The Fauxcialites

On a sunny Tuesday morning in early January, a strange noise was echoing through Ally Hilfiger’s apartment, a one-bedroom condo located in the faddish badlands of SoHo’s western frontier. “It’s the tailor,” said Ms. Hilfiger, motioning toward a closed door from her cozy perch on a white Art Deco love seat.

Before the interruption, Ms. Hilfiger, the 22-year-old daughter of the designer Tommy Hilfiger who herself dabbles in design and fine arts, had been describing a sentiment she shares with a small subset of female New Yorkers: women who are born of wealth, committed to various charitable causes and creative pursuits, but who claim they are weary of the flash of Patrick McMullan’s cameras, in search of a more … bohemian sensibility. These are not Upper East Siders with pageboys and pearl chokers, sitting on museum boards but living below 14th Street, in their own Petit Hameaux replete with easels, dress forms or turntables.

Call them “sohemians”—or perhaps “fauxcialites”—for the very word “socialite” causes them to recoil or turn pale and nervous, as if met with a disgusting smell.

“I think it’s pretty narcissistic of these socialite girls to worry so much about how they’re going to look when their intentions should just be about giving back,” Ms. Hilfiger said of her more high-maintenance sistren, sliding her naked heels forward on an ebony neoclassical coffee table. “I can’t imagine having a blow dryer or a curling iron in my hair more than, like, twice a month!”

In dark jeans and $50 white T-shirt (designed by Izzy Gold, 26, a downtown designer-DJ who was lounging in a nearby armchair), Ms. Hilfiger appeared the quintessential fauxcialite. An alumna of failed reality show Rich Girls, she has created a capsule collection for Mr. Gold, whose father is a successful New York restaurateur, and painted. She did some fund-raising for an Ethiopian relief organization, with her best friend Liz Mayer (she texted Ms. Mayer to get the charity’s exact name, the Fistula Foundation), and also supports the Race to Erase MS, “because my aunt had it,” but in a low-key kind of way. Ms. Hilfiger admitted she likes getting dolled up for black-tie parties—“I am a girl!”—but insisted she prefers spending a night out with a small coterie of friends, under the radar, at some place like GoldBar.

Elettra Wiedemann, 24, the “face” of Lancôme and daughter of actress Isabella Rossellini, is another young lady scorning the “socialite” label. “I just don’t think it has as much gravity as it used to—it’s just a loosely applied term to anybody,” she said in a phone interview. “The culture has become so celebritized that if you’re not an actor, if you’re not a musician, or if you’re not a model or something like that, you’re just branded a socialite.”

Next fall, Ms. Wiedemann, who has also modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch, Bill Blass and Ferragamo, will move away from Greenwich Village, where she was born and raised, to matriculate at the London School of Economics. She plans to get a masters degree in science and biomedicine, donating spare time and money to SELF, a nonprofit organization that builds solar-powered facilities, including hospitals and irrigation wells, in Africa. Like her fellow fauxcialites, Ms. Wiedemann said she has little interest in joining the glitzy New York benefit circuit. “I think I’m too much of a loser to do that!” she said with a laugh (charming self-deprecation being a fauxcialite trademark). “I love being behind the scenes of a charity.”

Ms. Wiedemann said she satisfies herself socially with small dinner parties in people’s apartments or drinks at Irish pubs. This is more appealing than going to “fabulous parties,” as she put it, because “I’m really a quiet, private person. I love meeting people and engaging people, but unless I feel very close to a cause, I don’t really try to put myself out there.”

The Young Lions’ Whimper

New York’s well-established charities and institutions—the Met, the Public Library, New Yorkers for Children among them—have long courted young women with lustrous last names, impeccable style, rich pals, savvy social skills and abundant daytime hours to devote to event planning.

The Fauxcialites