I was a very lucky boy to be back in Venice for a second time in less than a month, this time for the Venice Biennale, the arts fair extravaganza that takes over the sinking city every two years. (I was in Venice a few weeks back with Louis Vuitton, which you can read about here.) But before anyone begrudges my fortunate travel plans, at least allow me to say that it was chilly and rainy nearly every day I was there. Though, as I tweeted, even when it’s cold and wet, Venice is still the most magical city in the world.
I was at the Biennale this year for a few reasons. The first is that my friends Milla Jovovich and Tara Subkoff had collaborated for a piece they called ‘Failure to Connect,’ which was inspired by Herbert Marcuse’s quote: “The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.” So, for six hours, Milla sat in a glass house that Urs Fischer had constructed in a small garden on the Grand Canal and ordered more and more materiaslic commodities, which were dumped on her. By the end of the installation, she was literally drowning in her purchases. “For me Milla embodies the ‘future’ as a woman who understands technology and the cyber world. This was a hugely important factor in this work as it is a depiction of the not so distant future,” Tara explained. “This was a dream of what the future might look like if we only live inside our glass house ordering online and having our lives turn into one big long live feed of what we are ordering. And advertising. Even advertising ourselves through tweeting and Instagraming. There may be no more authentic experiences.”
The other reasons for a Venice excursion? Well, I was already in Europe after the Cannes film festival and an opening for Francesco Vezzoli at the Maxxi Museum in Rome. I was excited for the Biennale, though I didn’t get to spend as much time there as I had hoped because it kept raining on me. (And there’s only one thing to do when it rains in Venice: Find the nearest café and eat some carbs.) I will say the most widely discussed piece at the Biennale was Ragnar Kjartansson´s S.S. Hangover, which consisted of a four piece marching band blasting jazz tunes on the back of a boat stuck in the Giardini at the Arsenale. Perhaps my favorite thing at this year’s Biennale wasn’t even part of the Biennale. Édouard Manet’s Olympia was back in Olympia, hanging next to Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which inspired the work. The Manet show was sensational. The Financial Times had a brilliant piece on the show, and seeing it in the flesh didn’t disappoint. And lastly, it’s Venice. Who really needs an excuse to go there?
Beyond the art, there is the social element of the Biennale. There are parties in nearly every palazzo, which can be fun but also overwhelming. Believe me, if my oft partners in crime Petey and Harry Brant think there’s too much going on, there’s just too much going on. Which isn’t to say we didn’t have fun. Francois Pinault did his annual dinner on the small island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which was decadent and surreal. And Purple Magazine had a party at a teeny, tiny palazzo near the train station. The highlight of that party? When Gavin Brown did his own mini-installation and stood up on a table and threw his plate of race across the room, smashing it against a wall. (See, packed schedules make people hostile.) However, when I wasn’t socializing or getting my art on, I spent a few hours at my favorite place in the world: The Cipriani’s Hotel in Venice. It’s a little slice of paradise.
The Manet exhibit is up until August 18th, and the Venice Biennale’s exhibitions will be on display until November 24th. (The New York Times did a fabulous review of this year’s Biennale, which you can see here.)
Captions, from top: In a shower of rose petals on the Grand Canal; Marc Quinn’s work on San Giorgio Maggiore, where the Pinault dinner was held; Harry and Milla at Tara’s dinner; Tara and Urs, new crushes; Lola Schnabel and Ginevra Elkann at Tara’s installation; Petey in repose; me and Chris Brenner; the ultimate host with the most, Chris Bollen serving drinks; Milla in her installation; a expectedly unexpected art piece in the street; my purchase in Venice: a gondolier’s hat, which I love; not quite clear skies, but still gorgeous; a Venetian traffic jam; Princess Gloria von Thurn and Taxis; me and Margherita Missoni; a couple of cute locals, Enrico and Mattia; Venice gives good ceilings; Manet’s ‘Olympia’; Purple’s Olivier Zahm; me with Milla’s daughter Ever, who was the most gorgeous work of art in all of Venice.
