alexa BlackBook: Designs on Acting: ‘Hard Sun’ Star Agyness Deyn Talks Drama with Writer-Director Alex Ross Perry


IF you found the bleak dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale terrifying, you’d better buckle up for Hard Sun. The sensational Hulu/BBC drama concerns a pair of British detectives who discover that the apocalypse is coming in five years — and that the government wants them dead for finding out.

Aside from providing cryptic conspiratorial thrills, the show boasts a riveting performance from lead Agyness Deyn as the intense Elaine Renko. The emotionally wounded deputy inspector is trying to save the world, resolve family trauma, and process a growing suspicion that her partner (Jim Sturgess) is corrupt.

A former model raised in Manchester, England, Deyn, 35, has proved to be a formidable actress with an excellent taste in film and television projects. The New Yorker named her one of the best actresses of 2016 for Sunset Song, the story of a young woman persevering through a brutal rural existence in World War I-era Scotland. It’s a long way from shooting ads for Dior, Burberry, Uniqlo and Vivienne Westwood and hanging out with creative collective the Misshapes (she’s been based in NYC since the early ’00s). Next, Deyn will co-star alongside “Handmaid’s Tale” actress Elisabeth Moss in “Her Smell,” an indie film about feuding female punk rockers by writer-director Alex Ross Perry.

Perry has made a name for himself as a sensitive and curious teller of women’s stories, via a quick succession of acclaimed, fantastically cast micro-indies: 2014’s nervous-novelist tale “Listen Up Philip” (with Moss and Jason Schwartzman), 2015’s deep dive into female friendship, “Queen of Earth” (Moss again), and 2017’s “Golden Exits” (with Chloë Sevigny, Schwartzman and former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz).

Deyn and Perry convened a meeting of their mutual admiration society on an April Saturday in New York.


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Alex Ross Perry: Do you remember how we met?

Agyness Deyn: We met at — what’s that place called on St. Marks? It was Cafe Orlin! Wow, this might have been, like, four years ago. We ended up sitting down for about two hours chatting — drinking loads of tea. I thought it was just so fun. I remember when you spilled the tea — about the project you were working on, about stuff we were both working on, about life. The two hours went by and we were like, “S – – t, we’ve been sitting here for a long time.”

ARP: I remember feeling exceptionally encouraged and excited by it. The meeting was for a big movie that I was trying to make that never got made. But because I ended up having a lot of meetings, now I’ve essentially been able to cast anything I’ve made since then with people I [originally] wanted to put in that movie. The following spring, I saw Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song” and was completely blown away by your performance. What path did that character set you on?

AD: I think about Terence [Davies] regularly, probably weekly. I finished that film and thought, “Oh, I suppose that I am an actor now.” I said that to Terence, and he said, “Well, of course, you are.” I remember thinking someone believed in me a million times more than I believed in myself as an actor and as a woman. He gave me a huge responsibility to carry a film he’s been trying to make for 15 years. Making that film, I went from being a girl to a woman. His projection of what a woman is helped me embody what I had in myself.


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ARP: How did that change the bar you’ve now set for yourself?

AD: I knew that I wanted to play strong women with a point of view who have something to say. “Sunset Song” and “Hard Sun” are so different, but it was kind of a continuation. Elaine [in “Hard Sun”] is this damaged but strong and enigmatic woman who seems kind of genderless and walks to the beat of her own drum. I have a very English way of being apologetic. I didn’t have that kind of “F you” attitude, and [the director] drilled that out of me very quickly. It was fast-paced, the story matter was intense. It almost killed me, but it was exhilarating to play her.

ARP: I don’t know how long the shoot for “Sunset Song” was, but with [“Hard Sun”], suddenly you’re a sprinter who has to run a marathon without training for it. 

AD: Definitely. It was such a shock. I remember saying to Jim [co-star Sturgess] after we’d done the first two episodes, “We’ve got to do this again, haven’t we?” And he was like, “Yeah.” Like a marathon, you’re not sure how you’re going to save your energy and your feelings because you don’t know how much you’ll need at the end.

ARP: Now, you can’t just say yes to some TV show that won’t be satisfying.

AD: Exactly. I have the same sensation about the movie [“Her Smell”] you and I are doing together.


“Making that film, I went from being a girl to a woman … It almost killed me, but it was exhilarating to play her. ”


ARP: We’re not asking you to come in and be this mysterious, elfin, British model-type woman. There’s music lessons involved, there’s a certain theatricality involved. We’re setting up a series of extreme challenges. 

AD: I can’t wait. It’s funny because I know I’m so excited and so terrified before a job when I start dreaming about it. I woke up this morning after having a nightmare about actually being in the band: “Oh my God, oh s–t. I don’t know the song.”

ARP: The sort of all-encompassing logistical panic of this movie is something I’ve never really experienced. 


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AD: Where did you get the idea of making this film?

ARP: I wondered, what could I be doing that no one else would be doing right now? A lot of people can make something inspired by an era 50 years removed. Maybe I do a music movie about a disreputable genre no one’s really romanticizing in the same way yet. But it’s so much more about [the] identity of all these women in this movie — motherhood and sisterhood within these bands, and addictions and addictions to people. 

AD: I always say ’79 was such a great year for music in England, with the Clash and all these brilliant bands. It was amazing to be a young person and introduced to them by different friends. It shapes you as a person. So, it’s a fun way to explore it all again and also hear everyone else’s stories.

ARP: I’ve jokingly said this is a role you’ve been preparing to inhabit for your entire life, via modeling or acting. Maybe “mysterious, ethereal rock goddess” was a career path that may [have] eluded you, but now you get to use your lifetime’s worth of knowledge to be in this character.

AD: I remember seeing images early on of the Slits and the Raincoats — these young women just doing what they wanted. It was just so exhilarating to think like, “Oh, I can be that.”




