The Ensembler


I couldn’t entirely tell if famed stylist and blogger Natalie Joos was giving me a death glare or simply preparing to pose as she tossed her hair back for the cameras facing her. I was part of a crowd of people wielding DSLRs outside Spring Studio at 50 Varick Street yesterday, and she was one of the fashion industry’s high-wattage faces assembled to witness Diane von Furstenberg’s Spring 2015 runway inside.

Off the sidewalk to my left, Whoopi Goldberg stepped out of an Escalade, trailed by Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo’s silver bob. Bon vivant Derek Blasberg — in a signature steel gray suit — was a highlight in a legion of editors and industry personalities breezing by in a well-heeled race for the door. Faint smiles and head tilting ensued, not just because they are so much a part of fashion’s inherent body language, but because this was a crowd on show — and perhaps painfully aware of it.

Not surprisingly, the mood in the photographers’ pit was somewhat more primal. This wasn’t the usual smattering of quiet style bloggers in Spectator shoes and kooky sunglasses; it was a nerve-wracking mix of ballsy Getty freelancers and dreaded paparazzi. The former were tattooed, muscular and hawk-eyed, donning the requisite tank top, cropped pants and pristine flat-brim baseball cap (all black) that instantly identify men ascribing to a creed of urban artistic machismo. The latter also lived up to their stereotype, leaping like sweaty, frantic lizards to get the proverbial shot, catcalling the competition (“You’re speakin’ French now? Think that’s gonna help?”) and sweet-talking their glamorous subjects as they click-and-flash them in a backwards crawl. For those who have seen the documentary Smash His Camera, paparazzo Ron Galella was sophisticated by comparison.

The looks didn’t disappoint, running the gamut from utilitarian chic to sumptuous prints… unexpected pairings remain the zeitgeist of fashion. Crisp tuxedo buttondowns topped torn boyfriend jeans, mobilized by sandal stilettos; blogger Aimee Song strutted her usual California glitz in summery blues; Natalie Joos’ ultra-fine burnt orange halter dress transformed her into a column of flowing fabric.

One thing is refreshingly predictable among the editorial crowd: fashion means actual clothing. Not costumes. Lincoln Center being the high-profile media hub of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the plaza outside the shows tends to be a bit of a free-for-all, often reaching gaudy proportions. It took some searching, but I think I found some of the most impressive and wearable looks there on Friday.  

A publicist friend of mine from Paris secured me access to an event at Band of Outsiders and the Versus Versace afterparty, placing my closer than I’ve ever been to some of the people credited with making the fashion world tick. The whirl of star-studded parties, small-scale presentations and showroom soirées that punctuate the Fashion Week calendar serve to mount the industry’s gems and rocks into a chaotic encrustation of society that, until tomorrow, brings some sort of order to it. You get a sense among the mingling masses — popping in here and there to kiss cheeks and shake hands — that fashion as a business has never been so indefinite.

Without the mystery born of mayhem — beauty, brains, and clothes aside — would fashion’s allure be quite so magical?

     At Diane von Furstenberg — Spring Studio | Sunday, September 7




















 

At Rebecca Minkoff — Lincoln Center | Friday, September 5 













Sep 8
New York Fashion Week: Magic and Mayhem

New York’s real estate bacchanalia is literally reaching new heights, facelifting Manhattan’s iconic skyline until the end of time. Vanity Fair has already introduced us to the leviathan luxury skyscrapers rising below Central Park South (one of which I see through my window, not-so-gradually dwarfing the Bloomberg Building by the hour), and One57 treated the neighborhood to a partial crane collapse the day after Hurricane Sandy, forcing surrounding buildings to evacuate. Boasting many half and full-floor apartments, these thin glass towers will feature listings as high as $90 million, the perfect celestial homes for the global one percent, from which the rest of the populace is as visible as grains of sand. It’s a typical more-is-more attitude very much at home among Midtown’s international billionaires.

Downtown, however, developers are targeting the aesthetically-minded super-rich through a disorienting orgy of design along the High Line. From 10th to 30th Streets, this pageant of abstract crystalline façades will showcase less phallic structures and more the merging of indoor and outdoor spaces so en vogue among international trend slaves, for whom flaunting an aesthetic lifestyle supersedes displays of sheer wealth.

One of the more daring, albeit far-reaching, properties is the Soori High Line at 29th Street and 11th Avenue. Conjured by Singaporean architect Soo K. Chan, it’s a striking fusion of East and West, Chan being famous for his luxury high-rises in Asia. The Observer quotes him saying “a concept and vision that is pure is very important to me,” and indeed, the official renderings of the condos paint a portrait so minimal that it looks positively sacrilegious to hang art. Ceilings soar to 20 feet; walls of glass admit sweeping panoramas of the city; everything from bookshelves to fireplaces are seamlessly installed into panels of exotic wood. Of course, no millennial-Patrick Bateman residence would be complete without a private pool between the living and dining rooms.






