Dear Shaded Viewers,
Once again, New York City’s most notable demimonde descended on my East Village apartment for the annual pagan ritual of decorating my Christmas tree, and to engage in tipsy debauchery, spirited debate, salacious gossip and mutual admiration. Like every year, the guest list was carefully assembled and vetted (this time with consultation by committee) to bring together the most dynamic, intelligent and stylish creatures possible. (Or, as one guest quipped: “One timely bomb at this shindig would wipe out most of the extant counter culture.”)
The theme I chose this year was Women Heroes, Villains, Vamps & Tramps, inspired partly by the exhibition of feminist and queer art at Nottingham Contemporary, Still I Rise (where my video “Glennda and Camille Do Downtown” is now on view), and partly by the current feminist zeitgeist.
A few guests rose to the challenge of my dress code, while others used it as inspiration for their ornaments:
Mary Shelley cold-shoulder duchess satin gowns, Jacqueline Susann savvy and Pucci dresses, Lucy Ricardo as “the Wicked City Woman,” live snakes worn as jewelry à la the Marchesa Casati, Angela Davis righteous radicalism, Vaginal Davis ferocious shrimping action, Celia Sanchez guerrilla chic, Jayne County punk rock glamour, Camille Paglia gender-bending Napoleon costumes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg chutzpah, P.I.G. (Politically Involved Girls) pandemonium, Madame Mao mayhem, Wendy O. Williams mohawks and chainsaws, Jane Fonda Viet Cong helmets, Kate Bush interpretive dancing, Yoko Ono cathartic wailing, Dorothy Parker dipsomania, Dorothy Height hats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Democratic Socialist solidarity, Marlene Dietrich anti-Nazi activism, Elizabeth Hawes radical ready-to-wear, Lina Wertmüller white eyeglasses, Grace Jones Haring body paint, Carole Pope lesbian rock ‘n roll runway realness, Ann Magnuson magnetism and Emma Goldman nonstop ecstatic revolutionary dancing.
And now on to the party….
When David Johansen of New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter fame showed up for my party with his uber-cool wife, my friend Mara Hennessey, I literally almost fainted. We chatted about his dinner at Jade Island—an early-1970s-era Polynesian kitsch mecca in Staten Island (where Johansen is from)—with Anthony Bourdain, on No Reservations. (“I’d never even been there before until Anthony invited me.” Did you like it? I wanted to know. “YOU’LL like it!” he replied after a dubious glance at the string of plastic tiki lights in my kitchen.)
Later, I handed David one of the homemade cheese puffs my friend Alenia made. “What do you think?” I asked hopefully. He took a bite, grimaced slightly and announced, “I think these are from the Perry Como cookbook!”
(For the record, I thought they were delicious.)
Mara Hennessey hand-made this ornament which depicts Leigh Bowery and Trojan at Taboo, Bowery’s mid-’80s club in London. I told Mara and David the story about the night Bruce LaBruce and I met Leigh Bowery, in 1994 (a few months before he died) at a club night Michael Schmidt was doing in the old Boy Bar space on St. Mark’s Place (I think Schmidt’s party was called Cocksucker). Bowery was wearing a spiked German helmet and a crinoline ball gown, with camouflage makeup. After we shook Bowery’s Lurex-gloved hand, LaBruce quipped, “We’ve just been introduced to a spectacle.” (I still remember, quite vividly, Bowery spinning around the dance floor like a whirling dervish, raising his Pickelhelm heavenward, as the DJ blasted the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen.”)
In my 2006 book Confessions from the Velvet Ropes, I recount the night, in 1987, when I witnessed Bowery causing a seismic shift at a club called Savage, where he debuted his lightbulbs-in-the-ears look and profoundly influenced the future ensembles of the Club Kids in attendance.
Fashion legend Lauren Ezersky was head-to-toe in Rick Owens.
Lauren’s friend, the fashion designer Ela Erdogan made this couture-inspired ornament. Ela was a delightful party guest but somehow managed to elude our cameras.
Dan Callahan, author of many movie-star bios (Barbara Stanwyck, Vanessa Redgrave, The Art of American Screen Acting) came dressed as Joan of Arc, complete with REAL sword!
