Closing Note: Sleep Is Overrated...

... and other candid observations from Fran Lebowitz.

Fran Lebowitz
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Collections issue 11/08/2010

Fran Lebowitz, an astute observer of the cultural scene, has a bone to pick with the fashion industry. She believes fashion shows aren’t as interesting as they were in the Seventies and Eighties, the models aren’t nearly as fun, and the celebrity frenzy has left something to be desired. In fact, she feels designers should pay reality stars not to wear their clothes. Although she had high expectations for the New York shows at Lincoln Center, she was underwhelmed.

“It was the same tents [from Bryant Park],” she said during an interview in Graydon Carter’s sprawling offices at Vanity Fair, where she is a contributing editor. “I don’t like anything in tents. It’s kind of like camping.”

Known more for her wit than her productivity, the writer has two half-finished books still awaiting her attention. An HBO documentary about her life called Public Speaking airs on Nov. 22. She and Carter produced it, and Martin Scorsese directed. While her wardrobe centers on Levi’s 501s and Brooks Brothers shirts, Lebowitz says she loves clothes, and she shared some thoughts about fashion, the shows and where the culture is headed.

WWD: How do you determine which fashion shows you go to?
Fran Lebowitz: I have to have known you for a minimum of 30 years. I end up going to one or two others because someone says ‘There’s this kid. He’s really great,’ or it’s someone’s child. Generally I don’t go. I don’t enjoy it as much, not even close.

WWD: What do you think of the way fashion shows have changed and the front row chaos?
F.L.: It was tiny, the fashion world. It’s my opinion that a small environment is by definition, more interesting because it is not so inclusive. What’s wrong with the fashion world is what’s wrong with all aspects of culture. They become way too democratic. The culture is way too democratic; the society is not democratic enough. What would be better is if people participated in their democracy, and that was more inclusive, and participated in their economy, and that was more inclusive, and the culture would be left to the people who, I don’t know, are talented. This is a word that often becomes meaningless. You can’t give it to someone. Talent is something you’re born with. That is, in the present understanding of America, it’s un-American. You can’t gain it by either working very hard, an old-fashioned American idea, or wishing for it, which is the more common way. The word “dream” has replaced every other word practically. You hear people say to kids, “just go for your dream.” But that’s a lie and it’s stupid. What is a dream? A dream is a fantasy. To encourage a world based on fantasy is idiotic. Here’s a word that should be only used for people who fall asleep. I myself don’t dream because I never sleep.

WWD: Why don’t you sleep?
F.L.: I haven’t slept since I was 17. I’m up all night whether I’m home or not. I used to be out all night. But I don’t do that anymore. I’m way past the out-all- night age. People can call me at three in the morning without any fear that they would wake me up.

WWD: How do you function?
F.L.: Let’s face it, I am not a highly-functioning person.

How did you get interested in fashion?
F.L.: I love clothes. This is something you never hear about in the fashion world. No one talks about the clothes. How many people fit into those big tents? Hundreds? There aren’t that many people who know about clothes or care about clothes. The really big tent has the number of people you expect to see at a sporting event which I do not attend.

WWD: How many shows did you used to go to?
F.L.: I’d go to Calvin, and people I was friends with. When I was older, I would go to Paris. If you were around in the Seventies, there was Saint Laurent. When there’s someone like that, [it’s] very unusual in any field. I happened to be here when George Balanchine and Jerry Robbins were with the New York City Ballet, also Saint Laurent was designing clothes, and there was such a thing as the new Truffaut movie... There’s no one like Saint Laurent. There was no one then. This isn’t a thing of era. This was a thing of unusual talent. I’m not saying there are no good designers like that now. There are. I think Marc Jacobs is a good designer. But there’s no one like [Saint Laurent]. I would be surprised if anyone would say that there was. If they do, they are wrong. Even the models were different….

Anyone will tell you there’s never been a runway model like Pat Cleveland. These girls were fun. They had fun in the shows. You don’t see that anymore. Because it’s a giant business, and because the girls are different. These are basically boring girls who happen to be pretty. The supermodels in the Nineties were not great runway models. Back in the Seventies, you had Donna Jordan, Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison. Everybody knew everybody. It was very judgmental. People applauded the clothes. To applaud clothes, you have to know about clothes. People today don’t applaud clothes. In Paris, during the Collections the whole city seemed to be consumed by it. That is not true anymore. The whole city would talk about clothes. It was very snotty. It was a level of connoisseurship.