Though the notion of an in-unit pool has a decadent appeal, I feel like the execution always misses the mark. Is this the fault of the architect? No. This is New York. If you’re not an oligarch with substantial subterranean space, you give up the chance of private indoor swimming the second you sign away your pride to a Manhattan realtor.

The Soori High Line is a classic example of New York amenity marketing geared to entice the global moneyed into paying extra millions for the prestige of personal this-and-that. Those four feet of water will barely cover your nipples, but hey! Your condo contains a wading pool next to the living room, and it will make someone love to hate you. And no one appears to be reporting on what the water treatment will involve. I love a cocktail party with chlorine top notes…

That said, the building looks stunning inside and out, a radiant, delicate house of cards in glass and steel. Inside, the materials look warm and luxe, and the lines are super chic, so hopefully buyers will opt for Chan’s accompanying furniture crafted in concert with the interiors. (Wealth does not taste make.)

But until these structures take physical form, all reports are conjecture. What is certain is that New York, more than ever, is giving way to international influence in design and real estate. While the city has always been a cultural mélange, its welcoming ethos is also relinquishing, a point that property mogul Barbara Corcoran alludes to in Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s: "It’s pretty remarkable that one American family owns an entire block on Fifth Avenue. All of Fifth Avenue has been purchased by foreign money."

Chan, Principal at SCDA Architects, is designing three other luxury properties in Manhattan using the same principles from his super-sleek high-rises in Asia. In his interview with The Observer, he says luxury is universal at the high-end: “Whether you are in Singapore or New York, luxury consumers want the same things.” The problem is, it’s not so many Americans buying these properties as the global jet set who purchase and rarely occupy them.

In a city known for its twinkling nighttime landscape, it’s startling to see so many residences left dark many months out of the year. It creates a mood at once glamorous and disorienting, as if the social fabric of New York is as illusory as its gravity-defying towers of glass.

Aug 19
Manhattan’s Hallucinatory Real Estate

New York’s real estate bacchanalia is literally reaching new heights, facelifting Manhattan’s iconic skyline until the end of time. Vanity Fair has already introduced us to the leviathan luxury skyscrapers rising below Central Park South (one of which I see through my window, not-so-gradually dwarfing the Bloomberg Building by the hour), and One57 treated the neighborhood to a partial crane collapse the day after Hurricane Sandy, forcing surrounding buildings to evacuate. Boasting many half and full-floor apartments, these thin glass towers will feature listings as high as $90 million, the perfect celestial homes for the global one percent, from which the rest of the populace is as visible as grains of sand. It’s a typical more-is-more attitude very much at home among Midtown’s international billionaires.

Downtown, however, developers are targeting the aesthetically-minded super-rich through a disorienting orgy of design along the High Line. From 10th to 30th Streets, this pageant of abstract crystalline façades will showcase less phallic structures and more the merging of indoor and outdoor spaces so en vogue among international trend slaves, for whom flaunting an aesthetic lifestyle supersedes displays of sheer wealth.

One of the more daring, albeit far-reaching, properties is the Soori High Line at 29th Street and 11th Avenue. Conjured by Singaporean architect Soo K. Chan, it’s a striking fusion of East and West, Chan being famous for his luxury high-rises in Asia. The Observer quotes him saying “a concept and vision that is pure is very important to me,” and indeed, the official renderings of the condos paint a portrait so minimal that it looks positively sacrilegious to hang art. Ceilings soar to 20 feet; walls of glass admit sweeping panoramas of the city; everything from bookshelves to fireplaces are seamlessly installed into panels of exotic wood. Of course, no millennial-Patrick Bateman residence would be complete without a private pool between the living and dining rooms.






Though the notion of an in-unit pool has a decadent appeal, I feel like the execution always misses the mark. Is this the fault of the architect? No. This is New York. If you’re not an oligarch with substantial subterranean space, you give up the chance of private indoor swimming the second you sign away your pride to a Manhattan realtor.

The Soori High Line is a classic example of New York amenity marketing geared to entice the global moneyed into paying extra millions for the prestige of personal this-and-that. Those four feet of water will barely cover your nipples, but hey! Your condo contains a wading pool next to the living room, and it will make someone love to hate you. And no one appears to be reporting on what the water treatment will involve. I love a cocktail party with chlorine top notes…

That said, the building looks stunning inside and out, a radiant, delicate house of cards in glass and steel. Inside, the materials look warm and luxe, and the lines are super chic, so hopefully buyers will opt for Chan’s accompanying furniture crafted in concert with the interiors. (Wealth does not taste make.)

