The girls, so many girls, dressed in pastel-colored wraps that bared shoulders and the swells of their cleavage, clacked their Louboutin heels up a SoHo staircase one muggy May evening.
At the landing, visibly breathless and sweaty, their eyes lit up. They had entered the penthouse loft of Edward Scott Brady, the boyishly handsome world traveler, former classical cello virtuoso and “retired entrepreneur,” who was throwing a “Welcome Back Bash” to honor his return from his seventh trip around the globe.
Demonstrating a generous spirit, he had posted news of the party to Facebook and Guest of a Guest, luring in hundreds of friends and friends-of-friends, the more the merrier, and plying them with premium booze.
The apartment had all the trappings a wayfaring bachelor requires: the cello, a relic from Mr. Brady’s days playing at the Kennedy Center and Avery Fisher Hall; the African ceremonial masks, collected on his jaunts to the subcontinent; the large antique globe; the red-felt billiards table; the framed photos of Mr. Brady from his journeys.
It was, in the estimation of one female guest, “shit-tastic.”
“He’s, like, famous dude,” said Dmitry Astafev, a Russian entrepreneur who learned about the party through his girlfriend, who had been forwarded a Facebook invite and actually didn’t know Mr. Brady, either.
No matter. Sooner or later, it is safe to say, we will all know Mr. Brady.
“My boyfriend met him in the Hamptons,” said a blond-haired woman in her early 20s.
“I met him at Cyril’s,” claimed another woman.
The place was packed with bros in suit-coats and more babes in slinkier-than-thou dresses, in the appraisal of Justin Ross Lee, than one could shake a stick at.
“Unfortunately for these ladies, I’ve already shaken my stick at most of them,” he added with a wink.
Mr. Lee is an entrepreneur and shameless self-promoter, whose reputation, like Mr. Brady’s, preceded him.The day before, he had been the subject of of a comical New York Times Styles Section profile that depicted him, among other things, tussling with a doorman at The Dream Downtown and bragging about his first-class travels to the Middle East and Europe (“Jew Jetting,” as he proudly refers to it on his Facebook page). Mr. Lee hadn’t made Mr. Brady’s acquaintance either—not yet—though their meeting seemed preordained.
“Unlike me, Edward seems to be very well-liked and a lot less controversial, which means he sleeps better at night than I do,” Mr. Lee quipped.
Then Mr. Lee went over to greet Tabber Benedict, a slick-haired attorney whose khaki suit and classic looks gave him the appearance of an attendee at a convention of Patrick Bateman impersonators. If you squinted, he even resembled a clean shaven Clark Gable, or a more avuncular upgrade of reality TV-rake Scott Disick.
As the two stopped to pose for a Guest of a Guest photographer, people in the crowd discussed the size of Mr. Brady’s loft. “This loft is, like, biggest loft in New York City,” said the impressionable Mr. Astafev.
Still, was one loft—whatever its size—big enough for all three men, for their grandiose personalities? The presence of the trio, all in one place, seemed to signal a small if meaningful shift in the city’s cultural history: After a long, dire post-Lehman cold snap, during which ostentatious displays of wealth, social bravado and dandyish fashion gambits were put into deep hibernation, something was stirring. Wall Street was no longer occupied. The impassioned battle cries of the stringy-haired sleeping-bag brigade, fulminating about the ample chasm separating the 99 and 1 percents, had faded. A socially ambitious lad no longer had to hide his Cartier cufflinks or Stubbs & Wootton slippers under a bushel. Suddenly it was okay again to venture into the limelight, okay to aspire to notoriety and social prominence.
Not everyone was ready to put it all out there, of course, but this was the vanguard. Call them the Gatsbabies: three dandyish gentlemen—but straight, mind you, very, very straight—who seemed to come out of nowhere. In this, they were not unlike the former James Gatz himself, on whom they unconsciously styled themselves, the emperor of West Egg, the subject of a million high school book reports and any minute now, a glistening slice of Oscar bait starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Baz Luhrmann.
“They’re products of the zeitgeist right now, and that zeitgeist is one of social media and ability to be your own kind of publicist,” said Rachelle Hruska, the founder of Guest of a Guest, which has helped cultivate the personas of both Mr. Lee and Mr. Brady.
“I think never before have people been able to kind of be their own publicist,” she added. “You can just get a Facebook page and just put basically anything you want on it about yourself all day long, and I think that’s what these three people excel at, is using social media to pump up their brand.”
Photographer Patrick McMullan agreed. “They want to be known, they want to be out there, they want to use their profiles to get more work and more girls,” he said, “and more fun.”
Mr. Brady stood amid the throng, holding a magnum of Cristal in each hand, his long hair slicked-back and his dark tailored suit hugging his athletic form. He greeted his female guests with a kiss on the cheek, often pausing to give a Guest of a Guest photographer a cocksure smirk as the ladies struck poses with him.
