How Caroline Hirsch Built A Legendary Comedy Empire [ELLE]
Long before Comedy Central existed, or HBO and Netflix streamed a perpetual roll-out of comedy specials, a hit parade of household names from Jerry Seinfeld to Jon Stewart performed at Carolines on Broadway in midtown Manhattan. But the comedy club's founder isn't the type to deliver punch lines: Rather, Caroline Hirsch is a behind-the-scenes den mother of sorts, who for decades has offered a high-profile forum for standups and helped launch some of comedy's most notable careers.
She's one of the best in the male-dominated business. Hirsch has run her influential comedy clubhouse for 35 years by listening to her gut. "You get this small inkling that there's this special talent hidden in them," she tells ELLE.com. "The way they think about things, the way they tell a story in a manner that makes you go, 'Oh wow, I never thought about it that way'—that's what distinguishes someone. I can't tell you how I get that feeling; I just know." Hirsch expanded her reach beyond the storied walls of Carolines on Broadway by launching the New York Comedy Festival back in 2004. The 14th annual iteration takes place in New York this November. Ahead of the event, Hirsch chatted with ELLE.com about the moments that made all the difference in her career.
Where did your passion for comedy come from?
As a kid, I grew up watching a lot of sitcoms with Lucille Ball and Joan Davis, and I also watched Johnny Carson—he basically introduced every comic to American audiences. I was working in retail early on in my career at Gimbels [department store], and in 1981, the store was closing, so I was out of a job. My friends said, 'Let's open a cabaret,' so we did in 1982. It wasn't quite working, and I said, 'Let's hire Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman.' There was something happening at the time with these guys and observational humor, and I took the cue.
What was the comedy scene like at that time, and how did Carolines fit into the picture?
Carolines was the start of something very new: A group of comedians that started at the club were bringing in their fans–it was a cult-y little thing. Paul Ruben, a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman, would come perform a few times a year; I remember the night Andy Warhol came in, wearing his pajamas, to see him, and he brought all the social kids at the time. One night when Howie Mandell was performing, while he was starring on St. Elsewhere, I turned around and Denzel Washington was sitting at a table with that big, beautiful smile of his. Meeting people early on in their careers was something that happened a lot at Carolines. Judd Apatow used to sneak into Carolines and "interview" people when he was in high school. He would tell people he worked for a radio station and would come in with a little fake microphone and recorder, but he actually used it for a book he was writing [Sick In The Head]. David Letterman came in to scout for talent. It was an interesting period, butI really didn't know the scope of where this was going to go. A few years after we opened, Comedy Central channel launched, as did Ha!, another comedy channel. In the late '80s, HBO used standup as cheap programming, and an hour-long special with Robin Williams or Steve White would do well. It proved there was an appetite for standup specials. Comedy was ready to explode, and Carolines was there before that all happened.
She Said, She Said: Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner on Lenny Letter [Daily Front Row]
Girls creators and serial collaborators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner launched Lenny Letter less than two years ago as an intimate home for long reads. The talented duo’s twice-weekly “issues” tackle a breadth of topics through a candid, intelligent, feminist lens. Dunham and Konner explain how personal stories and a commitment to an honest, empowering dialogue have made Lenny a must-read across generations.
How did you come up with the Lenny Letter concept?
Lena Dunham: It really started to feel very, very important that we have a platform to talk that was more than 140 characters, and a way to express ourselves that was not as short-form—and often frustrating—as Twitter.
Jenni Konner: …And not as long and fictional as Girls.
Dunham: Exactly. And there were things we couldn’t touch on on Girls, politically and personally. We also wanted to connect with, and expand on, our [Girls] audience.
Why did a newsletter feel like the right format?
Konner: It felt like the right length, and contained. We could pay enough attention and control it.
Dunham: It’s manageable and personal—we enjoyed that people could connect with it outside of the constant “refresh” culture of moving between windows on a computer. We liked that you could take a moment and really absorb it.
Why does the newsletter concept, which has been around for years, resonate in 2017?
Konner: It feels really intimate. A lot of stories, 80–90 percent of them, are focused on personal narratives. When it goes into your in-box it feels special, and like it’s from a friend.
Dunham: Jenni and I talked a lot about how we wanted it to be in the spirit of our friendship. We constantly share personal stuff, advice, and cultural documents. Jenni has always served as the voice of reason to the Girls cast, so we wanted to create that voice for a newsletter: your older, flawed but delightful sister.
How did you want to distinguish Lenny Letter from existing media brands?
Dunham: We wanted feminism and feminist commentary that wasn’t snarky. There’s a reason we don’t have comments, or any place for people to argue with each other.
Ever considered expanding Lenny Letter into a full-fledged site, comments and all?
Konner: I’m always terrified to say never, but this is the closest I’ll come to saying never.
Dunham: Jenni always says that my gravestone will read, “She read the comments.”
Which publications did you want Lenny’s tone and readership to emulate, to a degree?
Dunham: All my references were Sassy meets George—all from, like, 1994, pre-Internet.
Konner: We saw a hole, so there wasn’t a ton to compare it to when we launched. I mean, there were specific essays we loved in other publications, and the political ideals of Teen Vogue, something like that. But we wanted to fill this void.
Dunham: Gwyneth Paltrow has been incredibly generous with us. Jenni and I both love Goop, and Gwyneth has given us a lot of her time and friendship in building Lenny Letter. She said something in an interview about wanting Goop to be so great that people forget she’s involved; I think about that a lot. I’d like people to forget that it came from the creators of Girls.
Why did you want Lenny to have an unapologetically feminist tone?
Dunham: We both self-identify as feminists and were raised as feminists, and feminism is lifeblood that pumps through Lenny. A lot of T-shirts say today, “Feminism is the radical belief that women are people,” and it’s much more complex and simple than people give it credit for. It informs what we talk about and what we do, just the way feminism informed Girls on a deeper level, even when it wasn’t overt.
