Righteous Kill: How Nutria Fur Is Becoming a Runway Regular

Last January, on an unusually cool night in New Orleans, the Marigny Theatre hosted Righteous Fur Fashion Show: A Nutria-palooza! Stationed at the entrance to the sold-out multimedia event was Boudreaux D. Nutria, the plush, oversize mascot of the New Orleans Zephyrs minor league baseball team. Inside, a film with puppets, North Pole Nutrias, played on a loop. Local models in nutria fashions walked the runway to music from a fur-bikini–clad cellist and the Mystic Herd of Nutria drum corps, a newly reunited Mardi Gras krewe. Ragged and enthusiastically DIY, it felt as if The Clan of the Cave Bear had been relocated to a bordello. The line outside stretched down the block.

Nutria is an invasive species of swamp rodent whose numbers in the marshes and waterways of Louisiana and other Southern states are estimated in the millions. A ubiquitous presence, they are also a calamitous one—since they were first introduced to the U.S., nutria have destroyed vast swaths of coastal wetlands. It’s surprising, then, that they are also beloved by many. “Some people talk about their cuddly pet nutria, and others are like, ‘I remember when I went out with my daddy and bashed some nutria in the head,’” says Cree McCree, who established Righteous Fur, a nonprofit collective, in 2009. (Their slogan is “Save Our Wetlands, Wear More Nutria.”) For Nutria-palooza!, she distributed two nutria pelts apiece to 15 designers, each of whom was tasked with creating an original outfit using the fur. One of the show’s standout pieces was a hood that transforms into a collar and also a stole, sheared in a checkerboard pattern meant to invoke nutria’s “checkered past.” Says McCree, “They’ve been around so long that they’ve become part of the landscape. It’s kind of like how the oil economy has become part of the local culture.”

Righteous Fur was founded in response to one of the most alarming environmental and ecological problems facing the coastal South. When President Barack Obama outlined his “battle plan” several weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and crude began spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, he compared the spill to “an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months or even years.” Obama might as well have been talking about nutria.

Before federal and local authorities stepped in to curtail the devastation in the late ’90s, nutria were eating their way through roughly 100,000 acres of marsh each year, accelerating the already rapid erosion of one of the most fragile ecosystems in North America. Even now, “Coastal Louisiana is disappearing to the tune of 25 square miles a year,” says Michael Massimi, invasive species coordinator for the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP). “So much attention went to Katrina and now the oil spill, but the big story here is really this slow, absolute catastrophe that’s been unfolding for the past 50 years.”

Righteous Fur hopes to use fashion to fight the problem by restoring nutria’s historic reputation as a luxury commodity. It’s a reasonable ambition when one considers the silver screen icons—Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren—who cloaked themselves in the Louisiana export. Story has it that New York Times street-fashion photographer Bill Cunningham was once so taken by a sumptuous nutria coat that he failed to notice its owner was Greta Garbo. In its natural state, nutria fur is longer and rougher than your average Park Avenue prize kill, with hoary tips and unpredictable streaks of black. Shorn, it achieves a velvety nut-brown color and is soft to the touch, not unlike beaver fur. “Like the nutria itself, the fur is very adaptable. It can be rugged but it can also be elegant,” says McCree. Swamp dwellers of Malthusian proportion, nutria have an everyman quality that their spindly Northern cousins—sable, ermine—fail to muster.

This unpretentiousness, popular during leaner times, hasn’t escaped the notice of a few mainstream designers, like Oscar de la Renta, Gilles Mendel, and Billy Reid, who’ve all used the fur in recent collections. Mendel braided nutria with other, more established furs, while de la Renta used it to detail coats. Reid, a Southern Louisiana native, CFDA winner, and GQ’s pick for best new menswear designer this year, trimmed gloves and puffed collars with nutria for his Fall 2010 collection. “It’s tough for fur to look really masculine, but nutria certainly has that kind of richness to it,” Reid says. “I call it badass fur because it looks so doggone tough.”

image

Nutria were first brought to the United States from Argentina in the 1930s for fur farming. It wasn’t long before they escaped into the wild, where it was thought alligators would police their numbers, but the swamps proved too hospitable an environment for mating. At anywhere from 9 to 20 pounds, nutria look like small beavers—or, as most people see them, large rats. They have bald tails, rounded haunches, and the kind of beady-eyed, bewhiskered faces that recall overstuffed Tammany Hall politicians. Nutria also come equipped with a pair of long, russet-colored front teeth, which they use to eat the basal portions of marsh plants, the waterlogged, fibrous bits near the roots. “A plant might regrow after some animals nibble on it,” says Massimi, “but nutria tend to kill plants outright.”