We photographed Agyness Deyn at a lower-Manhattan pied-à-terre tucked inside the 1879-built Robbins & Appleton Building, with interiors designed by Mark Zeff. Commissioned by a Miami-based couple, the Bond Street residence showcases the duo’s diverse collection of special artworks by renowned creators such as Andy Warhol. The designer was charged with maintaining the raw loft’s distinct character while also creating intimacy for the couple and their teen children. Using ribbed glass and blackened steel, Zeff partitioned the 4,500 sqaure-foot space into wonderfully dramatic tableaus, including a glass-box study and an airy kitchen designed for entertaining.



On the cover: Blazer, $1,695, and pants, $1,295, both at; “Elsa” earrings, $740 at

Photos by Martien Mulder; Styling by Danielle Nachimani, Hair by Seiji using Oribe Hair Care for The Wall Group; Beauty by Gianpaolo Ceciliato using Chanel Plaette Essentielle for Tracey Mattingly Agency; Bond Street Photo by Eric Laignel


alexa BlackBook: California Girl: Drew Barrymore — Who’s Starring on Netflix’s ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ and in a New Campaign for Crocs — Shares Her Sunny Design Finds


For the latest issue of alexa BlackBook, actress and star of the hit Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet Drew Barrymore rounded up her go-to picks for stylishly gearing up for spring.


“Admittedly, I’m a hat lady. This sun hat provides true UV protection while still looking super stylish.”

Beach hat with UPF 50+, $49.50 at


“Yellow is the new pink! I love this sweatshirt because it is easy to wear but still whimsical and happy.”

Sweatshirt, $125 at


“I love to change up my shoe look by adding an ankle sock. These socks are a perfect mixture of silly and chic.”

“Liza” sparkle ankle socks, $18 at


“Nothing beats a day at the pool with the kids. This is the perfect accessory to liven things up.”



Fred Segal x CB2 “Love One Another” pool float, $80 at


“When in doubt, put a rainbow on it! That was my thought when designing an everyday tote that I didn’t want to be a typical everyday basic.”

Dear Drew by Drew Barrymore “Rainbow” vegan-leather tote, $95 at


“I own these in several colors. I love them because you can change out your color with your current mood. Current mood: Tangerine Dream.”

SunglassLA rimless sunglasses, $13 at


“These are my current go-to jeans. They combine comfort and style with a megadose of ’90s nostalgia.”


Levi’s “Wedgie” high-rise jeans, $98 at


“Wearing Crocs’ iconic ‘Classic Clog’ is about more than making a comfort statement. It’s about being comfortable in all that you do and not being afraid to poke holes — no pun intended — in conversation.”

“Classic Clog” shoes in “Tropical Teal,” $38 at


“My go-to carry-on for 
last-minute weekend getaways. Not only is it functional, it’s also fun to look at.”


Dear Drew by Drew Barrymore “Take Me 
With You” carry-on suitcase, $125 at


“Move over dresses, it’s time to suit up for spring. Lately, all I want to wear is a suit. I love this one because it takes a typical fall silhouette and lightens it up for spring.”


Double-breasted blazer, $119, at


“I love statement earrings because they can transform your look in seconds and make an LBD way more interesting.”


Bianca Mavrick “Otis” drop earrings, $108 at


Photos Courtesy of the Designers.


alexa BlackBook: IKEA Fever


IKEA has long been a staple for both bargain hunters and streamline-design lovers. Now, fashion kings like Virgil Abloh (just named Louis Vuitton’s new menswear designer) are repurposing the store’s iconic blue-and-yellow logo on inventive streetwear. 
 In honor of the Swedish fever, we asked three creatives for their takes on Ikea’s iconic “Frakta” bag.


Brooklyn garden whiz Brook Klausing recycled his “Frakta” bag as a pretty planter.


Brook Klausing, a garden designer and owner of Brooklyn’s Brook Landscape, elected to use his “Frakta” bag as a flower planter, putting his own spin on eco-upscaling. “We drew inspiration from fast fashion and fast furniture to create our own version: fast foliage,” he tells Alexa.


LA artist Neil Raitt adorned the trusty tote with his own palm print.


Los Angeles-based artist Neil Raitt (who points to Bob Ross’ kitschy 1980s TV program “The Joy of Painting” as an inspiration for his repetitive landscapes — on exhibit at LA’s Anat Ebgi gallery and this year’s NYC Armory Show) also took a crack at the big blue bag. He inlaid a palm-tree print, which he originally created in 2016 for an exhibition at Mon Chéri gallery in Brussels, to create a portable piece of art.

“When you look at an Ikea bag, with its blue plastic and yellow lettering, it’s immediately recognizable,” he says. “So, I wanted to bring in something equally accessible, like a palm tree.”


Interior designer Ryan Korban stitched a kitschy pillow — complete with Ikea trim.


And finally, New York-based interior designer Ryan Korban (who’s created eye-catching spaces for all manner of high-end fashion labels, including Alexander Wang’s NYC flagship and Balenciaga stores across the globe) dreamed up a DIY Ikea throw pillow. It’s the perfect spot to rest your head after putting together all that furniture.


Photos by Lizzy Snaps Sullivan; Tamara Beckwith; Courtesy of Neil Raitt and Anat Ebgi.


Behind the Scenes with Norman Reedus at our alexa BlackBook Cover Shoot


For our November issue of alexa BlackBook, ‘Walking Dead’ star Norman Reedus gave us his holiday wish list and talked with the “antichrist” himself, Marilyn Manson. Watch a behind-the-scenes video from our insane cover shoot and read the blasphemous duo’s naughty conversation, here.



