New York’s Fran Lebowitz on Fashion, Nostalgia and Punk

Whether it’s her deadpan acerbic wit or conversational cultural tear-down, New York’s Fran Lebowitz speaks her mind, fires the truth and dispels some. The comedian and author will arrive in Australia in February 2024 – talking hot topics and taking questions from the audience -well depending on what they’re asking of course!

For someone who travels the world, she’s the first to admit that the hustle of travel is deeply annoying.  But it’s her wise cracks about her city and the people in it, that makes the greatest entertainment.

Lebowitz has published two bestselling books in her career – Metropolitan Life (1978) and Social Studies (1981) then developed writer’s blockade – as she calls it. She emerged as a public speaker and in the 2021 Netflix series Pretend It’s a City, directed by her friend Martin Scorsese, won us over with her banter that covers everything from the smoking ban in New York to other gripes about the city she loves to hate.

She spoke to Jane Rocca about her fashion icons, breaks down nostalgia and talks about what you’ll find in her kitchen.

The Write Drop: WHO IS YOUR FASHION ICON

Fran Lebowitz: I know this will sound shocking, but it’s King Charles. No-one notices how great his clothes are and I know this because we go to the same tailor. We don’t go together and I don’t know him and have not seen him there, but I figure when he goes, they must close the place especially for him. They’re called Anderson & Shepperd Saville Row Tailors. I didn’t go because King Charles went there; but I know a lot of men who go to this tailor and for many years I would ask these men if they would make me clothes for women. They simply refused.  At one point they said they only made clothes for one woman – and that was Marlene Dietrich. But finally, they caved and now they will make clothes for women. I love their blazers and suits. I’ve been alive for 73 years. I have seen a lot of stylish people in my time, nobody that I ever tried to copy that I am aware of.

The Write Drop: WHAT FASHION GARMENTS MAKE YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTABLE?

Fran Lebowitz: I feel most comfortable in the things I wear and that’s why I wear them. There are certain things I wear regularly like a blazer, jeans and shirts. The one thing that is very important about clothes is that they have to fit. Not just an ability to get them on, but to be sure hang properly. There’s lots of things I like, but I am 5 foot 4 and can’t wear them. I get my clothes custom made which I can afford to do now. In high school, I had a friend who gave me riding jacket. I loved it and it and kept admiring it and she gave it to me one day. I still have it because I can’t give it up. I wore it on the cover of my first book. I didn’t think much about clothing when I was younger. A dead relative once asked me if it was okay if she still wore jeans at 60.  I thought well if you can wear jeans when you’re 50 then why not at 60. I still wear jeans at 73.

The Write Drop: WHAT ARE TIMELESS FRAN PIECES AT HOME?

Fran Lebowitz: I haven’t changed in the sense that my clothes still look the same. I used to wear Butch Brothers shirts. They never fit anyone properly, but I don’t like a shirt to fit well. I like it to be a little loose. But then 20 years ago, someone ruined their shirt department and they don’t exist anymore. I get my shirts in London these days from Hilditch & Key. They don’t have a store in New York, even though I keep telling them to open one. The one in Paris isn’t as good. I still have my shirts taken in. I like the collar and fabric choices they have. Right now, I am wearing clothes I wouldn’t wear in the street because they’re ripped. I think that’s because my parents grew up in the Depression and never threw things out until there were three threads left. I am actually wearing a shirt a 1970’s Brooks Brothers shirt right now, the collar is torn off and my jeans have huge rips. I used to wear a lot of Levis too, but they aren’t the company they were when they were Made in San Francisco.

The Write Drop: YOU MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH, BUT WHO MAKES YOU LAUGH?

Fran Lebowitz: Marty Scorsese does. It didn’t come across that much in the series we made in 2021, because he was listening rather than talking. He is very funny. It is important to me that people have a sense of humour. I don’t expect them to be funny, I just want to know they can understand funny. If you don’t have a sense of humour, life can be unbearable.

The Write Drop: YOU MET MARTIN SCORSESE AT A PARTY, OR SO THE STORY GOES?