Geologically speaking, virtually everything south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is brand-new land. If you pan out from there on Google Earth, the Mississippi Delta, where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico in a dendritic fracture of canals, looks like Chantilly lace. It’s a highly fragile ecological area, made all the more vulnerable by the river’s now-infamous levees, which prevent new topsoil from reaching—and rebuilding—the marshland.

Rapacious herbivores, nutria feast on the plants whose root systems keep the swamps from reverting to open water. When the first aerial surveys were conducted to assess the extent of the nutria “eat outs” in the early ’90s, the destruction was far worse than anyone predicted. “We found that some of the damage was really dramatic,” says Edmond Mouton, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The state had to act. Its first scheme, implemented in the late ’90s, was an ill-conceived campaign to encourage locals to harvest nutria for food. “That’s like saying, ‘I’ll give you $2 million if you eat this,’” quips Massimi about the meat, which apparently takes on the flavor of whatever it’s been stewing in, swamp water included. (“Nutria tastes like bad chicken,” says a boy in a short, big-hearted documentary by filmmaker Ted Gesing called Nutria.) When that approach foundered, the Coastwide Nutria Control Program (CNCP) was founded in January 2002.

The CNCP, explains Mouton, was crafted to artificially re-create the once-booming market for nutria fur. In the mid-’70s, when international demand peaked, trappers were earning as much as $9 a pelt. Unintentionally, those trappers also helped curb the proliferation of nutria. In the ’80s, however, the global market for fur suddenly and precipitously evaporated—due in no small part to the success of the anti-fur movement. Says Mouton, “The prices fell so the harvest fell, and in that time, from the late ’80s to the early ’90s, we started to see negative impact in wetlands.”

While the CNCP couldn’t hope to revitalize global interest in nutria fur, it did decide to pay a per-tail premium to trappers who signed on with their program, a blind eye turned to real market demand. “[Trappers] were originally paid $4 and then $5 to supplement a good price for fur,” explains Mouton. Sure enough, the yearly harvest increased, and, in the eight years since the program was implemented, nutria populations have steadily decreased. Nearly a half million nutria were culled in the 2009-2010 season alone. Far from eliminating the problem entirely—nutria still consume approximately 23,000 acres of wetlands a year—the CNCP has been successful in restoring it to more manageable contours. “Any animal left unchecked will destroy coastal wetlands,” Mouton says, “which are responsible for so many other species—everything else that lives out there.”

image Jonathan Traviesa

But for Cree McCree, one troublesome fact remains: “If these nutria have to die, they should not die in vain.” It’s a notion that challenges some of the most basic ideas about animal rights—can slaughtering an animal be considered an ethical imperative? Even as they destroy a habitat that’s home to thousands of other species, should nutria be left alone? Can wearing fur ever be anything more than the sartorial sanctioning of animal cruelty? For McCree, the answer to these questions is clear. Nutria tallies are determined by tail count, and trappers, who have no use for the remaining carcasses, tend to throw them back into the swamp to decompose. Nearly 90% of nutria carcasses are left to rot. What eventually became Righteous Fur began as a few design prototypes McCree commissioned (with the help of a grant from BTNEP) from a local designer—she concentrated on crafting nutria teeth jewelry—for 2009’s La Fête d’Ecologie, a yearly celebration in Thibodaux, Louisiana. These eco-conscious ivories and fur fashions are, according to McCree, part of one “giant recycling project.”

