On Friday, September 13, I arranged an interview with Heather and Amber Langely, better known as the Porcelain Twinz. It was a week after they had posted a scandalous post on their MySpace — a tell-all about their unsettling experiences, working at the New York nightlife novelty The Box. It’s been a hectic few weeks for Twinz: There’s a lot of press regarding their legal case against Box owner Simon Hammerstein, and they are without work. Yesterday, Eater reported on a community board meeting, held on Monday, during which the Box was denied a renewal application for its liquor license. What really goes on at the Box has always remained concealed behind a heavy and closely watched door; however, if the Twinz blow up their case against Hammerstein, the debauchery and scandalous events they allege might explain why the club has such a strict entrance policy.
The Porcelain Twinz’s sexually charged “fetish-burlesque” act is seductive and unique. A banker I interviewed outside the Box on a Monday night (who incidentally admitted to paying for bottle service in order to get in) told me, “They make that club. So many celebrities, and the elite flock to see them.” The Twinz have performed all over the world, produced their own music, appeared in dozens of fashion and fetish magazines, been on HBO and Playboy TV, and recently directed and starred in their own movie with a soundtrack including the Dandy Warhols, among others.
The Twinz left the Box officially in July; Hammerstein had given them the boot from his apartment in November, where they had been living for three months. He advised them to rent a hotel room, which was not an option financially (they had no contract with the Box), so they gave notice and planned on moving back home to Portland. Hammerstein then suggested they find an apartment with a year-long lease that he allegedly agreed to co-sign for.
Stuck in traffic, in a cab riding over the Brooklyn Bridge due to the pouring rain, I was 30 minutes late to meet the now-infamous Porcelain Twins. Nervously, I ring them (they share a cellphone); soft-spoken Heather answers, suggesting that I just “take a deep breath” because they, too, are tardy — the pair were getting primped for David LaChapelle’s art opening later that evening.
When I arrive at the agreed-upon coffee shop, it’s crowded and the Twinz haven’t arrived yet. I anxiously wait in the back, finding a vacant deep-rouge velvet couch (which coincidentally resembles the furniture at the Box). I don’t know what to expect from the deviant duo, but soon enough they arrive, waving and smiling with genuine warmth. They walk proudly over to me, exposing bare long legs and faces made up just as I’d seen in photos — quite picturesque. Towering over cafe patrons in their spiked knee-high boots, they draw every eye in the place. They match, of course, from their skirts and sleeveless blouses to the short, blonde bobs, resembling Nico in her Warhol days.
When we start the interview, I try hard to differentiate between Heather and Amber, but it’s not easy (nor do their identical appearances and mannerisms help). Another customer, who just so happens to work at a production company, spots the Twinz and walks over, pulling the girls aside to make an offer for them to star in a Nokia commercial. “$200? Add on another zero, maybe,” is how they respond.
Despite their demand for another few hundy, the Porcelain Twinz are relatively humble and egoless; surprising, given their bold stage presence. “So, are you stressed out about your fallout with the Box”? I ask.
They both light up, and Amber eagerly responds, “Have you ever watched The Secret?” I have yet to see The Secret, but already, I sense there’s more to their story than risqué burlesque acts at a haughty nightclub. “It changed our lives, we lost weight, our outlook on life altered, and it’s helped us to remain positive.”
The twins are “straight-edge” — again surprising, given their work environment and late hours. They are religiously health-conscious; at the end of the interview, before heading to LaChapelle’s party, they will stop at a specialty gourmet deli to pick up fresh-squeezed vegetable juice. They are into detoxing, colonics, chlorophyll, and all the organic fruits and veggies they can get.
Prior to creating a sought-after burlesque act, they were former all-star distance runners in their home state of Oregon. At the age of 20, they began stripping in order to pay for college; Portland happens to be considered the strip-club capital of the country by some enthusiasts. The Twinz grew tired of the inconsistent money however, not to mention the numbing effect endemic to the work. “As dancers, we became sexually exhausted … constantly creating the illusion of sex.” A friend of the Twinz in the entertainment industry discovered them at Dante’s Cabaret Club in Portland in spring 2007. He was enchanted by their bizarre and captivating performance, and he called Serge Becker, a friend of his. Becker, who’s also a partner at the Box, put them in touch with Simon Hammerstein, who right away offered them a two-week gig at his New York club.