How big is the Lenny Letter team currently?
Dunham: People often think there are 15 or 20 people on our team, but we currently have six employees, including us and a CEO. We wanted people who shared our goal, of creating a wealth of personal and political content that makes life feel a little more manageable, but also brought something totally new to our vision. We’re constantly learning from the people we hire.
Has the readership changed since you started Lenny Letter? Any surprise fans?
Dunham: We’re both excited whenever a man tells us he likes something, since we’re so women-focused.
How about unexpected celebrity Lenny loyalists?
Dunham: I got a compliment from Bono; he loves Lenny—it shouldn’t surprise us, because he’s somehow in every country, doing aid while on tour and reading Proust, so, of course, he has time to read everything on the Internet. At first I was like, okay, someone briefed him [on Lenny Letter], but then he referenced a specific article, and I was like, “Well, well, well, Bono!”
How did you get involved with Hearst, and did you have any reservations about working with a huge, corporate publishing company?
Dunham: We really wanted as much reach as we could, that was our dream. Whether it’s connecting with ad or publishing partners, working with big corporations doesn’t scare us because we have confidence in our voice and confidence that these partnerships can bring more to women.
You two have collaborated on many different projects. How is working on Lenny Letter different than, say, Girls?
Konner: Our relationship remains the same, but what’s amazing about Lenny is we really don’t have to micromanage everything. Because of our editors and CEO, it’s incredibly independent. We have a call once a week, but then we can check out and leave them to mind the store.
Dunham: I remember one week when we were working on Girls, I was acting and directing the entire time, and it was just too much, so I decided not to look at the newsletter. It was sent out into the world and I read it at the same time as everybody else, and I was like, “I should do this more often!”
Which particular pieces on Lenny Letter are you proudest of?
Dunham: Jessica Knoll, the author of Luckiest Girl Alive, a great thriller everyone should read, disclosed her experiences as a sexual assault survivor and how it influenced her book [in Lenny Letter]. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece, and The New York Times then profiled her about her experience and what it meant to other survivors. As a sexual assault survivor and a lover of beautiful personal essays, I’m just in awe that we had anything to do with bringing that into the world.
Konner: I loved our Hillary Clinton interview. She showed such a fun playfulness, and she had a really good time doing it.
Dunham: I remember looking at Jenni as we were waiting to meet with Hillary, and I was so scared to go on camera, and I said, “I can’t believe we’re getting to do this together.”
Which contributors are you particularly surprised and excited to have featured?
Dunham: It’s been sort of a surreal list—Jane Fonda, Michelle Obama, Gabourey Sidibe, Alicia Keys, Brie Larson. These amazing women, constantly being so generous with us, is pretty wild.
Who’s on your dream list of future contributors?
Konner: I really want Mary J. Blige. I saw her in concert years ago, and she stopped in the middle of the show to tell women to get their own bank accounts. So I really want her to write about money in the newsletter. That’s a work in progress.
Dunham: If we could get someone into Joni Mitchell’s house to have a conversation, that would be the greatest thing in world. If you want to know what I want for my birthday, Jenni, I would love an invitation to Joni Mitchell’s house.
Konner: I’m already working on your birthday present, and it’s really good.
Dunham: What?! My birthday is really far away, and Jenni always gives great gifts.
Any topics you want Lenny Letter to tackle that haven’t been addressed yet?
Konner: We’re open to everything.
Dunham: We want it to be a full dictionary of experience of what it’s like to be a female-identifying person—that’s why we love historical pieces, fiction pieces, personal pieces, because it’s going to become this awesome encyclopedia of voices.
Have you toyed with the idea of compiling Lenny Letter’s greatest hits into a book?
Konner: Maybe! That’s a good idea.
Dunham: That is. We have our book imprint with Random House, and we just published our first book, Sour Heart, by Jenny Zhang. We have a few books in the works, and some that we’re chasing now. To us, it’s almost like a Lenny Letter library.
How did the idea for a book imprint come about?
Dunham: We were working on Lenny Letter for six months when we started talking about a book imprint. I talked to my editor at Random House, Andy Ward, about how great it would be to do the longest form content—a book—and to champion writers who matter to us.
Have you heard any great anecdotes about how Lenny Letter has impacted readers?
Dunham: I had a really meaningful experience when a woman came up to me on the street to tell me our endometriosis [a disorder where uterus lining tissue grows outside the uterus] newsletter allowed her to self-diagnose. She’d been suffering for years without a name, and how it had given her her life back.
Have you dealt with much criticism, and if so, has any of it surprised you?
Konner: If we have, we don’t know, because we don’t have a comments section, and that’s the whole point of not having a comments section.
Dunham: Every time I do hear criticism of Lenny Letter, it’s usually someone who hasn’t read it, and has opinions about it because I’m involved, or because of Girls. But I’ve had a lot of people tweeting at me, “I hate you, but I like Lenny Letter,” which I always love.
The Legends: Amii Stewart [V Magazine]
The disco star's four decades in Italy haven't just been a chianti and pasta-fueled idyll.
Amii Stewart shimmied onto the disco scene in the late 1970s in dramatic headpieces and outré outfits. The D.C. native trained professionally as a dancer before arriving in London in the late ‘70s, where she starred in and helped choreograph a Broadway show on the West End. After seeing the show in ‘77, a record producer approached her and asked if she wanted to record. The next year, she released “Knock On Wood,” her hit cover of Eddie Floyd’s 1966 song.
Her gloriously out-there costumes were created by a woman named Miranda in the English countryside: “Everyone would ask who did my costumes, and I wasn’t giving that name up for anything in the world!” Her fantastical looks and hefty headpieces were pioneering at the time. “Cher stole some of my stuff—I came first and she came after,” Stewart says. “But I thought it was the greatest compliment ever, so I wasn’t mad; I was quite pleased.”
