| Night moves: Bushnell still relishes the single life.
If you want to know the truth about it, I'm hoping to get laid tonight," says Candace Bushnell. Tonight is the opening of the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada store in SoHo, and everyone who's ever been mentioned in a New York City gossip column or hopes to be has managed to wangle an invitation to the event. Of course Candace, as she is known to that slice of New York, doesn't have to beg for anything. She was already invited to all the good parties back when "Sex and the City" was just a column she wrote for the New York Observer. Since she published the collection as a best-selling book, and optioned it to Darren Star (who will be her walker this evening) and saw her Cosmos-and-Blahniks night moves made into a hit HBO series and a much-imitated way of life, Candace has become a bona fide New York celebrity. What's more, she is the patron saint of high-end girl power, the woman who got the ball rolling on the who-needs-a-husband-when-you-have-a-doorman? mentality. Candace, the blonde who created (who is) Carrie Bradshaw, is nowhere near as famous as Sarah Jessica Parker, the blonde who plays her on TV, but Candace doesn't care if everyone knows who she is "the people who matter know," she says.
Even famous people have to exert themselves for romance, though, and so Candace is at the Prada store near her apartment on the Upper East Side, examining Mary Janes to go with the dress she's selected for tonight's party, a wood-colored wool schoolgirl dress that if it were pink could be worn by a little girl to a birthday party. "Hopefully, this guy will show up," Candace says, fingering a pile of cashmere knee socks. Candace had "a really big flirt thing" with the guy last night at hotelier André Balazs's annual Christmas party. Before she met him, she had been flirting with Oliver Stone, telling him about the fat-dissolving diet drink her most recent ex-boyfriend, Stephen Morris, developed. "The thing with New York is that everyone flirts with everyone!" she says. "So it doesn't mean anything. It's fun!"
Candace says she is not interested in a relationship at the moment. It isn't, she says, that she's recovering from the breakup a few months ago of her two-and-a-half-year relationship with Morris, a British venture capitalist. Rather, she explains, it's because she has too much to do. "I would definitely go on a date?" Candace says in her animated upspeak. "But I just can't think about having a boyfriend because I have to write a book by March. And then I'll have to go on my book tour." Still, she's hoping the guy from the party will turn up tonight, and she wants to look special.
"People who are successful and good-looking, people say, 'Oh, well, they must be shallow.' But it's like, if you want to look good when you go out, isn't part of that respect? For other people? That maybe you'll bring a little bit of pleasure . . . or honor! It's a way of honoring a situation by looking good, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that." At 43, Candace looks very, very good, still all shiny hair and pool-blue eyes: a water lily of a woman. She often writes about teeth when she describes a beautiful woman, and her own are blindingly, improbably white.
The Prada saleswoman, who seems to have recently arrived from the Prada mainland, approaches with more stockings. "You go try them because maybe they are way too big," she says, holding up some stockings that stretch almost as long as Candace's entire frame. Candace seems tall because she is loud and lean and fond of high heels, but she's actually a little person.
"I'll just buy them," Candace says. "I don't like to take my clothes off in public places."
"We have a small room," the woman says earnestly.
"Do I have to?"
"Maybe they are too long . . ."
"I don't care. I'll try them at home. And can I have two pairs of these?" she asks, pointing at the $282 mink-lined slippers she plans to give to her agents as Christmas presents. On the way out of the store, Candace stops to look at a sheer baby-doll dress. "See, this is the kind of thing that if you have any fat at all," she says, putting a hand on her flat stomach, "it'll show right up!" But Candace doesn't have any fat at all; she's as narrow as a live woman can be. "No, I'm not!" She shrieks. "If you could just see me without my clothes on!"
"I don't frown on perversion, I just . . . it's not me," says Candace. It's raining but warm for December, so she has decided to lunch outside in her snakeskin pants at La Goulue. The woman seated next to her is flapping her hand in the air and scowling as Candace lights another Merit. Candace says, "I mean, I kind of don't really understand it. Like bondage, all of those things, just end up being really silly. I guess if you could do it and pull it off it would be really exciting and kinky, but so much of the time it's just like, Ugh. This is kind of pathetic. There's really a big part of me that I feel like sex is a form of communication, and ideally it would happen if you were married . . . but sometimes it could just happen, you know, between two adults."
