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On a sweltering afternoon in early July, Hannah Bronfman, the 23-year-old heiress and aspiring entrepreneurial whiz-kid is perched on a love seat on the veranda of the Bowery Hotel lightly fanning herself with a menu and discussing her plans to save the world.
“If you’re going to talk about this s--t, you gotta do it,” Bronfman explains of the sustainable initiatives undertaken at Green Owl, the record label-turned-something-a-little-more she helps run with her older brother, Ben. Tour buses are run on vegetable oil. Albums are printed on recycled vinyl. Eventually, they aim to turn algae into bio-fuel through another of Ben’s companies, Global Thermostat.
“They actually take carbon out of the air,” Bronfman says with pride. She removes her white-rimmed vintage cat-eye sunglasses when she speaks to the waiter, and thanks him when he delivers her iced tea, no sugar.
“I’m not here to promote myself,” she says. “The way I see it, any attention I get, for whatever reason, just draws more eyes to the causes that I believe in.”
Bronfman has been visible at a swirl of fashionable New York events with increasing intensity in the past year. She’s modeled for boutique brands at the behest of her friends and turned heads at parties held by Bottega Veneta, Ferragamo and Dior. She’s dating the rapper Asher Roth. Typically found at the heart of a thick scrum of friends (nearly all of whom she’s known since her childhood), Bronfman seems to direct the action, possessing a magnetism she laughs off as “good vibes, I guess.”
In the past decade, much of the bold-faced set in New York have become “social workers,” bright young things more often found wielding business cards than Birkins. By marrying her business interests to her pet causes, Bronfman could just be on to the next step in the evolution of the It girl. She is using her enviable resources, her popularity and her periodic presence in the public eye to refocus attention onto, as she puts it, “the s--t that we need to fix.”
“I definitely have a lot of ambition,” she says. “My whole shtick is that I want to contribute to New York’s culture via restaurants, nightlife, whatever…but to be more conscious, more aware, more sustainable. It’s more than just ‘being responsible as a culture.’ It’s having an ethical chain of production.”
Bronfman is half African-American and half Jewish-Canadian. She frequently flashes a warm, open smile and has the air of a girl who grew up attractive and thus doesn’t put much stock in it. On this July afternoon she is a gently perspiring, occasional-mosquito-swatting riot of bright colors: marigold Louis Vuitton Epi bag, off-white and kelly green button-down shirt tied above her navel, open floor-length white skirt that occasionally shows off black lace bike shorts. Her nails are pastel shades of lime, daisy and clementine-colored gel and play host to a cornucopia of miniature 3-D fruits she is fond of waggling about in the air when she talks. The effect is less Carmen Miranda than it sounds.
It’s hard not to like Bronfman, who is charm incarnate. Whiling away an afternoon with her, it’s easy to forget that a large part of all of this was handed to her at birth, and that for all of her eco-conscious principles, ambition and hustle she also possesses one hell of a safety net.
Bronfman is the youngest of three children born to actress Sherri Brewer of “Shaft” fame and Edgar Bronfman Jr., chief executive officer of Warner Music Group, which he recently sold for $3.3 billion. Her family is steeped in the music business. Her brother Benjamin has a two-year-old son with hip-hop provocateur M.I.A. Her older sister Vanessa introduced Hannah to Roth on Kid Cudi’s tour bus two years ago. Her parents’ divorce in 1990 and father’s remarriage resulted in an additional four step-siblings (two boys and two girls), who Bronfman worries about falling prey to negative influences. “It’s really important to me to be a good role model [to them].” she says. “There really just aren’t that many good role models out there right now…especially for young girls.”
After graduating from Bard College in December with a degree in sculpture, Bronfman joined her brother at Green Owl (then just a record label under, naturally, Warner Music Group). The pair manages a handful of acts out of her cavernous, multi-level light-and-art filled Lower East Side apartment, jotting notes on a floor-to-ceiling chalk wall that reads “LOVE” in foot-high letters. The company recently launched a skate-inspired clothing line that Hannah designs. There’s another project in the works that she says she can’t talk about yet but hints at by saying, “Green Owl is really developing into a lifestyle brand.”
When quizzed on his little sister and co-worker, Ben Bronfman has a question of his own.