Her disco career lasted for a few brief, raucous years. “There were these huge shows, with Tina Turner, Sylvester, Sting and the Police, Boney M., everyone was there—backstage was like a big party, we were so happy to see each other,” Stewart recalls. However, she disliked the genre’s reliance on covers, like her successful version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” As she explains, “I didn’t want to get stuck in the disco scene. When you’re labeled like that and the fad is no longer there, you die along with the fad. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”
Get That Life: How I Quit Med School and Became an Accessories Designer [Cosmopolitan]
Becoming an Ivy League-educated doctor was Eugenia Kim’s calling but a freak accident during her freshman year of college prompted her to ditch the med school plans for magazine publishing. Then, thanks to a particularly bad DIY haircut, Eugenia’s hat-making hobby became a viable career path. Two decades later, Eugenia has amassed celebrity fans like Beyoncé, Britney, and Christina, and added shoe and bag collections to the mix. Here’s how Eugenia ended up designing — and thriving in — millinery, thanks to a lot of chutzpah and a very open mind.
Click here to read the full story on Cosmopolitan.com.
Why The Buzziest Fashion Labels Are Coming From Fitness Studios Right Now [Well+Good]
Like a limited-edition capsule collection—or prized concert tee (think sold-out sensations like Justin Bieber’s Purpose pieces or Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo items)—the private clothing labels of certain boutique fitness brands have become a status symbol all their own—even for people who’ve never worked out there.
“Before, clients would take a class, then buy merch; now, customers walk in to buy [something] they saw on Instagram—and then try a class for the first time,” says Sarah Levey, co-founder of Y7, the buzzy, hip hop-driven hot yoga studio in New York City and Los Angeles. “People are proud to be living a healthy lifestyle and want to make a statement in what they wear—and fitness studios foster communities.”
The designs for the brand’s workout wear, which ranges from $60 shorts to $250 bomber jackets, are inspired by the same beats that bump from its playlists. “Hip-hop concerts inspire the experience we create at Y7, from the class to the apparel,” Levey explains. “Our class is the show, our instructors are artists—and our merchandise plays off this concert-esque environment.”
Anything emblazoned with the studio’s signature Namaste Hands motif is pretty much guaranteed to move faster than the flows of its vinyasa sequences. “Praying hands are a reoccurring symbol in yoga and hip-hop culture that resonate with our audience,” explains the yogi. Tanks and leggings covered with phrases like “Money Cash Flows” and “A Tribe Called Sweat” lure new customers in via social media. “We’ve seen Y7’s Instagram presence drive significantly more foot traffic to the studios,” Levey says.
And music plays a big part in creating the vibe at the nearby New York Pilates, too. (Creative director Brion Isaacs, who runs the company with his wife, Heather Andersen, chalks up the studio’s aesthetic to his past life as a drummer and DJ—plus his father’s career as a fashion designer.)
“I took a lot of cues from him in terms of spotting trends before they catch on,” Isaacs says. “Heather and I wanted to make items we’d actually wear—we took inspiration from vintage t-shirts, concert posters, and artwork.” The couple used it to create small batches of the types of tees, tanks, and sweatshirts ($30–$80) you’d pick up from a merch table at one of NYC’s iconic rock venues. “Everyone from Emma Roberts and St. Vincent to Pilates instructors and students from Australia and Russia,” have purchased a piece from their private label, he says.
The Olsen Twins' Ex-Stylist Tells All [Refinery29]
The Olsen twins’ illustrious canon of cinematic hits — Passport To Paris, anyone? — likely holds serious sentimental value if you were a late-‘90s tween. Or, perhaps, you were a bit younger than the intended demographic, but had a cool older sister or babysitter to clue you into the glories of all things MK & A. While we might be a bit fuzzy on the flicks’ PG-rated screwball sister-act plot lines, we certainly remember fawning over the matching ensembles Mary-Kate and Ashley wore both on-screen and in their adorable red carpet appearances. Well, you have stylist Judy Swartz to thank for every twinning tube top moment or lust-worthy spaghetti-strapped midi youso wanted to wear to that eighth grade prom. (Little did we know, the latter may have been some extensively-altered Dolce & Gabbana, so don’t worry, you definitely weren’t missing it on racks of the juniors section of Macy’s.)
Swartz, who styled a number of musicians throughout the '70s and '80s, was also instrumental in launching the Olsens’ first fashion endeavor, long before Elizabeth & James or The Row came about. Remember their Walmart line? Swartz created it — alongside her "great team," she's quick to point out — when she served as stylist, creative director, and senior vice president of the Olsens' Dualstar Entertainment. Along the way, she also played a part in the girls’ oversized, magpie, boho aesthetic, accessorized with a venti Starbucks cup, that defined their NYU years. (But more on that later.) Most recently, she worked with Melissa McCarthy, styling the actress’ red carpet appearances; she also served as creative director for McCarthy's eponymous, inclusively-sized fashion line that launched in 2015. (They aren't working together currently.)
Luckily, Swartz was more than happy to reminisce with us about dressing the Olsen twins in many of the get-ups we lusted after back in the day.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
15 Industry Experts On The State Of The Teen Magazine [Refinery29]
Teen magazines were treasured objects during my formative years: Absolutely none of the sex or relationship advice was relevant, and I didn't actually buy most of the fashion or beauty picks I enthusiastically dog-eared. But savoring a print glossy from cover to cover was basically my favorite form of entertainment. Poring over teen titles certainly prompted my career path. I even bought, and obsessed over, How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter To The Greatest Teen Magazine Of All Time, even though I'd never been a Sassy reader. (It shuttered when I was in kindergarten, alas.)
When my parents finally made me clean out my childhood bedroom this summer, I found stacks and stacks of erstwhile titles like Elle Girl, YM, Teen People, and CosmoGIRL, dating back at least a decade. Nostalgia aside, I was struck by the sheer variety I had (and took for granted).
