Category: Lifestyle

Building the First American Group

Victor Luis, C.E.O. of Tapestry speaks with Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic.

Risking it All: Reinventing Calvin Klein

By VANESSA FRIEDMAN | Nov. 17, 2017 | 24:10

A keynote case study by Steve Shiffman, C.E.O. of Calvin Klein, followed by an interview with Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic at The New York Times’s International Luxury Conference.

For Lisa Eisner, ‘Money Never, Ever Motivates Me’

At various points in her long … adventure is probably a better word here than career, Lisa Eisner has worked as a fashion editor, a stylist, a photographer and a publisher. She has also been — as T: The New York Times Style Magazine, noted several years ago — an impressive “collector and connector,” a woman who at 60 seems to have met or known or worked with virtually everyone along the global fashion caravan and also Hollywood.

She lives here with her husband, Eric, an entertainment lawyer and philanthropist (his Yes Scholars foundation works with academically gifted students from impoverished neighborhoods) and one of their two sons, in an eccentrically furnished Cliff May house in a section of the city known as old Bel-Air.

Sunglasses are an essential under the blaring California rays. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

One way or another, Ms. Eisner has traveled a long way from Greybull, Wyo., where she was born, and along a route so fascinatingly loopy and vagrant that it seems somehow logical that Ann Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum, would turn to Ms. Eisner to create its latest pop-up shop. “Lisa has a very particular mind-set,” Ms. Philbin said, considerably understating the case.

Take the name of the pop-up, Rat Bastards, a homage to an informal club the artist Bruce Conner convened in the 1950s for himself and his friends. That particular club was more conceptual than conventional, and correspondingly Ms. Eisner’s Rat Bastards is as much art installation as retail experience.

“Eric always laughs,” Ms. Eisner says, referring to her husband. “He says, ‘You’re never going to make a dime.’ I tell him, ‘That’s right, brother!’ Money never, ever motivates me.”

Rat Bastards serves as an homage to the bygone days of Southern California. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Mr. Conner was many things over the course of his wide-ranging, influential and still-underappreciated career — avant-garde filmmaker, collagist, a creator of elegant inkblot drawings that look like Rorschach tests. But it is his assemblages he is best known for: disturbing and yet humorous sculptures collaged from furniture, doll parts, jewelry, candles, mandalas and whatever other flotsam on the slipstream of late-20th-century culture caught his eye.

Created in Mr. Conner’s spirit, Rat Bastards is probably best understood as assemblage. “I actually always have a hard time saying what I do,” Ms. Eisner says. “It’s really hard for people to put other people into more than one category.”

Most brains don’t function like that, she says, although what she means is the brains of those from her generation. “For the new generations, the kids, that’s all they do is a million different things,” she says.

It can seem as if a million different things are going on simultaneously at Rat Bastards, a narrow rectangular space off the museum’s main bookstore reached through sets of Japanese door curtains painted by Ms. Eisner’s son Louis — an artist who commutes between Los Angeles and Mexico City — with a logo that itself is a homage to the Rat Fink characters devised by the cartoonist and custom car designer Ed Roth (known as Big Daddy).

It was Rat Fink material that had sent us to Mooneyes, which maintains the brand. Ms Eisner wanted to restock items for the shop and gather others, including Mooneyes T-shirts and jackets with the company’s trademarked logo of big googly eyes.

She planned to wedge them in somehow alongside the peerless handmade patches Brad Dunning designed for the proto-punk band the Cramps; the sets of girlie pink underpants embroidered with the days of the week; the vintage T-shirts and posters from the photographer Bruce Weber’s personal collection; the artist Ben Noam’s ceramic mushroom sculptures; the ironically goofy leather patches hand-tooled by Andrew Sexton, a Yale-educated artist who often collaborates with Sterling Ruby; the mugs and paperweights using graphics designed by the American activist nun Sister Corita Kent; the diamond piñatas made for Rat Bastards by Nicholas Anderson and Julie Ho, working as Confetti System; the specially commissioned T-shirts from the Hollywood Forever cemetery; the exquisite porcelain vessels created by the Canadian potter Kayo O’Young; the neo-minimalist chairs and tables constructed by Michael Boyd; the boxed Tom of Finland dolls accessorized with snap-on erections; the gold mesh necklaces and gauntlets the costumer designer Michael Schmidt creates for Dita von Teese, Cher, Rihanna and others; the shirts airbrushed by Louis Eisner with images inspired by Ed Roth; the framed labels from a line of men’s wear once produced by the Black Panthers leader Eldridge Cleaver and embroidered with his name.

