10 Corso Como’s ‘bold, beautiful and damned’ Pays Homage to Legendary Fashion Illustrator Tony Viramontes

 

 

10 Corso Como, it turns out, has transitioned effortlessly from the rarefied heights of fashionista Milan to the more approachable confines of NYC’s newly revitalized Seaport District. Still archly conceptual and multi-faceted, the new outpost integrates fashion, design and art, and its eponymous Italian restaurant allows one to stop and consider all they’ve just seen (and purchased).

One thing that simply must be seen is a striking new exhibit at 10 CC’s in-house gallery of the works of late and lamented fashion photographer and illustrator Tony Viramontes. It’s co-sponsored by Fondazione Sozzani, a foundation whose mission is to promote the intersection of fashion and art.

 

 

With Tony Viramontes: bold, beautiful and damned, they’ve assembled a breathtaking overview of his iconic fashion illustrations, mixed media collages, and photographs from the 1980s, curated by design historian Dean Rhys Morgan. Viramontes, who was lost to AIDS in 1988, was a prolific and trailblazing creator of fashion art, collaborating with some of the most exalted fashion houses, sketching haute couture collections for Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Chanel, and Christian Dior. His work was featured in virtually every major fashion publication of the day – and even graced the cover of 1985’s So Red the Rose album by Arcadia, whose members included Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes.

Also a clothing designer, makeup artist and hair stylist, his illustrations quickly becoming known for his bold, graphic lines and dramatic use of color. Viramontes challenged the status quo with drawings of dominant women dressed in the theatrical haute couture of the day. His models posed in make-up, jewelry and exotic turbans.

 

 

 

 

“Tony was the enfant terrible of fashion illustration,” says Rhys Morgan. “His strong and direct drawing style was a marked contrast to the whispered, pastelly, WASPy visuals of the time. There was an insolence about his women. They were very hard and aggressive.”

Of course, his depictions of men exhibited the same sort of audacious sensuousness, boldly stretching the boundaries of masculine identity.

Working in pencil, charcoal, collage and occasionally even lipstick or eyebrow pencil, Viramontes decisively revived the tradition of selling fashion through drawing, which had largely been sidelined by photography at the outset of the 1980s. And in changing the way we viewed high fashion illustration, he created images that remain unquestionably influential to this day.

Tony Viramontes: bold, beautiful and damned will be on exhibit at 10 Corso Como NYC from September 8 through November 10.

 

 

The New Order: 48 Hours in the Revitalized Manchester City Centre

Manchester Corn Exchange

 

 

Visiting Stockholm in 2010, we were expertly tipped off that the newly minted SoFo was the Swedish capital’s most happening new neighborhood. To be honest, we’re always a bit skeptical of such things; and, indeed, SoFo turned out to be just two cool kid cafes and a vinyl record shop. But such is the urgency to declare the next “hip” whatever.

Just prior to our latest trip to Manchester, we were similarly informed that its Ancoats neighborhood had recently secured the distinction as one of the 10 most buzziriffic hoods in the known universe. And our first night out, at a significantly happening new restaurant called Elnecot, seemed to confirm just that.

Ancoats in the 19th Century epitomized the promise of the new industrial age, which England had embraced with uncharacteristic gusto. Majestic rows of Victorian factories urged Manchester towards a new era of technological prosperity. Alas, by the mid-20th Century, that promised had all but disappeared – and decades of downturn and, well, greyness, followed.

 

National Football Museum

 

But as is the 21st Century urban drill, developers began converting those same factories into iconoclastic living spaces. In fact, we became quickly, palpably aware that Manchester City Centre had been undergoing a radical transformation upon checking into the stylish new AC by Marriott Manchester City Centre hotel – where the international media had gathered for the launch of AC Unpacked: A Conversation, a new series that brings together creative visionaries for inspirational discussions.

But we have to say we found ourselves most inspired as we actually traversed the new cityscape of this infamous birthplace of Factory Records and the Gallagher brothers. Here was our takeaway.

 

The Music

Being as we were unshakable American Anglophiles, for us Manchester’s allure has revolved entirely around its illustrious music history. It was here that Joy Division, The Fall, New Order, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, The Hacienda, Stone Roses, Take That, Oasis and their considerable like all rose up from tower block dreariness to international exaltation. Two post-Millennium films -Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007) – captured all the bleakness, humor, drugs, mayhem and musical genius perfectly brilliantly.
To set the mood, we programmed a playlist of Manc classics, which we left blaring in our room at all hours throughout our stay (“You and I are gonna live forever…”). And it was the contemplation of that very music that emphasized just how much everything had been changing in Manchester, for better or worst. Surely there would never be another music scene like it…so, as they say, on to the next.

 

New Order 

 

The Architecture

For as long as anyone can recall, most workaday Mancs retreated to suburbs like Didsbury or Burnage at the end of each business day. But SimpsonHaugh architects have spent the last two decades reshaping the City Centre for full-time habitation, careful not to follow the crass contemporary model of shameless, mercenary overdevelopment. One of their latest projects was the aforementioned AC hotel, where we met partner David Green for a tour of the Manchester’s landmark structures.
Since a 1500 ton IRA truck bomb devastated the area around the famous Corn Exchange building in 1996, the firm has been instrumental in moving the city forward to a new contemporary reality. Without a doubt, striking edifices like the residential No. 1 Deansgate (which, when completed in 2002, was a watershed for City Centre development), Great Jackson Street apartments/retail, the Manchester Civil Justice Centre (by architects Denton Corker Marshall), and more recently the Manchester Town Hall Extension and the Library Walk have visually transformed the city into the 21st Century urban success story that now decisively has the world’s attention.

 

Manchester Town Hall Extension

 

The Derby Day rivalry between Man United and Man City dates all the way back to 1881 – and possibly only Brazilians and Italians take their footy teams more seriously. But the National Football Museum (another headline-grabbing SimpsonHaugh project), whether you’re a fan or not, is at least a must architectural visit – as it stands like a modern Great Pyramid above Todd Street. And, well, the exhibitions are a genuinely fun afternoon’s diversion.
Still, history does ground the city; and we were riveted as we roamed the stately rooms of the neo-gothic John Rylands Library, first opened to the public in 1900. It’s considered one of the most important collections of books in the world.
But a visit to the Manchester Cathedral (dating to the 15th Century and built in the Perpendicular Gothic style), turned surreal, as we stumbled upon a “family” of teddy bears set up in a corner for an imaginary…tea party? Leaving us to wonder if it was something metaphorical, or just meant to keep the little ones occupied while the grownups ogled all the religious grandeur. Later we stumbled upon a chap setting up a full bar at the back of the church – and our curiosity netted the information that it was for some sort of music performance that evening. Only in Manchester?

 

John Rylands Library 

 

Ancoats

It’s hard to argue against the allure of loft-like apartments in Victorian era factories – and row after restored row now makes up one of the most visually striking neighborhoods in all of England. Sure, it’s still a little early to declare Ancoats the next Shoreditch; but along with Elnecot, groovy new spots like The Counter House, Canto, The Jane Eyre, Panda, Sugo, and a super mod bakery called Trove (with its corresponding restaurant Erst) were abuzz with media types. Here and there outside tables gave the streets the hum of emerging energy, and most of the aforementioned places shared a sort of unifying rustic-industrial aesthetic, many with factory windows gloriously framing the surrounding architecture. Yet despite the newness, it all felt very, distinctly English.
For urban trend watchers, Ancoats is most definitely worth keeping an eye on.

