By John Gilman
It’s a time-honored tradition for writers to have a big kick off “launch” for their books—maybe a book-signing, a cocktail party, or an exhibit. In the case of Rizzoli’s Richard Bernstein: Starmaker—Andy Warhol’s Cover Artist, published last month, it was extravagantly all three. Kicking off New York’s Fashion Week, an opening night party to honor the book was thrown on September 5th by the Alcone Company at the glamorous Public Hotel at 215 Chrystie Street (just below Houston Street).
Upon entering, guests (which included Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Grace Jones) were handed gift bags with perfume and cosmetics. Multiple six-foot high cardboard cutouts of Andy Warhol ringed the space, creating the impression that the artist was actually there. Champagne and mixed drinks flowed freely, flashing mirror balls revolved, neon lights glared brilliantly, the earsplitting disco music blared even louder than in disco’s heyday in the 70s and 80s, and a floor show on a raised stage featured a half naked man in gold lamé shorts prancing about with Pat Ast and buxom Divine look-alikes.
To one side of the seething dance floor a velvet rope separated a crush of flashbulb-popping paparazzi from a large, colorfully bedecked flock of gender-bending New York transgender, transsexual, intersexual, and assorted drag queen performers led by nightlife superstar Amanda Lepore. All were outrageously dressed (or undressed) and voguing to the hilt. The invitations had indicated that a megastar dress code was required and most everyone acquiesced. Present were: “Divine” decadence, Bianca Jagger sequin capes, Liz Taylor Cleopatra eyes, heart-shaped sunglasses, Halston and Gucci designer outfits, Pat Ast caftans, East West leather, Helmut Berger in drag, Elsa Peretti cuffs, body glitter and ultrasuede, diamonds, jockstraps, stilettos and kept boys, Gabriella Crespi chic, Diana Vreeland lacquered hair and Diana Ross’ frizzy manes, lamé bus-boy short shorts, and an overall look inspired by Fiorucci. As it turned out, the glittery event was as close to Studio 54 flamboyance as anything could possibly get, but perhaps without as much cocaine.
Practically everybody from the East Village was there and, surprisingly, a sprinkling of 1980s celebrities—including Carmen D’Allesio, Diana Brill, and Pat Cleveland. Arriving at the party we encountered our friend, the society pianist Peter Mintun (wearing a three-piece white linen “Mark Twain” suit), seated just out of earshot of the deafening music. I wore my vintage Interview cover T-shirt, printed for Andy Warhol’s 80th birthday with an image of Mark Jacobs wearing an Andy Warhol wig. I wore the same shirt to Andy’s 90th birthday party at the Whitney last month. My partner, Robert Heide, whose play The Bed was filmed by Warhol in Richard Bernstein’s Bowery loft way back in 1965, was interviewed for the Bernstein book and had the official invitation; he also wore his Warhol 90th birthday outfit of a seersucker suit and a Campbell’s Soup Can T-shirt. Wearing these outfits again seemed only right. They had landed us in the New Yorker’s August 27th “Talk of the Town” coverage of the Whitney party, which for a brief fifteen minutes (or perhaps more like a week) made us famous.
By contrast, and a welcome relief it was, the following night we attended a sedate champagne book-signing at Bookmarc on Bleecker Street. The next night, we got back up on the rowdy horse and attended the star-studded opening night retrospective at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery (at 76 Grand Street in Soho) that exhibited the original mechanical art for Bernstein’s air-brushed Interview covers of Faye Dunaway, Bette Midler, Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, Lauren Hutton, Joe D’Allesandro, Jessica Lang, Fran Lebowitz, Joan Rivers, Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder, and other famous faces. Of the 189 covers Bernstein created from 1972 to 1989, there are 69 on display in the spectacular show that runs until October 27th. In addition to the brilliant Interview covers, the show and the book features other art created by Bernstein: nude portraits of all five of the Beatles (in black and white, as well as in full psychedelic color) and a late 1960’s poster of the Warhol superstar Candy Darling (a startling display of contradictory feminine facial beauty and masculine sexual organs). Written by brothers Roger and Mauricio Padilha, the oversized art book with Grace Jones gracing the cover includes the story of the artist’s glamorous life, which tragically ended after a descent into heroin addiction and death from AIDS at the Chelsea Hotel. The writers follow their three-pronged New York book launch with yet another series of events next month at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.