Like Billy Reid—who’s designing a line of T-shirts emblazoned with the Righteous Fur logo, a smiling nutria that looks equal parts Lord Voldemort and Benedictine monk—McCree sources her fur from a trapper associated with Mouton’s CNCP, Tab Petrie, a second-generation furrier based in New Orleans. “We are very happy because we can put a lot of people to work,” says Petrie through a tangled Cajun accent about the economic upshot of the program. “My dad did this for 50, 60 years. We like the business.” Trappers deliver nutria carcasses to his factory, where the hides are submitted to a roller machine that squeezes excess meat from the skin and are then fitted over “nutria boards” to dry.

While not all designers source nutria fur from the South—“I’m sure Oscar de la Renta isn’t getting his pelts down here; he may be getting some in Canada,” speculates McCree, correctly—Righteous Fur will continue to promote fur harvested through the CNCP exclusively. “Whether you consider it guilt-free is a matter of personal conscience,” says McCree, “But so long as they’re being killed, why not honor the animal?” And while Righteous Fur aims to turn a profit in the near future, their business model encompasses its own eventual collapse. Antithetical to the project would by the reinstatement of fur farms should demand for nutria suddenly outpace what’s available through the CNCP. “I’d rather see Righteous Fur go out of business,” says Massimi, highlighting an inherent paradox—creating a market for something Righteous Fur hopes to eliminate. But this is unlikely. Says McCree, “More than any other creature in the bayou—including the people down there—nutria will live to munch again.”

Later this fall, McCree is bringing Nutria-palooza!, her folksy antidote to the corseted seriousness of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, to New York. Righteous Fur has mostly avoided run-ins with anti-fur activist groups like PETA, but McCree is expecting to clash with them then. After the show, there will be a live auction. John Calhoun and the Invasive Species will perform. A fifth of the proceeds will go to wetlands restoration; the remainder will go to the designers, who are, as always, encouraged to mix and match materials. “The only taboo is other furs,” Righteous Fur’s call to designers reads. “Nutria is the star!”

September Music Reviews: Ra Ra Riot, Of Montreal, Klaxons

Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard (Barsuk) It would be easy to dismiss the music of Ra Ra Riot as frothy chamber pop, but some serious heartache is folded into their optimistic harmonies. On The Orchard, their second album, that darkness is more pervasive than ever. Recorded in upstate New York, it’s clear the quintet was influenced by their pastoral surroundings: “Boy” and “Too Dramatic” bloom with dizzying simplicity, and “Shadowcasting” sounds more sunny than somber. But idyllic images of oaks and soothing coldwater streams are offset by lyrics that outline feelings of lust, resentment, and mortality, like the discovery of spilt blood in the title track. Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla mixed 9 of the album’s 10 tracks, but the remarkable “Do You Remember” comes courtesy of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, vocalist Wes Miles’ partner in their Discovery side project. —Cayte Grieve

Klaxons, Surfing the Void (Polydor) When Klaxons’ Mercury Prize–winning first album, Myths of the Near Future, debuted in 2007, it was hastily categorized as a subgenre neologistically called new rave. Three years later, the British foursome’s sophomore effort strays even further from conventional musical taxonomy. Kaleidoscopic, echoing vocals are staggered between distorted guitars, resulting in an anxiety-ridden, 10-track odyssey reminiscent of Muse’s Black Holes & Revelations. While a number of the songs sound like sci-fi anthems (“Extra Astronomical,” “Valley of the Calm Trees”), there are also more pop-minded inclusions (“Same Space,” “Twin Flames”) and even a relatively tranquil ballad (“Future Memories”). Still, listening to the album on ’shrooms is not recommended. —Eiseley Tauginas

Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now (Warner Bros.) Jenny and Johnny are the 2010 reincarnation of early-career Lemonheads with a dusting of Ben Kweller and Mutations-era Beck. This is a good thing. Rilo Kiley frontwoman and Saddle Creek icon Jenny Lewis flexes her muscles on this scrappy side project with boyfriend and longtime collaborator Johnathan Rice. On their eminently listenable debut, I’m Having Fun Now, the pair nails the mix of humor and emotion achieved by Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando on It’s a Shame About Ray, with 11 playful songs on topics as varied as running with scissors, the duplicitous nature of pet snakes, and the couple’s resemblance to a New Yorker cartoon. On the beautifully twee “While Men are Dreaming,” Lewis sings about the seductive utopia of our unconscious lives, while “Animal” finds Rice musing on the fine line separating man from beast. Clever, thoughtful, and romantic, it’s an album that reveals something new with every listen. —Victor Ozols

David Andrew Sitek, Maximum Balloon (Interscope) TV on the Radio’s David Andrew Sitek is a master multi-tasker. When the Baltimore-born instrumentalist and songwriter isn’t busy producing albums for Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars, he’s working on his own projects, like his new solo album, Maximum Balloon. With hints of TV on the Radio’s psychotropic flavor, this explosion of buzzy, borderline-disco dance tracks will be equally at home in Brooklyn basements and on fashion runways. Vocals courtesy of Karen O, Katrina Ford, and rapper Theophilus London pepper the diverse blend of rock and electro beats. —Kelly Johnstone

Of Montreal, False Priest (Polyvinyl) Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal’s unhinged frontman, has rocked in his birthday suit in Vegas and frolicked with the fuzzies on Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba!, but never has he led the Georgia-based band to a studio other than his own Apollinaire Rave—until now. False Priest, Of Montreal’s tenth album, was rerecorded, mixed, and engineered at legendary Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, and it’s masterfully complex. With analog equipment, geeky tweaks, and Freddie Mercury falsetto, it marches—like a baton-twirling majorette—across rock, disco, and R&B’s turf with upbeat, psychedelic purpose. It sounds, quite possibly, like “unicorns eating baby meat,” a choice lyric from their song “Like a Tourist.”—Megan Conway

Blonde Redhead, Penny Sparkle (4AD) Since the release of their 2007 album, 23, Blonde Redhead has made nary a blip on our radar. But after a three-year respite, the atmospheric rock trio is back and more mesmerizing than ever. Twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace coax listeners into a heavy-hearted dreamscape, transporting their already ambient sound closer to Freudian realms. Whereas tracks like “Here Sometimes” feature nearlypalpable drum beats and tender vocals, the title track is rife with My Bloody Valentine–inspired reverb. Kazu Makino’s entrancing voice continues to find the humanity in all that synth. —Hillary Weston

Land ofTalk, Cloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek) In early 2009, Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell underwent surgery for a hemorrhagic polyp on her left vocal cord. While we have no idea what that means, it was serious enough to silence the singer for months. What a difference a year makes. On Cloak and Cipher, the Montreal trio’s second LP, Powell’s voice smolders with newfound warmth. On songs like “Swift Coin” and “Color Me Badd,” aggressive guitars and precision drumming guide her to a cathartic crescendo. On the album’s slow-burning final track, “Better and Closer,” Powell coos repeatedly, “I need you,” and we believe her. Traces of Canadian indie rock confederation Broken Social Scene abound (Powell is a member), but the real credit goes to her surgeon—a genius, clearly. —Ben Barna

Movie Reviews: ‘Buried,’ ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,’ ‘Howl’ & More

Buried – Here is an abbreviated list of phobias that might be triggered by Buried, the first English language feature from acclaimed Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés: claustrophobia (fear of restriction and suffocation), taphophobia (fear of being buried alive), achluophobia (fear of darkness), autophobia (fear of being alone), and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes). Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), an American truck driver working in Iraq, regains consciousness after receiving a blunt blow to the head, only to find he’s been, yep, buried alive in a wooden coffin under several feet of desert sand. With only a cell phone, a lighter, and fuzzy memories of his convoy’s ambush, Paul attempts to lead rescuers to his grave through a series of frustrating calls to his government, his family, and the insurgents who put him there. A lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to carry the film, but Reynolds is sublime, conveying fear and resolve with every gasp of rapidly thinning air. —Victor Ozols