 

 

Epicurean Manchester

The dearth of new generation restaurants in the UK was a stark reality until chefs like Marco Pierre White and Fergus Henderson began celebrating Britishness in cooking in the swinging new post-Millennium London. That culinary revolution eventually spread north, until cities like Leeds and Birmingham were boasting Michelin stars.
In Manchester, though, we steered clear of the haute in favor of the happening. And indeed, the aforementioned Elnecot is as cool as anything in New York or London’s Chelsea or Soho, with its Corbusian aesthetic, and clever menu divided up by Nibbles, Fish, Meat, Veg and…Balls (who wouldn’t love wild mushroom pearl barley arancini?).
Elnecot
The hyper-fashionable 20 Stories is exactly what is says it is, and is surely the city’s most international scene (we detected Israeli, Balkan and Latin American accents). But for all the flash, and heart-stopping views, the modern British cuisine was also a genuine revelation, with Shetland cod, roasted Goosnargh duck and slow cooked pork belly all rising to the heights of the lofty location.
But easily our favorite was Mackie Mayor, a trendy but mad fun food hall in an 1858 Grade II listed building. Spread over two industrial-chic floors under a massive skylight, vendors like Baohouse, Honest Crust Pizza, Fin Fish Bar and Pico’s Tacos make it a pretty much non-stop party. From our experience, bring as many friends as possible, and don’t skimp on the gluttony.

 

Mackie Mayor

 

AC Hotel by Marriott Manchester City Centre

A sudden tourism boom leaves Manchester now playing catch up when it comes to the contemporary boutique hotel races. The AC Hotel by Marriott Manchester City Centre is a good start, opened in early 2018 at a perfect midpoint between burgeoning Ancoats and the City Centre of its title, which now hums both day and night.
As is always the case with AC, it’s very much about design, with a lobby done in urbane, earthy tones and stylishly clean lines. To the right is a lounge area that is very much the nerve center of the hotel, with creative and business types mingling and working away by day, giving the hotel a persistent sense of energy. By evening, it transforms into a lively bar, where we had the privilege of gin tasting with the Manchester Gin Company, responsible for the hotel’s signature AC G&T. It’s a “must” order – as is bringing home a bottle of their inimitable Wild Spirit gin.
Upstairs the rooms are all understated chic, with warm woods and elegantly contemporary furnishings. But best of all, generous windows frame a new Manchester skyline, one that has changed at a manageable pace – and that leaves one genuinely wondering just where the fabled music city will go next.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Shakespears Sister Are Here (Again) to Stay

 

 

The ostensibly endless capacity for ’80s nostalgia seems to conveniently forget what a cultural goose egg the last half of that overamped decade mostly was. There were exceptions, naturally. Yet until rave culture, a thrilling new wave of independent film, and the provocational antics of the Young British Artists finally got things stirring again, the good had been worryingly outnumbered by the bad for far too long.

Into those uncertain times was born Shakespears Sister, the decidedly unexpected duo of Bananarama defector Siobhan Fahey and singer Marcella Detroit, who had previously worked with the likes of Eric Clapton and Leon Russell. Fahey had parted ways with the UK’s biggest ever female pop act in 1988 to attempt to summon again the iconoclastic spirit which had originally birthed them; Detroit was just looking for a musical challenge.

Their 1989 debut Sacred Heart quickly went UK Top Ten – but even now they admit to the production being a little too aligned with the prevailing pop zeitgeist: very slickly realized, and overtly overly-synthesized. Though the record holds up surprisingly well to this day.

 

 

By the release of 1992’s classic Hormonally Yours, however, it was clear the pair were setting off down a much more irreverential path. It worked, and the record went to #3, spawning the massive worldwide hit “Stay” (top ten in nine different countries). But in one of music’s all time horrible breakup stories, Siobhan’s publicist indifferently read a statement releasing Marcella from the band, as the latter stood up on a stage collecting a 1993 Ivor Novello award for the both of them.

More than 20 years passed before Fahey would find herself part of a wildly successful 2017 Bananarama reunion tour. It was a “bury-the-hatchet” experience that resonated powerfully enough within her to extend to a reconciliation with Detroit – who had herself kept quite musically busy in the years since the split.

 

 

Much to the thrill of their long-suffering fanbase, the pair are back and claiming it’s for good this time. Signed to London Records once again, the just-released, 32-track Singles Party (1988 – 2019) gathers together remastered versions of their shining moments, along with previously unreleased tracks, remixes, even an acoustic “Stay.”

But two truly excellent new songs – “All the Queen’s Horses” and “C U Next Tuesday” decisively confirm that this is merely the next chapter of what looks to be the continuing story of Shakespears Sister. Further substantiation will come by way of a new 5-song EP, due in October…as well as a 14-date UK tour this autumn.

We sat the busy pair down long enough for an enlightening chat about their past, present, and surely electrifying future.

 

 

Let’s start from the beginning – how did you first come together?

Marcella Detroit: A songwriter friend of mine, Richard Feldman, lived right across the street from where Siobhan and her husband Dave Stewart had moved in. He went over and introduced himself, and they started working together. He told Siobhan that she should meet me, and when they invited me down, it turned out she and I had this great chemistry.
Siobhan Fahey: Richard had this amazing writing studio in his garage, we started experimenting there musically. He said that he knew this person whose voice would work very well with mine, and he was right.

You were a bit of an odd pop duo in the context of the late ‘80s. What was the general musical zeitgeist like at that time?

SF: I do remember wanting to do something that wasn’t to do with the pop zeitgeist. My influences were English punk, funk, and early art rock like Bowie and Roxy Music.
MD: There was some pretty cheesy, over-produced, electronic orchestra sort of stuff going on at that time.
SF: Yes, the ‘80s did suffer from a surfeit of machines.

Both good and bad…

MD: Yes, our friend Roger Linn was the one who created the drum machine [LM-1] that everyone wound up using throughout the ‘80s. It changed pop music.

Then it eventually made everything sound the same.

MD: But everything sounds the same now, so…

Um…Auto-Tune.

SF: I hate Auto-Tune.

Yeah, couldn’t have guessed that.

SF: Our first album actually sounds very ‘80s now. But when it came to making Hormonally Yours, it was very much a move away from machines, and towards more organic sounds – real drums and guitars. That particular album still sounds timeless, I think – more quirky and experimental in its influences and structures.

 

 

Well, it really does need to be said: Bananarama were always a far more iconoclastic act than you were really given credit for.

SF: Yes, thank you! We were.

But it was often treated like, “Oh, just three pretty girls doing pop music.”

SF: Exactly.

So, it’s been 26 years that Shakespears Sister has existed seemingly just as sort of an alter-ego for Siobhan Fahey, right?

SF: Well, it’s certainly a magnified aspect of myself.

What made this the right time for it to be about the two of you again?

SF: It was not a clever master plan or anything; it just happened now because it was meant to happen now. We were ready to meet up and have that conversation I’d been shying away from for a long time. That put the past to rest, and paved the way for the really great side of our relationship – which is that we create very well together.

