NINE STORIES OF ART + BOOZE
THAT TAKE PLACE WHILE TAILING ANDRE´ FROM PARIS TO HOLLYWOOD TO THE LOWER EASTSIDE
This is how an innocuous display of brand seeding
can unexpectedly breed a genuine party.
Its only been a day since we returned from PAris. My muscles ache from the sudden drop in adrenaline and blood-alcohol content. My pulse has yet to drop into the rhythm of L.A.’s unique lull. Andre´ and Paul Sevigny meet us at the office. They’ve brought two bottles of Pinot Griggio in a plastic bag. Glasses are passed around and a toast is made as we wait for the sun to go down. Outside the front door sit ten cans of high-pressured Montana “Erica” pink aerosols in a cardboard box. As we usher ourselves to the sidewalk, two carloads of Andre´ and Paul’s friends arrive. Some greet each other in French. Handshakes and kisses ensue, more drinks are drummed up in the kitchen. Andre´, in his trademark ensemble of Ray-Bans, leather jacket, denim skinnies and leather boots, fastens a fat cap to a can and eases into a two-hour long spraying spree.
He hits the wall left of the front door with his signature tag, Monsieur A: a flouncy stick-figure with top hat, heeled boots, and an X-O for eyes; a now infamous alter-ego Andre´ first scrawled across Parisian walls back in ‘85. Then he hits the wall right of the door with Mr. IX (“one-x”), a mutation of Mons. A created specifically as the mascot for Belvedere IX, an herb-infused vodka for which Andre´ has basically become cultural ambassador. The two characters brightly girdle the magazine’s entrance, fluorescent archangels of art & commerce staring out at us, giggling.
As he continues to paint, store owners from across the block walk over, streetwalkers stop to watch. Some snap pics with their cells. A couple self-described bloggers appear with digital handhelds. Everyone’s talking, pointing, absorbing, simultaneously participating in and documenting Andre´ at work. What the scene represents depends of course on what you’re looking for—there’s the obvious dull irony of the utterly legal defacement of the building’s façade; there’s proof of mediated experience, a brief snapshot into the tired debate surrounding the corporate co-opting of cool; and then there’s evidence of the unmitigated, a natural-enough convergence of individuals, brands, and voyeur-media, haplessly colluding.
New heights are reached. Andre´ expertly climbs a twenty-foot ladder to paint Mons. A and Mr. IX across the building’s second story. Honking cars, police sirens, construction clatter and the chopping of helicopters overhead provide a fittingly discordant soundtrack. People leave, others arrive. Paul Sevigny, tall, gangly, and always affable—a nicotine patch on his left forearm, cigarette in his right hand, wine glass in the other—makes it a point to offer each of the new crowd members a pour of wine or newly obtained whiskey.
At some point, a beat-up Camry pulls over, and Jake Gyllenhaal pops his head out the window, talks with someone, and shortly thereafter drives away. It’s a post-9/11, post-Bush, post-values, pre-apocalyptic kind of world—celebrity’s not that surprising anymore. Needless to say, we merrily continue to add our voices to the city’s vociferousness.
This is how you sometimes get
what you don’t deserve.
It’s been determined that Todd and I will fly to Paris to hang out with André, and though both he and I feel terrible excusing ourselves from all the really serious and important life-changing events we participate in everyday, we’ve decided, despite the massive inconvenience, to accept the offer.
Though we’d rather ride in a shitty yellow taxi, we’ll happily, for the sake of relations between Belvedere + Flaunt, take the plush stretch limo that arrives promptly to drive us to LAX. Its no stretch Hummer with hot tub, but so be it. Though we prefer to ride in economy with the plebeians in seats located directly adjacent the airplane bathrooms, I suppose we could deal with having to sit in the over-sized Business Class La-Z-Boy seats. Just this once won’t hurt.
Of course, if this trip were for meeting with anyone else, we wouldn’t just quietly take such explicit meanness and perversity. Rest assured, Todd and I will suffer through it.
Because its important to hydrate whenever embarking on such long journeys, we’ll have to drink several glasses of champagne as our plane waits on the tarmac; we’ll wipe our faces and other body parts with hot hand towels, change into cute Air France socks, and begin our transatlantic beauty regimen by moisturizing thoroughly with lavender body cream. We wont enjoy it.
When we’re given the choice between lemongrass chicken with potato puree or tournedos of beef with sautéed vegetables, though we prefer the over-priced, flatulence-guaranteed snack packs offered in the lesser cabin, we’ll both order the tornadoes of beef. Our attendant will laughingly correct our pronunciation. We wont be laughing. When the garcon asks us if we’d like “red or white with dinner,” we’ll simply say “Yes.”