Hard to believe it’s already time for another best dressed list. But, hey, time flies when you’re judging what everyone is wearing! In the June issue of Harper’s Bazaar, I start by having two very nostalgic moments. The first is when I follow Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent show into my childhood fascination of grunge (which was followed by Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton), and then I have a flashback to the 1997 Golden Globe Awards when Kim Basinger wore a cropped full skirt to accept her award for LA Confidential, which is a silhouette we’ve seen more recently on the likes of Adele, Alexa Chung and Leelee Sobieski. And finally, I present to you my newest fashion crush: The Kosovo-born, London-based sensational Pop star in the making, Rita Ora.
PS. I’m working on next month’s column now, so leave any favorite fashionable moments in the COMMENTS! And to read my weekly Mr. Blasberg’s Best Dressed list, go to www.harpersbazaar.com/bestdressed
I’ve actually never been to the Oscars ceremony in LA, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as fun as the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards here in New York. (And if you don’t believe me, you can ask the lovely and amazing Jessica Chaistain, who said as much last night.) Yet, that’s what the CFDA’s are called: The East Coast Oscars. They’re the most prestigious award in the fashion industry, which drew the big wigs out last night: Jessica presented Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy with the International Award, Linda Evangelista gave my former Style.com buddy Tim Blanks the Media Award for excellence in journalism (and it was clear to see how wonderful a writer he is with his touching speech), Ethan Hawke gave costume designer Colleen Atwood the Board of Director’s Tribute and none other than Ralph Lauren presented Vera Wang with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. But truly, the highlight was seeing Hilary Clinton take the stage to present Oscar de la Renta the Founders Award. I’ve never considered myself a die hard Hilary Clinton fan, but my opinion was tipped last night. She was self effacing and composed. She made jokes about her penchant for pantsuits, even suggesting a reality show called ‘Project Pantsuit.’ And when Oscar took the stage to say that she would be our president in 2016, she stood there graciously and with such composure I thought to myself that, yeah, I’d probably vote for her too.
Those awards were given to people who knew they were getting them, but there were some competition awards too. I was beaming from ear to ear when Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez from Proenza Schouler, a couple of boys I’ve known for more than a decade now (scary! We’re old!), took home the top prize for womenswear. Thom Browne won the menswear prize, and accepted the award in a pair of tuxedo shorts, which is a look I was rocking with Louis Vuitton in Shanghai last summer. (Just sayin’, Thom! Haha!) Phillip Lim took home the award for accessories, and then the Swarovski newcomer awards went to Erin Beatty and Max Osterweis of Suno for womenswear, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School for menswear and Pamela Love for accessories.
I will say this about the CFDA Awards: They are a marathon and not a sprint. Actually, in my case, since I had just gotten off a plane from London, it was more of an Iron Man. You have to be dressed and pressed at 630pm, and this year there were three post events. First was Vera Wang, who was nice enough to give us some food, in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons restaurant on 52nd Street. It’s one of the most marvelous rooms in New York, which couldn’t have been more different from the vibe at the Westway, a former strip club turned sort-of-still-strip club on the Westside Highway, where Riccardo was having his after party. In between that was the obligatory cameo at the Boom Boom Room. Clearly. There were drinks and dancing and merriment. Because, as I said before, if there’s one thing that fashion people know how to do, it’s have fun. Jeez, you still don’t believe me? Check out some of this pictures:
Captions, from the top: Riccardo with Jessica, Marina Abramovic and Lauren Santo Domingo; Vera and Bee Schaffer; Jen Meyer and Nicole Richie; some handsome fellows, Dan Stevens, Andy Cohen and Douglas Booth (you can read my cover story on Douglas Booth from an issue of VMAN here); Michael Kors with his dates for the night, Karolina Kurkova and Cody Horn; Lauren, Lazaro and Jack; Tim and his partner Jeff; Hilary Clinton on stage with Oscar de la Renta; Adriana Lima not having it; Candice and Prabal; Lily and Alessandra; Erin Wasson and Alexander Wang; TeenVogue’s Amy Astley with J Crew’s Jenna Lyons; Cynthia Rowley with Lindsey Vohn; Tory Burch and Kristina O’Neill; Ladyfag and a bunch of boys outside Westway; Vogue’s cover girl Kate Upton and Riccardo; me and Jessica; the best posers of the past two decades: Linda Evangelista and Karlie Kloss.
