Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire According to Courtney Love

To Rome, With Love

Courtney Love grinned and tugged on her chewed-up bangs as she lurched down the red carpet that led into Hugo Boss’ Fifth Avenue flagship store on June 18. A pair of nervous German reporters, a man and a woman, called out to her from behind the roped-off press area, and Ms. Love–gangly and graceful in a sheer Richard Tyler haute-couture gown with black-lace overlay–leaned in uncomfortably close. She patted the woman reporter’s hands and gave her a heavy-lidded leer. “Don’t be nervous,” she ordered. “Just start asking me stuff.”

A little bit later, Ms. Love was scheduled to sing a set of 20’s and 30’s torch songs at the Russian Tea Room as part of a benefit for the New Group theater company, but the Germans weren’t curious about that. They wanted to know more about her dress. Then, unsolicited, Ms. Love pulled her unruly shoulder-length hair back to reveal an enormous multi-layered necklace studded with cameo images. “I have to show you this, because it’s the best, best, best piece of jewelry I own,” she told the Germans, as the journalists flanking them on the rope line crowded in to get a piece of the action. “It’s Bulgari, it’s from 1860 ….” Ms. Love trailed off for a moment and then impatiently tapped the hands and arms of a number of the reporters who were, at that point, obediently recording her every word.

“You see, you don’t even know what it is, you’re just shallowly writing this down. Now look!” Ms. Love instructed, her badly gnawed, red-painted nails glittering in the flashbulb light. She held her hair back with one hand and waved her other hand over the necklace, as if she was displaying prizes on The Price is Right .

“These are all the emperors of Rome. There’s Claudius and Tiberius and Aurelius,” she said. “It was made by some psycho French woman, and it’s my favorite piece of jewelry I have ever had in my whole life.”

Ms. Love was working up a head of steam. “These guys were bloodless, gutless murderers,” she said, perhaps forgetting Marcus Aurelius’ reputation as a gentle philosopher and writer and Claudius’ democratic ways (even though he whacked one of his wives). “They ran a country where everything was painted white. It was a white, racist, fucked-up country and they killed Jesus.”

Just as Ms. Love was getting to the point of her history lesson–possibly about the fashion potential of Pontius Pilate–she was summoned by a publicist, who pointed her toward an overwhelmed-looking Winona Ryder, gesturing wanly at the rock diva from the middle of the red carpet. Ms. Ryder was scheduled to M.C. the Tea Room event, but she seemed freaked by the responsibility. The waif-like actress was a mass of nervous ticks, girly grins and saucer-eyed shyness and looked like a one-woman revival of the decade whence she sprang. She was decked out in a “Borderline”-era black clip-on hair bow and a strapless black prom-dress number, which she kept earnestly tugging over her cleavage.

Without another word to the press, Ms. Love turned, efficiently collected Ms. Ryder, and strode out of the Hugo Boss store and into the car that would take her to the Tea Room.

Though the press was barred from witnessing Ms. Love’s performance, someone who attended told The Transom that the original grungette “totally rocked the house,” albeit sans the Richard Tyler dress and the necklace of thieving, murdering Romans. Congratulating the crowd for being fashionista-free, Ms. Love did her set–which included “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “California Here I Come” and “I Am Lucky”–in a red slip, red dress, black bikini underwear and torn black fishnets.

At one point, Ms. Love, apparently fed up with the stodgy crowd, urged Ms. Ryder to join her onstage, proclaiming: “We’re the two most fucked-up Jewish intellectual cunts on the planet.” According to the concert-goer, she also bragged that back home in Oregon, Ms. Love’s dad had sold Ms. Ryder’s dad $200 worth of “oregano.” Ms. Love also coaxed Ms. Ryder to join her on “Long Black Veil” by pleading, “Be a good girl, let it out!”

Ms. Love spent a lot of time standing on tables and shedding clothes one piece at a time, until night’s end found her in the stockings, underwear and bra with her slip half off–fiddling with her clothes while Rome burned.

–Rebecca Traister


Amazon.com chairman Jeff Bezos wrote his first customer book review for the site on June 10, and wouldn’t you know it, people found his critical skills, like, so-oo-o helpful.