The acrimony must have been quite significant at the end.

MD: Uh…yeah! That’s an understatement. Over the years I had reached out to Siobhan a few times, but like she said, it just wasn’t really meant to happen then. After Siobhan did the Bananarama tour, I got a message from her management asking if I would like to get together for a chat. And I said “Sure, should I bring my boxing gloves?”

Guessing it didn’t come to that?

MD: I just wanted to resolve things between us personally; I had no idea that we would be creating together again.

 

 

Siobhan, you didn’t really want to do the Bananarama reunion at first?

SF: No, it wasn’t that at all. It just never really occurred to me. When I left in 1988, I signed away the name, and they carried on. They held all the cards, and never really reached out – except to ask me to get up on stage with them and do an encore at the G-A-Y in London [in 2002] for our 20th anniversary…which I did. We had become friends again, but they didn’t ask me back in the band.

Why did you leave back then?

SF: I left because I was the oddball element, and I wanted to go back to doing something a lot more quirky. But I must admit, it was really great fun doing that Bananarama tour, it was a great celebration of what we had been to each other and to the world.

So that got you thinking…

SF: It made me feel really inspired, and I wanted to be creative and make new music again. Bananarama wasn’t really the right environment for that, though – they are very different artists to the way I’ve developed. So, though I knew I was going to make another record again, I did not necessarily know that it was going to be with Marcy.

More than a few people were very pleasantly surprised. 

SF: Well, once we were able to communicate, in a way that we’d never been able to communicate in all those years previously, it resolved everything. And six months later, it seemed like an obvious thing to see if we could make new music again.
MD: So we set out to see if we still had that creative connection between us.

Did you feel the chemistry was very natural?

SF: Extremely natural, we were very open to each other’s ideas, and to being experimental. We come from opposing musical backgrounds, but we bring those backgrounds together in Shakespears Sister. That’s why this is so unique.

In remastering the singles, were there any of those songs that resonated with you again in a particular way?

SF: Yeah, absolutely. I hadn’t listened to our old material for years. And I was kind of blown away by Hormonally Yours – I had forgotten how odd it was…and how good it is. I’m amazed that it sounds so timeless and unique.
MD: It was a concept album based on this 1950s 3-D B-movie called Cat-Women of the Moon. We were going to try to buy the rights to the film and superimpose ourselves into it. The label didn’t really get it. But we were still very inspired by the film, and wrote several songs based on different scenes. So we definitely weren’t thinking about what else was going on in the pop world at the time.

 

 

You’re back on the same label – how have things changed?

SF: It’s a very different experience now being signed back to London Records – there’s a woman in charge, and she loves the material.
MD: Back in those days it was a total boys club.

You both came up through a time when music was changing the world, on a cultural, as well as a socio-political level. Do you have the sense that it’s more like wallpaper now?

SF: Yeah, it’s just like a backdrop to people’s lives, instead of being a centerpiece that defines you, and galvanizes you…
MD: It’s very much taken for granted now.

If you’re 17 now, you might care more about your brand of phone than the music you listen to on it.

SF: I know, that’s insane. The whole experience of music has changed, the emotional experience. Where back then you became best friends with all the scratches and pops on the record, poured over the sleeve notes, and learned all the lyrics.

You’re doing a series of live dates – what can we expect from the shows?

SF: We’re really looking forward to celebrating our music with our fans – we have a very devoted fanbase. But we really didn’t want it to be a retro exercise; so we’ve got a five track EP coming out in October, which I think is the strongest work I’ve ever done. It sounds classic, it sounds organic. We had a brilliant producer in Nick Launay, who’s done the last five Nick Cave records, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

What was the inspiration?

SF: We set out to make a record that sounded like the records we fell in love with when we were young. We put it together with love.

Did you manage to achieve that feeling personally with the new songs?

MD: Yeah, because what’s the point if you don’t? If you don’t like it, what’s the point of unleashing it on the world?

Well, there is a lot of that going on. Like, here’s yet more banal music for you to settle for…

MD: I know! Because that’s what’s kind of expected of certain genres. But just because you can create a song on your phone, doesn’t mean you should.

Democracy has turned out to be a bad idea when it comes to culture. But what do you like most about the new songs?

SF: Two of the new songs are just in your face, punk attitude, with rock-and-roll swagger. And two of them make me cry. One is this strange, beautiful Scott Walker kind of duet.

Could you say right here that this is not just a quick stop, but that it is the next long chapter of your creative lives?

SF: I’m hoping for that, for sure.
MD: Yes, I love to learn and keep my mind open. When I started working with Siobhan, before that I had been more of a purist – and what we wound up doing opened my mind up to lots of new things. What we’re doing now is very adventurous, going against all this electronic pop just being churned out. And I’m really proud of it. I’m so glad we’ve been able to resolve our differences and find that connection creatively again.

 

Beyond Château Versailles: Overnighting in the City of the Sun King

 

 

Versailles holds a curious place in the Western liberal mind. In one way, its infamous inhabitants from Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette perhaps represented the first modern fashion/media celebrities, with both still providing plentiful fodder for contemporary pop culture. Indeed, the former was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask…the latter by Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s surrealistic masterpiece Marie Antoinette. The seductiveness of Versailles remains curiously undiminished.

Yet the Château de Versailles once epitomized the sort of obscene, shameless profligacy that led to epochal class revolutions. Ironically, the United States of America, birthed by just such a revolution, is these days looking a lot like 18th Century Ancien Regime France.

 

 

All of which added up to philosophical food for thought on our most recent trip to the city of the Sun King – just an hour west of Paris, but a world away in so many respects.

The mission was thus: previous visits had always been of the half day sort, never really traveling beyond the Château – and leaving us yet wondering what the town spreading out below it was like in real life. Determined to stay a couple of nights, we appropriately checked into the rather dramatically titled Hotel Le Louis Versailles Château MGallery, before starting down the handsome, tree-lined Avenue de Paris.

Here’s what we discovered.

 

The Architecture

As the town grew up around the Château in the 18th Century, neo-classical, the style of the day, very much prevailed. Indeed, we were reminded of England’s great Georgian city of Bath, but without all the puffery and frippery; streets like Rue Colbert, Rue Georges Clemenceau and Rue Carnot in the quartiere Saint-Louis proved a flaneur’s dream of insouciant strolling. Here were the aristocratic homes that once held ambassadors, vicomtes and marquises – with the resplendent Versailles Cathedral, dating to 1754, rising gracefully above the Place Saint-Louis.
Back at the hotel, from our balcony we were able to gaze down upon the palatial structure that houses the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles, one of Europe’s most prestigious architectural schools. Inside, it contains two exhibition spaces, in which are regularly staged somewhat academically leaning exhibits. Versailles is serious about architecture.

