“What ever happened to the So-and-So’s?” Brunette Hedge Fun-dress asked. She was referring to a socially ambitious NYC couple who had vanished into the ether.
“One minute they were trying to make a grand impression on the charity circuit, and then they disappeared in the night.” She waved her Bulgari’d hand as if in a magic show
The scene was an extravagant birthday soirée for South American Firecracker, who was turning 39 for the 10th time. The Latin band and Chippendale-style models hoisted her to a bejeweled entrance and ovation.
“Last I heard, they were moving to Leafy Connecticut Suburb because they said living in the city was bad for the children!” Auburn Social-lite smirked.
“Creating a smokescreen because they couldn’t afford the major galas and gowns and four private school tuitions any longer. Things must be dire when they start putting down New York!” International Playboy added.
“She obviously couldn’t maintain the Paris couture bills and lashed out…as if a 12-room apartment and sending your kids to (elite private schools) is bad for them!” he sniffed.
“She was always a third-row girl at the shows,” Social-lite sniffed.
“They started by extolling the virtues of having a backyard …in Siberia! And rented at that!” Fun-dress sneered. “Maybe if they lived on the Park they would feel differently….”
“So you’re saying that they couldn’t afford life on the circuit and fabricated how much better things would be on a country estate?” I surmised.
“There comes a point where fakers can’t fake it anymore and have to move to the hinterlands…or L.A.”
“You can fake it better in L.A., renting a garden apartment in the Beverly Hills Post office near Fatburger and telling everyone you live in Beverly Hills,” Playboy noted.
“If the wife is entirely in Chanel and the husband has a suspect job and no one’s ever been invited to their home…Obvious fakers,” Hedge Fun-dress offered.
“Yes! The only-entertain-in-restaurants crowd!” the chorus harmonized.
“Do you know Frida Lay? She faked it for many years until a friend’s daughter moved next to her and discovered she lived in a studio with a futon and racks of last year’s clothes. She essentially lived in her closet!”
“Frida was fronting a luxurious lifestyle but lived like a college student?” I probed.
“She lived the high life when she had a p.r. client or was having an affair with a rich troll.”
In New York, fakers often double down. Call it fake/faking it, or Extreme Fakery. Family histories and résumés are both varnished and repackaged. Often the subject at hand comes to actually believe their own con—until it catches up with them. Rather than being outed, they often vanish, never to be seen again.
“What happened to her?”
“She lost what was left of her looks—bad facelift—and came to a sorry end.”
I always had a soft spot for poor Frida, who had traded security for the elusive party circuit as a PYT/paid friend.
“She was fired and had to move to a mother/daughter attached house”—dramatic pause—“in New Jersey! Like that Woody Allen movie Blue Jasmine where she moved in with her sister with her Vuitton trunks….and her memories.” Fun-dress nodded sadly, sobered perhaps by the idea of the Louboutin one day being on the other foot.
In every city in the world there are those that have a genuine pedigree and those that are fronting a bogus image: bonafide fakers. Most provide an innocent level of subterfuge, but in larger-than-life New York City, fakers often double down: Call it fake/faking it. Or Extreme Fakery. Family histories and résumés are both varnished and repackaged. Often the subject at hand comes to actually believe their own con—until it catches up with them. Rather than being outed, they often vanish, never to be seen again.
I discussed the phenomenon with The Impossibly Blonde and Glamorous Socialite, who breezed into Harry Cipriani in a navy Chanel leather trench, looking decidedly Belle Du Jour.
Dapper Sergio showed us to our usual window seat.
“Mother always used to say people give themselves up, eventually,” TIBGS stated as we discussed a few successful fakers on the social circuit.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Table manners are usually a dead giveaway.” The vintage Van Cleef bracelet on her wrist matched the Bellini in her hand. “And how people pronunciate and enunciate their words. It’s very clear where they are really from.”
“Like my Long Guyland accent?” I joked.
“Richard, you’re authentic.” She gave a throaty Bacall-style laugh. “Just like my friend Halsey Fine. She makes no bones about being from Deliverance country.”
“Making her more interesting?”
“Of course. People often forget the web of lies they spin and they trip over their own feet,” she declared. “They commit faux pas that give them away—maybe too many rings on all the wrong fingers or not knowing how to use a fish fork, suggesting they aren’t to the manner born.”
“Unless they attend etiquette school!” I interjected.
“The good fakers are quite adept at learning the rules, though some take it too far,” she continued. “When someone with an affected accent uses a term like ‘summering’ as a verb, as in ‘Where do you summer?’ it’s an obvious ruse.”
I grimaced and nodded in agreement. “There was this woman from the Midwest who would refer to her part-time nanny as ‘the staff.’ ”
“It’s like those girls for which every piece of Hermès is from a vintage store!” TIBGS said.
“They only succeed so far before being found out?”
“Yes. Then they disappear to the next city, creating a new subterfuge.”
“Are they ever railroaded out of town?” I enquired.