Lead Photo: “O’Connor” suit, $5,440, and shirt, $560, both at; “Greggo Flat” Oxfords, $850 at Christian Louboutin, 967

Photography by: Chris Buck, Fashion Editor: Serena French, Styling: Cody Jones, Grooming: Kristan Serafino & Tracey Mattingly

Tilda Swinton Asks Chuck Close If He’d Rather Paint Or Walk Again

The Oscar-winning actor and celebrated artist chat on Skype about creating art, making black ragdolls for Oprah, and why there’s no formula for getting life right.

Look for the extended video conversation between Tilda Swinton and Chuck Close coming soon to

CHUCK CLOSE: So, can I ask you a few questions?


CC: It occurred to me whatever you’re born into becomes your burden, but also an opportunity. I’m a poor, white trash kid from a mill town, and your family goes back before the Norman conquest [of 1066 ], right?

TS: All families are old, Chuck, but some of them stay in the same place. You’re from a very old family, too — it’s just that maybe your peeps moved around a bit more. My sense is that we’re all exiles, certainly those of us who end up in the circus of art. For me, this feeling of being a sort of refugee, with a few things in a handkerchief over your shoulder, which is my experience, and I imagine maybe yours too, that’s a bond. It doesn’t matter where I came from, or where you came from. We’ve both got the same spotted handkerchief and the stick, right? But there are some people who grew up in a very different way. Their parents were artists, and their grandparents were artists. There aren’t many of them, but they do exist. They’re exotic to me.

CC: Both my daughters thought at one time that they might want to be artists. And they found out very quickly that it’s not easy to be the son or daughter of a well-known artist, and they ran in the opposite direction. One is a gastroenterologist and the other is a neuroscientist.

TS: I was brought up believing that I came away from my tribe, and that I was like a changeling. Recently, I realized that there were artists in my family, but I was never told about them when I was growing up. Were there artists in your family that you’ve now discovered?

CC: No, but my mother was a trained pianist and taught music at home. And my father was an inventor, a very creative man. They were nudists. I was an only child, my mother was an only child, and my father was an only child. So there was no family. I was so learning disabled, but in the ’40s and ’50s, no one knew about dyslexia. And I had so much support to be an artist, because they felt that was a better thing to be than a doctor or a lawyer. For my fifth Christmas, my father made me an easel — he made me all my toys — and when I was eight they found private art instruction with a very academic woman in Tacoma, Wash. I was drawing nude models at age eight, so I thought, Why would I want to be anything else?

TS: How amazing, your parents. You know, over the past 18 months, myself and a friend founded a school — the Drumduan Upper School — for our children and their class, and we’re in our second year now. It’s an upper school — 15- to 19-year-olds — and it’s pretty pioneering. There’s no state testing or grading of any kind, but without that distraction and pressure, it’s really teaching these kids how to learn from head, via heart and hands: They learn everything from ethics to science to arts rigorously through systematic exercises and experiments, so it’s hands-on, craft-based, practical learning.

For example, part of how they learn physics is by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelizing onions. It’s a blast. I find it hard to be away from it. It’s drawing teachers and families like anything.

And they’re all chilled and engaged adolescents. Happy, and inspired.


CC: Art saved my life, because when I was in school I couldn’t memorize anything. In history, I made a 40-foot-long mural of the Lewis and Clark Trail. And in the process, I learned a lot of stuff about Lewis and Clark. And if the teacher was caring and supportive, they’d say, “Well, this mitigates your core requirements.” And that work got me through school.

TS: I’m really fascinated by the dyslexia, whether you learned through your hands or through your ears, or through your eyes? Did you need to see things as you made them in order to learn from them, or did you need to hear them?

CC: A lot of information came through my ears. I couldn’t read it. I had a sensory deprivation tank. I sat in the bathtub in a dark room with a board across the tub, and the board had a book and a bright light on it. And I read every page three times. And then I would hurl my body out of the tub at six o’clock in the morning. I was like a prune. And I went to school, and I might be able to spit back enough to pass. But it was harrowing.

TS: I’m very bad at learning things. I can’t sit and learn lines in a chair. I have to move. If it’s linked to an activity, then it goes in. But if it’s just on the page, it’s hieroglyphics.

CC: In the seventh grade, I tried out for a play. I got the part, but I couldn’t memorize the lines, and they had to take it away from me. And then I became, you know, a spear-carrier in the back. It was one of the real profound disappointments of my life.

TS: My mother died the year before last and I haven’t really wanted to make a film for a while, and last year I was persuaded by mymgreat friend Luca Guadagnino, with whom I made I Am Love. I told him I couldn’t bea part of his film, and he said, “Well, what would it have to be for you to do it?” And I said, “Well, if the character is mute.” I didn’t really want to sit and not say anything, but when my mother died, I had this strange frog in my throat. I couldn’t swallow. And it was wonderful, because I didn’t have to learn any lines for two months.

CC: That’s great.

TS: It was bliss. It was silent cinema. My favorite kind. I probably can’t pull that one more than once, though.

CC: Just a quick story about my schooling. I had a girlfriend — she was also in art, and we drew each other naked. And I could never get to first base with her, literally. This was when girls wore girdles or, like, chastity belts.

TS: But she let you draw her naked!

CC: Right, but in a car you couldn’t do everything. So we had a date and I took her home and we were sitting in front of her parents’ house, and there was something strange about the way she said goodnight and gave me a kiss and went into the house. And I was like “Huh, something weird’s going on.” The next day, I went to school, and she had run off to France with her art teacher, who was in his late 50s, I think. And she was like 16, 17. And I had been her beard, obviously.

TS: Wow, you were more than the beard. You were the fluffer. That’s like Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, when the girl runs off with the art teacher. I remember the whole world of art, and the art room for me was all about sex, somehow. And I was in a girls’ school, but I used to run off illegally to the boys’ school and hang out in the art room with this one guy in particular. We were completely platonic, but it was a very romantic relationship. It was all about the sexiness of being in the art room. I think that’s partly what art is for teenagers.

CC: Yeah, well when you’re a teenager and raging hormones are rushing through your body, any room is about sex.