But until these structures take physical form, all reports are conjecture. What is certain is that New York, more than ever, is giving way to international influence in design and real estate. While the city has always been a cultural mélange, its welcoming ethos is also relinquishing, a point that property mogul Barbara Corcoran alludes to in Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s: "It’s pretty remarkable that one American family owns an entire block on Fifth Avenue. All of Fifth Avenue has been purchased by foreign money."

Chan, Principal at SCDA Architects, is designing three other luxury properties in Manhattan using the same principles from his super-sleek high-rises in Asia. In his interview with The Observer, he says luxury is universal at the high-end: “Whether you are in Singapore or New York, luxury consumers want the same things.” The problem is, it’s not so many Americans buying these properties as the global jet set who purchase and rarely occupy them.

In a city known for its twinkling nighttime landscape, it’s startling to see so many residences left dark many months out of the year. It creates a mood at once glamorous and disorienting, as if the social fabric of New York is as illusory as its gravity-defying towers of glass.

Aug 19
Manhattan’s Hallucinatory Real Estate Market

Yesterday saw the close of Charles James: Beyond Fashion at the Met. Christian Dior idolized James as “the greatest talent of [his] generation,” and Balenciaga gushed that he was the first designer to elevate dressmaking to true art. Still, it has taken posthumous decades for his work to be recognized by the world accordingly, and within three months his first major exhibition is over. Not to get too dramatic, but I sensed a pall over the place. 

I first visited Beyond Fashion in June, about a month after its opening, when the faint lighting of the Anna Wintour Costume Center lent an exciting, supernatural air to James’s glowing gowns. His iconic ballroom varieties from the 1940s and ’50s were installed atop round platforms in the first floor special exhibition gallery, pleated constructions of fine silk and unruly tulle that looked as if they were chiseled from marble, with seams cut to metallurgical precision. But yesterday’s galleries seemed dim in general, and visitors were few for a Sunday. It was a much diminished crowd that, judging from the commentary, had come to see a collection of pretty dresses more than seminal couture of epic engineering. 









James was a British-born couturier — he did work in Paris for a time — with aristocratic sensibilities and American passion for innovation. He was elitist, self-important and notoriously discriminating among his divine clientele (he turned away a wealthy customer for being “a frump”). But these traits aren’t too surprising considering that the vivacious and flamboyant James, from day one, was possessed of enviable confidence as a tastemaker, and entered fashion to eschew his traditional upbringing as much as to quench his thirst for beauty and glamour. The son of an English Army officer and a Chicago heiress, his childhood milieu poised him for success, and by the late 1920s he was established with his own millinery business in the Windy City and later in Manhattan. As Laura Jacobs says in Vanity Fair (1998), those hats “[were] the later James dresses in embryo form,” conspicuous, voluminous and totally original.

The intricate, architectural gowns James later produced were some of the first to shape the striking silhouette of postwar couture, and enthroned him upon an extraordinary succession of socialite clients: Babe Paley, Austine Hearst (who commissioned his Clover Leaf ball gown for Eisenhower’s Inauguration in 1953) and Slim Keith all came calling at his Madison Avenue atelier. Of course, his star patron was Millicent Rogers, Standard Oil heiress and fellow aesthetic rebel, whose multiple James gowns were featured specimens at the Met exhibit. 

And specimen is the word to use for a James dress. Aesthetically audacious, his designs not only defied conventional sartorial methods in their risky manipulation of luxury textiles, they championed female sexuality in every full, blossoming, anatomical metaphor he could conjure. Gowns opened in labial forms at the front; lace appliqué framed medallions of silk around the buttocks; rounded, cushioned skirts surged up and out as if to burst open in cascades of liquid satin. Each dress was an opus to James, and as such he rarely subjected himself to a deadline. 

But his disregard for business imperatives, legendary extravagance and volatile temperament left him few clients and even less friends by the time he died in 1978, owing six months’ rent to the Chelsea Hotel.







Perhaps the final hours of Beyond Fashion — also the working title for James’s unpublished memoirs — were quiet for a reason. James’s “creations”, as they were termed among his Park Avenue benefactors, were in no way intended for the masses to behold. While haute couture, in its purest form, has always been the preserve of privilege, James had no appreciation for everyday people. I’m certainly the last to justify an asshole, but it seems his general aloofness, his innate condescension toward even the loftiest of heiresses, freed him of any of the pandering social pretensions that would have improved his following but hindered him creatively. He never set up a permanent home, preferring the chic transience of hotels in great cities. It was in his nature to be set apart, and he indeed believed himself a cut above the rest.