Despite the fact that Candace did for the zipless Manhattan fuck what Woody Allen did for psychotherapy made it okay, funny, part of the package she is fairly square when you get right down to it. "I love the idea of casual sex because it seems kind of like modern, and you're being cool, and you've got it all figured out, but I think that the reality is you have to be really secure and . . . ultimately it's really not that fulfilling, is it? Actually, I've always felt that way."
HBO's Sex and the City revels in the ejaculate joke, the anal-sex discussion, the bisexual romp, but when Candace was at the helm, there wasn't all that much sex in "Sex and the City." Samantha Jones, for example, was a minor character who rarely used the word cock. "It's so hard for me to write a sex scene," Candace says. "I really don't think it's my forté."
The novel Candace is working on now is about Janey Wilcox, the bitchy, aging, gold-digging model she created in Four Blondes. "I think, What is there? There's beauty, there's money, there's sex. Those are sort of the intrinsic things that people are interested in," Candace declares. "Janey's a beautiful woman, so she always thinks some guy is going to come along and fix her life, which isn't unreasonable. If you're a beautiful woman, you learn from an early age that your beauty is worth money. Like Lily Bart in House of Mirth - her mother was always looking at Lily's beauty as the thing that was going to save them. But Lily has a flaw; she's so idealistic she can't marry any of these men who are willing to marry her, because none of them are good enough! So that's her flaw. But the reality is that you can come from nowhere and marry a billionaire and, you know, have a great life. Thank you!" She flashes a smile at the street sweeper clearing the patch of sidewalk by her feet.
"Janey's a 33-year-old girl," Candace continues. "There's just such a particular mentality to being 33, which is still really thinking a lot about that idea of being able to get a guy. Believe me, when I was that age, I used to wake up every night at like four in the morning in a cold sweat and think, How am I gonna do this? Am I gonna make it? How am I gonna survive?"
The waiter comes over and describes a chicken-liver salad, and Candace makes a noise like a dying cat. Instead, she orders tuna tartare, a cheese soufflé, and a Diet Coke. She changes it to a regular Coke. Then to champagne.
"One time I was engaged. I was 31 and I had the ring and I just couldn't do it! I couldn't get married! I felt like I was drowning, literally drowning. My mother kept calling me up and saying, 'We gotta go and get your dress!' And I was like, 'Mom, I'm too busy.' I really thought I wanted to get married, but at the same time, I think I thought as a woman you might have to turn yourself inside out, and there'd always be little concessions you'd have to make. I mean, now I feel like, okay, I could be in a relationship in a better way than I've ever been before. But it sort of horrifies you when you look back! The way I was with Ron, it was always like, You don't love me because you didn't call me exactly when you said you were going to call me! It's like, God. But that's what you were like then."
Ron is, of course, Ron Galotti, the president of Talk Media and the former publisher of Vogue: Mr. Big.
"He's the guy who's a few years older, and really successful, and really cool . . . It's that guy who makes you think: This is why I've waited all my life to get married."
Galotti broke off their relationship the day Candace got back her galleys of Sex and the City. Six months later, he married another woman, with whom he now has a child and a very large apartment. "Ron was great," says Candace, without sarcasm, which is what she says about all her ex-boyfriends.
"I don't get that lonely. It's kind of difficult to be lonely in New York City, especially when you go out a lot and you meet a lot of people," says Candace. "Like this party I went to last night at Katie and André's: I'd known most of the people at that party for fifteen years! We've all seen each other when we were starting out, like, Oh I wanna do this, or, I just started doing that, and now we've achieved it!" She lights another cigarette. "People who want to be successful . . . what a wonderful thing! It's so American, and the truth is it alleviates a lot of people's psychological neuroses. The thing I find irritating is this idea that it's only people who want to be successful and shop at designer stores who are shallow and superficial. No! I mean, no. New York is one of the few places in the country that does have society, and I think that's wonderful. You could come here and make it and have a huge summer house and invite all those people!"
Candace handles the giant aquamarine-and-diamond pendant that hangs on her neck. "New York is such a weird place where you maybe haven't seen somebody for two years, but you don't feel like they're not your friend. New Yorkers are able to do that: to have that kind of intimacy that actually isn't shallow, that isn't superficial, but at the same time isn't demanding. You don't have to call everybody the next day and have lunch with them or whatever. It's actually very mature. It's very realistic."
Photo: AP/Wide World