The other day, Hadley Nagel walked down the long corridor at the New York Historical Society wearing a Rebecca Taylor dress, a Badgley Mischka bag, small pearl earrings and a confident expression. There was a cocktail party celebrating new construction at the society, and Hadley, a recent graduate of the Nightingale-Bamford school and star of the debate and Model U.N. teams there, walked over to the bar. “That lemonade looks delicious,” she said. “One glass, please!”
Ms. Nagel, 18, is about as far as you can get from the lurching teens on NYC Prep. A native of Carnegie Hill, she is the youngest lobbyist in Washington, D.C. When she was a junior, she visited Montpelier, Va., to see the home of James Madison. “The docent told me that there was no monument for James Madison—I was very surprised,” Ms. Nagel said. “I didn’t quite believe her, so it researched it myself and found that yes, there is no monument on the Mall, Federal Hall, nothing, Independence Square, nothing!” She began meeting with Joseph Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, and started an organization called Americans for Madison. “And he came on board,” Ms. Nagel said. “And I’m working with congressmen.”
Louise Mirrer, the society’s president, came by for a hug. “She’s really quite remarkable,” Ms. Mirrer said of Hadley.
Ms. Nagel’s mother, Susan Nagel—a writer whose book Marie-Therese, about Marie Antoinette’s daughter, was just published in paperback—is her biggest fan. “I say that I wish to grow up and be Hadley one day!”
Hadley’s résumé is indeed impressive. Last spring, she interned at Cason Nightingale Advertising. “Hadley is pulling together all the knowledge she will ever need in the future,” said the company’s CEO and president (and a family friend), Cason Nightingale, on the phone. “I don’t know what her future holds. Maybe the presidency?” Hadley is also the founder of http://www.Playintraffic.com, a travel Web site for teenagers around the country. “I love to travel,” she said. She is attending Johns Hopkins University in the fall, as a Hodson Trust scholar, one of 20 in the freshman class. It covers four years’ tuition, along with numerous other perks. “We are going to join the expensive-shoe-of-the-month club!” Mama Nagel said, joking.
“When I received the scholarship, my dad”—Jon Nagel, corporate secretary at a global financial services corporation—“thought it was one of his friends playing a joke on us,” Hadley said with a laugh. “I mean, I didn’t apply for it, so it was totally out of the blue!”
‘I don’t know what her future holds. Maybe the presidency?’ —Family friend
Susan Nagel said she and her daughter “are creative collaborators. We inspire each other. During our travels, even as a very young girl, she has often been more knowledgeable than docents. She was once offered a job at the Tower of London because she asked the Lady Jane Grey’s role in something. At Winterthur, when she was only six years old, she pointed out a chandelier and said, ‘That doesn’t look American.’ It was something the ambassador had brought back from Russia—the only thing in the house that was not American. She was six.” How will she deal with the imminent separation anxiety? “Believe me, we are happy she is only going to Baltimore! It’s only a train ride away.” This is convenient, as Hadley has three debutante balls upcoming: The New York Junior League Thanksgiving Eve Ball; St. Nicholas Society; and the Junior Assemblies.
“We are very close,” Hadley said of her mother. “I think it’s bad when teenagers hide stuff from their parents because then they don’t trust them, and we definitely have an open relationship. We both give each other advice. I trust her! She was a teenager, too. When parents become the best friends of their kids but aren’t parenting, that’s not good, either. I definitely know what that line is.”
On a recent sunny morning, Ms. Nagel, wearing pink Lacoste and Ray-Bans, rang the doorbell to shoe designer Vanessa Noel’s boutique. “Hi, Hadley—let me get Vanessa!” said a young, bubbly saleswoman.
Hadley has been shopping here since she was a little girl, and because Constitution Day is coming up, on Sept. 17, she needed a pair of black shoes. She likes to feel put together. “Sweatpants make me feel half-asleep. Like I just rolled out of bed or something,” Hadley said. She likes Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, Catherine Malandrino, Cynthia Rowley, Marc Jacobs and J. Crew “for filling-in pieces.”
“How is my favorite debutante doing?” squealed Ms. Noel, emerging to greet her.
“For many of the important occasions in my life, I have bought Vanessa Noel shoes,” Ms. Nagel said. Including prom. “I wore this great turquoise Carlos Miele dress, with a Hermes belt I stuck around it, and I had to change into my pink very twirly Betsy Johnson prom dress in the Port-a-Potty!”
The doorbell rang and Susan Nagel walked in wearing a pink-and-white blouse, white pants and pink shoes.
The elder Ms. Nagel was raised in the South and moved to New York about 30 years ago. She would go to Studio 54 with Kathy and Rick Hilton (who are still “best of friends”), Anne Hearst, Roger de Cabrol, Cornelia Guest, Anne Eisenhower, Chappy Morris, Christine Biddle and Anthony Haden-Guest. She met her husband in a snowstorm. They were founding members of the Metropolitan Society. “We hosted Donna Karan’s first fashion show at Bergdorf Goodman, as well as some very interesting benefits on behalf of New York City arts organizations,” said Ms. Nagel, an organized woman who keeps track of her schedule the old-fashioned way. She has her date planner at home, and numerous Post-It notes in her bag with different things she has to do that day. At the bottom of her pink bag, there was a portfolio containing numerous pictures of Hadley. “There she is at prom, and here she is at the NOFA charity with Lauren Bush and Christie Brinkley,” Ms. Nagel intoned.
One of the Nagels’ favorite spots in Manhattan is the Metropolitan Club on 60th Street near Central Park. Hadley started to join her parents at the club when she was just a baby, and met her first Santa on the large, grand stairwell.
A devotee of museums, she said that the Met is her favorite. “It has something for everybody. For a more specialized experience, I would recommend the Frick, the Cloisters, the Rubin Museum and, of course, the New York Historical Society.”
Hadley took a breath. “By living in New York City you’re exposed to all sorts of resources you perhaps wouldn’t get as a teenager in other areas. There is all sorts of …” She paused for a moment, squinting. “You are always coming into contact with different cultures. The thing that is similar with everyone is that everybody is always in a rush, but yet I’ve seen tourists stop people and everybody is always so willing to be nice. I think it’s important in a city to be interested in something but always be willing to learn about and willing to try new things.”
Where would Hadley never go in this city?
“Brooklyn,” she said. “I haven’t run out of things yet to do in Manhattan.”