 

Quartiere Saint-Louis

 

The Shops

Since Versailles is not a place one visits on the cheap, splurging for an extravagant souvenir is practically de rigueur. To accommodate, the Château recently opened the exquisitely stocked Marble Court Boutique, whose temptations wind through four chicly styled rooms. An artful selection of books, housewares, jewelry, etc. ranged from the classy (a Le Gobelet du Roy Teapot) to the campy (a Marie Antoinette Rosebush Tray).
Seeking something a bit more personal, we popped into Maison la Varenne, which is sort of the biscuiterie/confiserie of kings. Carrying on the legacy of the exalted royal chef François Pierre de La Varenne, the shop was stylish and modern, the selection endearing playful. To wit, one can take away pastel skewers of essential oil scented marshmallows; dark chocolate lollipops; and, our favorite, wild strawberry and mango macarons.
A couple of blocks away, Art et Chocolat is very much what the name says it is. Isabelle Schneider’s inviting boutique is barely four years old, but the chocolates she sells, designed by Hélène Colas, smartly reference history – a Louis XIV shoe, a classical Greek vase, an African mask.

 

The Marble Court Boutique

 

Potager du Roi

Staffing the most spectacular château ever built meant also having untold mouths to perpetually feed. And Louis XIV, always ahead of his time, conceived his own farm-to-table concept all the way back in 1678. 341 years later, the Potager du Roi is still in operation, producing more than 50 tons per annum of fruits and vegetables, to be sold in the city markets and to the area schools. And with more then 400 varieties of fruit trees, it regularly satisfies the locals’ more exotic and uncommon proclivities.
We were surprised by just how modest it looked, since Louis is most remembered for his distinct lack of modesty; but it was emboldened by the majestic surrounding architecture, which made the experience of strolling through the gardens just that much more…Versailles. There was also a stylish little shop attached, where one can inquire about booking a tour – which fascinatingly contextualizes the gardens within the socio-political machinations of the last three-plus centuries.

 

 

Notre-Dame Market

Where St. Louis is so much dignified visual formality, the Notre-Dame quartiere buzzes with energy both day and night. Its beating heart – and provider of the city’s daily sustenance – is its namesake food market. Considering Versailles’ sometimes stuffy reputation, the place was pure theater, with lively meat, cheese, fish and flower vendors animatedly shouting out the day’s offerings, along with spontaneous discounts and ephemeral specials.
One could easily while away an entire morning here, just taking in the sights and smells, the infectious energy. And to be sure, we were endlessly entertained. The bounty of unusual fruits and vegetables, cured meats, spices, even local sausages, sweet and savory crêpes and escargot, all just begged for an impromptu picnic on the Château park grounds. But the lure of the lively cafes along the Place du Marché Notre Dame was practically irresistible – especially for the excellent Versailles people watching.

 

 

The Restaurants

Living in the culinary shadow of Paris can prove particularly daunting. How to keep visitors in Versailles, when the Michelin stars and trendy bistronomie of the capital beckon? But we dined like visiting dignitaries, with equal measures of pomp, camp and chic.
We first lunched at Carmen, a stylish little eatery that opens on to the winsome Rue Saint-Honore. Amidst the cool, stark white surrounds, the unfussy menu offered pea veloute with poached egg, farm chicken, roasted cod with basil virgin sauce, and a creamy lemon yuzu dessert that veritably epitomized summertime sweetoothing. Dinner at Le Bistrot du 11 – sister to the more formal La Table du 11 – was a decidedly trend aware experience, where a three-course pre-fixe (at just 37 Euro) consisted of a zucchini-sardine-sage starter, poultry-carrot-curry main, and apricot-yogurt-verbena conclusion. The cosmopolitan clientele was of the decidedly fashionable sort.

 

Le Bistrot du 11

 

Most amusingly, we made a spontaneous swerve into camp the following evening, opting for the flamboyant dinner theater of Reminisens. Done up like a baroque era salon, with staff in appropriate period costume, we were treated to the improv staging of a lascivious, 18th Century rom-com, while we dined on quite good asparagus veloute and guinea fowl. It’s not for everyone – but it was certainly proof that Versailles has its cheeky sense of humor, if you know where to look for it.
But the sophistication and plaisir of lunching at Versailles itself could hardly be overstated. In 2017, the many-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse opened Ore, a cool, contemporary 1st floor cafe, dramatically looking out onto the Royal Courtyard. Though it must be said, we were particularly impressed that the food didn’t bow to the setting, with confit duck foie gras, Charolais beef tartare, and Les Versaillaises, a signature take on the classic religieuse pastry, all being done to the master’s standards. And, well..the view.

 

Ore Alain Ducasse

 

The Queen’s Apartments

Obviously, there is no visiting Versailles without making at least one pass through the doors of the Château. And big news, the Queen’s Apartments were opened to the public this spring – which means we were jostling with the crowds for a glimpse of all that boudoir splendor. We have to admit, it was most definitely worth all the neck craning.
But feeling slightly claustrophobic, we made haste for the always ethereal royal gardens. And as we watched the fountains dance amidst the peek-a-boo late afternoon sunshine, we were genuinely contented that we wouldn’t be rushing to catch a train back to Paris.

 

 

Hotel Le Louis Versailles Château MGallery

To tempt visitors with an overnight stay, Versailles will see the opening of two new five-star hotels in the next year – challengers to the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace, with its venerable Gordon Ramsay restaurant. But for obvious reasons, we chose to lay our heads at the more cooly stylish MGallery.
We entered the spacious Art Deco lobby and were immediately struck by the buzzy energy of the hotel – always a good sign. Upstairs rooms had daring color schemes, with opulent chandeliers playing off of contemporary furnishings and headboards, and handsome parquet flooring. Our top floor chamber had a balcony overlooking the prodigious architecture school building and, much to our delight, the Château beyond.
The lobby bar offered one of the more cosmopolitan nightlife scenes in Versailles, with well-turned out-tipplers arranged around a retro-mod circular bar, under a dazzling canopy of lights. We highly recommend dressing to impress, and remember, it’s shaken, not stirred.

 

BlackBook Interview: Ingrid Chavez on Her Stunning New Album ‘Memories of Flying’ and Paying Poignant Tribute to Prince

 

 

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, there seemed to be an inordinate number of up-and-comers whom the press were labeling “Prince protege.” It wasn’t really much of a surprise – after all, who wouldn’t want that title? But one in particular, Ingrid Chavez, arrived on the scene in a most arresting manner, a young Hispanic girl from New Mexico, of absolutely breathtaking beauty – and, like her mentor, also remarkably adept at shrouding herself in mystery. Which only heightened her allure.

She and His Purpleness recorded a poetry album together in 1988, which was temporarily shelved. But 1990 saw her pop up playing the love interest in his beloved film Graffiti Bridge, while “Justify My Love,” the slinky-sensual song she co-wrote with Lenny Kravitz for Madonna, shot straight up the charts.

Her debut album, titled May 19, 1992, soon followed, curiously actually released in fall of 1991; and an adoring public swooned to such irresistible singles as “Elephant Box” and Prince’s “Heaven Must be Near.”

 

 

During that time she also met the romantic British post-punk crooner David Sylvian (formerly of the band Japan), and thy were wed in 1992. The enigmatic couple moved to a farm in New Hampshire, had two children, and Ingrid for all intents and purposed dropped out of music. They separated in 2004, and, returning to music, Chavez’ 2010 album A Flutter and Some Words simply did not get the attention it deserved.