We’ll be all too comfortable and likely fall asleep, only to be rudely woken to a choice of hot-fudge sundaes or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. We’ll then watch some shitty movie like Eagle Eye or Beverly Hills Chihuaha; we wont have to pay for the headsets. Before landing we’ll quickly study a map of Paris, even though we don’t believe in maps; and we’ll quickly skim a French Language For Travelers book, even though when we exit the train and the pilot cheerfully says “Au revoir,” I’ll silently shuffle forward and Todd, infinitely wise, will reply, “Adios.”
This is how we coax a smile from
the stone visage of anonymity.
Cold but crisp, blue-skyed, clear. We’ve been lucky with weather in Paris. Forecasts foretold of heavy rains and not a drop has fallen. Todd and I hop out a cab and pry the doors of the Hotel Amour, our home for the last three days. The hotel’s lobby is a small desk tucked into the corner of an unassuming restaurant we’ve dined in each morning and night since our arrival. The lights stay low, the latte’s stiff, and the waitresses waft about, smoldering with aloofness.
The twenty rooms upstairs offer less space for maneuvering, but are similarly seductive. Apparently, the Hotel Amour was a pay-by-the hour establishment before Andre´ stepped in. He overhauled the building, and contracted six different artists to design the room interiors. The most notable suite is an entirely black room designed by Alexandre de Betak, with black shag carpet, and a black clawfoot bathtub at the base of a queen-size bed dressed in black linens and furry blankets. On the black ceiling are hundreds of disco balls that, with a flick of the switch, begin to rotate. Like all the other rooms in the hotel, the Betak suite has no television or phone. There are no drawers or closets for clothes. The only accoutrement to the bed is an iHome. The Hotel Amour is staying true to its legacy. All the rooms are, in effect, designed for short-term, non-committal fucking.
We find Andre´ in a corner table of the restaurant sharing a plate of cheese with his wife, Anna, the twenty-one year old Ed Bangers’ artist also known as Uffie. Sitting with them is their close friend, Gildas Loac, former manager of Daft Punk and present owner of kitsune´, an established record label, clothing brand, and retail store which, in its starkness and simplicity, displays a highly appreciable quality that the clothing collection also possesses: a refined distaste for excess.
Andre´ is constantly rising from the table, kissing cheeks of people entering, excusing himself to conduct phone calls, having drinks with guests at the bar. Todd and I help Anna clear the cheese plate of its remaining grapes. When Andre´ approaches and asks the table if they’d like to join him for a cigarette, Anna refuses. “It sucks, I’ve had to quit smoking because I’m in the studio and taking voice lessons.” With a subtle smirk, Gildas turns to her and says, “Good, no more vocoder, its bullshit.”
Outside, Andre´, Todd and I smoke. We walk to the adjacent building, where Andre´ points to a wall painted with ANNA, a slowly fading example from “Love Graffiti,” a series in which Andre´ would paint the name of a client’s lover at a destination of his or her choice. It’s this departure from the egocentric or crew-centric nature of tagging that perhaps gives Andre´ a unique place in the graffiti world. That, and he’s co-owner of two of the best nightclubs in the world, LeBaron and Beatrice. And he’s the only person I’ve ever seen “get up” while wearing white, square-tipped leather boots.
Todd asks him how he felt the first time he got arrested for public defacement. “I was really scared, you know” says Andre´, “but its like the first time you fall off your skateboard or bike, you have to get right back riding, or you’ll just be scared and give up. So I made sure to start painting again right when I got out.”
He insists that before we leave we watch a particular YouTube video. We go inside and he props his laptop on our table. As the video begins, we see Andre´ walking in front a stretch of 10ft high, 40-foot long plywood wall, a makeshift covering the windows of the Villa Navarra, an experimental prefabricated bunker embedded in a mountain. As the video quickly time-lapses across two days of continuous painting, we see Andre´ filling in big serif letters that read: I Don’t Give A Fuck. At the end of the video, after he surveys his work for a final time, he boards a metallic-blue helicopter and flies away.
This is why grapefruit becomes
a leit-motif of your life.
Because when we first sit in the cavernous underground of Andre’s restaurant, La Fidelite, each table has a pink and black bottle of One-X, each place-setting three shot glasses filled with competitors’ vodkas, a spoon-full of pink Pop Rocks, and a small plate with several slices of pink grapefruit situated in the shape of a glowing half-moon.