“Well, my dear, it’s not like [ultra-exclusive Florida community where people are routinely given the boot before they even move in]. But I would say that once the jig is up, they move on to greener pastures, disappearing like Houdini. I was seated at a girls’ luncheon the other day next to this suspect gal calling herself Sparkle St. James,” she confided.
“Highly improbable name. Either she is an exotic dancer or she is having private school fantasies,” I opined.
“She was vague about her background. I knew something wasn’t quite right when her elbows went on the table and she used my bread plate.”
“Dead giveaway.” I nodded.
“There’s nothing worse than having to balance your roll on your luncheon plate because someone co-opted your china.” She rolled her eyes.
“Oh, the teetering roll!” I sympathized. Bread-plate thievery is truly annoying.
“And Sparkle looked so familiar, but her answers were nervous, tentative and vague. When I asked her where she was from she said the ‘Atlanta area.’ ”
“It’s trouble when they avoid specifics. Atlanta is also a haven for strip clubs.”
“She did have that look.”
“Like a pole was in her past—and it wasn’t Prince Olenska.”
“Sounds like my college roommate who had the expensive Fair Isle Sweaters, and I found out she was stealing them and on financial aid, poor thing.”
‘The good fakers are quite adept at learning the rules, though some take it too far. When someone with an affected accent uses a term like ‘summering’ as a verb, as in “Where do you summer?” it’s an obvious ruse.’
“So what did you say to Sparkle?”
“I raised my hands in a questioning gesture and said, ‘I know you.’ Something told me she was in the service industry. She looked crestfallen and said she’d never met me before. But I continued ‘No. I know you from somewhere.’ I couldn’t place her, but it’s in my memory bank, and I will. I always do.”
“Perhaps she was your personal shopper at Barneys?” I surmised. “Prognosis?”
“She’s not long for New York. She wasn’t clever enough when she was caught. You know the best of the lot have great charm and imagination.”
“A cashier at Zitomer or Clyde’s?”
“At least own it and tell me you’ll let me know when my favorite Riguad gardenia candles are in!” We both roared.
“We would love her if she were both honest and helpful! As my mother always says: ‘Money comes and money goes, but breeding, darling, always shows.’ ”
I was in my 20s at an event at Regine’s hosted by the JIC, or the Junior International Club. (A rarefied few may remember this distinctly ’80s moment.) My navy blue blazer with gold buttons, pocket square belied the fact I had just graduated from the Newhouse School and was ZBT’s social chairman.
I mingled with a NY/Euro crowd who all seemed to know each other. At 22, I would not say I was fake/faking it…okay, perhaps faking it just a bit. I was, however, in attendance with a NYC prepster who was a bona fide member of the JIC and a private school scion to boot.
I turned to see a lovely blonde, wearing a string of pearls conversing in French with two Swiss playboys. I made my way over and somehow dislodged the playboys. After some initial flirtatious chitchat and a feeble attempt at canoodling, I heard a subtle Five Towns accent beneath the veneer.
“You look so familiar to me,” I breathed heavily. “Where do I know you from?”
“I don’t believe we’ve ever met,” she said coldly. It became apparent she wanted avoid the topic. Suddenly I had a flashback.
“I remember meeting you at [country club in Woodmere],” I said, not intending to ruin her game plan. “My father knew your grandfather, Sol O. Mann,” [a rotund garment center mogul who always held court at the same table with his cronies over lox, eggs and onions].
Twenty years later, I ran into her again on Madison Avenue in a riding costume a la Wellington. She’d long since formally rebranded herself as Monique [not her real name], married a prestigious Republican and become a fixture on the Hamptons old-world club circuit. I know exactly who she is, but after years of her faking it—and getting away with it—no one else does.
“I haven’t been there in years,” she admitted. “Excuse me. I see a friend.” She craftily slipped out of my clutches. The sudden look of fear in her eyes suggested that the girl I had known as Mindy was faking it and didn’t want to be outed. Only kippers for her!
Twenty years later, I ran into Mindy again on Madison Avenue. She’d long since formally rebranded herself as Monique [not her real name], married a prestigious Republican and become a fixture on the Hamptons old-world club circuit. I know exactly who she is, but after years of her faking it—and getting away with it—no one else does..
This holiday season I received a Christmas card of their entire brood standing under the tree with reindeer hats. The return address: one of the most difficult-to-penetrate buildings in the New York co-op stratosphere. It seems that Monique has successfully faked/faked it all the way to Fifth Avenue…and isn’t looking back.
The atelier of European luxury goods client sparkled as I presented a new ad campaign to Monsieur de Luxe.
“At this point, I know who’s real—who purchases, who borrows, who is the professional guest,” he stated.
“And who’s faking it?” I probed.
“The fakers love to borrow, often telling me it will be good for my business, as if they are a major star.”
He thought for a moment. “There is one social gal who had a habit of buying a gown and then returning it the next day. She would tuck in the price tag, wear it to an event and return.”
