Here’s a neat trick to try next time you’re at a swanky downtown fund-raiser gala: Ask Arden Wohl—the 24-year-old aspiring filmmaker, philanthropist and accomplished (whether she likes it or not) socialite—what she thinks about, say, New York’s current obsession with “It” girls.
Then see how quickly your head starts to spin.
“I just feel like, with anything, things go in and out of interest, and in and out of fashion. The age of technology, people are drawn now to the Internet, so they gain access to things. People are obsessed with things that are not important—money, and imaginary lives that people don’t really live. And I think that 10 years ago it was magazines, it was these imaginary lives, what people would look at, and it was models. It would be supermodels, and it was a great, trendy thing, and now there’s like five supermodels that die a year, and they’re all faceless, skinny girls who are like 15 who were probably sex-trafficked and abused, and they probably come here and are stuffed with drugs and put on the runway and, like, are anorexic and they’re all underage, and they’re faceless. And now people are like, ‘The new trend now is socialites,’ and people like to blog, and people like the Internet, to talk about who they know, people that they’ve met. People are more easily accessible, and self-promoting.”
On March 31, The Observer met Ms. Wohl outside her favorite bead store, Beads of Paradise on 17th Street, and persuaded the waifish heiress to partake in an interview and a whiskey at the Old Town Bar. It was there, coddled in the dusky comfort of an upstairs booth, that the head began to spin.
Over the phone earlier that day, Ms. Wohl had been vociferously reluctant to grant an interview, but finally agreed to meet, she said, for the purpose of promoting her favorite cause, the Nest Foundation, which raises awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
She arrived wearing one of her trademark beaded headbands, blue leggings, furry Eskimo boots and a sparkly, sequined cardigan. Ms. Wohl has long straight hair that she parts in the middle and keeps off her forehead with the headbands, which has the effect of drawing attention to her face. She has high cheekbones and a prominent nose, hazel eyes and a strong chin. It’s a classical face, perched atop a slender bodice—often extenuated with plunging neckline—attached to long, muscled legs that Ms. Wohl likes to show off when posing for the camera.
Earlier that week, she played hostess—along with Susan Sarandon—at a Nest fund-raiser and was happy to draw attention to the cause. The fact that Ms. Wohl, a recent graduate of New York University film school, is also producing a documentary, The Playground Project, about the same cause—with George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh—might have added further motivation.
But before agreeing to answer questions, Ms. Wohl had one of her own: “Why me?”
It’s a fair question.
Ms. Wohl has made a few short films, most notably Coven, a bizarre, arty, sensual interpretation of “Hansel and Gretel” that premiered last year at Art Basel Miami. She’s currently writing a feature film and is pursuing her interest in several causes, including the global anti-genocide campaign—causes to which she seems genuinely dedicated. While these facets of her character play a part in why people have taken notice of her, it is the sum total of Ms. Wohl herself—especially the role that she has assumed on the great stage of New York society—that makes her a story.
It comes as no surprise that Ms. Wohl has become fodder for the city’s inescapable socialite blogs, such as socialiterank.com and parkavenuepeerage.wordpress.com. Money plus chutzpah plus sex has always equaled a bankable persona in this town. If Ms. Wohl is far more wary of self-promotion than her society sisters, that only makes her a more delectable morsel for media consumption.
Ms. Wohl is the offspring of a well-heeled New York family. Her father, Larry Wohl, is a real-estate mogul; the art collection of her grandparents, Ronne and Joseph S. Wohl—featuring Matisse, Monet, Braque and Modigliani—sold for a hefty sum at Sotheby’s. Her name adorns a growing number of invitations to galas and fund-raisers—oftentimes without her permission, she insists. And in terms of pages of party pictures on PatrickMcMullen.com—the best going litmus test of social relevance—she’s getting up there, currently hovering at the 24 mark. (Tinsley Mortimer has 108 pages.)