James charged stratospheric prices for a dress — $1,500 by 1950 — yet was invariably geared toward artistic indulgence over turning a profit. He attempted to court Seventh Avenue’s appetite for ready-to-wear, but refused to compromise on the usual points of delivery, quantity and design. The wellspring of inspiration behind his sartorial ethos couldn’t negotiate below a stratum that afforded him the space to experiment.          

It could be gross hubris, but in the face of poverty and demise, James’s final utterances to his paramedics were: “It may not mean anything to you, but I am what is popularly regarded as the greatest couturier in the Western world.” That would be a strong statement to make for someone who didn’t believe it. 

His was a moment in fashion history that makes one address the line between business and art; whether success is measured in sacrificing others’ expectations as James lived and died — working fabric into unprecedented forms on his own terms — or by acknowledging those demands to sustain one’s work commercially.

For Charles James, a museum exhibition, whether three months or three days, is a superior legacy to an atelier without him there to guard it.


Aug 11
Charles James: The Uncompromising Couturier

I’m young, passionate and live for a thrill. But I have a filthy secret: I still love living on the Upper East Side. Exiting the subway at 59th Street and Lexington — ejected from the steamy, fetid bowels of New York in what are poetically called the dog days of summer anywhere else in the nation — I exhale in gratitude. The absence of tourists, cooling breeze and bodegas perfuming the air with Asian lilies are like floss for my nerves. But my residential bliss in the Silk Stocking District is rarely shared by people under 50.

The stretch between East 60th and 80th Streets is hardly sexy. Octogenarian attorneys walk meticulously groomed Mini Schnauzers, blocking sidewalk space to chat with invalid society doyennes wheeled by West Indian caretakers; the occasional perma-tanned hedge fund manager bellows down a tranquil block on a bluetooth headset. And the place is an oasis for aging surgeons’ wives, oblivious to the perils of stumbling into oncoming traffic in a Lexapro-cocktail haze. Anchored by Birkins as vintage as their faces (well, those that still move), their zig-zag gait is so worrisome it prompts offers of insulin.  

I get it. The place has a reputation for being dull and geriatric, and Downtown continues to be the only fathomable habitat for 20-to-40 somethings. But for those who prefer tree-lined streets and paneled drawing rooms to Warholesque studios and their manufactured brand of warehouse chic, this works to our benefit via cheaper rents.   






In my experience, those who see the East Side as a graveyard for excitement know little beyond the Met or flagship boutiques on Madison. They’re ignoring its romantic clusters of private gardens, candlelit bistros and elegant architecture. It has never been a trendy district, nor one for clubs. This is a neighborhood for fabulous parties in exquisite homes, where doormen and doorbells endure as the dignified answer to Downtown’s velvet ropes. (I have neither, but my home bar is always open.) 

For years now, New York has been gradually losing its historic and creative character to legions of conspicuous consumers who spend more time accumulating the city than enriching it. Uptown is the last bastion of Jazz Age glamour above a sea of overpriced sushi restaurants and DJs playing the same Calvin Harris remixes. It’s a very, very New York neighborhood.






Now, the UES’s sculpted façades may strike you with an aesthetic chill if you’re not into the aristocratic-townhouse thing, but heading toward the East River will bring you to a little haven of understated splendor: Sutton Place. More of a village for East Side patricians, it encompasses a mere two blocks between East 59th and 57th Streets. Unheralded by gilt and limestone like its pompous relatives along Park and Fifth Avenues, this red-brick enclave is home to publishers, editors, the Secretary General of the UN and even psychotherapists. The larger Sutton Place South follows from 57th to 53rd and boasts one of the most exclusive co-ops in the city at No. 1. I’ve been told to never refuse an invite at Sutton Place, so I imagine the martinis are magical. 









The other day, I came across an old New York Times profile of this picturesque quarter, and while a few of the restaurants mentioned have closed and rents have increased (though not as much as you’d think in 17 years), it’s more or less unchanged. But is any evolution necessary? It’s further proof that this region of the island is exactly what I’ve described to my eye-rolling friends downtown: a place that feels like home.




Below 14th Street, new businesses, art galleries and high-concept hotels come and go like subway passengers at rush hour. Many view that as characteristic of perpetual innovation in ultra-fashionable neighborhoods, but I see it much like the people who reside there: simply temporary. I don’t know that I care to live in a neighborhood in constant aesthetic and commercial flux. Little changes up here, but it’s gorgeous, safe, and about as neighborly as Manhattan gets. So shoot me if I want my New York life to be a Nancy Meyers movie

I just know that when I’m in a wheelchair, I’d rather be on East 63rd.       