“God saved my soul – you save the fucking rain forest.” Yes, I was listening to Kid Rock recently, which is where this lyric comes from. That line stuck with me, and I was thinking about it again yesterday when I came upon this video of the world’s largest ‘ice calving’ ever caught on tape. (And then I had to look up ‘ice calving,’ which I would have assumed had something to do with very cold baby cows. But it actually is the term applied to chunks of glaciers falling off and into the ocean.) The video is beautiful, a real spectacle of natural beauty: We see a chunk of ice the size of Lower Manhattan crack, splinter, shoot up more than 600 feet in the air, and then is carried away into a blustering, freezing abyss. Sick, right?
When the arctic action finishes, some academic type comes on the video to say how this particular slide has been dangerously, frighteningly accelerated. “It’s a miracle and horror,” he says. In the past 10 years it retreated more than it had in the previous century, apparently. That stuck with me too. Look, I’m one of the last people to talk about environmental issues. I’m a lazy conservationist. I was born on April 22nd, which is Earth Day, so I’ve always felt an obligation to Mother Nature and do my best to recycle and reuse. But I’ve been naughty. I print more things off than I need to and waste paper. I’m always bound to leave a TV on or the lights on when I leave. When I’m home i Missouri, I go on joy rides with friends and waste gas. Let’s just say I feel my Earth Day guilt often, like when I use my aerosol hairspray.
These habits are hard to break. (One of the things I miss most about living in New York is car culture.) But Kid Rock and this video have stuck with me, and I hope they stick with you too. I know the video is long; at nearly 5 minutes it might as well be an internet eternity. But it’s a work of beauty, and a work of greater conscious. And if we all start being just a little more considerate about our waste and the world’s depleting resources, I’ll feel like this ice didn’t calve for nothing. And for the record, even Kid Rock started recycling.
“Cannes you handle it?” Oh yes, there are many puns that one can associate with the Cannes Film Festival, the two weeks of glitz and glamour that take place every May. But handle it, we did. My favorite part of this year’s festival was the prevalence of fashion people, of good friends. And though it felt like fashion week with a packed schedule of cocktail parties and dinners, friends like Karlie, Joan, Rosie, Cara and Lily didn’t have a slew of fittings and shows. So, essentially, we could kill it in Cannes. Milla Jovovich, a seasoned pro at the festival, showed us the ropes (meet at the Martinez) and when to leave (which, unfortunately, we didn’t listen to).
The festivities were bookended by The Great Gatsby’s opening night party, a swell affair which would have been swell-er had it not rained, and the amFAR benefit, which was unique because the full spectrum of style was represented, from couture to Eurotrash. Apart from chauvinistic chubby old men trying to outbid each other (but it all goes to charity, so it’s OK), the highlight of the amFAR gala was the fashion show that Carine Roitfeld put together. The theme was gold, so there she was along the runway, cheering on not just the supermodels that had flown in for her, but also fashion favorites like her daughter Julia, Giovanna Battaglia and Anna Dello Russo. I witnessed an minute with Harvey Weinstein backstage, seeing a sweeter side of the notoriously not sweet man when he seemed genuinely committed to getting people to auction off those lots. And well done to amFAR, which raised more than 25million Euros (as in not dollars) at this year’s festivities.
Oh yeah, there were movies too. The highlights of my schedule were The Great Gatsby, The Bling Ring and, a personal favorite, Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace film starring Michael Douglas in opera drag and Matt Damon as his surgically altered, drug addicted lover. I’ve already given my two cents about the Gatsby with a review on this blog a few weeks ago, but to see it again was to get back on the Baz Luhrman Express for yet another colorful, saturated, optically exhausting trip. A personal highlight of this Cannes trip was sitting next to Elizabeth Dubicki at a dinner the night before the premiere, and discovering that the Aussie is just as sweet as she is sophisticated. Cate Blanchet: watch yo back!
The Bling Ring was a harder pill to swallow, merely because Sofia Coppola’s pace is so much slower and Cannes is permeated with a sense of frenzy. Seeing it the night after Gatsby was like going to a piano recital after spending the entire previous evening rolling your face off at a rave. But I adore Sofia’s brand of filmmaking, and this film had a few elements that she omitted from her previous cinematic effort, Somewhere. Notably, there was suspense and action and, to which I hope rich absentee parents around the world will take note of, a moral lesson. Much kudos too to Emma Watson, who did a truly marvelous performance playing a spoiled, delusional, self-promotional brat. As a friend described her performance, it was a convincing bit of American drag. And, may I just say, she looked marvelous in her mini skirts and temporary (at least they had better been temporary!) tattoos.