Now she’s back for real. And new album Memories of Flying sees her at her most visceral and self-assured. From the sultry, opening/title track, with its chilling observation, “The lines between Heaven and Hell are a blur,” to the cosseting beauty of the affectively sanguine “Light Rays,” to the haunted, enigmatic synth-funk of “Driving to the End of a Dream,” to the hopeful “Let the Healing Begin,” with its striking harmonies, lush atmospherics and lyrical proclamations like, “I’ve been broken / But I’m still open,” it’s a work of remarkable emotional complexity, and equally accomplished musically. She is without a doubt at the height of her creative powers.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Chavez about this new chapter of her life, and how she came to write a moving tribute to Prince, “You Gave Me Wings,” which is a particular highlight of the album.

 

 

You won accolades for your debut, and seemed ready for certain stardom. What made you decide to disappear from music for nearly a decade?

When I set out on my path as an artist and musician at 19, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find myself caught up in the whirlwind of Prince’s world. As exciting and life changing as it was, it was overwhelming. The excitement quickly waned, as my record on Paisley Park was not getting the attention it deserved from the label. The movie, Graffiti Bridge, was getting a bad rap, and then there was the very public feud between Lenny Kravitz and me over credit for “Justify My Love.” I was getting a bad taste in my mouth about the business of music. On a European publicity tour for the movie, I interviewed with a German magazine in Paris; the journalist asked who I would most love to work with in the future, and I said David Sylvian.

Then you actually met him.

That interview set a course in action that would find me working with David within a few months and eventually married to him. I made a decision then and there to put all of my creative energy into making a family with David and living vicariously through his music. That was enough for me for about eight years, but as the girls got a little older, I started to miss that part of myself that I had set aside.

How much did working with Prince shape you as an artist and a person?

I always incorporated spoken word into my music, even before meeting Prince; but for me it was not something I had considered a focus stylistically. When he put me in Studio B at Paisley Park soon after meeting him, I recorded “Cross The Line” – that was his introduction to me as an artist. That first recording became the piece that was played during intermission on the Lovesexy tour. He was the first person to really encourage me to use more spoken word in my music. He asked me if I would like to make a poetry album, and because of that collaboration between the two of us, I am known for that style.

 

 

What are you wanting or needing to say with Memories of Flying?

Memories of Flying is the newest chapter in my life. By now, my life is measured out in songs and albums, and this is a record about healing and trying to hold people up. Every record I’ve ever released has elements of light and darkness, joy and sadness. Ingmar Bergman asked the question, “Isn’t art always to a certain extent therapy for the artist?” I write to communicate, and to heal myself and the listener.

What is the significance of the title? Are you trying use music as a way of soaring to some higher place? Spiritually? Creatively?

It comes from the idea that when you are weighted down by the world and feel heavy, it is a temporary state. If you can remember what it felt like to fly, to be weightless and easy, it can give you strength and courage to push through the hard times.

There is a noticeable signature to your sound. What did you try to differently on this record, sonically and aesthetically?

I don’t overwork my vocals. I record myself. There is a rawness and an intimacy that I am able to capture by being alone. The recordings can be messy and a nightmare for someone mixing my vocals. What is lost in quality I hope is made up for in the capturing of a moment. This album, in particular, was a bit more of a challenge because I worked with five different co-writers/producers. I had to have faith that my voice and words would be the thread to pull it all together and make it a cohesive collection of songs.

 

 

When you’re writing the words, is it more as a poet than a lyricist? 

I write as a lyricist, but I don’t see a big difference.

On the title track, there is the line, “You smoke to think straight / And drink to stay numb” – is that a confession of sorts?

This song was to and about a friend. Songs are like letters to me. I talk to people I care about through my songs.

When you proclaim, “You deserve all the love in the world” are you addressing yourself?

I am proclaiming it to myself and to everyone who needs to hear that. Again, this is a song that I wrote to a friend who was coming out of a bad relationship that had left them broken inside, and I wanted them to see themselves through my eyes. We are all a little broken inside and sometimes that is all we can see of ourselves; but if someone loves you and you can see yourself in their eyes, it is healing.

“You Gave Me Wings” – is it about Prince?

Yes it is. An artist named Ganga out of Denmark had sent me a track to write to that I had been sitting on for a few weeks, so I decided to take it for a drive. It was April 21, 2016. I stopped at a cafe to grab a coffee for the drive when a friend of mine called to ask if I had heard about Prince; she thought it might be a hoax but within seconds both of our phones started blowing up with calls. I knew it was true; he was gone.

 

 

And you reacted to his death by writing this song?

I did what I do, I just started driving with no destination, until the words came. I was listening to Ganga’s track, and through tears, the words came. They speak of our winter together, me writing the poetry record and him writing Lovesexy.

“Let the Healing Begin” and “Spread Your Wings” seem to suggest a desire to move on from trying or difficult times. Did you find the writing and recording of this album particularly cathartic?

“Let The Healing Begin” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I wrote this song driving from Jacksonville, Florida to Orlando, at a heavy time for me. There are two songs on this album that refer to me as a child; this one and “Calling Out The Thunder.” I am always attracted to music that has a little heaviness to it; it forces me to dive a bit deeper. I always say it’s the sad songs that I love the most and although there is often a tinge of sadness to my music, there is always that redemption, that light at the end of the tunnel.

You can hear that on both tracks.

“Spread Your Wings,” again, is a letter to a friend. Writing a song is like summing up all the swirling of emotions, finding words and melodies to make sense of it all. Yes, writing and recording this album was cathartic, it sums up the past four years of my life, a closed chapter, and now the book of my life is ready for a new one.

The musical landscape has changed radically from when you first came on the scene. What do you hope to get from making music at this time in your life?

I would never want to go back. I am comfortable here in this new geography where I am able to navigate my own way through it. I was never good at playing the game. I have managed to stay true to who I am no matter the climate. And I feel blessed to have gotten the big label experience of the early ’90s – what a ride.

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Chef Roy Choi on His Provocative New Show ‘Broken Bread’

 

 

Roy Choi is nervous. He’s about to launch his first ever television show, Broken Bread, on KCET and Tastemade…and he doesn’t know how it will be received.

“Are people going to get on that bandwagon of like, Who is he to cover these topics?,” Choi wonders aloud. “What’s his resume? Does he have the right to talk about these social issues? Or are people going to really care? I’m really curious to see.”

First off, if you’ve been hiding under a culinary rock, Mr. Choi‘s resume is definitely not the problem. It’s grown exponentially since he first drove onto the scene in 2008 as owner of Kogi, the L.A.-based Korean taco truck that, arguably, launched a whole new era of food truck culture. Since then, he’s opened several other immobile restaurants: A-Frame, Chego, Locol, and (the former) Pot Cafe and Commissary at the Line Hotel, all in Los Angeles. Just last month his new restaurant Best Friend opened to critical acclaim in the new Park MGM in Las Vegas, coinciding with Lady Gaga’s residence there (how’s that for catching the zeitgeist?).

 

 

Indeed, the stars are most certainly shining upon him, as well as beside him, as he has successfully taken his rightful place on the Strip’s glittering celeb chef row. Television, naturally, had to follow.

But, speaking to the other side of Choi’s CV – as an activist and regular volunteer for local non-profits – this will not be your average celeb-chef show. More Parts Unknown than Top Chef, there will be no hard-won competitions, no battles over how to ingeniously incorporate cilantro into a dish or masterfully serve a hungry crowd from a food truck (all of which Choi has done, by the way). Broken Bread is just Choi, chef, entrepreneur, activist, moving through the streets of his city, exploring issues that are meaningful to him, and putting a well-deserved spotlight on people making a real impact in their communities.  

