Alan Rish and I have been in the same rooms together a lot. Nightclubs, parties, galas, and events defined our lives for decades. We always went to the club or bar or restaurant of the moment. We were always out. We said polite ‘hellos’ and introduced the people we were with to each other. We traveled in different circles, but up until very recently, different circles hung out in the same places. Alan became a publicist. He isn’t the type of publicist that you have to track down. He chooses his clients and becomes part of their lives. He uses his vast experiences, and lessons—often learned the hard way—to lead the way.
There was time when you were jumping in front of the camera, but now you are pushing guys like me towards your clients. When did you start doing that and why? I found that I am much more comfortable in the back of the camera than front and center. People that have not had the experience think that fame or notoriety is all good, but I found that notoriety caused a lot of negative and jealous feelings in others, not to mention unwanted calls from insurance salesmen. More importantly, clients did not want to see their PR person in the picture and quoted in the story. So as I got more professional about PR, I learned how to present a client in the best light and how to let them shine. I find that a lot more satisfying, anyway. Frankly, in the internet age, I don’t understand why anybody would want to be famous! With the bloggers feeling absolutely free to express their opinions on a person’s looks, weight, relevance, and any other critique they have, and then with some of the commenters adding their negativity and bile, often anonymously, it’s horrible to be mentioned on certain websites. I always tell my clients not to read the comments, but of course they always do! How did you survive the 80’s? To be honest I almost didn’t! I learned everything the hard way: by doing it. So I learned that the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle can really take a toll. I had to take time off and clean up my act after the eighties. Fortunately, I could always run back home to Mexico City. If I hadn’t had family and friends to go back to I don’t think I would of survived. It’s interesting to run into people from those night clubbing times. Some, like you and me, have reinvented themselves—several times! You look better than ever. Some are horrific. There is no middle ground. When I worked on Patrick McMullan’s So Eighties book release, his gallery show and events, it was fantastic to see how many eighties people have thrived into this millennium. Others have died, or are “the walking dead” as Micheal Musto calls them.
You count among your friends a great deal of people who are considered “bold faced names.” Name names. Can you tell us the differences—if any—between them, and us mere mortals? I have not found “mere mortals” to be better of worse than the bold facers! You gotta take it case by case. Some differences: actors, models, writers, photographers etc., have a wide experience of the world (even very young ones). A lot of the models that I have worked with have traveled the world several times over, from a very early age. So even the unschooled ones have absorbed different cultures, and places. They can’t help but have a wider experience of life. This can be both good and bad, depending on the person. I have been lucky in that PR has afforded me the opportunity to meet a lot of different people successful enough in their fields to hire a PR person. So I get to learn the ins and outs of the worlds of fashion or music, finance or society from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I have just as much admiration and appreciation for for someone— like former client, model and heiress Lydia Hearst—who has an incredible work ethic and ambition, as current client Jayma Cardoso, who came to New York 15 years ago to learn English, and has become the leading woman in the nightclub industry. They are both incredible, fearless, and so funny, and they both have great style. They both have more in common with each other than with their peer group. That is what is so incredible about New York. Talent, work ethic, and smarts will get you very far, no matter where you started. And no talent, no smarts, and a bad work ethic will bring you down—no matter how high you started!
Also “mere mortals,” which is your terminology, not mine, become bold-facers in New York all the time. I learned from Patrick McMullan that you pay just as much attention to the cute bartender as to the honoree of the night! Because next year the honoree might be behind the bar serving the current star who used to be the bartender.
Describe a typical Thursday night for you, circa 1981. Since this is the Steven Lewis, column one of your clubs comes to mind. When you reopened the Palladium, I had a date with Amy Lumet to attend. I was waiting for her in front of my apartment, expecting a cab to pull up, and up comes a huge white limo. Who opens the door for me? None other than Rick “Superfreak” James! That kind of thing seemed to happen every Thursday in the eighties and nineties! Sad to say Rick James does not pull up to my door today. I think he’s dead.