Today's teen doesn't have nearly as many options on the newsstand. Gen Z's media diet is certainly more varied than mine ever could've been — it might be purely digital and mostly mobile-driven at that, thanks to, say, Snapchat Discover and Instagram as viable news mediums. In print, Teen Vogue and Seventeen are the only titles available to the 2016 teen (or tween; magazines are aspirational, after all). A number of teen titles shuttered before or during the recession — YM ceased publication in 2004, Teen People and Elle Girl both bit the dust in 2006 (though ElleGirl.com continued on), and CosmoGIRL folded in 2008, followed by Teen's demise in 2009.
So, this change didn't just transpire. But the two enduring teen glossies have shaken up their leadership structures lately: Less than two years ago, Cosmopolitan's editor-in-chief and publisher started overseeing Seventeen as well. More recently, Teen Vogue's founding editor-in-chief, Amy Astley, decamped for another Condé Nast title, Architectural Digest, in May; she was succeeded by not one but three people who are, in effect, equally in charge. (There's beenspeculation over time that Teen Vogue would be folded into Vogue, or just cease print operations completely.)
So what do all these changes mean for the future of the teen title? Do teens even want or need print magazines anymore? As essential as digital content indisputably has become, I'm forever a champion of print; I certainly hope the answer is a resounding yes. Ahead, 15 experts on the topic — including teen-magazine editors past and present, creators of next-gen teen media, and magazine-journalism professors — muse on the beloved medium's past, present, and future.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
Outdoor Voices Wants To Change The Activewear Game — & What's Considered Active [Refinery29]
For the uninitiated, Outdoor Voices is focused on “freeing fitness from performance and not being so serious” about activewear, according to founder Tyler Haney, who launched the line two years ago in Austin. “‘Doing Things’ is a super non-prescriptive, inclusive, and approachable idea,” and having a day (and a hashtag) devoted to the phrase is about “seeing how people use our clothes, instead of telling them how to,” Haney said.
Read the full story.
Steak Tartare [Savoring Gotham]
Steak tartare, traditionally comprised of minced, chopped, or ground raw beef tossed with raw egg yolk, capers, onions, and chopped parsley, first cropped up on menus at chic hotels in France at the beginning of the twentieth century. By the 1920s, the protein-packed dish was dubbed “beefsteack à l’Américaine,” as mentioned in notable French chef Auguste Escoffier’s 1921 culinary guide, though its connection to the United States is unknown. Besides high-quality beef, the dish required sauce tartare, then made of pureed hard-cooked egg yolks, vinegar, chives and oil, which is widely believed by historians to be steak tartare’s true namesake. “Beefsteack à l’Américaine” debuted in 1926 at Joseph Niels’s Brussels restaurant Le Canterbury. However, by 1938, sauce tartare was nowhere to be found in the steak tartare recipe in Larousse Gastronomique, which consisted of raw ground beef topped with a raw egg.
“The vogue for steak tartare really started after the Second World War, in the 1950’s,” French food historian Patrick Rambourg told the New York Times in 2005 after steak tartare had become popular throughout France and Belgium in the second quarter of the twentieth century (Smith, 2005). But Americans did not have a taste for the dish until travel to Europe became popular postwar. It arrived in New York in the mid-twentieth century. Later on, a scene in the 1987 film Wall Street featured the ruthless financier Gordon Gecko (played by Michael Douglas) initiating a young stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) into rich living by ordering steak tartare at the 21 Club. Contemporary chefs have tinkered with the classic slew of ingredients, with common modern-day additions that include Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, shallots, chives, scallions, pickled gherkins, and mustard—or, in the version at Les Halles, when Anthony Bourdain was the chef: a bit of ketchup.
Late twentieth-century favorites versions of the dish, some faithful to traditional preparations and others flaunting innovative revisions to the classic recipe, can be found at Balthazar, Odeon, Employees Only, Estela, Takashi, M. Wells Dinette, Prune, and Employees Only. Also pleasing the palettes of raw meat enthusiasts in New York in recent years are versions made with lamb, including dishes at The Cannibal, Empellon Cocina, and Dover.
The Truth About Ruth [Daily Front Row]
Life after Condé? Tough...but not impossible. Since losing her beloved glossy, Gourmet, in the McKinsey-backed bloodbath of 2009, Ruth Reichl has taken a dip in the Gilt pool, inked a three-book deal with Random House, and Tweeted up a storm. But The Daily isn’t the only fangirl on the block: a four-top waited patiently through cappuccinos for a photo op with the onetime Top Chef judge, and Scott Feldman (the foodie set’s answer to Ari Gold) popped by for a mid-meal schmooze. Thankfully, there’s more than enough Reichl to go around.
Pretty Kitty [Cherry Bombe]
“It actually started as an art project,” said Tara Pelletier of her whimsically packaged vegan product line, Meow Meow Tweet. Pelletier and her co-founder and boyfriend, Jeff Kurosaki, both art school grads, were already collaborating as performance art duo The Friendly Falcons. “We realized we needed to think about doing something more practical, because performance art was not going to pay the bills.”
The solution began with soap. After sampling some handmade product at a family friend’s goat farm, the twosome decided to make their own suds. “We were feeling burnt out from hustling so much with our performing,” Pelletier said.
The label’s name refers to the couple’s two cats, plus Kurosaki’s bird that lives with his mom in Hawaii. “We’re obsessed with our cats! And the name is something quirky; it doesn’t quite make sense. We didn’t want to sound like a skin care company. This is a social experiment in some way—we’re interacting with the world through these usable, consumable pieces of art.”
Once the soap crafting commenced, “We were giving it as gifts, because when you make soap, you always make too much.” Other products were added to the line in 2012, and Pelletier spent two years formulating the label’s bestselling deodorant cream. “When I switched over to a completely natural routine, deodorant befuddled me most. A lot of people have that experience. You’re so loyal and impressed by what does end up working after the trials you’ve gone through with other hor- rible natural brands.” The creamy formula comes in appealing scents like tea tree and lavender and there’s a popular baking soda-free grapefruit version. “It’s sort of a luxurious experience when you put it on. I mean, why not touch your armpits?”