“I’m very bad at learning things. I Can’t sit and learn lines in a chair. I have to move. If it’s linked to an activity, then it goes in. But if it’s just on the page, it’s hieroglyphics.”

TS: Even the lab, maybe. But it’s more tantalizing in the art room, don’t you think?

CC: Yeah. It was also that when I was in the art room. It was the only time that I felt that I had anything going for me. But I wanted to ask you something about your relative lack of makeup and —

TS: Relative?

CC: Did you know that when I did the Vanity Fair set of images with all these people [without makeup], that I really wanted you. And I didn’t want an entourage, I didn’t want stylists, everyone went on. Even Oprah Winfrey. I sort of expected her to sneak in a hairdresser. But she was fine.

TS: Maybe it’s a relief for people who are used to this kind of carapace to just let it drop. I imagine that it must be incredibly strenuous and energetically expensive to carry all of that.


CC: So, my wife’s mother made black ragdolls for Oprah. And my wife, Sienna, brought them to the studio, and she wanted a picture with Oprah holding these ragdolls. And Oprah said, “Where did these come from?” And Sienna replied, “My mother made them, because there are no black dolls at all in Alaska.” Well, this really blew her mind. She went to the bathroom, and I thought she was going to escape. And she was skipping down the hall singing, “There’s no black dolls in Alaska, no black dolls in Alaska.” It was such a sweet and tender moment.

TS: I think people generally want to connect like that. I mean, everybody can, in fact. Even if they’re led to believe they can’t. It’s like a trick of the light. They just have to wash their faces and connect.

CC: And the more successful they are, the nicer they are. It’s the borderline abusive people who feel they didn’t get enough, or something.

TS: I’m sure it has something to do with what people are told when they’re really young, that people think there’s a sort of knack. It’s like when you’re playing. My brothers and I used to play board games, and they used to really hate it when I won. And I used to hate it when I won too, so I would always try not to win, because they would make my life such hell when I won. But one of my brothers just believes that there’s a knack to these things. And there is no knack. You just have to follow your own nose, and you try to win, and if you don’t win, then you lose, and it doesn’t matter and people go home. But I do believe that some people think there’s a kind of formula and you’ve got to get it right. And people who are really relaxed tend to kind of flow down the river in a much easier way, I suppose.

CC: And it’s not like you don’t care how you look, right?

TS: Oh, there’s a fabulous story someone told me about a legendary, still living, so unnamed, film star. I hope it’s not apocryphal. For many, many, many years, nobody ever saw this woman looking anything other than her public image. There was that much cake and that many eyelashes and that much wig, and all the rest of it. And there was someone who was a close friend of hers, who was staying in a hotel with her, and they had a room with adjoining doors, and the film star said, “You will not come through this door at any point. No matter what happens, you will not come through this door. Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.” So, that was it. And there was a fire alarm in the hotel, and the friend rang the concierge and asked “Is this a test?” And the concierge was, like “No, there’s a real fire in the hotel and you’ve got to leave now.” And he didn’t know what to do, because she told him in this very fierce way, “Don’t open the door.” So finally, he knocked on the door, opened it, and there sitting at the dressing table was a kind of crone, with no eyelashes, no hair, no color, sort of wizened in front of the mirror. And he didn’t know how to address her, because he didn’t know whether to acknowledge she was The Legend. So he said, “Whoever you are, leave now!” He went downstairs, and about 20 minutes later, she arrived perfectly made up. And they never referred to it again. I love it. It was more important to her to get burned as The Legend. It was important for her to put it together, Hang on a minute… there…now, I’m happy to burn.

“Meryl took the subway everywhere. And one of my nurses was sitting opposite of her on the train. And this guy is hanging onto the strap looking at the subway map over the top of Meryl’s head. And so he asked her, ‘If I want to go here, what stop?’ And she answered him in a Polish accent.”

CC: I’ve been friends for a long time with Meryl [Streep]. And we actually lived in the same building for a while, but I had to live at a certain point in an apartment in Central Park West that was an old movie star building. And a lot of the actor parents wouldn’t go to the playground with their kid, because they thought their kids would be kidnapped. So they didn’t get a chance to see their children play. And they would get out of the limo with their collar up, sunglasses on, hat down. Of course, everyone wants to know who’s behind the shades. But Meryl would drive her pick-up truck, park it in the corner, and come in, and no one ever, ever knew who she was.

TS: Well, there’s that sort of signal that people send out. I remember once being in an airport lounge. I was really exhausted — it was an early flight — and I was sitting there reading a book and I could tell that someone had come in. It was like a kinetic energy. And I looked up, and I could tell there was a guy, his back was to me, and I could tell he wanted to be looked at. Because he was giving off this pheromone of I am somebody who needs to be looked at. And he turned round and it was A Very Famous Person. And we were in the lounge for a good hour, and during the course of the hour, he made contact with every single person in the lounge and made sure that they knew he was there. And they all had a nice time together. And I was just zoned out, so I made no contact with him at all. And you could tell that he knew that I was the one person who hadn’t made contact with him. And he was damned if he was going to let me go. And we got on the plane, and eventually we had a bit of a conversation, and he was perfectly nice, but I was quite impressed by the effort I saw him go through to spread his vibe. I thought, Wow, that must be exhausting to have to do that everywhere you go.

CC: How much energy that must take.


TS: Exactly! But that’s real work. That’s why I say being lazy is a great saving. It’s like he was wearing a massive invisible ball gown, and the train was kind of getting hitched up on people’s feet all over the place.

CC: Meryl took the subway everywhere. And one of my nurses was sitting opposite her on the train. And this guy is hanging onto the strap looking at the subway map over the top of Meryl’s head. And so he asked her, “If

I want to go here, what stop?” And she answered him in a Polish accent.

TS: Was she researching her accent for Sophie’s Choice?