Aug 8
Upper East Side State of Mind

The Sounds of New York series takes aural urban moments that, together, capture the sensory experience of being a New Yorker. All recordings taken with my iPhone. 

Summer Concert at the Naumburg Bandshell

Promenading up the Mall in Central Park is one of the city’s recreational rites of passage. An iconic spot in film and lit, it’s a pleasure sauntering along this broad pedestrian avenue, canopied by elegant elms filtering late afternoon sunlight into abstract patterns on the concrete beneath you. Life’s great pageant passing by, it’s a rewarding path to take home from work after a trying day, an important reminder of why New York is the only city to call home.  

But the voices, buskers, and ambient traffic fall silent when you pass the Naumburg Bandshell.

In an instant, New York becomes Paris in the ’30s, when Beethoven and Chopin were played en plein air in the Luxembourg Gardens. Since 1905, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts have been staged every summer at the bandshell, a heavenly neoclassical structure crowning the east side of the Mall. You realize you’ve forgotten what real civilization looks like until you see rows of speechless people seated before a pianist at a Steinway. And all outdoors.



The night I happen upon the scene, an orchestra called The Knights is playing renditions of Sufjan Stevens, but I’m so glad I lingered for Ori’s Fearful Symmetry by Russian composer Ljova. A lush, tear-jerking suite, he conceived it as an anthem for Israeli youth.


As those cinematic strings float across the balmy breeze, it’s just getting dark enough to see the fireflies dancing by the elms. People are waltzing with their babies; heads are resting on shoulders; hands are pairing up. It’s a major moment to be human.


Jul 27
Sounds of New York: Summer Music in Central Park

Entering Anya Firestone’s sun-drenched apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, my eye intuitively pivots toward a blazing pink glow down the hall at left. It’s unmistakable from the photos I’d seen that this is her bedroom. Like Belle mesmerized by the enchanted rose in the Beast’s West Wing, my eyes are fixed on it even when we exchange la bise, the French salutation as natural to Anya as her taste for macarons.



I’m seeing her for the first time since a chance café meeting on Rue des Martyrs in Paris, June 2012. I was vacationing, renting an apartment in Pigalle before studying abroad in the southeastern city of Grenoble. She, however, was in the painstaking process of completing a Masters in French Cultural Studies at Columbia University’s Paris campus, writing the thesis that prepared her for her current work as a curator and professional aesthete in her native New York. “I had no adjustment period when I went to Paris,” she says unequivocally. “It was so comfortable.

Before heading into the famous boudoir to see what outfits she selected for our shoot, I poke my head beyond the foyer. It’s a capacious two-bedroom residence on a corner, awash in warm cream tones punctuated by Anya’s colorful artwork on the walls — a self portrait with her mother, a collage of salvaged price tags in the shape of Manhattan — and some statement furnishings of an Architectural Digest variety. But the real drama is the panoramic backdrop of Midtown skyline enticing me out onto a small brick terrace. The sunlight is particularly piercing today, and Anya’s hometown is in HD.



Turning back toward the bedroom, I’m bombarded by two miniature cocoa poodles with jangling collars and little silk scarves. The tinier of the two is named Zsa Zsa, the larger Cyrano, and for a hot second I’m back on the Left Bank watching doting moms in Hermès feed their pooches from small marble tables outside the Bon Marché. 



Paris is omnipresent chez Anya. Returning hurriedly to New York after the New Year for a job, she still has an apartment in the 7th arrondissement housing a few pairs of wedge heels that didn’t make it into her luggage. It’s fitting really, since she’ll always have at least one foot in the City of Light.


"When you investigate French culture, and specifically French Cultural Studies, the subjects and obsessions within them are those that have always been inherently mine as well," she explains. "Those streets! Paris is overwhelming — in a [Mark Rothko]-staredown-intense kind of way. At times I can’t fathom why everyone around me isn’t dramatically crying their mascara off professing how good it all looks. Even the dirty parts. They too are suspiciously special."

Her wardrobe is a sartorial treasure trove spanning whimsy, humor, and even the formidable. There’s no unifying element throughout marking some defining preference, yet it’s immediately plausible that all of this could end up in a style exhibit at the Met bearing her name. But to Anya, curating isn’t restricted to the museum — it’s a way of life.  



"I’m hyper-aware of words, language, and images, and I know that there are ways in which I can put things together in patterns that have not yet been arranged or styled before. New combinations can provoke new ideas about the life of art, and art in life."