What is there left to say about Behind the Candelabra? My first though in seeing that film is that Matt Damon may be the most underrated actor of this generation. He was fantastic, playing both a hopeful, starry-eyed 17-year-old (which, for a man in his 40’s, is impressive enough) and a cracked out, bitter ex-boyfriend. He wore face prosthetics. And a thong. Acting! Michael Douglas was sensational too, playing a bedazzled, blinged out Liberace. And soon after the film starts and we see their affair take off, you forget that these are married men. You believe them. More acting! I will never understand how this film, with those two big stars and two of their best performances, landed in the hands of HBO. (Was the subject matter too gay? Perhaps, in a world where gays cannot still get married.) But then, this may be a good thing because those who would be afraid to go up to a movie theater and ask for two tickets to quite possibly the gayest film ever made can now see it in the comfort of their homes. Or closets, more precisely.
Captions, from top: Which one is not like the others? Milla, Joan, me, Lily and Rosie; Jessica Chastain, the queen of Cannes, with me and Karlie; Joan on the red carpet at the Behind the Candelabra premiere; my new crush, Elizabeth Dubicki; Cara and her new Leo the Lion tattoo; Harvey, the King of Cannes, and Rosie; Natalia in an Ulyana Sergeenko couture dress; Wendi Murdoch and Brian Grazer at the Gatsby afterparty; Isla Fischer, Jen Meyer and Dasha; Florence Welch onstage at the Gatsby party, and she was phenomenal; the wondrous Dita von Teese; Giovanna at the amFAR afterparty, with a friend; Olympia and Pucci’s Peter Dundas; Joan Smalls with Bubble, our mascot in Cannes; Rosie gives good frame; a surprise appearance from Mark Ronson; lapping it up with Carine and Rosie; Jess Hart in Alaia; Adrian Brody being THAT guy on a motorcycle; Karlie coming down to Gianluca Passi’s level; Stacy Keibler gives good body; Milla, learning how to do an over the shoulder from Chris Brenner; Carine Roitfeld cheering on her daughter Julia on the amFAR runway; Zach Quinto and I book ending the beauties Toni Garrn, Karlie and Joan; me having an intimate moment with my friends Rosie and Joan; Christian Louboutin on the lawn, playing photographer; the image of me, Karlie and Dasha that he caught.
You may not know his name, but you’ve probably seen the work of the illustrator Risko. If you’ve ever read an issue of Vanity Fair, for example, you’re familiar with his work because it’s on the last page of the magazine. He does the celebrity portraits which accompany the Proust Questionnaire. So when V magazine sought out the most important illustrators for its May issue, Risko was an obvious inspiration. I met Risko in New York, and we dished on how he got started (Warhol, of course) and what makes an easily illustrated face. Read my interview and see four of his works inspired by four of the most important faces of fashion — Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld Lagerfeld — below. But first, Risko’s portrait of me, which hangs proudly in the loo of my New York City apartment. (I wanted to hang it somewhere I was sure everyone would see it.)
Many artists have idolized Andy Warhol, but few have had the guts to walk up to him at a signing and ask for a job. Such was the all-or-nothing approach of illustrator and artist Robert Risko, then 22, now known only by his last name. “I was pretty ballsy back then,” says the world’s most celebrated caricaturist, 56, who like the King of Pop Art grew up in Western Pennsylvania. “Of course Warhol was the hero of Pittsburgh. He was my role model. I mean, my God! When I saw his Marilyn Monroe, I thought…I get it.”
Risko’s talent for composition emerged when he was five years old in profiles he drew of his sister and again a few years later in sketches of his teacher, Sister Monica, at his Catholic middle school. At Kent College in Ohio, he thought he’d be a fine art painter and was influenced by Van Gogh and the Cubists. Yet friends always asked for his caricatures, and he found himself earning pocket money by drawing funny faces for passersby on the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore and Provincetown, Rhode Island. “But I wasn’t happy drawing caricatures for people on the street for $5 when I knew I had talent as a painter. So when I moved to New York, in 1976, I said, I’m going to fuse these things together. I’m going to take my love for Cubism and combine it with the ability to do likenesses and raise the level of taste of the average man.” The result was a style influenced by Picasso, the Bauhaus movement, and 1930s Vanity Fair caricaturists Miguel Covarrubias and Paolo Garretto.