Tell me about your favorite all time clubs and maybe a memory that seems unreal today. I have a very fuzzy memory of time lines and clubs. They all blend in together. Danceteria was the first club where I came into my own as an event organizer, and that led to PR. It was a great experience because Rudolph was very nurturing to me, as I know he was to you. He was the first club owner to give me carte blanc to do amazing things. He hosted a birthday dinner for 250 people for my 25th birthday. Mary McFadden, Larry Rivers, Andy Warhol, Robert Maplethrope, Bronsky Beat and Dianne Brill brought Frankie Goes to Holywood. That was covered by the New York Times, and kind of started me in the direction of Public Relations. Then, it was the very competitive Dog Eat Dog environment of Area. Area was a fantastic club in the front, and the first truly Uptown/Downtown phenomenon. An Andy Warhol, Reinaldo Herera, kind of thing. But I remember it most for the 7 or 8 squabling Israelis that owned it with Chris and Eric Goode. They were always trying not to pay me! I got to experience the tale-end of Steve Rubells and Ian Schrager’s Studio 54, so that was amazing. It all seems a little unreal, because today nothing seems to happen off the record, and spontaneously. In the old days, people did not go to clubs with their stylists, bodyguards, and PR. But all that said, when Scott Lipps had his fashion week party at the Kenmare last year, Terry Richardson—today’s version of Andy—was there, taking pictures of the beauties, and Daphne Guiness hung out next to skater boys. So New York is still as exciting as ever.
How about a client list? And what is your mission for them? Currently Scott Lipps, 1 Model Management (which reps everybody from Helena Christianson, Iman, Bar Raffaelli and different girls for different projects) the “Irish Boys” who own Good Co. in Williamsburg, Libation on Ludlow, and Park Avenue Tavern on 39th street, Jayma Cardoso and Billy Gilroy. Other past clients: Lydia Hearst, Angels and Kings, Pete Wentz, Gym Class Heroes, Panic! at the Disco, and Crush Management’s club, Hilfigers. I have done the PR for a ton of clubs, as well as Rocker Tyson Ritter, projects with Rosario Dawson, Lauren Bush’s Feed Project with her mother Sharon. Many more. I only work with a few clients at a time. I don’t work for people I don’t like, or respect, so I feel I have the luxury to pick and choose. I like to really be true to them, and help them broaden their scope. One example: right now we are working on Scott Lipps’s blog, PopLipps. It’s a very different kind of blog, with very few words, and a lot of pictures, and no links to other blogs. I think that’s the future of blogging, and creating and controlling your own image. I always noticed that Scott loved to take pictures with his Blackberry. He loves to go out, and he knows all the beautiful girls, and the famous boys that follow them. So I told him to combine his love of going everywhere, and knowing everyone, with his love of taking fast pics with his Blackberry. Poplipps was born. Scott is really coming into his own this season. This fashion week we got him a business story in the NY Times, and features in CNN and Bloomberg news. It’s exciting to see a client go from one level to another.
Another example : With Lydia, I mentioned to the Editor of Page Six Magazine that she loved to write, and had very strong opinions, so they offered her a column. Jayma Cardoso is really exploding, with her successes with Surf Lodge and Lavo. But instead of focusing on her nightclubbing, I focused on her really good taste in decorating her loft, and that lead to a design feature in the New york Times, which led to the cover of Avenue this month.
With Billy Gilroy I noticed that his personal life was just as eventful, and as interesting as his restaurant life, so that led to a huge profile in the Times, you gotta think out of the box.
How long have I known you? I met you at Danceteria, if I remember correctly.Between you and I, we had the big events there. You were more downtown and fashion, and I did the art and uptown trust funders. I kind of think we had a parallel-existence since then.
Saturday I will attend, for obvious reasons, “Well Hung” at The Chelsea Chapter Art—540 West 28th street. The reception is from 6-10pm. The exhibition runs through April 3rd. A percentage of proceeds will benefit Free Arts NYC. My dear friend Kelly Hubert tells me it’s going to be a blast. I asked her about it
This weekend marks a big transition for me. Last summer Patrick Duffy had introduced me to art duo Mint&Serf as we were starting a series of Art brunches at BES. Our relationship coincided with the opening of District 36, who we approached about having an installation commissioned for the club. My friendship with Mint&Serf evolved into the role of publicist, and helped immensely in building a platform for my company, State Of Grace. This Saturday, we’re launching The Chelsea Chapter, a pop-up gallery featuring the works of Leo Fitzpatrick, Erik Foss, Maripol, Futura, of course Mint&Serf, and many other talented artists. The name of the show is ‘Well Hung,’ a play on the neighborhood (We are next door to the Eagle). What we are offering is an alternative to the congestion of Armory Art Fairs, bringing a downtown vibe to Chelsea, and hopefully selling some art as we do so.