Anya’s taste is anything but minimal, yet none of her clothes, books, or furnishings appear superfluous, and nothing is there by chance. There’s a person, a laugh, or at the very least a reason behind each accoutrement in this aesthetic sanctuary. “Every item I have has a provenance,” she says. And she rarely experiences buyer’s remorse, a natural advantage to being hyper-selective when shopping. 


"When I see something [I like], I have a visceral reaction to it, and not just art objects. If it’s a shoe, a pastry, a clutch, a painting… how it’s crafted. I value tremendously the human ability to create."

Anya’s bedroom is a potion of elegant tricks, wit and her famous puns ("Je pun, donc je suis" is her personal mantra, not just her Instagram bio). Antique hand mirrors hang above her Rococo headboard, framing reflections of the pink wallpaper intricately scrolled with gold on the opposite wall. An ornately framed buzzer leans against an electric candelabra on her dresser, reading “Push for champagne.” Her Olympia Le Tan clutch is a classic fashion pun, an accessory disguised as Emile Zola’s novel Au bonheur des dames, about a Parisian department store catering to the capital’s conspicuously consuming women.     







But Anya’s intellectual aesthetic is very much grounded in warmth and comfort, making her personal museum above all a livable private domain. “I could stare at a [Rothko painting] for hours, but I‘m not sure if I could take his looming forms staring at me before I put on my makeup or drink my coffee in the morning.” She pauses. “But, you know, if someone offered me a Rothko, I’d take it.”  

Being in a curator’s home is an especially enlightening experience, because the decorative stakes seem substantially higher in the dwelling of someone for whom artistic selection is an occupation. For someone like Anya, whose curatorial sense is acutely heightened, the field of artistic sampling is huge. But that works for the curator, because making unexpected pairings of creative products — be they sculpture, furniture, colors, or clothes — is what she does. It’s an ability to assemble the vast options and then make dynamic choices from them that’s so admirable. 

"[At a party,] I’d play Kanye West. And then some belly-dancing music. But I’d start the evening with Ella Fitzgerald."  



Photos by Christian Frarey | Copyright 2014

Apr 22
A Curated Life: Anya Firestone at Home

Entering Anya Firestone’s sun-drenched apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, my eye intuitively pivots toward a blazing pink glow down the hall at left. It’s unmistakable from the photos I’d seen that this is her bedroom. Like Belle mesmerized by the enchanted rose in the Beast’s West Wing, my eyes are fixed on it even when we exchange la bise, the French salutation as natural to Anya as her taste for macarons.



I’m seeing her for the first time since a chance café meeting on Rue des Martyrs in Paris, June 2012. I was vacationing, renting an apartment in Pigalle before studying abroad in the southeastern city of Grenoble. She, however, was in the painstaking process of completing a Masters in French Cultural Studies at Columbia University’s Paris campus, writing the thesis that prepared her for her current work as a curator and professional aesthete in her native New York. “I had no adjustment period when I went to Paris,” she says unequivocally. “It was so comfortable.

Before heading into the famous boudoir to see what outfits she selected for our shoot, I poke my head beyond the foyer. It’s a capacious two-bedroom residence on a corner, awash in warm cream tones punctuated by Anya’s colorful artwork on the walls — a self portrait with her mother, a collage of salvaged price tags in the shape of Manhattan — and some statement furnishings of an Architectural Digest variety. But the real drama is the panoramic backdrop of Midtown skyline enticing me out onto a small brick terrace. The sunlight is particularly piercing today, and Anya’s hometown is in HD.



Turning back toward the bedroom, I’m bombarded by two miniature cocoa poodles with jangling collars and little silk scarves. The tinier of the two is named Zsa Zsa, the larger Cyrano, and for a hot second I’m back on the Left Bank watching doting moms in Hermès feed their pooches from small marble tables outside the Bon Marché. 



Paris is omnipresent chez Anya. Returning hurriedly to New York after the New Year for a job, she still has an apartment in the 7th arrondissement housing a few pairs of wedge heels that didn’t make it into her luggage. It’s fitting really, since she’ll always have at least one foot in the City of Light.


"When you investigate French culture, and specifically French Cultural Studies, the subjects and obsessions within them are those that have always been inherently mine as well," she explains. "Those streets! Paris is overwhelming — in a [Mark Rothko]-staredown-intense kind of way. At times I can’t fathom why everyone around me isn’t dramatically crying their mascara off professing how good it all looks. Even the dirty parts. They too are suspiciously special."

Her wardrobe is a sartorial treasure trove spanning whimsy, humor, and even the formidable. There’s no unifying element throughout marking some defining preference, yet it’s immediately plausible that all of this could end up in a style exhibit at the Met bearing her name. But to Anya, curating isn’t restricted to the museum — it’s a way of life.  