“We don’t glorify people on the ground doing this really, really hard work,” says Choi, “I wanted to really explore that and what motivates them. How do they get up every day when there is no camera and nobody is paying attention except for the people they take care of? To put that on mainstream television and not have it sanitized, and be able to be myself and speak to the world about it –  I couldn’t turn that down.”

 

 

In Broken Bread’s premiere episode, Choi speaks to Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, and Mar Diego who runs Dough Girl pizza shop in Van Nuys. Vega hires teens struggling to get off the streets and has spent her own resources to put up several of her young employees in an apartment, so they have a safe place to live.

“We really made a point to get the kids’ voices on there too,” says Choi of talking with Diego. “These kids are struggling, but they’re just kids. You’re letting them basically live on the streets and get addicted to these opioids. We wanted to show that if you do care about people, if you do care and love and want to be a part of it, that it can be done. Even with no resources and no backing and no media spotlight, Mar is out there every single day doing it.”

Choi is no stranger to this kind of advocacy. In fact, he’s been giving a voice – and jobs – to the voiceless for a long time. Despite rising to culinary fame, he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground. It really started with Kogi.

“I wouldn’t be able to be the same person before Kogi that I am now,” he says. “I was thrown into that environment where I had to face thousands of people on the street every night, and this energy and this love that was being transferred definitely changed me. That’s how I live my life now. I never look at it like ‘I’m The One.’ I just try to contribute how I can. Maybe I can’t be a Mar, but I can be a guy with a TV show that can [shine a light on] Mar.”

 

 

When KCET and Tastemade approached Choi with a skeleton of an idea for Broken Bread – putting a spotlight on social issues through the lens of food – it felt like the right fit, Choi says. Not only because of his commitment to giving back, but because restaurants, and specifically the kitchen, seem to be a natural springboard for second chances. The food industry has long been a place for those without hope, or for the just plain rebellious, to find a home.

“It’s probably one of the purest places as far as not discriminating or judging people,” Choi explains of working in a kitchen. “It’s like a martial arts dojo. It’s based on what you put in. A lot of us are rebellious, and a lot of us are like ‘fuck you’ to the world; but cooking is cool because for the most hard-headed of us it gives us a goal to accomplish everyday. There are a hundred pounds of onions that have to be peeled, and you can’t run away from it, you can’t shortcut it. You have to face it head-on, and that becomes like a metaphor for coping with life in many ways. The kitchen is great therapy for that.”

In true Choi fashion, Broken Bread covers a wide spectrum of topics near and dear to him, from food deserts and rehabilitation to pot politics. In another episode, Choi talks to the connoisseur of weed himself, Cheech Marin, about the origins of L.A.’s marijuana culture and how, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just growing on trees back in the day.

He enthuses, “To hear it from Cheech about how it really was, and what they had to do to get high…you know, that was fun.”

Find out what else Broken Bread has in store on May 15, when it premieres on KCET and Tastemade, and will be available for streaming.

 

New Book ‘Red Lipstick’ Gorgeously Traces the History of Beauty’s Most Indispensable Item

Illustration for the French beauty brand Payot, 1951. © 2018 René Gruau: www.gruaucollection.com

 

Author and journalist Rachel Felder has long had a love affair with red lipstick. And her latest book is evidence of her devotion to, and fascination with that classic, perfect pout.

She reveals, “I’ve been wearing red lipstick every single day for decades, and writing about makeup for many years as well. I felt the subject would resonate deeply with many women, perhaps for different reasons, because of those intense associations.”

Luxuriously wrapped in a matte gold-toned cover, Red Lipstick (released April 9, via Harper Collins) is filled with show-stopping imagery. Packed with a museum’s worth of fine art, including both Man Ray’s photograph of Red Badge of Courage and Chagall’s Les Amoreux. Lush, rarely seen vintage magazine ads from beauty biggies Guerlain and Elizabeth Arden mingle with a gorgeous array of illustrations and paintings by renowned artists including Francesco Clemente, Alex Katz, Maira Kalman, Bill Donovan, Edgar Degas and Wayne Thiebaud.

A promotional photograph of Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s. She’s wearing a fur stole that was typical of the period and, of course, red lipstick. Everett Collection. 

With fascinating insights into the uses and cultural history of lipstick, Felder makes an astute case for the “one item most women can’t live without.”

“Every woman has a relationship with red lipstick,” she insists. “For some, it’s associated with a relative – like, say, the aunt who always wore it, perfectly applied. Others think about it for special occasions, whether they’re nights out in black tie or important meetings at the office. And then there are those who say ‘I can’t wear red lipstick,’ which I believe simply isn’t true: everyone can wear red lipstick, it’s just about finding the right one.”

Power and beauty factor heavily into Felder’s exploration, as she excavates the origins and history of red lipstick. Illuminating its association with movie stars, aristocracy, sex appeal, illicit sexuality, rebellion, glamour and fame, she never loses sight of the woman herself.

Bil Donovan, Dotty Girl (watercolor and ink), 2007 © Bil Donovan / Illustration Division.

 

She enthuses, “Women love red lipstick because it’s simultaneously polished and bold, and both classic and cutting-edge modern. I love it for those reasons and also because, after wearing only red lipstick for so many years, it makes me ‘myself.’  It’s the ultimate finishing touch to face the outside world, and makes you look made up even if it’s the only beauty item on your face.”

Granted unprecedented access to experts and the archives of revered brands like Chanel and Dior, there’s lots of juicy tidbits within the pages of Red Lipstick. Little known fun facts, quotes and anecdotes, and a striking 100 plus images. Felder’s expert curation – which we’ve come to expect from the Insider London and Insider Brooklyn writer – make her musings even richer. She also spotlights a fascinating array of women who’ve worn red lipstick through the ages: think, suffragettes (yes, even those early feminists wore it), monarchs, flappers, geishas, Hollywood sirens, rockstars, working women during World War II, politicians…we could go on.

It’s an irresistible little (in size not stature) book, a must-have for any fashionista or fan of beauty’s cultural history. As Ms. Felder puts it, “When I wear red lipstick I feel stronger, more confident, and ultimately, more beautiful. It makes me feel like I can conquer anything the day brings my way.”

Catwoman represents a different type of powerful woman: one that uses sensuality as one of her weapons. Here, Michelle Pfeiffer plays the part in Batman Returns (1992). © Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection. 

BlackBook Interview: ‘Russian Doll’ Star Charlie Barnett on Facing Down Demons, the Brilliance of Natasha Lyonne, and Having to Die Over and Over Again

 

Of all the binge-worthy shows coming out on Netflix these days, Russian Doll has risen quickly to the top of everyone’s list. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, the series takes us on a wild ride with Nadia (played by Lyonne), who finds herself stuck in some kind of tripped out universe glitch. She keeps dying and coming back to life in a (rather posh) bathroom at her 36th birthday party.