Because after drinking three shots of what tastes and smells like rubbing alcohol, a squirt of grapefruit juice is a return to reason, a hard slap to the tongue of some goddamn common sense.
Because as master mixologist Claire Smith explains the affects of One-X’s various organic ingredients—how the eucalyptus and ginger give it a spicy, floral nose, the guarana, acai, and ginseng a medicinal kick, and the almond, jasmine, cinnamon and black cherry a complex, sweet and spicy palate—I think upon how each of these ingredients originates from somewhere else, how their convergence in a bottle can serve as a metaphor for the process by which cultures combine and collide in the world’s great urban centers, and its only after Todd accidentally squirts me in the eye with grapefruit juice that I end this inane revelry.
Because when you put a slice of grapefruit in a mouth filled with pop rocks and One-X, the softened rocks start manically re-popping.
Because after several of the grapefruit-One-X cocktails known as the Cat-atonic, when we move upstairs for dinner and Andre’s associate Chi Chi Menedez sits me at a table where Belvedere marketing director Jason Lundy and Flaunt co-founder Long Nguyen suddenly realize they both exercise at the David Barton Gym, and Millenium group president Charles Gibb and Dazed & Confused editor Rob Montgomery talk about the prospect of raising children—suddenly I’m overwhelmed by the fruits of chance encounters and the level of sincerity between relative strangers.
Because even though nine individually distilled natural ingredients infused with 100-proof premium vodka might make for a powerful finish, there’s always room for a tenth.
Because when I join Todd at Andre’s table and Andre introduces me to his friends, Jenny Mannerheim of Nuke Gallery and Yorgo Tloupas of Intersection, I excitedly lean across the table to shake their hands and knock over a full glass of Cat-atonic that slowly pours directly into Todd’s crotch.
Because when the grapefruit runs dry, we start drinking One-X neat.
Because when we go to Andre’s bar Chez Moune, Paris’s oldest known lesbian club, to watch experimental burlesque, a morbidly obese man in a pink dress slaps Todd on the ass and says, “Pigalle.”
Because one of the primal purposes of imbibing spirits is to step beyond the impositions of one’s self, to commune with something much bigger than our paltry lives, and what better way to chase that often unrealistic ambition than with a bitter fruit?
Because when Chi Chi asks if I’d mind if a gentleman sits beside me, and that gentleman is Peter Beard, I offer to pour him a glass of the good stuff and reach across the table for the bottle, in the process knocking over a full glass of water that slowly pours directly into Todd’s crotch.
Because apparently after Chez Moune, we went to Andre’s LeBaron, the experience of which I can recall absolutely nothing, except that a skinny Scandinavian dude invited me to an afterparty at the Betak room in the Hotel Amour.
Because when the door to the Betak Room is opened, I witness a crowd of naked bodies jumping on the bed, a dude passed out on the floor, two fully dressed girls splashing in the deep basin of the bathtub, and, laying in a dirty white towel next to the heater, a large grapefruit impaled by a steak knife.
This is how you don’t get horny and
cheat on your girlfriend.
We walk to the sex district of the Pigalle looking for an ATM. Along the way, we’re accosted by two teens and an older, unsavory gentleman looking for a light. They ask us if we’d like to walk with them. We say no and continue searching for a way to get cash. We take a right when we hit the Moulin Rouge and end up getting a pour of Glenmorangie at the Cafe des Deux Moulins, of Amelie fame. I wonder out loud about how much we could’ve paid those poor girls’ pimp to have them come back to our hotel for a girl-on-girl photo shoot. We walk back the direction from whence we came. We stop in at the Sexodrome to inquire about the cost of watching a live-sex show. Forty euros per person is steep, so we bounce.
On the way back to the Hotel Amour, we turn down a narrow street lined with small clubs that each have large rectangular windows. Inside the windows loom women stiff as mannequins, dressed in tawdry miniskirts and second-hand cocktail dresses, licking their lips and running a slow hand down their thigh whenever someone walks by. Stiff, slow-handed women who are not so obviously prostitutes but are obviously prostitutes, lasciviously frozen behind a pane of glass.
Todd’s determined to take their picture. He quickly posts up across the street and snaps a couple shots. As we start to take off, two alarmingly muscular bald dudes begin running towards us, yelling “Hallo! Hallo!” Todd tucks his camera and begins walking much faster. I decide to just stop. It seems the club owners in the neighborhood look disagreeably upon any evidence of illicit behavior. Todd erases the pictures in front of them. They give us two drink tickets and invite us back to their fine establishment.