Fran Lebowitz: Neither Marty or I remember where we met to be honest. We assumed it was a party because where else would I have met him? We did notice at a certain point in our lives that whenever I saw Marty out, we always spent the whole night talking. When he made a documentary for me in HBO 2010 [Public Speaking], it’s basically me and Marty talking. He told me wanted to make a documentary about me, but I knew I didn’t want someone following me around.  We kept talking about it and how it could work. I then agreed to do it, but I didn’t want it to be about my life. I don’t want to talk about myself in a personal way because I just don’t! I am astonished by how many people do, but I am not one of them. When we finished making it, Marty said, let’s make another documentary and I said no.  It took several years for us to get to the point of making Let’s Pretend It’s A City, at which point when we decided to it, he had a deal with Netflix. He made his deal for The Irish Man and put the doco with me in as part of his deal.

The Write Drop: WHY ARE YOUNG PEOPLE SO NOSTALGIC FOR NEW YORK CIRCA 1970S

Fran Lebowitz: Some nostalgia is poisonous – as is the case with the Right Wing in America right now.  Very often people have a nostalgia for things that didn’t exist or something they didn’t live through. Nostalgia for a childhood memory can be a pleasurable experience. Nostalgia that people at the age of 22 have for an era they weren’t born in, that strikes me as anything but nostalgia.

I don’t know what caused this sort of interest in NYC, it’s gone on for many years. Kids stop me in the street and say they wished they lived in New York through the 70s because it looked like more fun. This strikes me as sad. That is not what someone young should be thinking. When I was in my 20s, I didn’t go up to old people and say I wish I grew up in the 1930s. Part of it must be the internet. We can see things in two minutes and capture 1000 photographs in a split second of viewing a historical moment. Many things look glamorous especially if you weren’t there. Lots of other things were going on other than this party, but all they see is the party.

The Write Drop: YOU DON’T LIKE TO COOK – ENTERTAIN US – WHAT’S IN THE KITCHEN?

Fran Lebowitz: I am not only a terrible cook, but I also hate to cook or anything associated with it. I hate any preparation of food. Sometimes I think to myself in a fury, why am I slicing this tomato? It’s annoying and I don’t know why. I can promise you there is no worse food in New York than in my apartment. If people come here, they notice a lot of fruit in my apartment, and comment I have such a healthy diet. Then I reply; “do you want to know why?” Because an apple is just an apple! You eat it and it’s done.  You don’t have to do anything to it. I am grateful for restaurants and friends who like to cook.

The Write Drop: HOW DOES NEW YORK CONTINUE TO INSPIRE YOU?

Fran Lebowitz: New York changes all the time. Two things about New Yorkers – they complain that things are always changing, but you choose to live here because things are always changing. It’s the nature of the city, and the complaining about it changing is the nature of New York. That’s why I like it here.

The Write Drop: DID PUNK INFLUENCE YOU – YOU WERE FRIENDS WITH THE NEW YORK DOLLS? 

Fran Lebowitz: Punk didn’t influence me no. I just happened to love the New York Dolls though. They didn’t last too long as a band, and I saw David Johansen a few weeks ago. The fact at how briefly they existed, it’s amazing how many people still talk about them. They used to play The Mercer Arts Centre. We would go every night. I saw David a month ago on the street and he remembered I got them their first job outside the Centre and they didn’t get paid. I said to him, “Don’t tell me again Dave the guys didn’t pay you?”. This was 1973 and you have to get over the fact you didn’t get paid [laughs].

The Write Drop: YOU WERE AT STUDIO 54, WRITING FOR INTERVIEW, HANGING IN THE LOWER EAST SIDE ART AND PUNK SCENE? DID YOU ACTUALLY BELONG TO A SCENE?

Fran Lebowitz: I have always been a floater – even in high school. I hung out with groups of people, but not just one set of people. I hung around with the New York Dolls and some musicians sure in the 70s, but I was just a person around music not hanging there because of it. I didn’t care much about it.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2024/talks-and-ideas/fran-lebowitz

 

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