New York, through the eyes of Fran Lebowitz
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New York, through the eyes of Fran Lebowitz

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Words by Georgia Grey
Culture
February 5, 2021
New York, the subject of numerous books, films, and songs, the inspiration for many artists, directors, and writers. For author Fran Lebowitz, however, the city inspires and infuriates in equal measures: her relationship with New York is her longest-running monogamous one, and just like those with people - it has had its ups and downs.

If you haven’t already seen Pretend it’s a city, currently one of the most viewed series on Netflix, it’s an opportunity to take a virtual tour through the city that never sleeps with the inimitable Fran. Lebowitz, who’s suffering from decades-long writer’s block, has instead turned her hand to offer cutting observations about life, and in particular, New York life.

7 bites of the Big Apple

Martin Scorsese, who’s directed the 7-episode mini-series, isn’t shy about declaring his love for this noisy, dirty, and unparalleled city either - New York, New York, The King of Comedy, and Taxi Driver are just some of his features set there. Pretend it’s a city on the other hand is different. Yes, protagonist Lebowitz loves New York, but she also has great contempt for everyone that lives there and its dramatic change over the last 50 years, and it’s exactly this unique vision that makes the series so memorable. Lebowitz has seen first hand the city as it has transformed from underground artist haven of the 70s, hosting creatives and intellectuals, to becoming gentrified and lacking soul following the Wall Street Boom and mayors like Bloomberg and Giuliani, promoting the city as a tourist destination. Lebowitz is outspoken in her opinion of the negative effects these developments have had; moreover, she believes to be the only person who is still really seeing New York and its changes. As a technophobe by choice, she instead chooses to walk the streets to gaze, wonder and admire all of the quirks of the Big Apple.

A long-time affair

Lebowitz’s love affair with New York began in 1969 when she moved there from her home in New Jersey. She immediately settled into the left, cultural movement of the cosmopolitan city: at 21 she began writing for Changes, a small magazine about ‘radical-chic politics and culture’ - founded by Charles Mingus’ wife, Susan Graham Ungaro. Following on from this she was hired by Andy Warhol to be a columnist for Interview, with the pair famously not getting on.

“I would say that Andy didn’t like me and that I did not like Andy.” - Fran Lebowitz

In between all of this, she was also a taxi driver: she admits that it was the easiest way to make money without having any particular skills and without the need to be sexualized as a waitress. Critically-acclaimed for her first book Metropolitan Life from the late 70s, she began to frequent Studio 54 and mix with the artistic crowd of New York. However, since the 80s Lebowitz has suffered from self-proclaimed writer’s block, which has led her to give talks, do television appearances, and be a public speaker. It’s this melting pot of experiences and love of literature that has resulted in her having a sharp tongue and a comment for everything, and makes for addictive viewing where you can’t help but fall for her sarcastic charm.

A commitment to style

However, there’s something else that is immediately striking about Lebowitz, her outfit - and outfit singular is no mistake, Lebowitz has been wearing the same look for the last 50 years. The poster for Pretend it’s a city says it all: few people are recognizable from a drawing of the outline of their glasses and their hair - but most people aren’t Fran Lebowitz. Her uniform of choice is pinstripe blazers and broad-shouldered overcoats by Anderson & Sheppard (the Savile Row tailor whose only previous female client was Marlene Dietrich), Cuban-heeled cowboy boots (she won’t reveal where she gets those), Levi’s 501 jeans with a large turn-up and Hilditch & Key men’s shirts. Last but not least, the tortoiseshell specs, which she wears in both spectacle and sunglass form, which were reported to originally be Calvin Klein but she now has hand-made. Masculine, well-tailored and minimalist clothes come together to form a look that’s hard to resist.

“All style is personal - that’s what distinguishes it from fashion.” - Fran Lebowitz

Although Lebowitz’s style is hers and hers only, there are ways to bring touches of it to your daily outfits. Dip your toes in the water of her look with her glasses: thin, tortoiseshell frames in a circular shape are perfect for square or angular faces for adding a little softness - and they also make a clear statement about your character, of course.

Creative Direction: Daniela Vutera
Photography: Ignazio Marsolo

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