CC: Yeah, that’s taking your crap home with you.

TS: That must be fun. And people, no doubt, will respect that. I mean, I’m nowhere in Meryl Streep’s fame league, but we live here [in Scotland] absolutely integrated and nobody pays any attention to us, they all know what we do and nobody gives a damn. Really what’s important is that we’re the parents of our children, and we’ve got some nice dogs, and we meet everybody on the beach, and that’s it.

CC: Elton John is a friend and I’ve photographed him and made pieces for him. And he was at my studio once, and I suggested we go out to lunch, and he said, “Oh God, I don’t want to go out there; there’s going to be paparazzi, and I’m going to be hounded.” And I said, “Oh, come on, nobody’s going to care.” So we open the door, we look left, we look right, we look all ways around. And we start down the street and he puts his jean jacket on, and spelled out in rhinestones on the back of it was “Elton.”

TS: With a big arrow and a flashing light! That’s very sweet. But I think one of the things I love is when people remember that they’re fans, too. There’s always somebody. I would like to ask Elton John who he’s a speechless fan in front of. There’ll be somebody. Probably you, Chuck.

CC: When somebody’s excited about meeting me, I find it so bizarre. It’s the same excitement I feel when I’m with a great ball player or a great actor. It’s the Other. You want to know the Other.

TS: But most people will know your work before they know you, and have a relationship with the work. And then of course, we want to meet you, but really, there are three people in this relationship.

CC: I’ve done too goddamn many self-portraits. I could be an anonymous artist if I hadn’t made all those self-portraits.

TS: So why did you start? There’s something very profound about starting to do self-portraits. I know that Sandro [Swinton’s parter] would say that the reason he started self-portraits is that he couldn’t find someone to sit for as long as he needed.

CC: Yeah, we say that.

TS: That’s what I was going to say! I wasn’t born yesterday. So that moment when you decide to place yourself in your work is a big commitment, isn’t it? You’re a performer, in that sense.

CC: And in a sense, painting is a performance art. No one sees the performance. But really, we’re dancing in front of this rectangle doing all this stuff, and to watch someone else paint is fascinating to me.

“I actually got asked by a doctor recently, he said there’s been a lot of advances in degenerative diseases, and he said, ‘If you come to me seven days a wee and are willing to work eight hours a day, I can have you walking again by the end of the year.’ And I said, ‘And give up painting? I don’t want to walk that badly.’ There are things I want to do sitting down.”

TS: Have you ever made a performance of you painting and people watching you?

CC: I became an artist largely because I wanted to be in a room by myself. And now that room is very crowded by nurses and assistants, so I’m oblivious to the fact that the whole room is full of people when I paint. But my ex-wife said that I was the most narcissistic artist in the world, because I made so many self-portraits. I said “What about Cindy Sherman, for Christ’s sake? She only does self-portraits.” She was like, “Yeah, but it doesn’t look the same.”

TS: You have a lot of competition for that title, I have to say. But is there some quantifiable way in which you feel differently about that experience of showing a self-portrait to showing a portrait of Sienna, for example?

CC: I always put one self-portrait in every exhibition, but I had a self-portrait retrospective in San Francisco, and I rolled in there and I wanted to throw up. Just me everywhere. It was unrelenting.

TS: Well then, welcome to my world. That’s how I feel, especially if there’s any kind of retrospective. It’s a very humbling and vomit-inducing experience.

CC: Well, what’s your relationship with your work in terms of how much you see it?

TS: If you mean the actual physical artifact of a film or a piece of writing, my relationship is relatively casual. Because I’ve come to realize that my real interest is in the making. In terms of filmmaking, for example, I’m really interested in the conversation with the filmmakers. The films are secondary for me.


CC: All right, you’re in a city, somewhere else, and you’re in a different time zone and you’re really exhausted and you get into bed and you can’t fall asleep. And you turn on the TV, and it’s one of your movies. Do you change the channel, or do you watch it?

TS: You know, I’d probably watch it out of curiosity, because I don’t often see my work.

CC: When I go to a retrospective of my work, it’s like a family reunion. They’re all my friends and fellow artists.

TS: I can watch a film, even after ten or 15 years, and remember exactly what we were doing the day we shot that take, like my shoes were too small. Or someone had just died.

CC: What bothers me is when I haven’t seen a painting in a long time and I roll up to it and I can’t remember ever having painted that thing. I look at a piece and I say, “Why in the world would I have done that?” And that’s kind of scary.

TS: Wow, but is that a recent thing?

CS: Well, they tell me I’ve had Alzheimer’s already for ten years.

TS: When that happens, can you imagine for a second that someone else painted it? Can you assess it objectively?

CS: Oh yeah. Picasso apparently once denied having made a work of art with, “Even Picasso makes fake Picassos.”

TS: It’s a strange company, isn’t it? Because the work is like family — you feel unconditional about it, really. You can’t judge it. It’s just your life, really.

CC: You shove these pieces out into the world the way a bird just pushes the little bird out. I want them to go out into the world; I don’t want all my babies. I can’t afford all of them. But I want them out there! It stands for me. It stands for that frozen moment of time that that performance happened. Underneath it all, artists, painters, whatever, are very generous people. We’re not trying to hide anything; we’re putting stuff out there for people to have a relationship with it. And you have to put aside all kinds of ego issues. I’ve had a shrink tell me that I make a mask and I hide behind it. And I reject that idea.

TS: I’d be very intrigued to ask that shrink who they’ve ever encountered who doesn’t.

Isn’t that what being a social animal is to a certain extent?

CC: Well, I was auditioning a new shrink, and the first thing he did was psychoanalyze me through my paintings. I thought, “I’m not coming here to talk about my paintings.”