Meow Meow Tweet used to produce its goods in Bushwick, Brooklyn, but in March the couple moved to the Catskills, fittingly, setting up shop in the town of Accord. New York City’s harsh real estate realities prompted the move to more peaceful environs; so did their plans to eventually buy a house upstate. One bonus? “The politeness of the postal workers up here makes me blissful,” she said.
As for the label art, Pelletier creates the graphic patterns behind Kurosaki’s whimsical illustrations, which are “little silly musings on situations.” To wit: their black walnut and sage soap sports a sketch of a pigeon perched on a clothesline, clutching a sock in its mouth, offering a cheeky explanation for all those stag socks floating around your drawers.
Meow Meow Tweet does have an online boutique, but the company likes to focus on indie stockists with brick-and-mortar stores. “We’re trying our darndest to get into every major city in the United States—we like the idea of people being able to shop locally.”
Critical Thinking With Frank Bruni [Daily Front Row]
It’s been half a decade since Frank Bruni held the revered—and occasionally revst of restaurant critic for The New York Times. In his current op-ed columnist role at the paper of record, where he’s now spent nearly 20 years in an eclectic collage of gigs, he’s more likely to sound off about tenure than tagliatelle or tartare. The din of feedback is equally fervent—not that Bruni has ever read the comments. We tucked into a bowl of farro salad with him at Charlie Bird to discuss.
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
What’s new since your review days?
That phase of my career was sort of an odd digression. When I was named food critic in 2004, I’d already been at the Times for nine years, doing broad-based political stuff. My little brother has always joked that I don’t have a career—I have an attention deficit disorder.
Were you surprised to nab that gig?
I was certainly aware of this mythology of The New York Times‘ restaurant critic, but I never fantasized about having the role.
How did being a generalist of sorts make you a great food critic?
I don’t know if I did a great job! I’m the worst judge of that. It’s really hard to analyze your own work. I brought less reverence for chefs and restaurant traditions. My reviews were a bit more varied and unconventional in approach, because I didn’t marinate in that world beforehand. I loved food, had dined around a lot, and lived in a foreign country, but I wasn’t the most erudite about food. As compensation, I had eclectic real-world knowledge. Restaurants are about a lot more than food—they’re about culture, theater, anthropology, and sociology.
Has the role shifted more in the past five years?
Two decades ago, there weren’t nearly as many people making a point of trying restaurants and considering themselves “foodies.” Last spring, I taught a food-writing seminar at Princeton. The 16 students in the class went into New York to try certain restaurants, knew what was going on in the New York dining scene, and were familiar with the big chefs around the country. You couldn’t have found 16 kids like that 20 years prior. Ten years prior, even.
There must’ve been quite the waiting list.
There were 48 students who applied. I deliberately didn’t choose the 16 students who seemed like the most geeky foodies. Still, 12 of the 16 students had pretty good restaurant-scene vocabularies.
Do you remember your first-ever review?
I was a nervous wreck! I’d just moved back from Rome, and I didn’t have occupancy of the apartment I’d bought yet, so I wrote it in this horrible temporary apartment the Times put me in. It had terrible feng shui. I stopped every three paragraphs and questioned myself. But I remember that that review wasn’t edited much.
Are there any takedowns you regret?
The only one that keeps coming back to me is my review of Barbuto. It was a few years old when I wrote about it, and I gave one star. I wrote, “As you ranged around the menu, the food could be sort of uneven.” I adore Barbuto—it’s one of the five restaurants I eat at in this city. I don’t know if it was a completely inaccurate review, but I only eat a quarter of the menu, and that quarter is, for me, a three-star restaurant. As a critic you’re obliged to reflect all of a restaurant’s ambitions and its menu in a review, but that’s not the way people use restaurants.
Did you deal with lots of scathing criticism?
The first year or two that I was the critic, there was a website called The Bruni Digest that was an ongoing parody of my reviews. I only read it once because I know how tape-loop obsessive I can be. I’m not one of those writers with a Google Alert on my name. I don’t read comments on my columns. I don’t want to see them. I get onanistically addicted to the positive stuff, and get masochistically obsessive about the negative stuff. I don’t have enough energy as a human being to spend the mental bandwidth on what people are saying and then do my job. It’s self-defeating.
Did you ever feel like a celeb of sorts?
I certainly didn’t! I’m guessing most critics don’t feel like celebrities. You’re trying to avoid having people know what you look like, and you don’t want to be too much a part of the story. During those five years, I never posed for a photo or appeared on TV. The only thing that kind of broke my anonymity was when Nora Ephron, my very good friend, was making Julie & Julia and cleverly decided to stud the movie with bit parts for food-world people. I got it cleared with my bosses. I asked not to have my name in the credits. After all the editing, you basically see me dopily chatting at a table and applauding Amy Adams’ duck.
Have you considered returning to the food beat at any point?
After I left the critic role, I didn’t entirely stop writing about food. I wrote a number of travel pieces; I did a very long piece a year or so ago for Condé Nast Traveler about the rising restaurant scene in Bogota, for example. I don’t write about food full time and I don’t want to again, but I still have the freedom to dip in. I think I always will dip in; it’s something I love.
What do you miss most about being a critic?
Having all of my meals expensed! I still eat out a lot for work, so I expense some meals. Maybe I’ll pick up the tab when I eat with a political strategist, but I certainly can’t take these people to Le Bernardin. I ate three or four times at Masa and six times at Per Se as the critic; it did not cost me a dime.
Which restos are in frequent rotation?