Though this premise has been explored a few times before, it’s evident very early on in Russian Dolls that this is an existential journey that’s entirely new. Nadia is a video game coder (for starters) with bombshell red hair, struggling with addiction, depression, and commitment. But it’s Alan – the inimitable Charlie Barnett (he will also be starring in Tales of the City with Ellen Page) – who throws a wrench into the entire story. He too is stuck in a death loop. Nadia first meets him during episode three in an elevator – in which of course they plummet to their death – but not before he tells her that he’s not worried: he dies all the time.

Amidst all the buzz, we managed to grab some time with Barnett – who is alive and well in Los Angeles – to chat about life after death, so to speak, as well as the bachelorette party that changed his life, judging his own work, procrastination, and how he brought a new dimension to an incredibly complex character.

 

 

You met Natasha Lyonne at a bachelorette party, right?

Yeah, it was actually for Samira Wiley, who plays Poussey Washington on Orange Is the New Black and Moira on The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s one of my best friends; we went to Juilliard together. She was getting married to Lauren Morelli, who was also a creator and writer for OITNB, and now is off doing her own thing. She wanted me to have her bachelorette party; and I’m not sure why she decided that, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

Are you good at throwing parties?

Maybe I am! Because at this point I’ve now thrown a couple of baby showers, as well as bachelorette parties. Like, I guess I got word around town in my friend group that I can do it up.
There were some fails on that vacation. We had a really incredible time, and I can’t go into the details of the strip club, because I know the ladies would be a little upset with me about that. But, um…I took them to an island at one point. I feel like I kind of Fyre Island-ed all the women of OITNB. I rented this island in Miami that was supposed to be a private, beautiful island, super secluded. It turned out this island was covered with trash. It started pouring when we got there.

This sounds a lot like Fyre Fest!

It is! These beautiful talented women were in linens, and beautiful boat hats. We had a couple other friends – one from Wyoming, who is a legitimate cowboy, and Brock Harris who’s from Oklahoma. They were mountain men kind of guys. They built a fort for the ladies, built a fire for them, and we had a campout until the rain passed; it was just beautiful and we had a great time.

And you bonded with Natasha…?

We had a really nice dinner the last day that we were there; and we got to talking about life and our journeys, and through it we really kind of connected. She’s such a fucking powerful and brilliant human being. A woman who’s endured addiction and battled all kinds of fucking shit from this industry and really has risen to find her own voice and put it out there. But to also find a different and new platform to do it in. That goes for Leslye [Headland] and Amy [Poehler] too.
I was so drawn into who Natasha is and the creative beast that she gifts us all with. I was committed from the day she called me. She didn’t talk about the project that much at the party. She called me a little bit later, and I was 100% on board from the get.

It’s an amazing show. When I first started watching it I thought this is a lot like Groundhog Day, but then it takes this magical turn that you’re not expecting. Like you were saying, Lyonne has this really distinct voice – as do the other writers on the show – and it’s not just a woman telling her story. She transcends genres and styles and builds this world, a sort of sci-fi mystical experience.

And even the technical side, to give credit to all the writers – all of them are women, and it’s great that they created this great thing that so many people are resonating with. But [maybe] it doesn’t make a difference that they’re women.
I think what I’m trying to say is technically, being a 28-minute [episode] and then it being a story that flips back and forth and starts in the middle, where a character doesn’t even get introduced until like four episodes in, and it’s still so impactful to the situation and the environment. All of that included is technically new, different, challenging, risky, and they achieved it a-hundred-fold.

 

 

You came in at episode three, and you filmed a lot of those repetitive scenes all at once; even though as viewers, we saw them throughout the entire show. How did you tackle that, or compartmentalize ‘what am I feeling at this point?’

It was really challenging of course, but for me, as much as I have to admit I’m a procrastinator, because anyone from my class will read this and be like, come on Charlie. But I really really, really love breaking down the work and just picking a piece apart and not just from a character’s standpoint, but from a world: the timing, the technical side, the emotional side and background side. I think the biggest thing was just about playing Alan. My world just started to relate and reflect in a certain way; it had some results that I can’t even understand yet. From watching it, there were things I was surprised by. We [as actors] didn’t even know what the surrounding scenes were going to be.
Also, having people like our script coordinator [Melissa Yap-Stewart], who also works on OITNB, she is like an unsung god of this project, because she’s the one who held those memories. This happens, and this beat goes there, and this has to be lost and the flowers are aged this much at this point. All that stuff was her brain, and she did an incredible job. It’s a lot of work and a lot of attention and a lot of people being passionate about the details.

Were they explaining it from a bigger picture, like here’s what’s going on with Alan right now; or were they like, Here’s the script for today and we’re just going to tackle it one bit at a time?

You know, it’s hard to say because my position as an actor and not as a creative is always going to be different. I only got the script when I went to film the first episode – meaning episode three. That elevator scene is like the first thing I filmed. So for me it was a lot more fly by the seat of your pants.
I think everyone’s fascinated by how they built this and I think the genius really comes from their ability to be malleable. That’s the takeaway. Here are these women who knew each other very well, and they’ve all worked together, which has definitely gotta be a point. They were willing to bring challenges and problems to the table, question them and adapt. And they adapted a lot.

What were some of Alan’s traits that you were drawn to when you read the script?

It’s almost like a double-edged sword. I related to so much about him, but I was also terrified of him. I was terrified of living in some of those things – and those are the things I probably related to most.
A lot of the emotional turmoil that he goes through, the interior emotional turmoil, is something I related to wholeheartedly; and that’s something that Natasha and I related off of in that first conversation at that bachelorette party. I’ve had struggles with depression and addiction and suicide and it’s not uncommon for artists – but I’ve also learned later in life that it’s not uncommon for anybody.
So when I started reading the piece, a lot of those things were what made me beam in excitement, in fear – it was a mix – in joy, in a sense of duty and respect. I really feel like, especially being African American too, and gay, I want people to be able to face their demons. I think we as a people can open that conversation more and maybe even save a couple people’s lives. That really drew me in from my own personal experience and the desire to change the conversation.

Doesn’t seem like Alan procrastinates that much.

No! That man is on his shit. I did take that away from him. I have a calendar now. This is how old school I am – I have a dry erase calendar that I put up once a month and write everything in and make it all color coordinated. 

So it’s really interesting what you were saying about facing your demons. Alan has to overcome so much to beat this loop he’s stuck in, he had to look at some of the parts of himself that he didn’t really want to see. I think any human being would relate: in order to progress you have to get introspective and really dig in. Do you feel like Alan overcame?

I think Alan had this belief in the end, it’s not necessarily about changing yourself, it’s about challenging yourself and through these challenges you can change. I hate to have to break it down like that, but I think words and the way you think about how you react or how you act can change the way you can do it.
I think he did, at the end of it, it’s so hard because the end leaves us all in this kind of ‘where are they?’ Do they go on? Are they still stuck? Does it really matter? I almost think the change comes more from a release, him realizing that he can’t control; and that even beyond not controlling, there’s enough people around him in this world that if he’s honest and open with, he can get the help to give him the ladders in life.

 

He doesn’t need to contain himself or hide himself.