TS: I always find it intriguing that there’s a misunderstanding about what’s called the vanity of artists, because it so obviously is the opposite. Artists who put their work out there have to put their head above the parapet constantly, and that’s potentially a very humiliating thing. And the truly vain would keep quiet and safe and make some money in some quite secure and neat way. But those of us who aren’t so neat keep thrusting our heads up. There’s no safety in it.

CC: It’s really interesting how you can be contrarian, questioning authority and any belief system.

TS: I’m not sure it’s ever been about feeling particularly contrarian or anti-anything. The earliest memory I have of feeling distinct from my group, my family, was when I was about four. I remember very clearly sitting upstairs in the church, at our family pew, and the children I’d been playing with the day before being downstairs, and I asked why we were upstairs, and why they were downstairs, and the thing that was significant to me was not just that I didn’t get a good answer, but that my brothers, who continue to be very nice and humane people, didn’t ask this question. So for me, it was a matter of trying to find other people who would ask that kind of question. I just wanted to find some company. And I really found good company when I first met [filmmaker] Derek Jarman, and I started making films with him. He, and the people I met with him, were exactly the kind of people who, if they were with me in the loft of the church, would’ve been right with me.

CC: I grew up in the Eisenhower ’50s, but at the same time, the civil rights movement was beginning. I went to every peace march and it really felt like we were part of an army — an army that was outgunned. But you could make a good fight out of it.

TS: But I felt that also. In the ’80s, when I was in London, and we were marching against Margaret Thatcher and all the oppressive laws that regime was imposing, particularly against civil liberties and gay rights. That feeling of resistance is very intoxicating. So in that sense, yes, it did feel like one was aligned with something counter. But aligned was the important bit; it was to do with actually being in good company. I love that feeling of camaraderie. Do you know the work of Derek Jarman? He was an amazing person. When he was diagnosed in 1989 with HIV, he became a political activist in a way that there was no model for then, or in fact now, in some ways.

CC: I went in the other direction. When I became a quadriplegic in ’88, I thought, Well, I can become a professional handicapped person and work for the handicapped, or I can move on and do what I want to do. Same with Alzheimer’s.

TS: Good choice, by the way.

CC: I actually got asked by a doctor recently, he said there’s been a lot of advances in degenerative diseases, and he said, “If you come to me seven days a week and are willing to work eight hours a day, I can have you walking again by the end of the year.” And I said, “And give up painting? I don’t want to walk that badly.” There are things I want to do sitting down.

TS: I have a dear friend, Jean Carper, who is making a documentary about Alzheimer’s — she’s 83 and plays a mean game of tennis. I put her in touch with the brilliant Scott Small, who is working on Alzheimer’s at Columbia University, and he’s working on the value of forgetting, a subject I relish. You have to throw some things in the trash, or there’s not going to be room for the exciting stuff ahead.

CC: I think it’s making it easier for me to be an Alzheimer’s patient, because my whole life I couldn’t remember stuff. Luckily you don’t have to be very smart to be a painter. I visited de Kooning at the end of his life. He had no idea where he was, who anybody was, and he was making transcendent paintings.

Artwork by Sandro Kopp, whose NYC show at Five 11 Gallery opens in November 2015.

BlackBook Fêtes the New Print Issue at Gansevoort Park Avenue

Photo: Matteo Prandoni/

Last night, we took over the Penthouse of Gansevoort Park Avenue to celebrate the return of BlackBook Magazine. Partnering with Cole Haan for the relaunch party, the night started off with cocktails courtesy of Veev Spirits (Brazilian Mules and Gimlets), Qui Tequila (the world’s first platinum extra Añejo Tequila), and Moët Hennessy Wines like Terrazas Torrontes and Newton Claret. Once the imbibing began, our guests were treated to an exclusive screening of filmmaker James Marshall’s “The American Dream Project”: an investigative docu-series presented by Cole Haan. The luxurious yet intimate space was abuzz as the night went on, with guests including BlackBook founder Evanly Schindler, Executive Editors Aaron Hicklin and Jacob Brown, Fashion Director Anne Christensen, and Publisher Hunter Hill and friends of the magazine including James Marshall, Elettra Wiedemann, Isabella Rossellini, Andy Cohen, Sally Singer, Natalia Kills, Nigel Barker. Everyone turned out to toast to the new issue and helped kick off BlackBook’s exciting future.

Get a closer look at BlackBook’s relaunch party below.


BLACKBOOK + COLE HAAN & The American Dream Project
Andy Cohen and Hunter Hill Photo: Matteo Prandoni/


BLACKBOOK + COLE HAAN & The American Dream ProjectEvanly Schindler Photo: Matteo Prandoni/



BLACKBOOK + COLE HAAN & The American Dream Project Anne Christensen and China Machavo Photo: Matteo Prandoni/


BLACKBOOK + COLE HAAN & The American Dream Project Jon Bond and Kidsmosphere Photo: Matteo Prandoni/


BLACKBOOK + COLE HAAN & The American Dream Project
Photo: Neil Rasmus/

Cover Story: The Pope That Changed the World

Pope Francis salutes the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on October 22, 2014. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Why do children suffer? When a Filipino child put that question to Pope Francis in January, the pontiff saluted her and called it the “question without an answer.” When she began to cry, he took her into his arms and said: “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question. Those on the margins cry. Those who have fallen by the wayside cry. Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don’t know how to cry.”

In her innocence, the Filipino child pointed to one of the great surprises of our time: Against all secular odds, and even against the hope of chastened religious people, a figure has arrived on the world scene to whom the question without an answer can be put. And when he responds — not by pretending to remove suffering, or by denying it, but only by acknowledging it, and by joining in it — all the world, if despite itself, leans forward to listen.

Two years on from his election, this oddly garbed old man from Argentina has upended the assumptions and expectations of a generation. As a center of cultural and intellectual influence, much less as a moral force, religion was supposed to be finished with, except in the global backwaters of reaction and fundamentalism. In Europe, churches were empty — the most recent Pew data showed that only 25% of Italian Catholics considered religion “very important” in their lives. Among the French, only 15%. In America, Protestantism had been hijacked by science-denying evangelicals on the right, and Roman Catholicism had been crippled by sex-abuse scandals. Who imagined ever again taking a clue, much less encouragement, from a pope?