A T-shirt and tchotchkes sold at Rat Bastards. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

These things represent barely a fraction of the totality of Rat Bastards, whose frenetic eclecticism is oddly belied by the shop’s serene installation. It probably helps that a heady hippie fragrance wafts from an atomizer in the shop, the scent itself devised by Ms. Eisner in collaboration with the perfumer Haley Alexander van Oosten and named — for what seem like autobiographically pertinent reasons — Nomad 1957.

“I probably have something of an A.D.D. personality, for sure,” Ms. Eisner says. “I see Tom, or people around me, who like a routine and a schedule,” she says, referring to her close friend Tom Ford, whose specially commissioned bandannas sold out the day Rat Bastards opened in early October.

“I even look at people in the Olympics that are really good at one thing,” says a woman who once characterized her personal style credo as “Keep People Guessing.”

“That could never be me,” Ms. Eisner says. “The gods did not give me that.”

Continue reading the main story

Cultural Studies: ‘Torch Song Trilogy’ and Me: A 35-Year Love Affair

On a Sunday morning in the fall of 1981, I was sitting in my fourth-floor walk-up studio apartment in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan, flipping through that day’s New York Times, when I was struck by a theater review that ran on one of the far back pages of the news section. Its headline was simple enough: “Fierstein’s ‘Torch Song.’” But what followed was anything but.

“Arnold Beckoff, the lonely but far-from-forlorn hero of Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Torch Song Trilogy,’ is a die-hard romantic who takes his heart, soul and fatalism from the 1920s ballads that give the work its title and its tone,” the critic Mel Gussow wrote. “At the end of a long, infinitely rewarding evening in the company of Arnold and his family and friends, he confesses with a sigh that he has always wanted exactly the life that his mother has had — ‘with certain minor alterations.’

“Those alterations — Arnold is a homosexual and a professional ‘drag queen’ — are the substance but not the sum of Mr. Fierstein’s work, three plays that give us a progressively dramatic and illuminating portrait of a man who laughs, and makes us laugh, to keep from collapsing.”

Michael Urie as Arnold and Mercedes Ruehl as Ma in the revival of “Torch Song” at Second Stage Theater.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

I immediately called my best friend, Barry, who lived two blocks north of me, and got his answering machine. “The Times,” I said. “Page 81. I’m getting two tickets. Call me back.”

Barry and I were theater geeks, and had been since the day we had separately moved to New York two years earlier: Cutting out of work early to stand in line for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, getting rush tickets at the Public Theater, spending our Saturdays at the TKTS booth in Times Square, occasionally second-acting Broadway shows that we couldn’t afford a ticket to.

But this play sounded like something we had never seen before.

A few days later, we headed over to the Richard Allen Center on West 62nd Street and mounted six narrow flights of stairs, to confront a stage no bigger than my living room, and entered a cramped theater filled with others who had heard the same siren call.

Previously my only experiences of gay theater had been plays like “The Boys in the Band,” “Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” “Tea and Sympathy” and “Streamers” — plays where the gay character was either closeted or bitter or suicidal, and usually all three. It was a shock to see Mr. Fierstein, as Arnold, strutting around his apartment in his floppy rabbit slippers, cracking jokes, sharing affection with both his lover and his foster son, and going ferociously head-to-head with his disapproving mother, played by Estelle Getty, then unknown.

Mr. Fierstein as Arnold in the 1982 Broadway production.CreditGerry Goodstein

A play in which the gay character was smart, funny and fully alive? A revelation.

A couple of years later, after “Torch Song” had transferred to Broadway, Barry and I were in my cramped living room on a Sunday night in June, sitting on the floor and watching the Tony Awards. When Mr. Fierstein was announced as best actor, we screamed with joy and surprise, doing so again when “Torch Song” was unexpectedly named best play, beating out Marsha Norman’s “’Night, Mother” and David Hare’s “Plenty.”

