Last week I was speaking at a ladies’ luncheon in Palm Beach—if that doesn’t qualify as the most poofy column-opener in the history of this newspaper, then I cannot imagine what would—when I suddenly did a total Alec Baldwin. It happened during the Q&A, when one of the immaculately coiffed attendees asked me to talk about the ways in which I was currently “helping young people fulfill their dreams of a career in fashion.” Young people! Young people! Young people! … All of a sudden the room started spinning—along with my head—and I began channeling the seething thespian.
“I am completely and utterly against the idea of helping young people,” I told the gobsmacked crowd. I then ranted on about how I was sick of hearing about young people’s hopes, aspirations and career goals—how come nobody wants to help old people?—and that I had been driven so insane by the current generation of Eve Harrington–esque overachieving fashionistas (Mr. Baldwin would probably call them “ungrateful little pigs”) that I had reached the point where, instead of helping them fulfill their dreams, all I wanted to do was crush them. Just call me “the Dream-Crusher.”
O.K., so I got a bit carried away. But seriously, folks, don’t you think the whole concept of bending over backwards to help “young people” achieve their dreams is a little dotty? (I’m not talking now about hardscrabble inner-city kids who genuinely deserve a leg up, I’m talking about middle- and upper-class kids who are already clutching a first-class ticket.) The last thing these “young” people really want or need is a bunch of old farts disempowering and infantilizing them by trying to optimize and micromanage their career opportunities. Why can’t young adults just be the big, fat, freewheeling losers that people in their 20’s are meant to be? Why are we attempting to deprive them of the pleasures of all that character-building striving and bungling and blundering? As Sir Bob Geldof once said, “Hey, teachers! Leave them kids alone!”
Young people are much happier—and ultimately more creative—when they are neglected or repressed and have something to complain about and kick against. This is why England—Oliver Twist, bonjour!—has produced so many talented style provocateurs: John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, etc. (Interestingly, the stream of fashion über-talent seems to have dried up since the arrival of Tony Blair’s youth-coddling “nanny state.”)
When I was a youth, being dissolute, unfocused and underachieving was part of the job description. One’s 20’s were a time of squalid room-sharing and reckless belligerence. Coercing grown-ups into helping me achieve my career goals—and what the hell were they, anyway?—was the last thing on my mind.
According to my Social Security statement—a document which I perused with shock and awe prior to my recent tax filing—during the year 1979, at age 27, I somehow managed to exist on $5,175, and I did it while having an inordinate amount of fun and no career goals whatsoever. It would never have occurred to me that, in addition to having a job of some description, I also needed “help.”
Paradoxically, I was in much greater need of guidance and support than the young ’uns of today. Today’s whippersnappers—they all take their cue from Monica Lewinsky, who had regular sit-downs with Vernon Jordan to discuss her career trajectory—are the most careerist, focused and entitled generation in the history of the planet.
If one of these careerzillas comes to you wanting “help,” you can avoid further discussion by whipping out a copy of Chasing Cool and stuffing it into his/her shoulder tote. This spanking new how-to-make-money-by-being-groovy tome (Atria, $24) was penned by none other than Gene Pressman, my former boss at Barneys, along with a bloke called Noah Kerner.
Tales of the charismatic Gene and the catastrophic end of the Pressman reign at Barneys are the stuff of Manhattan legend. For those of you who remember the majesty of the 17th Street Barneys circa 1986, let me set the record straight: Mr. Gene Pressman was the genius ringmaster/visionary of that chic and exclusive circus.
Gene, an irreverent and creative bon viveur, hired me the year before that store opened—at 34 I was no poulet de printemps—thereby dragging me out of the above-mentioned financial doldrums. Ah! I remember that moment so well! After making me a job offer, he slapped me on the back and promised to teach me to “eat beef, eat pussy and smoke cigars.”
Now that’s what I call being helpful.
PS: While the innovative and brilliant Gene accomplished so much during his Barneys years, he failed on all three of the above counts.