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – If New York is Woody Allen’s one true love, then London, at least around the release of 2005’s Match Point, was his oversexed mistress, a place where the legendary filmmaker was able to “recharge his batteries.” This is precisely the effect that Charmaine (newcomer Lucy Punch) has on Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who marries the young prostitute shortly after his divorce from Helena (Gemma Jones), his wife of 40 years, in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Predictably, the spark soon fizzles between Alfie and Charmaine, not unlike Allen’s brief but exciting European affair. At its best, the film is a pleasant morality play focused on a warring British couple (Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, as the Allen stand-in) and their extramarital conquests (Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto, respectively). At its worst, this grass-is-always-greener tale of ennui and moral vacuity is Anything Else with an affected accent. —Nick Haramis

Howl – Poet Allen Ginsberg once wrote, “It isn’t enough for your heart to break because everybody’s heart is broken now.” It’s a kernel of wisdom that most biopics—so often manipulative and pandering—should heed, and it’s precisely what makes filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl such a frenetic, charged piece of cinematic poetry. The film is divided by three caesurae: the much-ballyhooed obscenity trial centered on Ginsberg’s Howl; an interview with the poet, whose every tic and quirk is brought to life by James Franco; and an impassioned coffeehouse reading of Howl set to out-of-time animation that champions all of the beauty and filth of the American classic. By focusing, as the title suggests, on the poem rather than the poet, one actually gets further into the mind of the man for whom a generation was “destroyed by madness.” —NH

Never Let Me Go – Most film adaptations of great literary works don’t deserve to share a title with their source material. Fortunately, Kazuo Ishiguro’s haunting disquisition on the future of medical science fell into the capable hands of director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine). Centered on three students at a boarding school in England’s hinterlands, Never Let Me Go follows Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Kathy (Carey Mulligan) as they go about their seemingly charmed lives. From the onset, though, it’s clear there’s something unusual about the students, their school, and the mysterious squad of authority figures who monitor their every move. Ominous words like “donation” and “completion” are exchanged, and, as these living, breathing trial studies grow to maturity, we’re forced to examine exactly what constitutes a human life. With moving dramatic performances from the leads, the film humanizes a future that feels disturbingly, inevitably close. —Eiseley Tauginas

Enter the Void – For all its sweeping camera tricks and otherworldly lighting, Gaspar Noé’s latest orgy of muck and ire is hopelessly ugly. It will certainly draw criticism for its cheap, exploitative thrills: the first-person perspective in a head-on car collision, the unrelenting abortion scenes, and the inner-vaginal view of a penetrating penis. But despite its rampant adolescence, Enter the Void is also searching and soulful, a piecemeal memento mori of a young man’s troubled life after it is cut short during a botched drug deal. Wayward Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is told that death is life’s greatest trip—something he experiences firsthand, moments after being shot by Japanese police, when his spirit considers his strong (and possibly incestuous) bond with his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta). Flawed and perhaps ill-paced—the film runs long at 150 minutes—Enter the Void is also a lighting bolt of visual mastery, jolting and unlike anything that’s come before it. —NH

Tracklist: Brandon Flowers Takes Stock of His Favorite Songwriters

“I’m sorry this is so uncomfortable,” Brandon Flowers says apologetically during a long and, yes, rather painful silence. The 29-year-old musician is trying to round out a list of the 10 vocal performances that most influenced him, and in a group dominated by guys, he needs a woman. Shy and hesitant in person, Flowers is nothing like his onstage persona. Whereas that one—the superstar who fronts the Las Vegas–based arena rock band The Killers—sweats swagger and breathes bombast, this one fidgets in his chair inside New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. This fall, Flowers will take the stage without his three bandmates when he tours Europe in support of Flamingo, his solo debut. If the first single, “Crossfire,” is any indication, the album (named after a road in Las Vegas) will stay true to the Killers’ synths and soaring vocals. But Flowers can’t help it. He’s never been one to conceal his roots and he isn’t about to start now.

U2’s “With or Without You.” This is quintessential U2. There’s great contrast in how low Bono’s voice goes in his verses and how he builds to this explosion of emotion at the end. His sound breaks through the clouds.