We move on. Todd scolds me for not moving faster. As we walk down the street, a very pretty, 6-ft-tall trannie passes by. In perfect English s/he says, “I’ll blow your mind.”
This is how you enter a door that the people inside
would rather you not enter.
Its 4:30 a.m., NYC. We checked in just seven hours ago. We’ve ditched our room, where thirty exiles from the One-X launch party at the LeBaron pop-up club continue to smoke and booze, and snuck upstairs. Luis has his foot jammed between a door and its doorway, a pink and black 750ml bottle in his hand. Smoke, music, and conversations bellow from inside. “Listen honey, we’re his friends. And I don’t know who the fuck you are, but I’m coming in. And they are too,” he says, pushing into the room as he waves his arm toward the twelve dudes we’ve brought to Andre´’s personal suite in the Bowery Hotel.
Inside, a dozen long-legged girls with nondescript faces fill the bathroom; a small crowd dances in the kitchen. Andre’ walks the room wearing shades and carrying a bottle. Waris Ahluwalia sits quietly on the couch. A couple spoons on the floor in the far corner of the living room. Somewhere I’m sure some tiny god is surely laughing. Within hours we’ll each confront the painful ogling of the rising sun.
This is how we beat our fists
against the visage of anonymity.
“Knowing how to look is a whole new system of spiritual surveying.” —Salvador Dali
When we visit Cliff and Sandy in a light-filled loft a couple blocks south of the Pigalle to survey the spring collection of Chatav Ectabit, I see poignant over-sized stitches, hand-carved bone fastenings, whimsical pockets, unusual drapings; but more than just materials, I see an architecture full of burgeoning ideas; not just clothes, but bodices hemmed with hypotheses regarding expression and physicality.
After turning south on Rue Siguer we walked to the apartment building where the poet Arthur Rimbaud had lived for a time, to pay homage to the late-19 century brat who Albert Camus called, “the poet of revolt, and the greatest of them all,” to briefly ponder the life of a kid who, at 19, having already scandalized Paris and revolutionized French poetry, seems to have stopped writing completely, moved to Abyssinia, and became a successful gun trader.
We took metro 3 to the 12 to the Assemblee Nationale, and after walking to the Palais Bourbon to possibly meet Michelle Lamy in the Rick Owens showroom, we were informed she’d just left for the gym, and found ourselves standing amidst a fervor of fittings, browsings, and sales, watched curiously by a herd of stunningly attractive employees standing behind the reception counter, beaming their beatific smiles, the pheromonal warmth of which we took several moments to bask in.
When we enter Colette we’re absorbed by a dense, slowly moving mob infected by an absurd amount of consumer fervor, combing through clothing, shoes, magazines, and electronics—products I can only glimpse through waves of flailing arms and lolling heads. As I attempt to swim to a table of contemporary-art books in hope of finding something that will subtly signify my refined taste to a special friend back home, I smell the stench of my own Will to Purchase.
With only an hour before needing to leave, still, when we stop into the Musee D’Orsay, I cant help but spend the entire time staring at Manet’s “Asparagus.”
Inside the Enrico Navarra Gallery, near the Christian Lacroix Gallery, across from Le Bristol Hotel, pieces of Andre´’s canvas-based and sculptural works share the space with paintings and sculptures by Keith Haring, the majority of which strike Todd as uncharacteristic of the American artist. As we discuss the obscure works before us, I recall watching a documentary on Haring which implied, through the commentary of various talking heads, that Keith died with the feeling of having much more work to do, and that sentiment bound me to him in a way, consoling me with the thought that at the root of all art-making and pursuit of craft is the nagging predilection to create for oneself a blaring symbol of place and identity.
This is how an American becomes
a werewolf in Paris.
It’s the third night in four that we go to Le Baron. We’re unashamed and no worse off for the wear. The doormen are accommodating, the bartenders heavy-handed, and the crowd always an eccentric mix of fashion insiders, musicians, art-world partisans, and the young progeny of old-money socialites. We wait for Justin and Rigel inside, old friends of Todd’s who’ve driven down from Amsterdam and booked a room directly across from ours at the Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter, where we’d moved once our reservation at our beloved Hotel Amour ran dry.
The club is full, the bar stacked. After several rounds, we make our way out to the dance floor. Andre´ sits in a booth flanked by Yorgo and Olivier Zahm, with his usual entourage of two to three attractive Purple groupies. Dita Von Teese twirls in front of the deejay booth, manned by French actress Joana Preiss and Liz Goldwyn, wearing a bustier and a penciled mustache, playing a specious mix of old soul and doo-wop.