Which brings us to Warhol. “I met him while I was out for the day on Fire Island and he was signing copies of Interview with Halston,” Risko says. He waited in line with his copy, and when it was his turn to get Warhol’s signature, he showed him his portrait of Diana Ross. “And he said, ‘It looks exactly like her. That’s great.’ And I said, ‘Well, I think I should work for your magazine.’ That was that.” It was 1978 and he started doing caricatures for Interview, including an infamous cover of Dolly Parton. In the early 1980s, Risko was working part-time as a retoucher at Vanity Fair when the magazine poached him from Warhol’s Interview, much like they poached Annie Leibovitz from Rolling Stone. In the past four decades at VF, he has drawn politicians, actors, artists, divas, and anyone else of note; since 2002 his work has appeared on the back page of the magazine, with its Proust Questionnaire. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Esquire. Next up is a series of specially commissioned pieces for the Macy’s flagship in New York, which is currently undergoing a $40 million refurbishment. His portraits of Macy’s pioneers, like Madonna and her daughter, Lourdes, Florence Henderson, Al Roker, and Martha Stewart, will be hung in the top tier eatery, Stella 34 Trattoria.
What makes someone easy to draw? Clearly defined and contrasting facial features. Risko says he looks at the architecture of the face, which goes beyond decoration and makeup. “I think that’s what makes my work stand out, it’s anatomically focused,” he says, adding that sometimes subjects don’t recognize themselves at first. “Without all of the superficial icing, some people don’t know who they are.” Certain blondes, like Goldie Hawn and Jennifer Aniston, can be tough, because their public images rely so much on makeup (can you imagine Goldie without her false lashes?) or they have very soft features. But, he says, someone like Bill Cosby or Meryl Streep is fun to do.
One perk of being drawn by Risko is that his medium naturally flatters. “I’m the best skin doctor a person could ever have,” he laughs, likening his work to Egyptian hieroglyphs. “I’m convinced that Queen Nefertiti was a squat, four-foot-tall, short-necked woman who told whoever was drawing her picture, ‘Give me a longer neck. Longer!’ Sometimes I think I’m in the same business.”
In the second installment of my Mr Blasberg’s Questionnaire column, which is an exclusive feature to the Valentino Garavani Museum, I meet one of modern fashion’s most outspoken icons: Italian Vogue’s editor in chief Franca Sozzani. Her presence is familiar at fashion shows, her calm demeanor and long blonde hair folded into the front row wearing whatever Alaia garment her friend had made for her. But beneath the calm of the sea is a torrent of ideas, opinions and convictions. Here, she gave us a peek into some of them.
Who do you think is the most stylish woman in the world? Tilda Swinton.
And the most stylish man? Sean Penn.
Do you have a biggest fashion regret? To have been at too many fashion shows.
Was or is there a trend that you’ve never understood or never followed? Sorry, but I usually anticipate them.
How long does it take for you to get dressed? Hours.
When a friend is dressed terribly and asks how they look, do you tell the truth? I say, “You look awful!”
Is there a fashion era that you wish would comeback? Renaissance.
Do you have a favorite Mr. Valentino moment? His life.
Have you taken a tour of the Valentino Virtual Museum? What did you think? I presented it in NY when it opened and I love it.
What is your favorite ensemble in the museum? (And why?) The animal prints. Valentino did it 30 years before any other designer.
To tan or not to tan: That is the question? I love white.
Heels or flats? Flats.
What is your favorite color? Dark Blue.
Do you have a favorite fashion memory, perhaps a fashion show or a shoot? Steven Meisel’s “Make Over Madness” story in Italian Vogue. It was about plastic surgery.
What is the greatest piece of fashion advice that you’ve ever received, and from whom did you receive it? “A white shirt is forever” is what my father would say.
In the debate over whether fashion can be art, where do you stand? Fashion is fashion.
If you were not doing what you are doing professionally now, what do you think you would be doing? I never thought about doing anything else.
What do you love to do? Read.
What do you hate to do? Meetings.
What would you say is your most marked characteristic? Curious.
What would those who know you well say is your most marked characteristic? “Open.”
Where are you most inspired? Everywhere.
If you could go back in time and speak to your teenage self, what would you tell him or her? Never get married.
How much importance do you place on the personal style of a significant other? I care only about my personal opinion.