Like Gatsby, he seemed a little too good to be true. The open bar and free canapes for his hundreds of guests? The National Geographic-quality photographs? The crowd of beautiful and seemingly available women? Surely there was more to this guy than met the eye—or less. We turned to Mr. Benedict and asked if the scene was real or illusion.
“Being in the industry that you’re in, you of all people should understand,” he said. “Perception becomes reality.”
A few days after the party, The Observer received a terse text from Mr. Brady asking us to call him. We had been reaching out to those who RSVP’d for his party, asking how they knew him, and word had come back to him that we were snooping around. In a faltering, nervous tone, he said he was caught off guard by it.
We explained to him that this was just simple reporting. We were doing our due diligence.
“I guess I have to get comfortable with what this media thing is,” he said with a sigh.
We found his response curious, given his highly visible activities. We had seen snaps of him surrounded by a gang of Indian women in their native country, shooting the breeze with the Hmong on the China-Vietnam border, posing casually with a cheetah somewhere in the African Sahara. Downtown Magazine dubbed him “The Most Interesting Man in The World.” His life was like a Tina-era issue of Vanity Fair. Why so shy all of the sudden?
The son of Edward Alden Brady, a former ship captain and Chevron salesman, he was raised in the Larchmont section of Westchester. They shared a name—Mr. Brady goes by “Scott” to help differentiate himself—and a talent for the cello. They also shared a wanderlust: the elder Mr. Brady traveled extensively for work (“He’s been around the world on a boat four times,” the son recalled).
Mr. Brady’s talent for the cello landed him at Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music, where he studied under Norman Fischer, a noted classical music teacher. The brawny Mr. Brady said he also played on the hockey team, eventually bowing out to protect his hands from potential injury.
When Mr. Fischer left Oberlin for a new position at Rice University in Texas, Mr. Brady followed him there and received the Fondren scholarship, earning his degree in in 1995.
At 25, he was awarded the 1998 Panasonic National Young Performers prize. At 27, he became one of the first Americans ever invited to a residency with a Russian orchestra at the Moscow Symphony. There, Mr. Brady endured 15-hour bus rides, eight-hour practices and a measly diet of canned food and scraps while somehow maintaining his sturdy physique (his fellow students, according to a 2000 Times article, nicknamed him Arnold Schwarzenegger).
The next year he returned to New York and started Musika, a private-music tutoring service that targeted wealthy areas in Westchester County and New Jersey. Musika grew from 15 teachers to 800 nationwide, becoming profitable enough for Mr. Brady to retire at the age of 33. He would not comment on Musika’s annual profits. “I can do pretty much whatever I want at this point,” he said. “I can travel, I’m able to lead the life I want to have.”
On Musika’s website, his biography elaborates on his “World Most Interesting Man” pedigree, noting that he is a member of Mensa, “an organization of people with high-level IQs.” (A spokeswoman for Mensa confirmed that an Edward Brady from New York was a member in 2003–2004, but said that his membership had since lapsed).
After his retirement, Mr. Brady set out to travel the world. His travel itinerary reads like a list of locations for a Bond film: playing polo in Abu Dhabi, surfing in Bocas del Toro, Panama; traveling across Madagascar in an ox-led transport.
The photos of his travels are sweeping and sensational in composition and tone, which has led some to believe that he hired a photographer to document his adventures.
“Everyone’s so curious about who’s taking the photographs,” he told us with a laugh. “I have a tripod, I have a Canon 5d Mark II, and there is a device called the Giga T Pro.” The device, he explained, acts as a remote release that can be activated from a quarter of a mile away. He uses it to capture himself in tender, social moments, like speaking with the female members of the Maasai tribe, which he then posts to his Facebook page.
“That’s why I identify with Scott,” said Mr. Lee, while seated in his Murray Heights office. “There’s no accidental postings. He’s methodical and I’m methodical.”
Perhaps, although that’s not the first term one might apply to Mr. Lee, who likes to say there are three things he never pays for: “parking, publicity and pussy.” His borscht-belt schtick and enormous bravado has brought him infamy (if Page Six still counts), sponsorships, and more publicity for Pretentious Pocket, his line of pocket squares, than might seem reasonable.
The day after his Times profile went online, he claimed he did three months worth of business in one day.
“I mean, I had them working through the Sabbath,” Mr. Lee said, nodding toward a quiet and severe-looking intern who was typing on a MacBook air. “I said, ‘No shul without drool.’”
He admitted that he played up his feud with the doorman at The Dream Downtown to provide some material for Bob Morris, the Times reporter who was following him around for the evening.