Mr. Fierstein was funny in both acceptance speeches, but I could hear the room grow quiet when John Glines, one of the producers, stood in front of the microphone. He gripped his Tony with a visibly shaking right hand and ended his speech by saying he wanted to thank the “one person who believed in and followed the dream from the very beginning, who never said, ‘You’re crazy, it can’t be done.’ And I refer to my partner and my lover, Lawrence Lane.”

We were shocked. It was the first time either of us had seen a real-life gay man openly acknowledge a romantic relationship on network TV, much less on an awards program.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the first New York revival of “Torch Song” since the original production closed on Broadway in May 1985. Shortly before its official opening at Second Stage Theater, I talked to Moisés Kaufman, the writer/director of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” and “The Laramie Project” and now the director of that revival (playing through Dec. 9). He told me that, for him as well, seeing “Torch Song” as a young man (a road-company production in San Francisco in 1985) had been a life-altering experience.

“I was in my 20s and had never seen a play with a gay character before, none,” he said. “I hadn’t seen ‘Boys in the Band’ — luckily, I think, because it is such a depressing narrative about us — and so seeing all these gay men on stage, a door opened for me. I thought, ‘Well, my life might be possible.’”

He added, “It was thrilling on so many layers. Not just because it showed me someone I could aspire to be, but also re-emphasized for me personally that the stage was a place where great revelations can take place. It made me feel, ‘Yes, there is a life of a gay man but also there is life for me in the theater.’”

Mr. Fierstein, the playwright, has long acknowledged how important that original production of “Torch Song” had been for gay men of his generation. And he, too, recognized what a departure it was from the gay-themed plays he had both seen and acted in as a young man.

“I had done some of those plays,” he told me recently backstage at the Second Stage Theater on West 43rd Street. “I did Lanford Wilson’s ‘The Madness of Lady Bright,’ Robert Patrick’s ‘The Haunted Coast.’ I designed a production of ‘Staircase.’ I had friends in ‘Fortune and Men’s Eyes.’ I even saw a play called ‘The Elocution of Benjamin’ in which a fat man comes out on stage, fully naked, and talks about being in love with young boys.”

Mr. Urie, left, as Arnold, and Ward Horton as Ed in the “Torch Song” revival.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

But, he said, even given those precedents, “Torch Song” was not as revolutionary as others made it out to be. The family life that Arnold so yearned for? Mr. Fierstein said he witnessed it every day when was in his 20s and living in Brooklyn.

“The very first gay people I knew were Bruce Wyatt and Bud Sherman, who ran this community theater in Park Slope, where I lived at the time, and they had been together for 30-some-odd years,” Mr. Fierstein told me. “They had a great life. I didn’t know until I took the subway into Manhattan that we as gay people were supposed to be unhappy. I didn’t know it until I saw things like ‘Boys in the Band’ that we were supposed to be miserable, that we were supposed to be suicidal, that we were supposed to be self-hating. All the gay people I knew were having a very good time!”

Of course, over the years, more gay-themed plays would be written and produced on Broadway, some, like “As Is,” “Angels in America” and “Falsettos,” dealing forthrightly with the plague of AIDS. And gay characters are now woven deftly into the narratives of plays that, nominally at least, are not about the gay experience, like “Come From Away” or “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Everything has changed.

A few weeks ago, when I went to see the Second Stage revival, starring Michael Urie as Arnold and Mercedes Ruehl as his mother, I did so with trepidation. Would it hold up, three decades later, or seem a curious theatrical artifact, perhaps best left to the memory bin?

Not to worry. I still laughed, as did the sold-out audience around me, at the comically mimed scenes of back-room sex; still shed a tear at the telling of a young character’s death at the hands of some gay bashers; still flinched at the moment when Arnold’s mother tells him that if she had known he would turn out gay, she would have terminated her pregnancy.

My only regret? That my friend Barry wasn’t again in the seat next to me. He died of AIDS almost seven years to the day after that Sunday morning phone call, telling him there was a play we had to go see.

Age of Populism: Threats and Theories

By ELIZABETH PATON | Nov. 17, 2017 | 32:11

How does an elite industry continue to thrive in a world that increasingly revolts against the trappings of luxury? Francesca Bellettini of Saint Laurent, Alexander Gilkes of Paddle8 and Laura Pancera of UBS spoke with Elizabeth Paton, European Styles Correspondent at The New York Times’s International Luxury Conference.