As the media recently reported, Mr. Bezos gave a top rating of five stars to Wall Street Journal reporter G. Bruce Knecht’s The Proving Ground –the true story of a, uh, perfect storm that sank several boats near Australia in 1998. (“Intense and disciplined,” Mr. Bezos wrote.) As the press also reported, Mr. Knecht has a long and friendly relationship with Mr. Bezos.

Four other customers also gave Mr. Knecht’s book a perfect rating, and all of them, it seems, were dead-on with their critical acclaim. Amazon.com allows visitors to its site to essentially review the reviewers by noting how helpful they found the customer critiques to be. And guess what? Amazon readers felt unanimously that all five reviews on the site were helpful.

And Mr. Bezos, it turns out, is a Michiko Kakutani in the rough: 18 out of 18 visitors to this particular section of the Web site took the time to note that they found the Amazon chief’s 80-word review helpful.

To achieve that degree of unanimity on Amazon is a real rarity, and Mr. Bezos’ infallibility seems to be particularly iron-clad. Indeed, when The Transom–using a form of quality control practiced by Tammany Hall–cast five votes indicating that Mr. Bezos’ review was “not helpful,” not a single one registered. (The site is updated every 24 hours, and the votes were cast in plenty of time to be counted.) Likewise, three reviews giving The Proving Ground a devastating one-star rating–also courtesy of The Transom! – failed to register on the site.

An Amazon.com spokesman did not return phone calls seeking an explanation for this phenomenon, which was not helpful.

–Ian Blecher

Angels and Insects at CFDA

“We’re all still here,” the jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris said to fashion publicist Judith Agisim during the “V.I.P.” cocktail reception that preceded the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s American Fashion Awards on June 14. Mr. Morris was just making small talk, but his comment resonated: For the 20th anniversary of the ceremony, much had been made of the infusion of “new” nominees, such as Bruce’s Daphne Gutierrez and Nicole Noselli for the Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear, but what was more remarkable was the preponderance of fashion veterans on display.

The oft-heard cliché is that succeeding in fashion demands constant reinvention, but it also requires supernatural resilience. And a few laps around the V.I.P. tent and Avery Fisher Hall on June 14 would have convinced even the most skeptical scientist that should nuclear holocaust level this city, the cockroaches would be sharing the scorched earth with the fashion crowd.

In just 10 years, the fashionistas’ universe had changed drastically, contracting and, like the new Presidential administration, becoming ever more corporate and conservative. It was hard not to feel a little unnerved when, during the ceremony, LVMH-Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief executive Bernard Arnault was given a special award (in absentia) for “his Globalization of the Business of Fashion with Style” and LVMH’s myriad corporate logos–Guerlain, Fendi, Celine, Givenchy, Pommery, Mercier, etc.–were projected onto the stage like some Hubble Telescope shot of a strange new galaxy.

But the veterans in the V.I.P. tent had not only already adapted to these changes, like species of insects and reptiles that learn to blend into their surroundings, they had incorporated them into their personal style. Having lost nearly 60 pounds, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld embodied corporate sleekness in his dark denim jeans and tuxedo jacket. “It’s a fashion thing,” Mr. Lagerfeld said of his transformation, although he also likened his weight loss to the story of “Phoenix,” who “burned his nest.”

Other refinements were more subtle. As OutKast’s “So Fresh, and So Clean” played on the sound system, Vogue editor Anna Wintour stood smiling regally in the center of the tent, without her trademark sunglasses. She was flanked by her editor-at-large André Leon Talley, who had traded in his Napoleon capes and military wear for a classic tuxedo. Diane Von Furstenberg came married.

Meanwhile, preppy, pomaded bag designer Andy Spade seemed to be illustrating his evolutionary skills via juxtaposition: He arrived at the shindig trailing–by a good 20 feet–his wild-haired actor brother, David Spade. Later, David, who seemed to be preoccupied with his BlackBerry communicator all evening, could be heard telling one male fan: “Hanging out with David Spade might not be such a good idea.”