It has been said that when we die we can’t take anything with us; but if you could take just one thing, what would it be? My dog’s ashes.
Photo: Franca with Giancarlo Giammetti and Valentino on Valentine’s Day of this year
Who remembers ASmallWorld? I remember joining the social networking site sometime after Friendster, which I was an early adapter to, and before Facebook, which I’ve only been on for about a year. Most of my posh, toffy English friends were on it, and I wanted to fit in. The website sort of fell through the cracks in recent years with the onslaught of so many other social networking sites and apps (can someone please explain to me what the hell Snapchat is, and what the point is of sending a picture you can’t keep is?), but it’s making a comeback. The site has a new chairman, Patrick Liotard-Vogt, who is teaming up with its CEO Sabine Heller to remind people that ASmallWorld is a fun world. And they’re not messing around: This weekend, they brought a slew of fun, fabulous folks to Marrekech to celebrate the site’s relaunch. Why Marrakech? Because, I was told, it’s the chicest travel destination and still authentic. Sure, I’ll take it.
I missed the first night because of a few obligations in New York, which was a shame because that’s when the snake charmers came out. But I more than made up for it in the following days, which had me riding camels (they stink and they spit, but aren’t they adorable?), drinking mint tea that was so sugary I think I have diabetes and at least a few cavaties, and stalking the local souks for some tangines that I will bring home but never cook out of. It was a good casting too. Olivia Wilde was beautiful, charming and non-annoyingly passionate about sex trafficking activism; Dianna Agron is sweet and a wonderful swing dancing companion; and there were even a few unexpected rocker chick moments, courtesy of Alison MOsshart and the legendary Marianne Faithful. (You could hear the latter’s raspy growl all through the pool of the Taj Palace Hotel, not that anyone was complaining.) Another important moment: The return of DJ Duo Harley Viera Netwon and Cassie Coane. Cassie came out of her two year retirement for this gig. It had been a long time since I harassed them about playing my requests (who doesn’t have Ricky Martin on their playlist!?) from the floors of such sophisticated hunts in New York as Lit and Avenue. So it seemed the paradise of Northern Africa was a good place for a nostalgic reunion.
Captions, from top: The view from my room at the Taj Palace; Olivia Wilde and Kick Kennedy kicking it at dinner; Alison and Dianna at cocktail hour; the girls at the pool, from left: Natalie, Laura, Laure, Josephine, Valentine and Harley; Natasha Lyonne and I getting our humps on; Catherine Baba and the great Marianne Faithful; Waris and Meredith; Alison at a restaurant that taught her how to work a candelabra hat; Atlanta in repose; The Baba in her poolside look; Andrew and Natasha; The lovely Love’s, Nathalie and Laura; Sabine and friend; mint tea for the ladies Mary Charteris and reunited DJ duo Harley and Cassie; Valentine and Josephine on the dancefloor; Waris and another friend; Henry Holland at sunset; Henry, David, Poppy, James and I in the hotel’s top secret (and empty) disco; Laure and Lily; Ben and Chelsea; a disgruntled nut seller in the market; Cassie’s party trick is poorly balancing a drink on her head; Ashley Avignone’s flower toss on the dance floor; me and the most beautiful Dianna
Last weekend was a doozy. In fact, I’m still recovering. (Apologies for the delayed nature of this post, but I couldn’t get myself together any sooner.) I am fatigued from the fashions. In merely 72 hours of each other, I had my own birthday party and the Met ball. I can’t say they were equally glamorous — Anna Wintour, you beat me again! — but both involved costumes, dancing, high drama and the imbibing of spirits.
I love a good theme, and so does Giovanna Battaglia, the stylist who threw my birthday party at home with her boyfriend, Vladimir Roitfeld. We had been trying to think of a good theme party for months now, and my birthday seemed like a good enough excuse. (But even if I wasn’t born a Taurus, I think Gio would have still thrown this party.) It was her idea to do a 60’s theme, so we settled on Peter Sellers’ seminal 1968 film The Party as the inspiration. I was happy because I’m always looking for an excuse to wear a turban with a jewel on it. And lucky for a few of my girlfriends – Karlie Kloss, Lauren Santo Domingo, Jacqui Getty, Anne Hathaway, Kristina O’Neill and Giovanna among them – Marc Jacobs turned to the 1960’s for his spring collections of both Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, so they’re costumes were sorted. The focal point of the evening was an eight foot tall pink elephant made of carnations, a present from my friend Fabiola Beracasa. And the whole thing came together under the watchful eye of my Southern sister Rebecca Gardner.