I’m here at Charlie Bird at least once a month; I’m probably in Barbuto every three weeks; same goes for Szechuan Gourmet. I go to Hill Country and Perla a lot, too. I like Gabe Stulman—he knows how to put together a fun restaurant, and he and his staff know how to make customers have a great time.
Do you have more chef friends these days?
Absolutely! When I was a critic, I had none—I couldn’t. But I got a sense with some people, like The Spotted Pig’s Ken Friedman, that we might get along. They were like friends in waiting.
Any guilty food pleasures?
Pop Secret’s sea salt flavor of microwave popcorn. Extremely salty, but surprisingly good.
What’s your signature dish?
I buy fantastic salmon and cook it for really short time at a very high temperature. It’s astonishing how foolproof it is. Everyone thinks they need to poach it. Just coat it with something—I use Dijon mustard and blast it with dill. And don’t overcook it! I also make very good meat loaves—veal meat loaf, turkey meat loaf. I even thought about making a meat loaf book with my friend.
Speaking of books, you’ve got two new tomes on the docket, right?
One is called Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, and it’s coming out in March. It originated from a column I wrote during college admissions season, when kids freak out about where they’ll get in. The book is an argument against investing too much anxiety and importance, in certain demographics, in getting into one of the two dozen most competitive schools. The other book I’m working on is about the fraught relationship historically between fathers and sons. It looks at the last five presidents and how much they’ve been stamped by their relationships with their fathers, or lack thereof. Among prominent men in America, you can notice kind of fraught father-son relationships, and that isn’t an accident.
Do you have any pals in fashion?
When I worked for Detroit Free Press, Robin Givhan was one of my best friends. We’ve totally fallen out of touch, but not for any reason. We were very close—we both lived in this former paint factory turned into luxury loft apartments you could have for a song because it was Detroit. We lived on the same floor, and we were both L.A. Law addicts. We’d watch it together every Thursday, switching apartments each week, padding down the hall shoeless.
Le Bernardin's House Dish [Daily Front Row]
Less a restaurant than a religion,
Le Bernardin looms atop the New York
City food chain like some midtown Notre Dame—an ecstatically four-starred salute to the wonders of the sea. But while it may be tough to book a pew, it’s easy to feel at home, thanks to Maguy Le Coze—its bobbed and beatific high priestess, conscience, and co-owner—who’s been spreading her saintly brother’s gospel of raw with chef Eric Ripert for three decades running. She is classically fabulous and utterly French: Behold her awesome power!
Girl We Heart: Preetma Signh [Nylon]
After swapping legal caseloads for fashion shows, this market editor by day thrashes around on the drums at night for NYC’s Vomitface.
It’s a late summer afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and block after block there’s brunching, shopping, and day drinking going down. But not for Vomitface—the self-described sludge-pop trio has been practicing for hours in a subterranean studio in preparation for some upcoming high-profile gigs, including their CMJ festival debut this month. The eye can’t help but land on Preetma Singh behind the drums, her bright, grassy-hued strands raked into a high pony, and her ensemble of navy shorts and a matching tee borrowed from the boys (literally). It’s a far cry from her usual getups while on duty as WSJ. Magazine’s market editor, an even farther cry from the suits she donned during her corporate lawyer days. In 2007, the Toronto-bred Singh, then a law student at Vanderbilt, met her future Vomitface bandmates, Tennessee natives and childhood pals Jared Micah (vocals, guitar) and Keller McDivitt (bass), at a JEFF the Brotherhood show. Singh attempted to give Micah her digits: “I wrote my number down wrong on a beer bottle. Very classy,” she recalls. They managed to reconnect “through the wonders of Myspace,” she adds, and have dated ever since, including a long distance stint while the guys were doing experimental noise projects in Nashville, and Singh was “being a lawyer and being miserable” in New York City.
“I did everything right, I went to a good school, and the end result didn’t make me happy,” she says. Successful partners at the firm told her: “If there’s anything else you love, try it before you need the money because you’ve got kids.” So, after two years of lawyering, Singh started a style blog in 2010 called The Working Girl, Esq. An internship at Refinery29 followed, then jobs at Vogue and Marie Claire, all leading up to her current gig as WSJ.’s market editor. Somewhere in there—Singh estimates it was while working as a fashion assistant at Vogue—she saw that Guitar Center was having a deal on drums. “The goal wasn’t to be in a band,” she says about her decision to buy a kit. “But we goofed around, came up with songs, and dug it!”
The less-than-savory band name came about before the band did. “At a party we facetiously, tipsily told someone that if we had a band, we’d name it Vomitface,” says Singh. The moniker stuck. Partly because “it encapsulates us as people—we’re sick of nostalgia and repetitiveness in pop culture,” she says. She smiles before admitting part two: “I get food poisoning quite a lot.”
As one might guess from the name, Vomitface shows are wild, raucous affairs—“You shouldn’t be able to read a book or have a conversation while we’re playing,” says Singh. Her typical stagewear includes sneakers—“to absorb the shock”—and a dress or skirt with bike shorts underneath. “It gets sweaty; it’s hard to look cute playing drums,” she says. But do her daytime cubemates ever make appearances? “They do! And I thought it would be a lot weirder than it is,” she says. “It’s not the type of music they’d usually listen to, but they genuinely have a great time.” Singh’s former Vogue colleagues have also come to shows, and her lawyer pals as well. “Lawyers have a reputation for being square,” she says. “But trust me, lots of them are pretty crazy.”
Just For Kicks With Sarah Jessica Parker [Daily Front Row]
Sarah Jessica Parker is synonymous with haute heels, so no wonder that her über-feminine, color-saturated foray into shoe design, SJP, is the real deal. (Getting Manolo mastermind George Malkemus on board didn’t hurt, either.) As the brand celebrates one year in business this month, we caught up with Parker about her NYFW debut, breaking into bridal and bags, and where she salvages her soles.