Lou Reed’s “Men of Good Fortune.” Lou isn’t the greatest singer in the world, so he uses a speaking voice to deliver his songs. He has such great lyrics: “Men of good fortune often cause empires to fall/ While men of poor beginnings often can’t do anything at all.” How can you not get sucked in when that’s the song’s first line? We were going to perform the song “Tranquilize” together on Saturday Night Live and it was going to be the highlight of my life, but then the writers’ strike happened.

Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug.” It’s as Morrissey as Morrissey gets. He has his own inflections, his own quirks, and they all surface on this song. I was his busboy once at Spago Las Vegas in Caesars Palace, but I didn’t have the guts to say anything. Years later, the Killers were asked to open for him in L.A. and Chicago. The highlight of the whole thing was when he came to watch us rehearse before the first show. He’s had such an impact on my life, and it felt like everything had come full circle: he was just standing there, watching us.

Annie Lennox’s “No More ‘I Love You’s’” She pushes the envelope and looks great doing it. I often wonder about [Lennox’s partner in Eurythmics] Dave Stewart’s genius. It turned me off that he was involved with making that dildo [for sex toy manufacturer JimmyJane’s collaboration with Stewart’s Rock Fabulous line]. His face was on it or something? Tom Waits’ “Ruby’s Arms.” My wife and I bonded over this song when we first met. I’d never heard it before and she played it for me while we were driving through Las Vegas. Both of us were crying in the car at some point. There are a lot of myths that Waits used to scream in closets to mess up his voice. What amazes me is how dirty it is, but how romantic he can be with it.

Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose.” I love the way Cash tells this story of a guy getting out of jail and basically dying on his way home. When he asks the stranger who finds him to tell his boy that his daddy is proud of him… I don’t know why, but that gets me every time.

Pet Shop Boys’ “Tonight Is Forever.” I’ve had two weird experiences with Neil Tennant’s voice. One night, on my first trip to London, I heard Ladytron was playing. We got to the show for the encore, and we heard this guy talking. I knew it was Neil Tennant without seeing him. That’s how distinct his voice is. Later, we were working at [producer] Stuart Price’s house on [the Killers’ third studio album] Day & Age. He had a little studio and his wife had just started managing the Pet Shop Boys. So I was upstairs, and in between songs I could hear Tennant’s voice downstairs. He actually came up and sang on a Christmas song we were recording.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown.” He’s able to make statements while still being romantic. “Youngstown” is about a mine for the materials that make weapons. He writes of smokestacks reaching up like the arms of God. Springsteen helped me understand my roots and helped me to connect with America.

Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” This one doesn’t sound like Bob Dylan to me, not that I don’t like the way it sounds. The lyrics are amazing as always, but I chose it because of his vocal versatility, which I think is important in singers. There is something to be said about having that recognizable quality in your voice, but I really like it when people are able to switch it up a bit.

Chairlift’s “Evident Utensil.” We made a video for “Spaceman” with [music video director] Ray Tintori, and he’s in the same circle as Chairlift. He had just done their video for “Evident Utensil.” The video was fine, but the song was amazing. The synth lines reminded me of Erasure. I couldn’t believe these young people from Colorado who now live in Brooklyn were doing this. Caroline Polachek and Aaron Pfenning are great singers. Hearing them for the first time was a breath of fresh air.

Brandon’s Favorite New York Spot: Gramercy Park Hotel

Final Destinations: September’s Key Events

September 2: Jay-Z and Eminem playing Comerica Park is the best thing to happen to Detroit since Jay-Z and Eminem decided to play Comerica Park. September 3: Robert Rodriguez gives new meaning to “director’s cut” with the release of his bloodyblade epic, Machete. September 8: Anna Wintour returns to her native England for Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out in London.