Yeah. I was talking to my partner the other day, and we were getting really deep about this, and the idea of what you want to be, what you want to be reflected as, and what you are. I’m still learning in this life, and I don’t know if I’m right in this idea; but it made me realize we all have what we think we identify as, what we want to be. But we ultimately have no control over that! You’re always a reflection of the people around you and your actions, and how you portray yourself. What you wear even, as fickle as that. You’re not in control… you kind of create it and it is received and then reflected back on to you.
You have to at some point let go of those requirements and then you have the freedom to just be you. That’s kind of where Alan got to, where he’s like I don’t have to be this thing for my mother or for Beatrice or even for Nadia. I’m allowed to live and not question myself, my actions, my past, and still push myself…but allow it to evolve without those kind of opinions.

Stop judging yourself in a sense.

Yeah.

Have you watched the whole season?

I haven’t!
Is it hard to watch your own work?
No not at all. Well, I say that so flippantly. I guess I have to admit, it’s not that I have a problem watching myself or judging myself. It’s really that it’s like you experience it as one thing. It’s one story in your mind and then you watch it and it becomes something completely different. And you lose a part of that aspect, you lose a part of that story.
I like to watch things in my house, on my couch, alone. That is my one rule, I don’t like watching it with other people. Other people telling me shit. The first time I’m going to be judging it hardcore. The second time I might actually enjoy it. The third time I’m might get lost in the story. It takes a build.

Would you say you’re a harsh critic of yourself?

Oh, of myself? 150 billion per cent. I’ve only watched up to episode six and I’ve been hard on myself. I’m like come on, why you doing that? What the fuck is that shit? You should’ve followed through on that emotion! But there are so many parts where I get to sit back and I’m like really surprised by myself and really proud and happy. It was an emotional beast, and anyone in my family and any one of my friends will tell you: they’ve seen me that broken, they’ve seen me that crushed. They’ve seen me that sad, and it’s such a weird thing to be like I’m an actor, but I’m really utilizing my own life and my own experience and my own emotions to tap into those. So how much of that do I get to give myself credit for?

You have had the ultimate experience to be this person even if you’re not exactly like him. Do you feel like you were able to evolve the character and contribute ideas as far as where things should go?

I think, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I brought a lot to it, even in their eyes, that they didn’t see. It was just because of the work I put into it. After procrastinating for so long, when I do finally get to work, I work my fucking ass off.

What was some of the preparation that you did for it?

I’ve been to a lot of psych wards and I’ve done a lot of charity work too – but I’ve been in one myself, and taking a lot of the experience from that and taking a lot of the things I’ve written down over the years and going back into it was really really helpful. And a lot of stigmatizing that goes into it – not trying to fall into those cheap plays and also recognizing what is true and what does resonate.
But on top of that I went into hardcore research about OCD and how it can manifest, and I really wanted to respect that too, because I feel like it’s utilized as a character trait sometimes rather than just, ‘It’s fucking who I am.’

Now that this is all wrapped, what’s next for you?

There’s a lot that I’m really really excited about. I finished shooting Tales of the City with Lauren Morelli. It’s got a great cast: Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Ellen Page. It’s an Armistead Maupin novel; we filmed it in New York with a good week or two in San Francisco.
I also did a movie with Jamie Babbit – director on Russian Doll – and Drew Barrymore who’s producing and also starring, called The Stand-In. It’s going to be really funny.

 

 

Dune Bashing, Persian Carpets and a Spectacular Outpost of The Louvre: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part II

 

(Continuing on from Part I of our Abu Dhabi story…)

 

Peckish from sightseeing, we headed back to The Grand Hyatt where we lunched at Verso, a stylish Italian trattoria, that serves outstanding pizzas, pastas like pappardelle ai gamberi, and squid ink risotto – and as New Yorkers, we’re not easily impressed with Italian food. The property will actually boast a total of six international dining options (just two were open when we were there), so you’ll never go hungry. Sahha, an “adventurous market,” is the spot for made-to-order and buffet breakfast and dinner options – don’t miss the big-as-your-head pastel-colored meringues at the dessert station. Pearl Lounge in the lobby provided a sophisticated little stop off when we were feeling parched, as our minibar seemed to be a work in progress (um, empty).

And for those feeling a little more motivated than were we, there was a Dynamic TechnoGym fitness center open 24-hours, with a steam room and sauna to sweat out the night-before’s partying on the hip and happening Yas Island. (N.B., you can drink openly at hotels and nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, but public drunkenness is of course very much frowned upon.)

Never hearing of dune bashing before we visited Abu Dhabi, the daytime sport courtesy of Land Cruisers and their agile drivers, provided some raucous fun. We were told to buckle up, because off-roading amongst the sand dunes gets hair-raisingly bumpy. If you book a tour with Abu Dhabi Desert Safari you’ll also get up close and personal with a herd of very cuddly camels, available for short rides and lots of petting. As part of our excursion, we got to partake in sand skiing, a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, belly dancing and Tanoura (traditional folkloric dance) performances, henna painting, and even the chance to hold a falcon for the ultimate photo op.

For anyone who might be wondering where Whistler’s Mother is currently on view, it was right there at the spectacular, Saadayit Island located Louvre Abu Dhabi. The name is on loan from its Paris counterpart, which was incidentally paid $525 million to license the name for 30 years. Here, the Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel has again outdone himself – the sprawling design is actually comprised of 55 detached buildings.

With a giant overhead canopy ‘woven’ out of 7850 metal ‘stars,’ the structure ingeniously anchors sand and sea. Waterfront views from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s many terraces are breathtaking, while visiting day or night promises dazzling light shows under the dome. And the art? We especially loved the cosmography room and the well-curated collection of artifacts from early civilizations. Currently showing is Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, through the end of February.

Of course, when they go big in the U.A.E., they always go really big. And the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was no exception. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdekly, the glistening white-marble stunner is one of the world’s largest. A massive undertaking at over 20 years to build (2007 saw the completion), a collective of highly skilled artisans using only the finest materials were enlisted from around the globe, coming from India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia…the list goes on.

It should be noted that visitors are required to respect the dress code, traditional Abaya dress for women, or Kandura for men. For us ladies, this meant loose pants (so please do leave your athleisure at the hotel), loose tops covering arms and chest, and head scarf with no hair showing. Our Isabel Marant tunic was deemed too sheer by staff, so we were loaned a hooded, pinkish-colored Abaya, which are available before entering the mosque. And after all, who doesn’t look good in mauve?

Resplendent with the world’s largest Persian carpet (woven by women, we were told by our lively guide, with 2,268,000,000 knots) and the third largest, brilliantly colored crystal-encrusted chandelier in existence, the humbling, grandiose main hall can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. Its benefactor, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted to establish a structure uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, and its historical and modern values of architecture and art. His Highness’ final resting place is actually located on the grounds beside the mosque.

Before we departed from Abu Dhabi, we were determined to visit one of its beaches (and not one of the many man-made ones). Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the shores of Saadiyat, boasted an invitingly pristine, natural beachfront, where gentle waves beckoned us in. A quick dip provided perfect refreshment before winding down and washing up before dinner. The sleek, minimalist rooms here offer our favorite Le Labo products, which will soon become standard across all of the Hyatt properties, we were told.

Reserving a table under the stars at the award-winning Park Bar & Grill, we were thankful for the simplicity of a menu of charcoal-grilled seafood and fine steaks. Dining al fresco on a clear, we took in one last magnificent view, before normal life would take us back to Gotham.

(N.B. ideal travel times to the UAE are December through March, before it gets too hot and humid.)