"I’m hyper-aware of words, language, and images, and I know that there are ways in which I can put things together in patterns that have not yet been arranged or styled before. New combinations can provoke new ideas about the life of art, and art in life."




Anya’s taste is anything but minimal, yet none of her clothes, books, or furnishings appear superfluous, and nothing is there by chance. There’s a person, a laugh, or at the very least a reason behind each accoutrement in this aesthetic sanctuary. “Every item I have has a provenance,” she says. And she rarely experiences buyer’s remorse, a natural advantage to being hyper-selective when shopping. 


"When I see something [I like], I have a visceral reaction to it, and not just art objects. If it’s a shoe, a pastry, a clutch, a painting… how it’s crafted. I value tremendously the human ability to create."

Anya’s bedroom is a potion of elegant tricks, wit and her famous puns ("Je pun, donc je suis" is her personal mantra, not just her Instagram bio). Antique hand mirrors hang above her Rococo headboard, framing reflections of the pink wallpaper intricately scrolled with gold on the opposite wall. An ornately framed buzzer leans against an electric candelabra on her dresser, reading “Push for champagne.” Her Olympia Le Tan clutch is a classic fashion pun, an accessory disguised as Emile Zola’s novel Au bonheur des dames, about a Parisian department store catering to the capital’s conspicuously consuming women.     







But Anya’s intellectual aesthetic is very much grounded in warmth and comfort, making her personal museum above all a livable private domain. “I could stare at a [Rothko painting] for hours, but I‘m not sure if I could take his looming forms staring at me before I put on my makeup or drink my coffee in the morning.” She pauses. “But, you know, if someone offered me a Rothko, I’d take it.”  

Being in a curator’s home is an especially enlightening experience, because the decorative stakes seem substantially higher in the dwelling of someone for whom artistic selection is an occupation. For someone like Anya, whose curatorial sense is acutely heightened, the field of artistic sampling is huge. But that works for the curator, because making unexpected pairings of creative products — be they sculpture, furniture, colors, or clothes — is what she does. It’s an ability to assemble the vast options and then make dynamic choices from them that’s so admirable. 

"[At a party,] I’d play Kanye West. And then some belly-dancing music. But I’d start the evening with Ella Fitzgerald."  



Photos by Christian Frarey | Copyright 2014

Apr 22
A Curated Life: Anya Firestone at Home
"There’s only one really good life, and that’s the life you know you want, and you make yourself."  — Diana Vreeland


Peering out at my precious window’s worth of Manhattan skyline, I’m looking at the same view I took in with shuddering thrill a year ago last night. It was the day I first arrived in New York as a New Yorker.

That night, my best friend and I improvised minimally with a queen-size air mattress, a bottle of Piper-Heidsick, and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange on a bluetooth speaker until our worldly goods arrived in this exorbitant, petite two-bedroom in the East 60s. We Vined ourselves giggling, slurring words, and inevitably eating the largest pizza I’d ever seen from an absurdly convenient phone app called Seamless. Everything was silly. Everything was ridiculous. Nothing could have convinced us to worry about the future because, regardless of the obstacles ahead, we had arrived to live in Sinatra’s world. Two kids from Michigan had their names on a lease stamped by the mayor of New York City, and every novel, song and movie scene was just outside our door. Somehow, through some impossible string of lucky breaks, I wasn’t going back to the Midwest in a few days.




A month of heavy socializing followed. I went everywhere and anywhere at a moment’s notice; no last-minute invite went unaccepted. This frenzied period of indiscriminate networking led to a fashion internship and then my first industry job at a PR agency downtown. The unstructured nature of building a career was both grueling and baffling, and I was unceremoniously enlightened on the importance of finding out who I was — fast. The sheer intensity of my day-to-day made this maturation not only crucial, but shockingly easy. Within four months, I knew where my true skills lay, and that life really could be a long-term, largely mechanical mess if I didn’t do what I really wanted with it. I knew that inspiration was the best guide at my disposal, and ultimately the best — though not only — professional friend outside my stores of social capital.

I spent less time consuming New York and much more of my life absorbing it. It was a test: How would I respond to a city with standards as relentless as its cost of living? How would my perspective change spending less, and just playing the urban spectator for its own sake? 

Well, here I sit having passed that test with flying colors. 

I did go for long walks alone, detouring into every cliché as often as possible on my way home from a new job at Grand Central. I found my own New York, and it was not the one first laid out for my consumption.