“I never would have gone to The Dream Downtown,” he said. “I was going there because I had a New York Times reporter behind me. I set him up and he’s stupid enough to walk right into the lion’s den.” [UPDATE: After this story was published, Mr. Lee wrote to say that he "misspoke and was referring to the stupid doorman," not to Mr. Morris. "Bob is a brilliant writer and journalist whom I respect."]
Such behavior is all part of the schtick. So is the peacockish attire—stylish and garish, in equal measure—guaranteed to draw glances. The Gatsbabies are not particularly concerned with how others see them, as long as they’re being seen.
“People look at me and they’re like, ‘That spoiled prick,’” said Mr. Benedict, a 35-year-old attorney who recently launched his own practice, Benedict Advisors LLC. He didn’t seem too concerned about that. Although there is one oft-made comparison he can’t abide.
“Don’t tell him he looks like Scott Disick. He hates that,” said one female friend. We brought up his resemblance to Clark Gable, and the woman paused. “I don’t know what Clark Gable looks like,” she said flatly.
Mr. Benedict says he has earned his pinstripe C. Oliver Custom Suits. At Mr. Brady’s party, he recalled a hardscrabble childhood in upstate New York, working lousy jobs at grocery stores and McDonald’s throughout high school while being raised by a single mom.
“I literally was using foodstamps,” he said. “Justin never did that. He wore nice Brooks Brothers clothes that his parents bought him, you know what I mean?”
He won a scholarship to Colgate while working in the school library, then went to Columbia Law School and put in time at White & Case and The ACE Group before eventually launching his own firm.
Mr. Benedict was at one time engaged to a woman he met through taxi driving matchmaker Ahmed Ibrahim (their pairing was featured in a 2008 Wall Street Journal article). He said he adopted the name “Thomas Pink,” a pseudonym he uses primarily on Facebook, in the interest of personal safety—to protect him from his now ex-fiancée.
“Girls would post on my [Facebook] wall funny things, and she would take it the wrong way,” he recalled.
There was also the enterprising stalker who broke into his Upper East Side apartment as he was attending a charity event. “She called and said, ‘I’m inside your apartment, Tabber. It’s really nice! My friend Tyrone is here, who has brought me some party favors,’” he said.
Nonetheless, he noted that getting his face out there as much as possible—attending the Seeds of Africa charity event, co-hosting the First Annual Post-Walk Celebration to Benefit Breast Cancer Victims—helps to shore up business.
“You don’t meet people in your bathroom, or like on your sofa, watching Game of Thrones,” he said. “I meet people out, and that’s how I meet my clients.”
We were at 286 Spring Street for the launch party of TheCityStreet.com, an “exclusive” global directory of bankers founded by former investment banker Vana Koutsomitis. Mr. Benedict did not know Ms. Koutsomitis, but as the party lagged, he pulled her aside and offered to call a photographer from Patrick McMullan’s agency. Within 30 minutes, the photographer arrived, Ms. Koutsomitis happily posed with friends and colleagues, and the vibe picked up considerably.
“He sort of looks like Scott Disick,” Ms. Koutsomitis whispered to us.
The night was a success for Mr. Benedict. He had walked in virtually a stranger, and had left with a few business cards of prospective clients. However, as he has learned, the more public the face, the less understanding the girlfriend.
“The last time I checked, I want my lawyer to be as discreet and dorky and smart as possible, not some philandering playboy,” said Elizabeth Stockton Howard, his blue-blooded, Princeton-educated paramour.
When asked what it’s like dating an internet personality, she replied, “It’s awful! I think about breaking up with him everyday because of that!”
Edward Scott Brady does not have a girlfriend to take issue with his activities. But he blanches at the idea that he is aggressively self-promotional.
“I never think I am actively necessarily promoting myself,” he said, sipping from a beer at the rooftop bar at the James Hotel. “I am just doing what I want to do, and traveling, and that is what I am becoming, and what people see me as. Why am I am traveling around the world? Because I want to do it. I’m not thinking about packaging.”
“Edward Scott doesn’t have the same media focus that Justin does, obviously,” said Mr. Benedict. “That’s Justin’s life. I would of course argue that I have a different focus than Justin, too. My focus is on more of the high-end charity events, because that’s what I care about. Justin does a lot more club parties.”
Differences aside, all three of them owe a debt of gratitude to Scott Fitzgerald’s indelible playboy.
“That was one of my nicknames,” Mr. Brady admitted. “‘Gatsby, what are you doing tonight?’ Especially in the Hamptons.”
“We tickle people’s curiosity,” Mr. Lee said. He’s found that, as it was for Gatsby, a certain air of mystery can be useful. “The first question I get is ‘What do you really do?’” he said. “And that’s how I know I’ve garnished their attention, and that’s how I know it’s a three-pointer.”
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