Carmen D’Alessio is one of a kind — and thank God! If there were more of her, we would never sleep. She is the original VIP hostess; she has hobnobbed with the aristocracy, the players, the rich and the famous. Her apartment is filled with nightclub and celebrity memorabilia that leaves you speechless (and that isn’t common for me). I’ve known Carmen for a very long time, and she seems to never age. She helped make my clubs so very relevant to a sect that is unreachable for virtually any other nightlife promoter. Carmen’s crowd not only flies first class — they often own the airlines. I sat for hours with Carmen and listened to tales of Andy Warhol, Halston and Mick and Bianca; one wondrous story after another, all backed up with autographed photos of an age that seems incomprehensible today. I told Carmen that she should write a book, and she asked me to help her; I’m going to seriously think about it.
The question is — will anybody believe that these events actually happened? Can anyone understand today what drove those creatures of the night who together created a fairytale world? I used to hang outside Studio 54 and watch the fabulous arrive; I weighed a buck thirty-five, had long hair, ripped jeans, a Ramones shirt, and a real nice leather jacket (it probably had some buttons with Cheap Trick or the Sex Pistols on it). Steve Rubell would invariably pick me but I would never go in, as I was a Max’s Kansas City kid. I was into punk and just came to watch that ultimate door scene. Little did I know that what I saw was teaching me about a business I would later thrive in. I wished I had actually gone in. I didn’t know what I was missing, and looking at the photos, I realize that nothing, no club will ever match the glamour of Studio 54.
I’m sitting with Carmen in her fabulously appointed apartment in Midtown. Right next to Central Park, which is the reason I’ve lived here for over 30 years. I couldn’t be anywhere there wasn’t near Central. It’s the only piece of greenery in the city, and I am an outdoors person, believe it or not. I come from Peru, and I was born by the ocean, in Lima, so this is my escape.
How did you come from Lima and become this incredibly fabulous nightlife person? I believe that it was destiny. I came to visit a friend of mine from Chile, who had told me I needed to come to New York to visit. Even without knowing New York, as a teenager, I had suggested that it was the place where everyone was free. Eventually, when he moved here (Gee Burgos), he invited me to come. When I came, I visited a beloved girlfriend of mine, Susan Salas, who was working for the United Nations. She had an idea, “You speak so many languages, would you like to be part of the UN? Would you like to come and stay here? Would you like to be an interpreter? I can organize it, let me introduce you to the chief of personnel.” And before I knew it, that same afternoon I was meeting Chris Reider, and I became an interpreter. Before I knew it, I was with the United Nations. This was 40 years ago.
How many languages do you speak, and how many husbands have you had? Five languages and three husbands.
You’ve got to catch up. It should be even. Well, I have three official husbands: Carlos D’Alessio — I was married to him for three years; the second was Enrique T., married seven years; then came Richard Gitlin, my beloved hubby who was the son of the VP of Warner Brothers records. We were married for five years during the heyday of Studio 54.
You have an Andy Warhol piece over here, which is addressed to you, a picture of you and Mick Jagger over there, and even Richard Bernstein. This is an incredible history of New York nightlife. And in that picture down there [points], I’m having lunch at the Russian Tea Room, and if you look at it carefully, in the back is Dudley Moore, staring at me, probably wanting to hook up with me, but I’m so busy with that young stud.
Every time I see you out, you have a young man on your arm, and this is a very modern thing. Nowadays this is very common, but back then you practically invented it. You are absolutely right. I invented something that has become the trendiest thing to do with older women. Studio 54 opened in 1977, but in 1976 I met Rick, and he became my third husband — he was 21, but I won’t say how old I was in those days.
But you were older? Much older, and the funniest part of it all is that every single time after that I met someone I became romantically connected with, he was always 21. Even today, it’s the magic number. It’s a really good number.
I’ve seen you out for many years, and you have the most fabulous people with you always. I walk up to pay my respects, and Carmen introduces me to Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, or the man who owns Air France. You are connected to a set that nobody in this town is connected to. These people want to “slum” downtown, they want to vibe out with the vibrant young crowd, and with Carmen, they can be introduced to this other society. Absolutely. I will label myself as the hostess with the mostest, because that is a role that I adore. My friends from out of town make sure that when I visit, I am royally entertained — so in compensation, when they come to New York, where no one else can take them, I can take them in a second. If the Waverly Inn is trendy today, and I have friends of mine arriving now, and they say, we would love to go to the Waverly, I make a phone call and we are set. If they want to go to the Rose Bar and it’s the toughest door you can imagine, they will honor my friends and I at any given time. This is something I do with pleasure, because I like to move in the best circles. And above anything else, I love to entertain my friends in the way they loved to be entertained.
How long is this going to go on for? This is going to be going on forever, because life goes on, and I go on with life. I’m going to Punta del Este for New Years baby, me and the players!
When are you working now? I’m doing only projects that appeal to me because they are special venues. I’ve been very successful in the summer doing Thursday at Tavern on the Green. It’s the most beautiful venue to do in the summer, and it’s right up my alley in Central Park. You can imagine that fantasy place; for me it was a situation that I was pinching myself because I was thinking how can I be working in fairyland and making money. I was so pleased to convey all my beautiful friends every Thursday to this paradise. Everything is outdoors: DJs, BBQ, drinks, music, dancing, young people, just amazing. The party started at seven because I don’t want to start doing things at eleven anymore, it bores me. I’m also doing another beautiful venue, Highbar, during the summer. When I’m sitting at the terrace overlooking the whole skyline and enjoying a drink, I’m on top of the world, it’s beautiful. I like special venues, and I want my friends to see beautiful things through me. Right now, needless to say, I’m going to be doing a party at the Greenhouse — so eco-friendly, and it looks so beautiful.