She has also made the queasy leap into the mainstream gossips, including Page Six and Gawker, which recently reported that Ms. Wohl and Scarlett Johansson were heating up the sheets with the same “41-year-old director.” (Ms. Wohl flatly denies the rumor.)
And certainly, her style has made her more of a target: the “It” girl with a hippy-dippy twist! She looks like she might smell of patchouli, but in fact wears a hard-to-find vintage of vanilla-scented Mustela. She counts among her social circle such luminaries of the hipster-artist community as jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia, actress Leelee Sobieski (who did the voiceover to Coven) and the musician Adam Green, who quipped: “This art-house version of Lady Bird Johnson is on a continuous prom-night adventure.”
She’s also not afraid to occasionally pucker up to a glass marijuana pipe—a photograph of the act has relentlessly been making the rounds.
Perhaps all this would be enough to transport Ms. Wohl from under-the-radar, trust-funded film student to society chick of the moment. But one can’t help wonder if society-watchers aren’t eating this girl up with such verve out of blond boredom.
“Arden is not the type of girl that will shake your hand and kiss your cheek unless she likes you. She’s a pretty straight-shooter,” said Tarajia Morrell, an actress who starred in Coven and has known Ms. Wohl her entire life. “More people diss on her on blogs than anyone else. Obviously, it’s a sign of credulity—or jealousy.”
Arden’s mother, Denise Wohl, is certainly no fan of the “virtual” picture that’s been painted of her daughter.
“I don’t condemn people for getting high on mild drugs,” said Mama Wohl, addressing the Internet chatter about the aforementioned pot pipe. Mrs. Wohl was speaking to The Observer at a Nest Foundation art auction. She wore a blue-patterned cocktail dress and heels. “But I know Arden does not get high. So that one photo that was taken of her—posted on the Internet by her supposed friends—was pathetic, and I responded to socialiterank.com and some other Web sites about their pathetic concentration on the negative representation of New York society.”
She added, “If that’s what they stand for, good luck to all of them—they’re pathetic, and they should move on to something else.”
Denise Wohl and her daughter are the best of friends. The two frequently hit the town together. “She’s adorable,” said Mrs. Wohl. “While she raids my closet, I’ve never raided hers.”
“I’d like to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” she continued. Mrs. Wohl, who worked as a letterer for Marvel Comics in the 70’s, is about to publish a book of comics about superheroes who use the Kabbalah to fight evil, titled Seven. And two weeks from now, she plans her first foray into the fashion world—a headband-like hair accessory she calls the Wind Toss. “I was inspired by a combination of St. Barth’s and my daughter Arden,” she said. The Wind Toss will be featured at Parker, the Madison Avenue boutique owned and operated by her other daughter, Joselyn.
Mother and daughter also share an interest in astrology. The elder Wohl is a Leo; Arden, who is an Aries, commented on her interest in the art of celestial prophecy: “I don’t know, I like it, it’s very cool. We’re always looking for answers. Some people are looking for it in a socialite maybe. But you know, it just depresses me: Some girl named Peaches who lives in the Bronx—I don’t what she does—looks at this world and says, “Oh wow.” And I would never want to give off something that is an illusion, because you hurt people that way. And they’re already struggling so much—the people.”
As one might have guessed, the Wohl household—they live on 77th and Park Avenue—was very spiritual. Ms. Wohl’s father, Larry, is into Buddhism and yoga. Arden’s childhood bedroom was yellow, to which she attributes her curious nature.
“We’d always go on family excursions,” she recalled. “We’d always go to the park and always go to concerts.”
Indeed, Ms. Wohl has never stopped exploring New York. Having attended Spence, Dalton and N.Y.U., she’s hardly left the city—save for a year abroad in London.
“New York is amazing,” she said. “I like discovering things and just wandering around, because it is a place that’s filled with people who are curious—you can feel the curiousness around. So you can just go out and discover and just be yourself.”
“I like the Oyster Bar,” she said, asked about her favorite city haunts. “I’m the biggest dork. I’m obsessed with the Palm, even though everything comes out of cans. It’s great there. I like old New York. I like P.J. Clarke’s a lot.”