Are Bodysuits Mounting A Major Comeback? [Well+Good]
Thanks to shows like Glow, featuring ’80s fitness fashion, not to mention the general, “Let’s get physical” vibe influencing boutique exercise studios right now, retro activewear is having a moment. And the piece peaking in popularity this summer has to be the bodysuit. Adding to its current cool factor? Celebs like Khloe Kardashian donning slinky styles on social media.
Whether you’re looking to keep up with her, or are just interested in streamlining your early morning scrambles for workout threads, the bodysuit’s got you covered. (Literally.) It’s now in the same league of wardrobe essentials as the perfect white tee, according to Stephanie Dardenne, director of merchandising for the luxury e-tailer Carbon38. She credits former Kardashian-Jenner stylist Monica Rose and fitness mogul Tracy Anderson—along with Beyoncé and the Hadid sisters—for helping usher in the bodysuit’s redux.
This Affordable Southern Jewelry Brand Isn’t Just For Sorority Girls & Their Moms [Refinery29]
Even if you don’t know Kendra Scott’s name, you've probably seen the Austin-based designer’s creations. The stones steal the show on these mostly under-$100 fashion jewelry pieces that err on the chunkier side, rather than delicate, dental-floss-thin, Catbird-esque bands and layering chains. Scott makes the epitome of “statement earrings" — but when those statement earrings are in the ballpark of $65 a pair, like this best-selling style, they’re not the sort of pieces you have to relegate to weddings and the swishiest of occasions. This is fancy jewelry that doesn’t have to be worn like fancy jewelry — costume jewelry pricing for stuff that isn’t, well, all that costume-y.
The conceit seems to be resonating: the brand raked in $160 million in sales in the 2015 fiscal year, up from $74.8 million in 2014. Sales are up from $1.7 million in 2010 — Scott’s business increased nearly 10,000% in five years and, at its current run rate, is poised to make $220 million this year. While Scott’s is not a complete rags-to-riches story, it’s got quite an aspirational American dream-chasing ring to it. The incredibly bubbly, blonde, Wisconsin-bred designer and CEO started her eponymous brand in 2002 with just $500, three months after giving birth to her first son, peddling her designs in a tea box to boutique owners.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
My Jeans Are A Constant Reminder Of My Weight Change [Refinery29]
I have a decently sized collection of jeans. But even though my pants drawer is filled with 15 or so pairs, only one and a half pairs truly fits – in a way that looks good and feels fucking great. The others, right now, are too big, and donothing for me. They’re not roomy enough to be boyfriend jeans or chic mom jeans; they don’t look model off duty-ish. They get baggy and stretched out by lunchtime. They just look…uninspired, ill-fitting, haphazard. But they say something about what I’ve held onto: a forgiving, weight-fluctuation-friendly selection of pairs in larger sizes, once better-looking on a larger me. And what I’ve allowed myself to let go of: jeans that I, at some point, stopped being able to wriggle into. Jeans that likely could’ve fit me really well now – if only I’d kept them.
There’s basically a closet that fits me today, and former closets that fit me at past weights, all occupying the same hangers. My weight has fluctuated in the ballpark of 25 pounds since 2010. It’s been pretty consistent, on the lower end of that range, the past three years, mostly thanks to some exercising tweaks (lots of walking and so much Zumba, because it’s fucking joyous), but I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for that unexpected double-digit weight gain. Can these closets coexist peacefully, without making me feel crazy?
This Designer Thoroughly Lambasted Capitalism & Greed In His Spring '17 Show [Refinery29]
The ultimate objective of a fashion show is to sell clothes. Aside from making beautiful things and celebrating creativity, at the end of the day, fashion is a massive business: Annually, the fashion industry generates over a trillion dollars in sales globally (and nearly $370 billion in the U.S. alone). But capitalism and greed rarely, if ever, crop up as themes in designers' new collections. Leave it to Pyer Moss's designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond, to tackle those heady topics explicitly in his spring 2017 collection.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
Why Are School Uniforms & Dress Codes Still Around? [Refinery29]
School uniforms are a daily reality for many students at countless institutions around the world. So are dutifully enforced dress codes, which dictate what is and isn't kosher to wear to class without prescribing specific items. Uniforms and dress codes certainly aren't new aspects of the scholarly experience, but the value of policing kids' and teens' wardrobe choices has come under fire a lot in the past year. Considering all this controversy over "appropriate" attire in academia, is it really necessary or worthwhile for schools to continue calling the shots fashion-wise in 2016?
Some schools have mandated longer skirts for female students, while others have even sent students homefor having supposedly too-short skirts and overly snug pants. Then, there are students who've fought back against uniform mandates, whether bybending gender norms and creating petitions to affect change or wearing scarlet letters in protest.
Not all news about fashion's role in academia is bad news, though. Some institutions have progressively adoptedgender-neutral uniform rules. Schools in traditionally conservative cultures are even are moving away from policies that rigidly adhere to the gender binary to ensure LGBT students are more comfortable in the classroom.
It's a really polarizing topic, to put it lightly. We scoured around for a range of perspectives about the joys and frustrations that result from having a uniform or dress code. Ahead, 15 people sound off on being told what you can and can't wear to class, whether they spent their formative years attired according to a uniform, grappled with adhering to a nebulous dress code — or, in some cases, actually wish they'd had guidelines for getting dressed each morning.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
I Spent A Whole Month Wearing Athleisure 24/7 [Refinery29]
I've always viewed athleisure as a guilty pleasure. The term’s first usage dates back three decades (who knew?), but it’s truly become inescapable the past few years — and, as of 2016, it’sMerriam-Webster-official. Though I honestly love leggings and sports bras, I've only deemed them appropriate for actual workouts, lazy weekends, and, a bit sheepishly, traveling (what up, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). But athleisure is about wearing clothing once relegated strictly to the gym everywhere. And in the past few years, there's been evidence that more people are wearing more athleisure, more often: WSJ reported the market isestimated to increase by 50% — to a whopping $100 billion — by 2020. It's set itself up to be the most versatile clothing category — so I decided to put it to the test. What if I only wore workout apparel for 31 days straight?