Comedienne Sandra Bernhard, who M.C.’d the awards ceremony, took the stage in a glittering web-like Bob Mackie dress that bared a lot of skin, including her paunch. Ms. Bernhard spoke of going to Lotus with Laura Bush and Lynn Cheney. “They were doing blow,” she said. Ms. Bernhard had some fun with the pansexuality of her audience. After declaring that Mr. Lagerfeld “looked so hot,” Ms. Bernhard announced that she was going to “turn” the pony-tailed designer “straight.” And riffing on the number of fashion people who have the hots for designer Tom Ford, Ms. Bernhard announced: “All the men line up on the right. All the women, go home.”

As for Mr. Ford, there was some grumbling in the room after he nabbed the Womenswear Designer of the Year award for a single season of work on the Yves Saint Laurent line. Although Mr. Ford is American, he presides over European labels.

Then again, we’re talking fashion, not logic. And Mr. Ford does have that glossy, bullet-proof quality, although not quite as impervious as Calvin Klein, who endured both a tofu pie thrown (at Mr. Lagerfeld) by an anti-fur demonstrator and, at 58 years old, the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement award. Interview editor Ingrid Sischy, who presented it to him, retitled the honorarium the “Halfway-Through-Your-Lifetime Achievement Award.” Given the youth movement at the CFDA, Ms. Sischy could well be right.

–Frank DiGiacomo

Mystery Writer

It was muggy with writers on Wednesday, June 13, at Patti Sullivan’s Boerum Hill bash for J.T. LeRoy’s new book, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things . There were writers from Vanity Fair and Paper in the living room slurping runny brie and cold San Pellegrino. There was Ms. Sullivan herself, a screenwriter who had just finished adapting Mr. LeRoy’s first book, Sarah, in collaboration with Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant. She was hiding in the air-conditioned study with Daniel Wolfe, author of Men Like Us: The GMHC Complete Guide to Gay Men’s Sexual, Physical, and Emotional Well-Being .

The only writer missing was the enigmatic, 21-year-old Mr. LeRoy himself, who chooses not to leave his San Francisco home and prefers not to have his face photographed. “It’s a party where no one knows each other, but everyone knows Jeremy [LeRoy],” Ms. Sullivan explained.

Despite his absence, Mr. LeRoy was keeping tabs on his flock of fans from across the country.

“I just spoke to him two minutes ago,” confirmed Danny Pintauro, the former child-star of Who’s The Boss? , who knew Mr. LeRoy through Mr. Van Sant. Mr. Pintauro patted his pocketed cell phone in a confident nod to his connection to Mr. LeRoy. Sure enough, back in the air-conditioned haven of her study, Ms. Sullivan was chatting by phone with Mr. LeRoy, letting him know that Bad Behavior author Mary Gaitskill had just arrived. The famously shy Ms. Gaitskill, sheathed in a tight red dress, grabbed the portable phone enthusiastically from Ms. Sullivan and gossiped with Mr. LeRoy in a corner until the batteries wore down.

A big bus pulled up outside the apartment, ready to transport the crowd to the Williamsburg bar where Mr. Pintauro and Ms. Gaitskill would be reading passages from The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things to a crowd of about 300.

Ms. Sullivan was back on the phone with Mr. LeRoy. “Jeremy, you’re micromanaging your own party from the other coast!” she chided cheerfully, as she pulled up an image of him on her computer desk-top. “That’s Jeremy,” she mouthed, and Mr. Wolfe and two of Ms. Sullivan’s neighbors crowded round the monitor with curiosity. The stark black-and-white photo showed Mr. LeRoy standing in a courtyard, bare legs and arms extended, cutting a dramatic figure with his longish hair falling down his back and his visage hidden as he looked heavenward. “It’s a pretty picture,” said Mr. Wolfe. “But I wouldn’t mind actually seeing what his face looks like.”


The Transom Also Hears….

Near the end of U2’s June 17 show at Madison Square Garden, the band’s lead singer, Bono, gave thanks to “The Almighty,” but he also smartly expressed his gratitude to the thousands of mere mortals who had spent as much as $130 a ticket to insure that he and his bandmates could continue living rock-star lives. “Thanks for spending your hard-earned on a rock show,” Bono told the crowd, which included Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner; his significant other, designer Matt Nye; MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston; hairdresser Frédéric Fekkai; and restaurateur Steve Hanson. “And thanks for giving us a great life.”

– F.D. Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire According to Courtney Love