Free to Be Abstemious Me! A Teetotally Awesome Week

For years I never dined, discoed, mingled or frolicked without getting thoroughly smashed. I was lubricated. Well oiled. Happy.

One night in the early 1980’s, I rolled home from either the Palladium, Area Club, the Pyramid or Danceteria—or possibly all four—and began babbling incoherently at my roommate about what a simply faboo time I’d had. I suspect I might have been eating a bowl of cereal at the time.

After listening to my repetitive drunken braying for about five minutes, my pal, a longstanding reformed abuser, let me have it.

“You’re slurring like a drunken old fishwife. You smell like a barmaid’s apron, and your teeth are a heinous gray color from drinking red wine,” he hectored, adding somewhat unnecessarily, “You’re a mess!”

Something about this caring intervention touched a nerve. I felt as if a gauntlet had been thrown down: “You’re incapable of having a good time without getting snot-slinging drunk,” my chum’s challenge seemed to say. I ceased boozing on the spot and haven’t touched a drop since.

For over 20 years, I have navigated the social whirl of New York without the anesthetizing benefits of alcohol. I can honestly tell you, without fear of contradiction, that this has been, and continues to be, a very surreal experience. Especially this past week.

Monday night found me at the Grand Hyatt impersonating a supermodel who is half my age and twice my height. The occasion? The American Image Awards, benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Here’s the good news: Yours truly was one of the honorees. Yay! I love awards. I have lots of them and I definitely want more. The contemporary notion of being “humbled” by awards—this seems to be the standard acceptance mode in Hollywood—is incomprehensible to me. No matter how obscure the presenting body, I like trophies and Lucite obelisks with my name engraved upon them and take a prideful enjoyment in receiving them.

The bad news: My presenter was a no-show. The lovely Karolina Kurkova was scheduled to present the Fashion Maverick Award to me, and had cancelled days before the ceremony. (Like any well-brought-up Czech gal, she sent a note and an orchid.) Unable to find a substitute supermodel, my only recourse was to pass myself off as one and then present the award to … myself. I told the assembled luminaries—Free to Be … You and Me frau Marlo Thomas and her hubby, former talk-show titan Phil Donahue, designer Betsey Johnson, Jones New York C.E.O. Peter Boneparth and Barneys’ Howard Socol, to name a few—that I was, in fact, none other than Ms. Kurkova. When this didn’t work, I broke down and admitted that she wasn’t coming. I then accused the lissome lovely of having rushed back to her homeland to avail herself of some cut-price socialized dentistry. I suspect I will probably be rushing back to the U.K. for some cut-price bridgework after she knocks my teeth out.

The surrealism continued. On Wednesday, I was to be found impersonating a Latino at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The occasion was the El Museo del Barrio fund-raiser, where I was dubbed an honorary Latino in recognition of my efforts to promote the museum in Barneys’ windows.

When you see a room full of Latin Americans—designers Carolina Herrera, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Angel Sanchez, Narciso Rodriguez, investor Yaz Hernandez,’s Candy Pratts-Price y mas—you realize that all the clichés are true. They are better-looking than us gringos. They know how to have fun without getting totally wasted. (In this regard, they are an inspiration to moi.) They love to cha-cha and merengue and wear tight dresses, and the men are all suave and smoldering. Looking around the room at the assembled fabulousness, I found myself becoming almost resentful. I had to restrain myself from yelling “¡IMMIGRACION!” just to see if any of the guests would dive under a table.

At around 10 o’clock, the evening screeched to a halt and something truly extraordinary happened. I refer to the appearance in our midst of the mysterious Arielle Dombasle (pictured)—actress, directrice, auteur and now chanteuse. In a ghostly six-foot-plus column of bias-cut ivory silk-satin, Senorita Dombasle floated through the crowd and took the stage, stunning us all to silence with her wraith-like presence.

Posing and vamping like the doomed heroine of a Fassbinder movie, La Dombasle warbled through a bunch of sexy mambos. Though her trembling, old-lady voice wouldn’t have gotten her past the first round of American Idol, there was something utterly compelling about the fragile performance. The slinky senorita—who was born around the same time I was, i.e., the late 19th century—appeared to have found a way (or ways) to completely and utterly arrest the aging process. There is a downside to being so fabulously well-preserved: So remarkable was her appearance that the entire audience stared as if she had come back from the grave.

On Thursday, I was impersonating Auntie Mame—rather poorly. Barneys fashion director Julie Gilhart and I co-hosted a party for Riccardo Tisci, the new designer for the house of Givenchy. The location: chez moi.

Having 50 overachieving fashion insiders—Elle’s Nina Garcia, Interview’s Ingrid Sischy, The New York Times’ Eric Wilson, Paper’s Kim Hastreiter, stylist Freddie Leiba, model Maria Carla Bosconi y mas—invade your home is an amusingly wacky experience. I took a perverse pleasure in watching people knock back champagne and get a little sloppy … until they wouldn’t leave.

First I tried yawning. When that didn’t work, I made endless references to the fact that my husband—also stone-cold sober—had to get up early to tape a Today show segment. People rolled their eyes as if I was boasting. Then I began flashing the lights. This had the opposite effect to the one intended: Guests seemed to think I was merely trying to create a discotheque atmosphere, and they started jiggling. Julie restrained me from pulling out my Dyson vacuum cleaner and dragged everyone off to a boozy nightspot, where they probably got into a fistfight with Tommy Hilfiger.

Bottoms up! Free to Be Abstemious Me!  A Teetotally Awesome Week