C.E.O. of Mumm Champagne, stepped in to assure everyone that his product wasn’t about simple drunkening—proving, perhaps, its own intelligent design?
“I’ve never seen one person be dead drunk with champagne,” he said in a charming French accent. “Except if you are, you know, shooting champagne into your blood …. It’s a wine that makes you happy and a wine that creates no problem for walking the next day.
“Champagne is a wine,” he said, “that makes the woman very beautiful and makes a man very happy.”
1.7 Ounces of Misha
The greatest ballet dancer in the history of ever, the already-diminutive Mikhail Baryshnikov, was dwarfed by the alpine ceiling of Cipriani at the National Arts Awards banquet last week.
So, how does it feel to be honored tonight?
“I’m flattered, you know, humbled, it’s always nice.”
What are you excited about in the New York art scene right now?
“You know I’m working right now. I rarely go out. I haven’t seen that much in recent days. I can’t judge.”
Oh, really! What are you working on?
“A couple of dance projects. It’s secret.”
O.K. When you’re not working, what do you love to do in New York City?
“I have lots of work. This is a really private question.”
Tickets were $1,000 per seat. Jeff Koons joked about going to Eli Broad’s California home and seeing the painting Bloated Empire by Edward Ruscha. John Baldessari was going to cram in some art viewing before he left for his retrospective in France. “I think in general it’s as vibrant in New York as I’ve ever known it to be. Art’s at a really high point right now. It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s a great deal of plurality. It’s a good time!”
“People have really been gravitating more to the straight plays in theater,” said Kerry Washington, when asked about what’s going on. She was in a violet Michael Kors gown. “And I am a musical-theater junkie, I love musical theater. But I think it really says something about people’s willingness to listen and to think and to engage when they’re really absorbed by straight plays. That’s really exciting to me. You know I really loved, loved, loved Pillowman. I thought that was just excellent, just excellent.”
She was accompanied by her fiancé, the actor David Moscow. “I try to never leave the city of New York,” she added, when The Transom inquired about other New York faves, “without going to Craft.”
Kitty Carlisle Hart, in a tastefully fringed bronze-y sparkly dress, received a standing ovation. “She’s in her 90’s!” exclaimed one attendee. The choreographer Trisha Brown called her “a raging heroine.” She then admitted that she stole that line from Ms. Hart, who had been speaking to Governor George Pataki at the time.