The rest of the weekend was a bit of a blur: Lauren did a dinner for Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing the next night, followed by the Dolce & Gabbana store opening; and then on the Sunday night I went to the Rihanna concert. She was late, of course, and would grab her crotch on every song, even the ballads, but I still love her music. Then it was back in drag for Monday night’s Met gala. Surely, you’ve seen some pictures from the Met. (And if you haven’t, go to www.vogue.com right now because they have hundreds and hundreds of the best ones from the night.) The Met gala has been referred to as the East Coast Oscars because Hollywood teams up with the New York fashion crowd for a night of glamour and excess. This year was more fabulous than last, but not as fabulous as next year. There were afterparties at the Boom Boom Room and Giancarlo Giammetti’s house. No one went home without aching feet and eyes exhausted by the splender.
I was quite proud of my ensemble this year. The theme was ‘PUNK: From Chaos to Couture.’ So my friend Taylor Tomasi Hill commandeered me a last minute harness, and then my friends at MAC came over to apply some temporary tattoos to my hands and neck. I had PUNK on my right knuckles and THIS on my left. (I had thought of a variety of four-word options, but I thought those were the most appropriate.)
It was one of those weekends in New York that just feels kinetic. Annie Hathaway went from brunette to platinum blonde from my birthday to the Met, for example. People know that the aesthetic stakes are high. How high? Let’s just say that I had to use paint thinner to remove my tattoos. It stung like hell, but it was worth it. For the record, I’m not just talking about the paint thinner here.
Everyone has a The Great Gatsby story. Some of us were forced to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic in high school, some of us discovered it on our own. Some of us thought Gatsby is a pathetic lying shrew, some of us thought he is a helpless romantic. My experience with Gatsby was a dynamic one: Assigned it in a high school English class, it was the first book I was forced to read and then fell in love with. I didn’t like books as a young man. Believe it or not, I was a jock. (Stop laughing.) But Fitzgerald was the writer that ignited a literary passion in me that blazed through the rest of his books and on to the rest of the great American writers, and still burns today. Even when I shopped at strip malls and wore Old Navy sweatshirts to school dances back home in Missouri, I strived for glamour. And Gatsby gave it to me. That book reads as a film. When I was a teenager reading it for the first time, I fantasized about how I’d want to see it on the screen. In fact, that’s what Truman Capote famously said when he was assigned to write a (never-made) screenplay of the film: The book is a movie.
Because we’ve all imagined our own versions, to make the book into a film is bold. But Baz Luhrmann did it. Not that this is news. There are billboards and bus signs and magazine covers and Prada parties and Gatsby inspired pink seersucker Brooks Brothers suits and every entertainment show in the world was in New York last week for the splashy premiere at Lincoln Center. I was at that premiere too. My first impressions? I found it absolutely invigorating and optically exhausting. It was basically more saturated version of Moulin Rouge but without the singing and spruced up in 3D. (I say this is a compliment, but I’ve read reviews that say the same thing as a complaint.) Luhrmann gave all of us who read the book as a young person with childhood fantasies of fancy flapper bashes exactly what we wanted: Glamour. The pearls literally flew off the screen. When Gatsby is famously ripping his beautiful shirts out of his closet they feel like they’re falling on the audience as well as Daisy.
Leonardo DiCaprio was swell as Gatsby. But then again, I’ll support any film that gets Leo wet. (See: Romeo + Juliet’s balcony scene, the second half of Titanic, all of The Beach. In Gatsby, when he first meets Daisy he does so in a wet white suit.) I’ve always been a fan of Tobey MaGuire’s ability to act almost exclusively with his eyes too, despite finding his Carraway character in a sanitarium to deal with alcoholism a little far fetched since he is the moral compass of the book. I at first had some trouble reconciling Carey Mulligan with the part of Daisy because, well, I always had a distaste for Daisy’s disingenuous fragility and false innocence. But despite Mulligan reading too smart to play that sort of ditz, she gave a strong performance. (Her best line? “I love large parties. They’re so intimate. Small parties don’t have any privacy.” Luhrmann has said that some of the dialogue in the film came from the book, but since there isn’t that much dialogue in the book he also pulled from letters between Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, as well as other books with similar characters.) The supporting roles were suburb too: Joel Edgerton (who, randomly, I just watched in Kinky Boots on an airplane and fell in love with) was strong and surprisingly likeable as Tom Buchanon, and he has the best opening sequence in recent cinema history; Isla Fischer does a fabulous floozy; and the Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Daisy’s BFF Jordan Baker came out of no where and held her own.
