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Waking Up to New York

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Lauren Hutton, actress
Arrived: 1964
I came to New York for two things: to get to Africa and to find LSD. In those days it was legal. You could get it from this Swiss chemical company, and I met six guys who were very willing to give it to me. But I didn’t like any of them enough to take it, so it took me a few months. As for Africa, I was supposed to meet a friend in New York, and we were going to take a tramp steamer to Tangier. It was going to cost $140. Once I got there, my plan was to take a bus for ten cents to the outskirts of town and see elephants and rhinoceroses and giraffes. I was as ignorant as a telephone pole.

In any case, the friend didn’t show up. I don’t think I ever found out what happened to her. I waited for two hours at Idlewild and then took a bus to the Port Authority. I was going through the bus terminal, and I was 21 and these very strangely dressed young black guys were following me and saying these weird things. And I thought, Uh-oh. I didn’t realize they were pimps, but I knew it was bad. So I panicked and got into a cab. When the cabbie asked me where to go, I didn’t know. Then I remembered Tiffany’s. I’d heard of Tiffany’s. And I knew the corner of 57th and Fifth. So I said, “57th and Fifth! Tiffany’s!”

It was very early Sunday, and when I got out New York was deserted. No one anywhere. I had to figure out who I knew and get to a phone. I started bawling as I was walking down the street. Everything I’d ever owned—old college test papers, sneakers from high school—was in these two suitcases. And I couldn’t walk with them. I’d bring one bag about six feet up and then I’d go back and get the other bag and bring it six feet up. Humping these suitcases down Fifth Avenue. And then I got to a phone booth, this box of glass and metal, and I think I felt protected. I just sat there for a while and cried and tried to figure it out. And then I remembered another friend from New Orleans who was supposed to be in New York. She told me to come right over.

She had this wonderful boyfriend from Brooklyn who said, “Well, you’re going to have to get a job.” It made sense; I was going to Africa! There was an ad in the New York Times that said, “Wanted: High-fashion model for Christian Dior. Must have experience.” And he said, “This! You could do this!” And I said, “No, no. I’ve never been a model.” And he looked dead-straight at me and said, “Of. Course. You. Have.” So I was getting all kinds of lessons in New Yorkese and survival, the very morning I got in.


Diane Von Furstenberg, designer
Arrived: 1970
I was 22 years old and had just gotten married to Prince Egon Von Furstenberg. I was pregnant and carrying a big suitcase of stencils I was hoping to sell in America. I decided that instead of flying, I wanted to come very slowly in order to think about my future. So I took a boat. I arrived in October, so it was New York at its best—that beautiful, blue crisp. Coming from Europe, I had expected the city would look modern, and actually, it didn’t. I was a young princess, so I lived on Park Avenue and had some small children and blah blah blah. But we were a young couple, and fairly good looking with a nice title, so we were invited everywhere. We would see Andy Warhol, Halston, Diana Vreeland, Giorgio Sant’Angelo, and, of course, lots of Europeans. It was a movable feast: Gino’s and Elaine’s and La Grenouille. And I threw many dinner parties. What I remember clearly is that you could go to the supermarket and for 50 dollars you could buy pasta, salad, and a big ham.


Harold Evans, editor-at-large, The Week
Arrived: 1983
Tina [Brown] and I couldn’t have gotten off the boat any more unaware of New York life. Our first apartment was a disaster: a sublet on Third Avenue for which we paid rent by putting dollar bills in a hat. We were instructed to speak to the doorman with assumed names. If I hadn’t been about to teach a college class on ethics, I might have questioned the ethics of it all. One day I opened a cupboard and out fell tons of pornography. I shouldn’t have been looking in the cupboard—it wasn’t my apartment. Tina then got us an apartment on Central Park South, which was another disaster. This one had cockroaches, and since we were close to the ground floor I hesitated to go anywhere near the window in my pajamas. Not long after we found a two-bedroom at 300 East 56th.

We soon realized that New Yorkers don’t muck up their kitchens by doing breakfast. We got in the habit of walking down Second Avenue and trying every restaurant on the left-hand side, which is very interesting because you go from the tolerable to the absolutely marvelous to the intolerable in the space of six blocks. Within a very short time, the New York vortex kicked in. When you’re on the outer edges you can swim quite happily in cool waters, but as you get closer and get to know more people, you get sucked into a level of activity which is calculated to drive you crazy. It was very exciting—and very eighties. People arrived in stretch limos. At the same time, I was astounded by the drug transactions I’d see on street corners, even in white-collar midtown. It was grim as hell, and all this alongside the intellectual excitement of media life and America being on top of the world. It was like going to dinner with some wonderful person and looking underneath the table and finding mice droppings.


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