Other passions? “I admire Nicolas Roeg—he’s a filmmaker,” she said. “I like David Lynch, I like the New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof—he’s a humanitarian in a lot of ways, and there’s a lot of things to be said or spoken about in this world.”
She really does love Mr. Kristof.
“He takes a stance of justice for humane issues. He can talk about anything; he’s a brilliant man. I read all his stuff, and I e-mail him, and he’s very cool, totally awesome. He did this whole thing, a contest for college kids to go on a trip with him to Darfur to see what’s really going on.”
Ms. Wohl is likely the first e-mail pal of Mr. Kristoff’s to show up weekly in the society pages.
“She’s invited to many of these events, becomes she injects them with fresh air,” said Brooke Geehan, founder of the Accompanied Literary Society, who then described seeing Ms. Wohl in action at the Nest Foundation benefit: “During the art auction, when things had sort of come to a lull, Arden was the one who grabbed the mike and said, ‘Hey, this is a good cause—come on! We’re fighting the sex trafficking of children!’ And there was no fear. It’s so refreshing, to have someone during a charity event to point the finger, instead of being a wallflower, sipping champagne.”
Ms. Wohl doesn’t just talk the talk, she more or less walks the walk—at least by socialite standards.
She rises around 9 a.m. for a cursory check of the news online (her favorite sites are nytimes.com and commondreams.org). Then she meditates. She made up her own mantra when she was 5: “I say, ‘This is real. This is real. This is real.’ And then all of a sudden it’s not real, and you have an out-of-body experience, and then you come back, you have this intense, like, pain. Because you keep telling yourself, ‘This is real, this is real,’ and then it’s not real any more.”
Then she cooks herself breakfast. Ms. Wohl is a vegetarian, of sorts—she eats eggs and fish sometimes. A typical breakfast will involve “eggs, fresh herbs, whole-grain breads.”
After breakfast, she meets up with her writing partner, Darsi Monaco, usually at the macrobiotic restaurant Souen on Prince Street. The ladies, who are currently writing a feature—they’re “under contract,” so their premise is classified—spend up to six hours typing away on their laptops.
All the media attention that Ms. Wohl has been getting comes as a surprise to Ms. Monaco, who has known her for over a decade.
“It’s like, I have a friend who says every time he’s sitting in a restaurant, or whatever, and he hears the cover of a song—a song you know by heart, that’s ingrained in your subconscious—and then you hear the cover of that song, and it’s sort of an existential crisis,” explained Ms. Monaco, who is 23, blond and has long eyelashes she enjoys flashing about. “And so, when I see these things about virtual Arden, I struggle with the existential crisis. These things that come out, the stories and rumors that come out on the Internet, this extension of reality—it’s not exactly the truth, as I know from growing up together.”
Ms. Monaco offered a glimpse of Ms. Wohl’s split-level West Village loft: “It looks like the set from Fantastic Planet—she loves that aesthetic,” she said. “There are stalactites that come down from the ceiling. Custom murals by a friend of ours who’s wonderful, Andrew Schles. Furniture-wise, there are couches that have ears coming out of them—they’re actually these beautiful Ligne Roset couches. They are the color of clay. The ceiling is blue. Tons of plants—like 40 plants that have special lights that shine on them.”
What’s next for Arden Wohl?
“I think that people should pay more attention to the people that are actually making a difference and the people that are actually working their asses off,” Ms. Wohl said. “And the people that are actually working really hard to save the environment. People don’t pay attention because they’re not fashion designers or because they’re not pretty—or because they’re not something. Those people are there; it’s just that our society chooses to escape into the fantasy world of something that isn’t real.
“I’m not saying that I wish girls wearing gowns would care more about a cause,” Ms. Wohl went on. “But Paris Hilton, or someone like that, if she believed in something, she could make a difference. She’s fabulous, she’s great—she’s great? You know, I don’t know. Whatever.”