At least I knew it wouldn't be hard to find. You’ll see spiffed-up gym clothes everywhere while shopping nowadays: Brands like Tory Burch, Cynthia Rowley, and Zara have created activewear collections recently. New retailers focused on high-end, hard-to-find workout brands, such as Bandier and Carbon38, have emerged. British brand Sweaty Betty hasaggressive stateside growth plans for its luxe leggings (with prices that eclipse Lululemon’s), while Gap Inc. has been betting big on its workout brand, Athleta. Celebrities have gotten in on the action, too — Beyonce’s got Ivy Park; Kate Hudson is behind (the much more controversial) Fabletics. Every sportswear behemoth has dabbled in designer pair-ups, too, like Stella McCartney for Adidas, Riccardo Tisci’s collab with Nike, and Under Armour’s forthcoming pair-up with Tim Coppens. (And, though she’s not a designer, let’s not forget Rihanna’s hit Fenty linefor Puma.)
As I started planning, I was struck by how pricey it can be to wear workout clothes constantly. Granted, it doesn’t have to be: Forever 21, Gap, and Target’s C9 Champion line carry affordable, stylish workout clothes. And I was generously lent or given numerous pieces for the purpose of this story, which I mixed in with items I already owned. But damn, athleisure gets expensive: The full tally of my month of athleisure threads comes to $3,451.04.
There were social challenges to this experiment, too. My month in athleisure included two birthday parties, one filled with fashion people I didn’t want to look like a complete schlub around; a Hamptons weekend with a friend’s family; a reunion with my boyfriend’s large extended clan; office team cocktails; plenty of work breakfasts, dinners, and drinks; and extensive apartment-hunting.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
A Love Letter To Lucky: 12 Ex-Editors Reminisce About The Shuttered Magazine [Refinery29]
It’s been a rough, drawn-out demise for Lucky, the magazine that completely pioneered the conceit of an entire monthly read devoted to shopping when it launched in 2000. It brought a particular kind of magic to its readers every month (or every day online), and that's what its alums are quick to remember when given the chance to look back — even after moving on from the cherished publication. Alas, Lucky's last print issue came out in May, and it’s been living online as LuckyShops.com since then. That quietly came to an end on Friday; the site stopped publishing content, and remaining staffers packed up and left.
A whirlwind of changes have rocked the beloved glossy since last August, when the magazine’s parent company, Conde Nast entered a joint venture with now-defunct e-comm company Beachmint to form The Lucky Group, and the title’s staff moved out of Conde’s digs in November. A round of layoffs occurred in February; editor-in-chief turned chief creative officer Eva Chen departed in April, and one month later, the magazine shifted from monthly to aquarterly publishing schedule. In June, Lucky ceased publishing its print edition entirely, and subsequently endured an (even bigger) round of layoffs. (We’ve reached out to The Lucky Group’s CEO, Josh Berman, as well as PR reps for comment.)
To put it lightly, it’s been a tumultuous time for the magazine and its staffers, and there’s been enough exhaustive rehashing of what’s gone down. We’d rather focus on its legacy as an early advocate of street style’s importance and a veritable bible of styling hacks. It was a fashion magazine focused on developing and celebrating personal style instead of tossing out rigid sartorial mandates, and that was so novel. It was empowering, it spoke to us like peers, and in so doing it felt very ahead of its time. (On a superficial note, we were all about those color-coded ‘Love This’ stickers…)
We could keep waxing poetic about what made Lucky so special. But in the words of a dozen people who truly knew the magazine best — the talented folks that spent time on the its masthead, including the three editors-in-chief from its 15-year lifespan, and lots of top-level editors — this is why the magazine mattered so much.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
Selena Gomez's First Coach Purchase Was Probably The Same As Yours [Refinery29]
ICYMI, Selena Gomez has been spotted in veritable hit parade of amazing looks recently. (Don't worry, we were keeping close tabs on her excellent ensembles, here.) The star was only spotted at one show this time around, although you'd think she was hitting the front-row circuit all week long, because of her consistently on-point outfit. But she reserved the honor for Coach — which makes a lot of sense, considering the star joined forces with the brand back in December. She'll be starring in forthcoming ad campaigns, working with the house's charitable arm, the Coach Foundation, and designing a special bag with Coach's creative director, Stuart Vevers.
Once we were a safe distance away from the end of New York Fashion Week, we rang up Gomez after the Coach show to discuss the virtues of a great top-handle bag, what she listens to when getting decked out for a red carpet, and her secret-sauce combo for looking amazing when you feel kind of crappy. (Spoiler: Like all things trendy, it involves a choker.) Also, sentimental packrats out there, you'll be comforted to know that Gomez, too, has a hard time letting go of stuff in her closet — especially when it comes to her first-ever "pricy" purchase.
Read the full story on Refinery29.
Beth Ditto Has Big Ideas About Plus-Size Fashion, So She Made Her Own Line [Refinery29]
There’s a new player on the plus-size fashion scene, and she knows her demographic very intimately: The Gossip singer Beth Ditto just dropped her namesake fashion line yesterday.
“I always have an event to go to or something to do, and I don’t have the beautiful privilege of being able to walk into a store and be like, ‘thatdress, that’s the one,'” Ditto tells Refinery29 of the impetus behind starting her own line. “I’m always having to rush around or get creative, get someone to make me something, or wear something old.”
“I know it sounds like fancy problems — and it is a fancy problem! — but the truth is, if you don’t have the luxury of just walking into a place and finding something you can feel good about buying, that’s made ethically and of extremely high-quality... ” she adds. “There’s just a huge gap: quality, ethics, love, consideration, and passion, because this is [a collection] made by a fat person, for fat people.”
Read the full story on Refinery29.