One fine day in 1990, interior designer Suzie Frankfurt gave Manhattan the slip. Taking stock of everything, from the serious Russian furniture in her town house on East 73rd Street to her address book filled with important phone numbers, she realized: “My moment of being a grand duchess, a Russian principessa, had come to an end. I couldn’t afford it anymore, emotionally, financially or spiritually,” as she said over lunch at Mortimer’s recently.
Possessions sold to the highest bidder, her housekeeper Isabel Blanco employed in a heartbeat by jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane, Mrs. Frankfurt and her aging Bernese mountain dog, Diaz, moved to a 1780 farmhouse in the Berkshires. She continued decorating, except now her clients are 1990’s nesting types (families with children) rather than the transonic tycoons like Roberto Polo she’d catered to in the boom-boom 1980’s. Suzie Frankfurt traded a wardrobe of designer party dresses for a few pairs of Gap jeans, a Jeep Cherokee, a satellite dish-she’s devoted to the History Channel-corn flakes for dinner and lights out whenever she wishes.
This season, however, Mrs. Frankfurt is the toast of the town. In October, Little, Brown & Company’s Bulfinch Press published a facsimile edition of Wild Raspberries ($19.95), a cookbook Mrs. Frankfurt and Andy Warhol produced in 1959. (Ingmar Bergman’s film Wild Strawberries was the cinematic revelation of the time.) The rerelease was the brainchild of her son Jaime Frankfurt, an art dealer; a second son, Peter Frankfurt, is in the film business. Bill Blass and Casey Ribicoff are co-hosting a book party for Mrs. Frankfurt at Mortimer’s on Dec. 9.
At lunch-silver dollar-size cheeseburgers and diet Cokes-Mrs. Frankfurt said she was a bit embarrassed by Wild Raspberries . “It’s really beautiful, and I’m thrilled it’s been republished, but it’s a little dippy,” she said, speaking in her happily bemused, deadpan way. She reconsidered. “Maybe it’s not. I guess the world has evolved so people are almost only always getting takeout. That’s what the book is, ‘Roll the chauffeur over to Trader Vic’s side entrance and pick up a suckling pig. Order two fighting gefilte fish in the Bronx.’ It’s a joke, perfect for Christmas presents.” She said she only hoped it was a happy coincidence that Wild Raspberries has been republished at the same time as the exhibition The Warhol Look: Glamour Fashion Style is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Born and raised in Malibu-yes, Malibu-Suzy Frankfurt majored in history at Stanford University. She got her first job in New York with the help of her cousin, Norton Simon. She worked in the research department at Young & Rubicam-the ad agency that had the Hunt Foods account, the Simon family business-where she met advertising kingpin Steve Frankfurt, then a promising art director. They married in 1956 and divorced in the mid-1960’s. Mrs. Frankfurt began her decorating career redoing Young & Rubicam’s offices.
“Since history was my first love, I wasn’t really au courant about modern art in the 1950’s. My frame of reference stopped in 1820,” Mrs. Frankfurt said, recalling her first encounter with Andy Warhol. Pregnant with her second son, she’d gone to the Serendipity ice cream parlor and restaurant one afternoon. There was an exhibition of “these magical watercolors by Andy.” Taken by Warhol’s paintings, she sought him out and, with Mr. Frankfurt as the go-between, arranged to meet for lunch at the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel in 1959. Suzie Frankfurt and Warhol, who was still living with his mother in a fourth-floor walk-up on Lexington Avenue, became fast friends, especially when she took him shopping at her favorite antique jewelry dealers after lunch.
“The only reason Andy liked me was because I was raised in Malibu with movie stars like Myrna Loy all around. I liked Andy because I’d always felt my whole life that I was an outsider. It may not be the fact, but it’s how I feel. For some strange reason, I felt that I fit in with him.”
Lunching and shopping became a ritual. During one of their excursions, Mrs. Frankfurt told the artist, “We had to write a funny cookbook for people who don’t cook. My mother, who was a hostess sine qua non, deemed the most important thing for a new bride was to be a good hostess. I wanted to emulate my mother, of course, and it was the year all these French cookbooks came out. I tried to make sense of them. ‘Make a béchamel sauce,’ they’d say. I didn’t even know what that was.
“So we did the book, Andy with his Dr. Martin’s dyes and Mrs. Warhol [Andy’s mother], her calligraphy. She was gifted and untutored, and we left all the spelling mistakes. I wrote the recipes.” Schoolboys were hired to hand-color the books, a wonderful shiny paper was selected for the covers, and the books were brought to rabbis on the Lower East Side for binding. “There were two versions, colored” of which there were 34, “and semicolored. We thought it would be a masterpiece and we’d sell thousands. I think we sold 20.”
By 1962, Mrs. Frankfurt couldn’t “cope with the Factory scene. It was too horrible for me. I was trying to be an Upper East Side wife.” She didn’t see Warhol again until he was shot in 1968. In 1974, her parents died 10 days apart from each other, and “I consoled myself in my garden with lots of gin and Valium,” she said. Suzie Frankfurt went to Silver Hill, a private hospital in Connecticut, to detox from the Valium.
“Andy visited twice. He told me he came because he heard Silver Hill had great ice cream, and they did,” she said, laughing. “When they let me out,” she continued, “I went home and drank five bottles of red wine and never drew a sober breath” until one day in 1976 when she was hospitalized after falling at home and breaking her collarbone.
“Was I tipsy in the house?” Suzie Frankfurt repeated. “I could write a book called Tipsy in the House .” Mrs. Frankfurt has been sober for 10 years, she said. “I really consider that my greatest achievement, other than my sons.” Not allergic to society, Mrs. Frankfurt enjoyed friendships with all sorts, from Jerome Zipkin to Robert Mapplethorpe, and occasionally Nancy Reagan. “That line by Edna St. Vincent Millay sums me right up. ‘And never shall one room contain me quite,'” she said. Her association with Warhol continued until his death in 1987, as his diaries attest with dozens of mentions of Mrs. Frankfurt. “It was Suzie Frankfurt’s birthday,” Warhol reported on Aug. 21, 1980, “so we were having a lunch for her. She invited everybody she wanted (party decorations $84).”
From introducing Gianni Versace to Andy Warhol in New York, to meeting the Pope with Andy in Rome, they went all over together. “The reason they took me is because I’m so boring. No, really. I wasn’t drinking, neither was Andy.” Mrs. Frankfurt almost always wore gray flannel. “I was doing a dress line which was very pretty if you wanted to wear gray flannel all the time. Another failed enterprise, but Andy loved them. He was very goofy.”
Mrs. Frankfurt eventually learned to cook. At Thanksgiving dinner, she thought she’d serve pot roast.