By 2am, the air temperature has significantly risen. By 4am, sound and dance begin to blur the boundaries between bodies. A confluence of all the right ingredients occurs, and play between perspiring people breaks forth in abundance.
By the end of the night, its already morning. Rigel and Justin leave for the hotel with a couple of girls from the club. Todd and I smoke a cigarette outside eyeballing a passing taxi. Suddenly Andre´ jets out the doors, walks into the middle of the street, and takes a long piss. He zips up, adjusts his jacket, and walks straight back inside.
By the time we get back to the hotel Justin and the girls are smoking a spliff on the bed. Rigel lays beside them, completely naked from the waist down, a bright red cock hanging out from the hotel blanket. Todd shakes him awake, “You better get your ass up, before I pull these covers and embarrass the shit out of you.” Rigel immediately rises, riled, and matter-of-factly says, “You can’t embarrass me bitch. I have a beautiful penis. Look at it. Look at it.” The girls laugh and run and scream as he stalks them around the room and out the door, chasing them through the hallway yelling, “Cir-cum-sciz-ised! Cir-cum-sciz-ised!”
This is how you sometimes get
what you don’t deserve.
Heavy sheets of rain fall outside. We huddle inside the hotel’s glass lobby doors looking streetward for our ride. The big chill really began last night. Before Todd and I’d left the hotel, feeling the creeping freeze inhabit our bones, we had the bellman bring up a grapefruit and finished the last third of a One-X bottle I’d found under the bed. Properly toasty, we proceeded to the Crazy Horse, to attend the opening night of Dita Von Teese’s new burlesque show. The entire time while in Paris, we weren’t exactly sure if we even had seats. But upon arrival, Dita’s manager Melissa Dishell, greeted us and treated us like statesmen. We were sat center, front row, with a frosty bottle of champagne at our table. Sitting to Todd’s right was world-famous lingerie designer Fifi Chachnel; sitting to my left was Peter Beard.
I introduced myself again, and he said he remembered me from Le Baron. Flattered and looking for small talk, I asked him how long he’d been in Paris, and if he has a house out here. “Oh,” he said, “I just visit. I live in Africa, most of the time out of a tent.”
Prior to the curtain rising, I hawkishly survey the crowd, recognizing the faces of Wes Anderson, Ellen von Unwerth, Valentino. There’s also alchemist/candlemaker Douglas Little, burgeoning burlesque hopeful Gentry Lane, amazing milliner Stephen Jones.
“There’s lots of anthropology here tonight,” says Peter, noticing my craned neck and croaking eyes. He takes a small digital camera out of his pocket and begins playing with the settings. “I’m gonna,” he says, eyes not lifting from his point-and-shoot, “I’m gonna try and get some secret pictures of the show.”
It begins with an amazing, military-themed march that features all the Crazy Horse girls, nude in calf-high leather boots, synchronously hot-stepping. Individual dancers, many trained since prepubescence in ballet, ballroom, and so on., appear throughout the show in various themed routines. In one, a girl performs as a lion in a cage. In another, more intricate skit, several girls interact with a mirror to create kaleidoscopic body geometry.
Dita is not a dancer per say, but rather a master of the slow, sultry strip, a conjurer of the crowd’s pin-up fascination and fancy for pretty-girl fetish. She performs three times, including a variation of one of her more famous skits, in which, after a hard days work, she indulgently strips from her clothes, steps daintily into a white claw-foot bathtub, and begins to carelessly wash herself.
It’s a performance worthy of Peter Beard’s pictures. But at some point in the show, even though he’d turned off the flash and held the camera close to his chest, a security guard walks over and asks him to please refrain from taking photographs. Peter complies, mumbling under his breadth, “Don’t matter, I got some good stuff anyways.”
After the show, a topless deejay began spinning records on stage. Champagne and éclairs floated on trays. Dita and the dancers mingled with the remaining crowd, signing autographs, posing for photographs, rightfully being admired. Todd and I left early for the hotel to pack. I fell asleep watching awkward French gangsta rap videos. When I woke up, a layer of snow padded the patio.
We drive out of the city to Charles De Gaulle, listening to what the driver calls “genuine Somali funk.” On the plane, Todd falls asleep before we even take off. My eyelids refuse to close. So I drink champagne. I eat cheese and spinach ravioli with a glass of red and a glass of white. I watch Burn After Reading, W., and Rachel Getting Married. Once I land, there’ll be loads of e-mails to send, calls to make, meetings to attend, and this story to write. But right now I’m 40,000 feet in the air and I don’t give a fuck.
Originally published in Flaunt Magazine.