Make no mistake, this pope, however radical, is a man of the church, whose basic beliefs are in sync with doctrine and tradition. Yet the way he holds to those beliefs is different. By insisting that the culture wars about sexual morality, gender discrimination, and gay rights are not the only moral issues, or even, perhaps, the most important ones, the pope has changed their meaning. The absolutes of Christian ethics are not absolute now in the way they were when this pope was unexpectedly elected. Whether he has meant to or not, Francis, just by changing the ethos of hierarchical moral judgment, has laid the groundwork for a radical revision of how ethics are taught in theory and applied in situations. Mercy, at last, is trumping law. No one intuits this transformation more firmly than once marginal Catholics — the divorced, those unmarried but in intimate relationships, the previously beleaguered liberal nuns, or gay people. Catholic women, though still forbidden admission to the priesthood, also recognize something new at work. It is morning in Roman Catholicism.

Far more remarkable than Francis’s invigorating effect on the Church, or even on religious believers generally, however,
is his effect on the broader world, a vast population long since satisfied to forego any reference to the life of faith. Other popes have been objects of global fascination, most notably the now-sainted John Paul II, who as a participant in the peaceful denouement of the Cold War achieved a rare level of world- wide celebrity. But John Paul II, like his more reticent successor, Benedict XVI, mistook
his geographical perch atop the Vatican hill for a position of all-transcending moral superiority.
That the papal election of Jorge Mario

Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was preceded by his precursor’s stunning resignation was enough, perhaps, to mark a new day. The fundamental reordering of Catholic leadership had already been made necessary, across two decades, by the Catholic hierarchy’s rampant failure to reckon with the sex abuse scandal. But no one could have imagined how different this reordering would be.

At first, observers spoke of the style of Pope Francis, as if modes of papal garb, residence, transportation, and diction were what mattered. But the new pope’s eschewing of the Apostolic Palace, the ermine cape, the Vatican limousine, and the papal “we” was paired with an immediate and emphatic insistence on the meaning of such renunciations. With ringing authenticity, Francis declared his identification with “those on the margins, those who had fallen by the wayside.” Prisoners, criminals, migrants, refugees, slum dwellers, the disease-ridden — he not only spoke of them, but he also went to them. He embraced them. He cried with them. I am with you, the pope said to all these desperate people. And to the rest of the world, he said: That so many suffer, and suffer so much, is wrong!

In his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel,” published in 2013, the pope not only expressed compassion for the impoverished, but also denounced the structures of free-market capitalism that weigh like granite blocks on the backs of the poor:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new…. Those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised — they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’

This “something new” is not an accident of the human condition, nor is it an axiom of history. It’s a direct consequence of unjust social, economic, and political structures. The structures are legal, even celebrated, but they are wrong. He continued: While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

Pope Francis embraces two children, including 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar, during his visit to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on January 18, 2015. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Charity is not enough, the pope was saying. He demanded justice. For the poor, but also for the planet. Remarkably enough, this un- flinchingly radical social critique, which in developed nations had been mostly missing from economic and political discourse for two generations, has been getting through lately. Is it only coincidence that Francis’s tenure, to take only the American example, matches exactly the period during which savage income inequality has surfaced as
an issue that must be faced? With an eye on elections, even Republicans address it. But the question has international bite. With Francis as its most vigorous critic, the global gulf between a tiny minority of the extremely affluent and the vast population of the poor is increasingly seen not only as a moral outrage, but also as a deadly harbinger of universal catastrophe.

Just this January, Oxfam reported that the share of global wealth possessed by the most fortunate 1% percent had increased to 49% in 2014, from 44% in 2009. This social system will not endure. The rich fool themselves if they imagine their enclaves as gated com- munities from which the unwashed hungry, or any other “them” — Arabs and Africans
in Europe, Latinos in America, Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic — can be walled out. In the 21st century, there are no gates high enough, and all borders are porous.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square on May 21, 2014. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Francis has emerged as the tribune of this new meaning of the human condition. In the past two years, to take only the most dramatic emblem, no prelates from the affluent United States have been elevated to the College of Cardinals. Instead these critical, future-shaping promotions have gone to clerics from places like Haiti, Cape Verde, Tonga, Myanmar, Hanoi, Bangkok, Uruguay, and Ethiopia. A deliberate choice is being made by a once decidedly Eurocentric organization that counts more than a billion members across the world, with potentially game-changing consequences for the whole human family. Francis is doing more than preaching.

Still, his most compelling act, perhaps, re- mains the utterance of a word, the first word he spoke as pope — and that was his name. Even after three years, and endless commentary, its revolutionary significance has yet to be fully plumbed. It is true that the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, a rich young man who renounced all worldly possessions to live as a mendicant, inevitably solidifies his name- sake’s identification with the poor, but that is not the half of it. If there is one global crisis that competes with material inequality as a danger, it is the already unfolding disaster of environmental degradation. St. Francis lives in the Western imagination, above all, as an icon less of human respect for the natural world than of love for it. His 13th-century Canticle of the Sun says: “Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…through Brother Sun…and Sister Moon…Brother Fire and Sister Water…through Brothers Wind and Air and clouds and storm and all the weather. Be praised!” More than any other saint of the narrowly religious tradition, Francis of Assisi belongs to everybody whose heart lifts at the sight of a sunset or a flowering tree or a winged creature — regardless of belief. Not only churchyards and cloisters, but also front lawns and public gardens are furnished with statues of the tonsured friar balancing a bird on outstretched fingers. But what if that bird is of a species that is in danger of disappearing? The extinction of whole classes of living things is at issue now — tens of thousands of species are known to be endangered — including, in an era of weapons of mass destruction, humanity itself.