WWD: Did you actually buy the clothes you saw on the runway?
F.L.: I couldn’t afford it. I knew Geoffrey Beene. There was no one like Geoffrey. He was not highly popular. I adored him. I happen to own several jackets that Geoffrey made for himself in the Sixties but gave them to me in the Nineties. He called me one day and said, “I gained some weight, and I can’t wear these anymore, and thought you might like them.” His arms were shorter than mine, but I wear them anyway... The jackets were made of woven angora. I didn’t know there was such a thing. In the Sixties, he had some fabric mill make this fabric for him. I wear them even though they don’t fit. He would never fit me. They are great even not fitting. I have my suits and jackets made, but I never have shirts made so they don’t fit.

WWD: What’s a perfect shopping experience for you?
F.L.: I don’t shop. I only shop for blue jeans. I wear Levi’s 501s. I used to buy my shirts at Brooks Brothers but about 20 years ago, someone ruined the Brooks Brothers shirt department. An old salesman told me a woman single-handedly ruined the Brooks’ shirt department... Now they make them again, kind of. I will wear my Brooks Brothers shirts until they fall apart. Sometimes the laundry won’t do them and they come back. “No we won’t do them. They’re just going to fall apart and you’ll blame us.” Sometimes I have to write a note that I won’t blame them.

Do you still smoke? And how do you feel about restaurants banning smoking?
F.L.: It is absurd. It’s not just because I would prefer to smoke, how can you possibly imagine that it would make you sick? If you believe that sitting near someone who is smoking in a restaurant will make you die, then how can you breathe? The streets are full of cars. A very eminent scientist, who’s very anti-smoking and a friend of mine, he died, but he was always yelling at me about smoking and told me that the second-hand smoke thing is not true. Everyone knows the EPA data on second-hand smoke was fudged....It’s illogical. Everyone would be dead. I’m no spring chicken. My mother, who is alive, or at least she was this morning, smoked when she was pregnant with me and my sister. When I tell this to people they say “that’s why you’re so short.” But my sister is 5’11 ½. We lived our whole childhoods in smoke-filled places, and we’re alive. When I was a child, I never heard of asthma... Today, every child has asthma. Here’s what asthma is caused by? A lack of second-half smoke. That is my theory.

WWD: Do you have any unwritten books that are awaiting being published?
F.L.: I have two unwritten books. I owe two books to Knopf and I have for many, many years. I have two unfulfilled book contracts. Each book is half finished. One is a novel and one is a long essay. I did propose recently to Knopf, “Look I have these two books that are half finished. Put them together and [clap] we have a whole book. One side is the novel, and you read half way through and you turn it around and you read the other half. People wouldn’t even notice. They’d be grateful to me.”

WWD: You used to write columns for Mademoiselle and Interview that became part of your books of essays. (Metropolitan Life and Social Studies) What was that like?
F.L.: [The Mademoiselle column] paid $300 a month. It was three times my rent. I felt like I was rolling in wealth. The first time I went to bring my column, they thought I was such a bad influence on the girls at Mademoiselle. They told me “don’t come up; we’ll send a messenger.” I wasn’t expelled. I was barred. They thought I wasn’t a Mademoiselle-type girl. They didn’t want me roaming around the offices. As soon as I could give up monthly deadlines, I did. I really haven’t written a lot since then.

WWD: Why did you stop writing?
F.L.: I don’t know. If I knew, I would be writing. I think I am so resistant to authority that I’m even resistant to my own authority. I will not be edited, and it kept me out of the magazines when I was young until my first book came out... Here’s why. If you are a better writer than I am, write it. I used to go to the printer at Interview to make sure they didn’t make mistakes [in my column]. I was insane. There would be a typo and it would ruin my life for the month. I would be in agony. I felt like going to every newsstand and taking every magazine and fixing it. Finally, I was barred from the printers at Interview.

Do you have interest in writing right now?
F.L.: Yes, I have an interest. I’d like to finish these books. It’s not like I decided I didn’t want to write. It’s some sort of affliction, obviously.

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