Dan’s ornament was an homage to Ingrid Bergmans’s portrayal of Joan of Arc.
Glennda Orgasm archivist Stevin Azo Michels chatted with Mara Hennessey’s daughter, Leah Hennessey, who only happens to be the hottest underground playwright and stage actress in New York City right now. Her brilliant play Slash, co-written and co-acted by Emily Allan, has a buzz that’s getting louder and louder by the second. It features a brilliant satirical reenactment of the early ’90s catfight between Susan Sontag and my pal Camille Paglia.
The Paris Review’s Ben Shields (who came costumed as Camille Paglia as Napoleon at 8 years old) and artist Dana Schein.
Transgressive literary titan Bruce Benderson, Ben Shields and fashion designer Nile Cymlo. Nile’s private fashion presentations at her Chelsea Hotel salon are the high point of every New York Fashion Week.
Ben Shields’ ornament depicted the medieval Brunhilde being torn asunder by galloping horses.
Dana Schein’s ornament was an homage to the polarizing Judith Butler. (I’m not a fan!)
Fashion designer Lola Faturoti, performance-art legend Penny Arcade and Bruce Benderson.
Bruce Benderson’s ornament celebrates Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck, the homicidal obese nurse in the 1970 midnight-movie cult classic The Honeymoon Killers.
Stoler and her co-star Tony Lo Bianco.
My friend the makeup artist Virna Smiraldi is recovering from surgery and could not make it up my stairs—but Virna’s friend Penny Arcade delivered her ornament: a glittery rendition of gender terrorist Christeene Vale.
Legendary ladies Lauren Ezersky and Nile Cmylo.
My parties always have that small apartment/big party Breakfast at Tiffany’s vibe and this year, Alenia completed it by coming as Holly Golightly.
A former colleague at MoMA Design Store, Christy Nyiri and Studio 54 legend Snoogy Brown. No party is complete without Snoogy!
International woman of mystery Isabel H. and Stevin Azo.
Stevin Azo’s ornament: The First Lady of the Night, Melania! I did not vote for Donald Trump (I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter), however I do not approve of the slut-shaming that has proliferated since Melania’s nude photos were released. I am pleased to have her among my ornaments.
Ben Shields and his friend, the writer and contrarian feminist Janet Stern Capron.
Investigative journalist Aaron Rasmussen and poetry and prose writer Katie Degentesh (as a lucha libre).
Christy, Dan, writer Johanna Lenander (alas, her promised Andrea Dworkin ornament never materialized), and one of my colleagues from MoMA Design Store, Cathy Citarella.
Cathy’s ornament was a beautiful tribute to Katherine Hepburn…
…with Kate’s quote. (Because there’s nothing more tedious and annoying than a self-proclaimed “rules person.”)
Writer Corey Sabourin with Cuban Revolution documenter and author of One Day in December Nancy Stout.
Nancy’s ornament was the subject of her biography One Day in December: Celia Sanchez, the most prominent woman in the Cuban Revolution.
MoMA collection artist Martirene Alcantara and Corey.
Martirene Alcantara brought two beautiful gold shoe ornaments (the Liza tree above it is Carly Sommerstein’s ornament from last year)….
Corey Sabourin’s ornament looks ahead to the impending election.
Fashion writer and curator Alexis Romano and Martirene Alcantara.
Alexis’ ornament was a sassy homage to Simone de Beauvoir!
Janet Stern Capron and me surveying Janet’s ornaments.
Product designer and Lucky Wang store owner Emily Wang discussed her love for Rick Owens with Lauren Ezersky.
Dan and Ben
Josh Casey of MoMA Design Store, Aaron, Martirene and Josh’s friend Ben.
Dana and Alenia
Me feeling the effects of the bubbly with writer Janet Rosen.
Many of my guests dispensed with the saccharine tradition of twee ornaments and instead favored violent themes:
Janet Rosen’s ornament celebrated Old Testament badass Judith and her beheading of Holofernes.
Artist Scott Neary’s re-telling of the Salome tale with a beheaded Donald.
A felt tribute to Lorena Bobbitt as Katie Degentesh’s serene angel looks on.
Harriet Tubman on a roll of $20 bills. There has been a movement in favor of replacing Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the bill and I say it’s high time for that!
Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, good fortune in 2019..