Where is the surprise, then, that another major encyclical of Pope Francis addresses the urgent problem of man-made glob-
al warming? Ahead of this year’s historic United Nations Climate Change Conference in December, the pope adds to the over- whelming scientific evidence, and fresh political momentum, an urgent exhortation rooted in the profound responsibility for creation for which the biblical tradition pro- vides the most compelling moral mandate.

It is as though, when taking up the gravest questions facing the human family, the pope asked himself the question: What would St. Francis of Assisi do? The question belongs not to a particular religion, much less ecclesiastical office, but to a profound human intuition in the face of looming perdition. The pope, it turns out, is bigger than the papacy. Neither the prophetic campaign on behalf of the poor; nor the potent sacralizing of the environmental challenge; nor even
the nonmoralistic good humor with which Francis advances his proposals: None of this fully explains his broad appeal. These efforts, and the unfailing air of kindness with which he pursues them, palpably flow from a deep current in the man, an evident fullness of life — a fullness for which many people hunger, no matter what defines their background.

For the Jesuit pope, that fullness is particular. It’s rooted in — how else to say it — a lifelong, if evidently hard-earned, intimacy with Jesus Christ, and the God he makes present. But neither narratives about Jesus Christ, nor even language about one referred to as God, exhaust that fullness,
or explain it. Perhaps, in the realm that extends beyond religious faith, all you can say is that in Francis can be glimpsed
a transcendent horizon that humans are drawn to. There is an ever-elusive longing built into human life, and perhaps that is what Francis so broadly addresses. It’s easy to see why the abject poor see him as an ally, but what about Americans? In a culture rife with material excess, the inadequacy of material achievement and possession as fulfilling that deep human longing can seem blatantly apparent. Without proselytizing in the slightest, without putting himself forward as any kind of model, Francis suggests that a fullness of life — a home on that ever-receding horizon — is available to all people. That is why everyone absolutely deserves respect.

For the people outside Francis’s narrow religious zone of reference, it does not matter, to him, that dignifying fullness is
a gift of God. What matters is simply its givenness, even if taken to be anonymous. And that givenness, above all, is what this good man exemplifies. The religious word for such virtue is grace, yet the effect of the fully honest witness of Francis has reached far beyond organized religion. That is so because he so unselfconsciously upholds the possibility that human life, including suffering, is meaningful, and that history, including tragedy, has a purpose. Francis is a man of explicit faith who makes such implicit hope seem real.

So, yes, a suffering child can entrust him with her unanswerable question. Indeed, most children in the world are suffering grotesquely. Francis knows it. He insists that we must all know it, too — not just abstractly, but in feeling and resolution. Such knowledge is the beginning of change — not only of economics and politics, but also of what humanity expects of itself. Above all, Francis insists not only that such change is necessary, but also that it is possible. Otherwise, he would not have bothered us. Nor would we have taken such notice.

Pope Francis at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 21, 2014. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook Magazine.

The Creators: Roman and Williams

Roman and Williams (Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch) photographed by Nigel Parry for BlackBook.

When you walk into a room that Roman and Williams has designed, you will feel something. You will discern texture, notice scale, and you may even feel warm or cool. “There’s an amateurism we love to maintain so we don’t end up too professional or too polished.… It’s a lot of emotion, a lot of passion,” says Stephen Alesch, half of the design duo (and husband to his counterpart, Robin Standefer). To them that’s more important than staying true to one particular aesthetic. It’s why visitors will develop an attachment to the glittering, Champagne-filled Boom Boom Room, and the casually bohemian Ace Hotel lobby, worlds apart and brimming with particulars. One is where you dance till dawn looking out at the city lights, and the other is where you take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and get your work done. Same goes for the spaces they’ve created at the Viceroy, Royalton, and Highline hotels, and restaurants like John Dory Oyster Bar and The Dutch.

“Our starting point is love: loving an object, loving a space, thinking of an experience we want to have,” Standefer says. It’s not just about what’s new or in fashion; the two have a humility that allows them to comb over memories and the familiar, searching for aesthetic details and ideas that will make you experience emotions. It’s just going to be a different emotion depending on where you are. Guests at the Freehand in Miami, Chicago, and soon Los Angeles will pick up more on the handcrafted, homey sparseness of the hostel/hotels, while the rarified Chicago Athletic Association, a historic landmark and soon-to-be-hotel, will attract a ritzier crowd. Each project inhabits its proper space. Filled with all the right particulars, they become fully developed worlds of their own.


This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.

The Creators: Jean Lauer

Jean Lauer photographed by Skye Parrott for BlackBook Magazine

Of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on home renovations in the United States last year, a respectable portion came from the startup Sweeten, which listed projects totaling over $150 million. Jean Lauer, the site’s founder and chief executive officer, expects to see that number grow, and the trend lines point in
the right direction. Last year the National Association of Home Builders’ chief economist, David Crowe, said in a statement that the only roadblock to a “slow, steady recovery of the housing industry” was a “shortage of qualified labor and subcontractors.” Sweeten aims to correct this market inefficiency by making it easier to find a contractor.

The platform operates like this: Homeowners list their project and all of its details, while contractors, architects, and designers bid. Once a contract is awarded, Sweeten checks in at the beginning, middle, and end of construction to make sure all is well. Centralizing the process introduces a wealth of safeguards against fraud and shoddy work. Sweeten’s projects range from $15,000 renovations to a $15 million residential development in Queens. “Whatever price point they are working at, the contractors just have to be great at what they do,” Lauer says. Installing new kitchens or ripping out bathrooms might not seem like an area rife for digital disruption, but just as Uber flipped the old hand-in-the-air method of taxi-hailing on its head, Sweeten may turn out to be revolutionary in its own right.

This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.