September 9: That was quick! Anna is back in her real home—the front row at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which kicks off in New York. September 10: The greatest trees of our generation are destroyed by madness when the Howl! Festival, an outdoor performing arts celebration, takes over New York’s Tompkins Square Park. September 12: The MTV Video Music Awards—always a bastion of unpredictability—move this year from New York to L.A. Way to keep us guessing, MTV! September 13: The new season of Gossip Girl premieres in the City of Fights, when Chuck Bass and co. take Paris. September 15: Heidi Montag celebrates her interior’s 24th birthday. September 17: Emma Stone sleeps her way onto the A-list when her film, Easy A, is released today. September 19: Boardwalk Empire premieres on HBO, featuring a bunch of people who take Monopoly way too seriously. September 21: The irony surely won’t be lost on Pavement when they begin a four-night stand in Central Park for SummerStage. September 24: Ryan Reynolds spends 90 minutes in a coffin in Buried, the first mainstream movie that’s also underground. September 25: Ke$ha, missing the party by a couple of tracks, is forced to sit out National One-Hit Wonder Day. September 28: Drake doesn’t yet run this town, but with shows at Radio City Music Hall tonight and tomorrow, at least Jimmy’s out of the wheelchair.

The Paz de la Huerta Black List: Choke on This

Actor Paz de la Huerta tangles with her share of deadbeats in Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void and as a gangster’s Girl Friday in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. But it’s the characters from her life in fashion that really get under her skin. Since when do models have to wear clothes?

1. I hate all the hipster stylists who wear, like, dildos on their heads and think it looks good. They always end up looking like Orgazmo’s sidekick, Choda Boy. 2. I hate being asked “my sign” by hairstylists every time I do a shoot. No matter what I tell them, they always say, “Oh, my god, we’re gonna be best friends!” 3. I hate that I have to be up on astrology all the time, because that’s all models talk about. 4. I hate when stylists try to put clothes on me. They should just shoot me naked, next to the clothes on the hangers. I’m obviously much happier naked. 5. I hate when I’m not the only model on a shoot, hello. 6. I hate when the photographer’s wife comes to the shoot. It’s like having my leading man’s wife show up to a film set in the middle of a love scene. 7. I hate being air kissed because I don’t wear any makeup, and I’d sure like to rub my cheeks against a bunch of hotties like Josie Maran and Christy Turlington (who is hotter than ever and just made No Woman, No Cry, a dope documentary about women around the world giving birth). Actually, I’d like to do a lot more than rub cheeks with them! 8. I hate that the male models I’ve dated completely conform to stereotypes. I had one who asked me, after three months of dating, if he was just my “boy toy.” 9. I hate when I ask a model what book they’re reading and they show me their portfolio. 10. I hate that the guys who were going out 20 years ago to screw models are still doing the same old shtick. They’re still “actors,” except they have no hair and no money. Thanks to their friend, the party promoter, they still get free drinks and try to impress the poor, young immigrant model—who doesn’t know anyone—by talking about all the famous asses they’ve kissed.

Video Exclusive: Die Antwoord Invades Milk Studios for Our September Issue

When Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er, two-thirds of the South African rave-rap group Die Antwoord, showed up to Milk Studios to pose for a story in our September Reinvention issue, we had some idea what to expect. Their “Enter the Ninja” video had already been viewed more than five million times on YouTube, and they were booking high-profile shows all over the place. Indeed, the unlikely pair did live up to their cartoonish hip-hop personae by mugging and thugging for the camera. What we didn’t expect, however, was that Ninja would insist on stopping the shoot midway through so he could skip over to the Ace Hotel and fetch his favorite pair of Dark Side of the Moon boxers. We’d say it was totally worth it. Check out the theatrics after the jump.

Video above.

Pharrell Williams and N.E.R.D, from Playboys to Politicos

Pharrell Williams is seated in a large photo studio in Manhattan’s West Village surrounded by a gaggle of young women. In between bites of chicken, the notorious ladies’ man and leader of experimental avant-funk trio N.E.R.D says to his coterie, “Our new album is called Nothing, because what would we be without women? It doesn’t matter if we’re white, black, gay, straight, hickory, pinstripe, alien—women are essential to our existence.” Ponytails bob in emphatic agreement.