They were excited and negotiated an arrangement — not ideal perhaps, but the opportunity was irresistible, despite an inauspicious beginning. “When we arrived at 189 Chrystie Street during the wee hours of the morning,” say the girls, “we were buzzed in and greeted by Simon Hammerstein with his bushy beard and his syrupy sweet British-American accent. … The three of us walked up the stairs to the third floor, where Simon’s loft lay. We were starving and famished from flying across the country all day without a decent meal, and the only thing Simon offered us when we arrived was some cocaine and tap water.”
During the following week’s audition, they were introduced to what Box performers refer to as “Simon Says” — Hammerstein’s humiliating audition routine. “Why don’t you just cut everything out, except the finale, when you’re getting off?” he asked, after their performance. They didn’t, but they claim Hammerstein’s behavior didn’t exactly improve. The two-week gig at the Box wound up extending nearly a year, and various incidents over time eventually compelled the Twinz to bail out.
“We distanced ourselves as much as possible from Hammerstein, from the beginning, to avoid his sexual advances, comments, inquiries, and propositions that he would spring on us anytime he had our attention. … One of us had a boyfriend — in a serious relationship for three years — however, the boyfriend was currently in rehab trying to kick heroin. Simon replied, ‘Yeah I’ve kicked heroin before, it’s really a choice you have to make whether you want to do it or not.’
“There were many nights when Simon would tell us that he was having a party at the loft after the shows, and that everyone would be waiting for us to come entertain them with our fetish and bondage gear that we used on stage.” Once, Hammerstein asked if they would do a “favor” for him, i.e. domination work. “I want you to beat this guy up, a friend of mine. How much would that cost?” he allegedly asked.
“When presenting shows to Simon and [Box partner] Richard [Kimmel], they squashed our ideas and inspirations so deliberately and intensely with their overbearing verbalization of what they thought our art should be, that creating shows became stressful, dreadful, and fearful. We were trying so hard to give them what they wanted, and to please them, that our vision was becoming lost in translation. The psychological abuse that we had to endure from Simon and Richard’s corporate dictatorship and sexual harassment was ultimately why we left.”
Hammerstein and Kimmel, according to Heather and Amber, are “constantly high on cocaine” — possibly thanks to an in-house drug supplier, whose name they would not reveal. “Richard is close to the stage … openly using during performances.” They also claim Hammerstein’s “staff prostitutes” are at his beck and call. “Simon orders call-girls on the expense account,” they say. Club guests apparently were occasionally confused about who served the goodies. “The Wayans brothers once asked if we could get them cocaine.”
I rang the NYPD’s Fifth Precinct on September 16 to inquire about any recent police reports on the Box and/or Simon Hammerstein. It didn’t take much to get an answer from the officer I spoke to. “We are on the case,” he said. “And we know there are drugs going around there, it’s ongoing”.
During our interview, Heather and Amber talk about the female employees at the Box who have more to offer than a $300 bottle of bubbly. Supposedly, one of them approached the Twinz during their shift and asked if they could perform oral sex on a celebrity at a VIP table; $200 was the offer, which seems a pretty light for such a high-class place. Not that the Twinz were interested, understand (after all, they wouldn’t do a Nokia commercial for that much.) Regardless, the Twinz claim that Box employees have been known to service patrons in the bathroom downstairs.
Would they work at the Box again, if a contract was offered? “As long as the Box is run in its current state of dysfunction, as it has been since the opening in February of 2007… we would never work with Simon Hammerstein or Richard Kimmel ever again. … When Simon was out of town, in early June, we made the joint decision to no longer be slaves to the Box, though we had no back-up plan..”
Currently, the Twinz are in the midst of writing new material to use in a re-release of their self-published memoir, The Porcelain Twinz, Our Life in the Sex Industry. The updated book will detail their time at the Box. They’re also talking about taking their act to Soho’s Corio club. Neither Simon Hammerstein nor Richard Kimmel returned my calls or emails.