“It’s hard to resell a stained $8,000 chiffon gown. I finally put my foot down and told her she was no longer part of the return policy.”
“She got incredibly huffy and threatened to bad-mouth me for spreading rumors. I pulled up a photo of her on the internet wearing the gown to an event.”
“What did she say?”
“ ‘I’m good press for you!’ ” He chuckled at the memory.
“I mean, fakers always have a comeback. I said, ‘My dear, a shot of your derriere in the background does me no good.’ ”
“Who else falls into the faker category?”
“They usually have all the right packaging, style, above-average personality but sham marriages and businesses. Whenever I meet an L.A. producer who has never produced anything I just assume… faker.”
“Look at Raymond Bull (an oily character),” he said thoughtfully. “He has the accent and gives the impression that he is Old Money Euro but is always a fringe guest, catching a ride on someone’s plane. He never bought a thing for his ex–wife.”
“Perhaps that’s why she’s an ex,” I offered.
‘Fakers usually have all the right packaging, style, above-average personality but sham marriages and businesses. Whenever I meet an L.A. producer who has never produced anything I just assume… FAKER.’
“One time I saw him in [expensive uptown watering hole]. He had three credit cards declined and had to borrow cash from the person who he was with who he was taking to lunch.”
“What happens when the truth finally surfaces about such people?”
“There is embarrassment but also relief. Eventually, they store their designer goods at Manhattan Mini Storage and end up in Brooklyn,” he said with conviction.
“Do they take the comedown well?”
“One partner is fine living a more authentic life, and the other is always on the prowl for the savior who is going to restore them to Park Avenue. It usually ends in divorce.”
“That’s sad,” I offered.
“I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about a couple renting in Greenwich or Park Slope,” he sighed. “You’re too empathetic, Richard.”
I was enjoying a hearty puttanesca at Cafetal Social Club on Mott Street when I noticed an incoming call. I had tracked down the elusive Frida Lay—improbably, through the phone book.
“Frida, how are you, darling?” I asked, not knowing what to expect in reply.
“How would you be if you had to give up your apartment and move in with your mother on the other side of the tunnel?” she sputtered.
“Frida, I’m doing on article on people who live in New York and try to appear wealthier and more important than they are. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?”
“Ordinarily, I would not, but I enjoy your columns and you’re never mean-spirited.”
“So…what’s your opinion on people who put on airs and fake it?”
“Self-invention is part of the New York City toolbox. When I first moved to the city, I was young, hot and intimidated by the society girls. So I did what anyone would do: I told everyone I was the illegitimate daughter of a famous movie star who also had a cleft chin like me.”
“I even heard the rumor!” I sipped my delightful pinot grigio.
“He was deceased so he couldn’t counter the story. Instantly, everyone wanted me. I was 20 years old and the hottest thing on the market. One week was Ibiza, the next Puerto Vallarta—with the most exciting men! Then I met a real estate heir. He wasn’t bright, but he was rich, rich, rich and handsome enough. He wanted to marry me.”
“I was on my way to City Hall when I ran into Hotsome Jonz. He took me back to the Chelsea hotel, and I spent 48 hours in passion. I stupidly left real estate boy at the courthouse steps.”
“What happened to Hotsome?”
“He was married, of course.”
“Would you do it again?”
“In a heartbeat, with one exception.”
“I would have spent two hours with Hotsome, called real estate boy and told him I was running late, gotten married, gotten divorced—and gotten the alimony.
“And I wouldn’t be living in Bayonne.”
I was catching up with one of my closest compadres, the uber-reclusive Howard Yous, a Hollywood kingpin who keeps a low profile these days, over sublime Brussels sprouts at Ysable on North Fairfax. No one is more intellectually inquisitive than Howard, who disdains airs and fakery.
“Look how beautifully they broasted the chicken.” He motioned towards our delectable, plated birds.
“Broasted! I haven’t heard that term in years!” I declared.
“That’s because of the that crowd you hang around with in New York.”
“What crowd?” I asked.
“The moneyed folk.”
“There are some interesting people. It’s the poseurs I cannot abide.”
“Well, one has to be real to appreciate the finer art of broasting,” he declared.
“As opposed to boasting?”
“Something like that. Unless you have had an ethnic grandma who killed her meat, you can’t understand it. The upper classes like everything rare or uncooked, from oysters to steak tartare. It’s the peasants who want it well done.”
“Ethnic people like a well-done steak and a well-heated pool, I always say.”
“It’s because we weren’t sent to boarding school in Maine and had to run naked through the snow as a rite of manhood,” he reflected.
“I’m doing an article on extreme fakers.”
“If they know what broasting is and want their steak well done, chances are they’re not a member of the international elite,” Howard opined.
“Broasting is the giveaway?” It hadn’t occurred to me.
“That and someone who puts the dinner on multiple credit cards and takes your cash.”
“A toast to the broast!” We clicked glasses as we relished our well-done chicken…and a real, well-done friendship.