The day after the New York premiere, Vogue’s Anna Wintour and The New Yorker’s David Remnick hosted a luncheon for Luhrmann and the cast. Luhrmann said something during his (comedically animated and unscripted) presentation that I thought was spot on: “Now is the time to look at Gatsby as a social behemoth in modern culture.” The director first got the idea to do the film while taking the Orient Express train through Siberia. The idea was solidified after the recession of 2008, which was similar (though much less drastic) to the self-reckonings many were forced to make when the Roaring ‘20’s moved into the Great Depression. The things we are seeing happening today — “the moral elasticity of Wall Street,” as Luhrmann put one example — were happening then too. Was The Great Gatsby not a warning sign of unchecked materialism in a superficial world? Can we not say the same about today? A girl at my table at the luncheon compared Bernie Madoff to Gatsby. Yes, that was a stretch, even for me who loves some exaggeration. But it did get me thinking.
Some people are arguing over the morality of the character of the great Gatsby in this film. Is DiCaprio gross? Is he gross enough? Should he be that likeable? That’s a longer debate and one that has, and will, go on for generations. Luhrmann said at the luncheon that he thought Fitzgerald predicted the end of the Jazz Age and the oncoming Depression. I’m not sure if that was conscious or not as Fitzgerald was a raging alcoholic who reportedly was barely conscious, especially at the end before he died of a heart attack at the age of 44. But lets not forget that the book ends (spoiler alert!) with the murder of a man all alone in the gilded pool of a big empty house, a man who made himself through tricky deals and lies and loves a woman who has selfishly just saved her own skin. Luhrmann said something so beautiful about Nick at lunch: “He came to work in bonds but he ended up writing a book about a guy everyone forgets and his life began.”
It was inspiring to have Luhrmann’s insight into his movie. One of the biggest criticisms of the film will be his use of 3D. (Indeed, in the car chases in the film I was reminded of Janet Jackson’s music video for ‘All For You,’ where she and her back up dancers vogue whilst riding colorfully graffitied carriages on imaginary animated subway rides through the future.) Yet, he made a good point: Fitzgerald was fascinated by the modernities of his time, most obviously a fast lifestyle and affection for jazz music. To the latter, he brought up Jay-Z, which at first seemed like an unlikely fit for a film about the Roaring 20’s, but again Luhrmann insisted Fitzgerald would have been a Beyonce fan. “The music? I knew there would be eyeball rolling but Fitz, if he was anything, he wasn’t nostalgic. He put jazz and pop front and center in his text,” Luhrmann said at lunch. “It made the text immediate, he made it now.” And specifically about Jay-Z? “One of the most professional people I ever worked with.” Jay-Z ended up a producer of the film.
I must say this film was well researched. Luhrmann took liberties, but he wasn’t irresponsible with them. The guy even took an ocean liner to New York from London because that’s what Fitzgerald would have done, and then took a helicopter ride around Long Island to get a feel for the suburban beach mansions that Gatsby and Buchanan would have driven by on their rides into town. He took Mulligan down to the Princeton Library in New Jersey, where there is a trove of Fitzgerald’s letters, to fine-tune her awareness of the dialogue.
At the end of the day, the question all movie reviews ask is: Should people see this film? My answer is yes. Oh, absolutely. It’s good fun (who doesn’t love a good pool party scene?) and even if you skip (you shouldn’t) the moral lesson of an unchecked American Dream the costumes are wonderful. Personally, I love too that the film has snapped Fitzgerald’s book back into the zeitgeist, and has gotten people excited to read it again. At Luhrman’s lunch, they gave out copies of the book and, unlike most goodie bags at these sorts of functions that people throw away, everyone took theirs with them. Hell, I think it’s great when anything reminds people that there are these things called books sold at these things called bookstores. And the fact that The Great Gatsby is back on the best sellers lists is incentive enough for me.