But N.E.R.D’s fourth album, the culmination of Williams’ work with bandmates Chad Hugo and Sheldon “Shay” Haley over the past two years, is about more than charming the fairer sex. At times, Nothing sounds like the Beatles after their LSD awakening, and at others like the Doors, all hypnotic vocals and fuzzy guitars. The song “It’s in the Air” is a meditation on hate that opens with a tirade courtesy of U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy wherein the congressman attacks media outlets for ignoring the war in Afghanistan. “In the past, we just wanted to be an interesting band,” says Williams, 37. “Now, we want to penetrate culture on a level that changes the way people think.” His choice of words seems telling.

Williams’ deliberate shift from playboy to politico is felt all over Nothing, which he approached with a new-found sensitivity to global affairs. “We looked at the war, we looked at commerce, we looked at finance, we looked at the environment,” he says. It’s heavy stuff for a band whose inaugural single was called “Lapdance.” But, he adds, smiling, “We also looked at other interesting things, like the new Ferrari. I like a flower as much as I like a Ferrari. If it’s under the sun, why do I have to choose just one?”

For Nothing, 27 initial tracks were whittled down to the dozen or so that appear on the mastered album. The ones that got cut weren’t “magical,” Hugo says. “They were all great songs,” adds Williams, “but we needed something that will make people go, ‘What the fuck was that?’ When you hear this music, you’re gonna bug out.” Given the underwhelming critical reception of N.E.R.D’s last couple offerings, the band had better hope to blow a few minds.

Their last album, Seeing Sounds, received a 4.6 rating out of 10 from influential music website Pitchfork. It was a slight improvement from their previous effort, 2004’s Fly or Die, which earned a mere 3.1. Anyone with a fixed-gear bike and a fade knows these aren’t good scores. In fact, they’re awful. “What’s Pitchfork?” asks Williams, with seeming sincerity. After Haley enlightens him, Williams says, “At the end of the day, criticism is distraction. Somebody else will read those reviews and be like, ‘Fuck them. They don’t know.’ We’re just lucky to be on their radar.”

image

To imagine Williams off anyone’s radar is difficult, especially for those of us raised on MTV. For 12 years, he helped reinvent the sound of R&B and hip-hop as part of the Neptunes, combining stripped-down, sexed-up funk with contagious pop hooks. Williams became notorious for appearing in the videos for the hits he helped create—there have been more than 120 of them since 2000—singing choruses in his trademark falsetto alongside Jay-Z, Madonna, and Justin Timberlake. (The tag “feat. Pharrell” became a staple of chart-topping songs throughout the aughts.)

Although Williams now lives in Miami, all three members of N.E.R.D still identify as poor childhood friends from Virginia Beach who unexpectedly made it big, or, as Haley puts it, “three lucky-ass dudes.” Williams says, “I never thought N.E.R.D was going to become this big thing. I didn’t think 10 years later we would be doing interviews and shit. If you’ve seen the type of poverty that I’ve seen, you never get used to this stuff.”

Humility from the guy who once rapped, “Her ass is a spaceship I want to ride”? Thankfully, this grown-up version of N.E.R.D hasn’t meant completely abandoning the pomp and swagger it takes to write a club banger. To wit, a video posted on the blog for Billionaire Boys Club, the name of Williams’ clothing label, shows Williams surveying a packed, sweaty crowd inside an afterparty for the Monaco Grand Prix. At least 30 bottles of Cristal are carried over to his table—a gift from a very wealthy friend—when the DJ announces the debut of Nothing’s first single, “Hot-n-Fun,” a bass-heavy come-on featuring Nelly Furtado, and one of the album’s few remnants of old-school N.E.R.D.

Back at the shoot, Williams stands shirtless in the middle of an empty room with tall, white walls. When someone pokes fun at his slight belly—his usually toned stomach lacks noticeable definition—he says, “One day, I’m too skinny. The next, I’m too fat. I can’t win.” He puts on a fur headpiece, and, as if to refute the notion that an older, less vain, more political Pharrell might have lost his edge, he yells, “I’m a soul brother now. All the white bitches, get naked! I repeat: all the W-H-I-T-E bitches, get naked!” For a minute, we think they might.

image

image

Photography by Billy Kidd. Styling by Christopher Campbell.