Drawn onto the streets by the whispery voice of Blossom Dearie, from the Upper East Side to the West Village, I watched a sweltering Manhattan summer ebb into a crisp and brilliant Brooklyn autumn. My world grew incredibly large within a few miles’ range. Opportunities became less linear and more flexible, and every aimless experience or wandering took on a surprising value. This was what it felt like to be in my own skin, not that which I was trying so desperately to toughen upon arrival. The nonsensicality of life became sensical to me, and that’s something you learn damn fast in this place.

But I’ve toughened anyway. I’ve become stronger and sharper because I chose to stay here and adapt — I wanted to. I trusted a city to get to know me as much I reached out to it. The response has been lovely. I think our dates have gone fabulously well, even after the honeymoon stage. We’re entering that bonding phase now, one of mutual-respect and — oh, yes — even making longer term plans. Okay, so we’re shopping for rings (probably in an establishment off Times Square). 

This city reminds me why I don’t want to settle for less than everything. As a culture-starved boy in a bland Michigan suburb, the only house I ever dreamt of began with “pent”. I knew who the Astors were at 10 years old. Public transport, yellow cabs and black chauffeured cars seemed as practical to me as Bloomingdale’s and bagels. I just wanted to be old enough to hold a martini in public!

So, one year after leaving my home of 25 years, is little fly-over-country me good enough for New York? Of course I am. But I’m good enough because I wanted and still require this place like oxygen in a burning building. I get this place. But more importantly, it gets me. I’m worthy because, regardless of what I tell myself, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.   

New York is the only place where I could be happy in the essential work of being. 



Mar 7
A Year of Living Dangerously
"There’s only one really good life, and that’s the life you know you want, and you make yourself."  — Diana Vreeland


Peering out at my precious window’s worth of Manhattan skyline, I’m looking at the same view I took in with shuddering thrill a year ago last night. It was the day I first arrived in New York as a New Yorker.

That night, my best friend and I improvised minimally with a queen-size air mattress, a bottle of Piper-Heidsick, and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange on a bluetooth speaker until our worldly goods arrived in this exorbitant, petite two-bedroom in the East 60s. We Vined ourselves giggling, slurring words, and inevitably eating the largest pizza I’d ever seen from an absurdly convenient phone app called Seamless. Everything was silly. Everything was ridiculous. Nothing could have convinced us to worry about the future because, regardless of the obstacles ahead, we had arrived to live in Sinatra’s world. Two kids from Michigan had their names on a lease stamped by the mayor of New York City, and every novel, song and movie scene was just outside our door. Somehow, through some impossible string of lucky breaks, I wasn’t going back to the Midwest in a few days.




A month of heavy socializing followed. I went everywhere and anywhere at a moment’s notice; no last-minute invite went unaccepted. This frenzied period of indiscriminate networking led to a fashion internship and then my first industry job at a PR agency downtown. The unstructured nature of building a career was both grueling and baffling, and I was unceremoniously enlightened on the importance of finding out who I was — fast. The sheer intensity of my day-to-day made this maturation not only crucial, but shockingly easy. Within four months, I knew where my true skills lay, and that life really could be a long-term, largely mechanical mess if I didn’t do what I really wanted with it. I knew that inspiration was the best guide at my disposal, and ultimately the best — though not only — professional friend outside my stores of social capital.

I spent less time consuming New York and much more of my life absorbing it. It was a test: How would I respond to a city with standards as relentless as its cost of living? How would my perspective change spending less, and just playing the urban spectator for its own sake? 

Well, here I sit having passed that test with flying colors. 

I did go for long walks alone, detouring into every cliché as often as possible on my way home from a new job at Grand Central. I found my own New York, and it was not the one first laid out for my consumption.




Drawn onto the streets by the whispery voice of Blossom Dearie, from the Upper East Side to the West Village, I watched a sweltering Manhattan summer ebb into a crisp and brilliant Brooklyn autumn. My world grew incredibly large within a few miles’ range. Opportunities became less linear and more flexible, and every aimless experience or wandering took on a surprising value. This was what it felt like to be in my own skin, not that which I was trying so desperately to toughen upon arrival. The nonsensicality of life became sensical to me, and that’s something you learn damn fast in this place.

But I’ve toughened anyway. I’ve become stronger and sharper because I chose to stay here and adapt — I wanted to. I trusted a city to get to know me as much I reached out to it. The response has been lovely. I think our dates have gone fabulously well, even after the honeymoon stage. We’re entering that bonding phase now, one of mutual-respect and — oh, yes — even making longer term plans. Okay, so basically we’re settling down. 

So, one year later, is little fly-over-country me good enough for New York? Of course I am. But I’m good enough because I wanted and still require this place like oxygen in a burning building. I’m worthy because, regardless of what I tell myself, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. 

New York is the only place where I could be happy in the essential struggle of being. 



Mar 7
A Year of Living Dangerously