A Model Wordsmith

It’s an unexpectedly hot, sticky night in late November, and though the police are trying to persuade the hundreds of revelers gathered around the iron gates of Joe’s Pub to move along, inside the three-week-old Lafayette Street club a wild party is in full swing. Pink and red spotlights swirl over the sunken dance floor as models in backless dresses dance to Abba with the men who love them – arch-rivals Donald Trump and Roffredo Gaetano; photographer Sante D’Orazio; tank-topped club impresarios Jeffrey Jah, Mark Baker, and Nur Khan; and a couple of well-known gossip columnists. An open-shirted Kevin Costner takes a breather in a banquette with Chuck Pfeiffer, Bob Shaye, and Peter Brant; from their table nearby, Emma S., Kara Young, and a few more models edging over 30 wriggle their fingers seductively in greeting. A movie premiere? A supermodel’s birthday? No, it’s a book party.

But one befitting Coerte v. w. Felske, the 38-year-old author of 1995’s The Shallow Man and the upcoming Word, both of which are taut, clever character studies centered on this posse of older roués and slightly over-the-hill models – all of whom the author considers close friends, the kind who come over for late-night glasses of port in the SoHo apartment he shares with gallery director Michiel van der Waal, brother to Frederique, and whichever South African or Dutch or Italian models are passing through town. That is, when he’s not in Quogue playing tennis with Taki, or in St. Tropez with his new Czech-Croatian girlfriend who lives in Switzerland, or hanging out in L.A. at Monkey Bar with his old friend Jack Nicholson, who helped arrange for the filming of The Shallow Man (for protagonists, Felske’s thinking “Pitt, Penn, Downey, DiCaprio, or Cage”).

With his surfer’s patois, a mellow constitution that he chalks up to being a Libra, and a practiced way of speaking similar to Mister Rogers’s, Felske is beloved by all: a guy’s guy and a model’s guy, whose novels neatly refract their own lives through a highly ironic prism. He does take his shots at ponytailed, Vespa-riding, mannequin-addicted, SoHo-loft-living thirtysomethings who are hand models by day and party promoters by night. But Felske sympathizes with the dudes at the end, attributing their flaws to societal shortcomings and a general millennial ill will.

In Felske’s world, models are called Thing (young ones are Baby Thing, stupid ones are Dialtones); the rest of womankind are Civilians. His girlfriends are Catsuit Feminists, and we, Generation Face, all live in the notoriety-obsessed Age of A (for Astonishment). His characters often think in these terms; what’s more, their feelings are italicized: “No one wants to be sentenced to life at someone else’s table… . I want the reservation in my own name. I want my own table and I want to fill it with whomever I fancy.” Less self-consciously writerly than other colleagues who are concerned with this tribe, like Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney, Felske confides that he writes his books in only a few weeks. “It’s all about the voice,” he says, often, as if it were a mantra.

Just tonight, Felske comes up with a theory he calls the Ten-Year Window. “Women only have the years from 20 to 30 to really do it up,” he says, taking a seat at the bar next to Joaquin Phoenix. “For some, maybe 24 to 34.” How to take this comment, delivered, to all appearances, by a guy who’s apparently spent a little too much time with Things and not enough with Civilians? Auditing women’s-studies classes while a grad student at Columbia’s film school, he tells me, qualifies him as a feminist – yet he suggests that women are different from men because they’re “ruled by the moon.” Oh.

As a samba band tunes up onstage at Joe’s, a sunglasses-wearing Ralph Lauren model named Zofia jumps up on a table near the D.J. booth. “God, do I adore Coerte, he is so wise,” she announces, narrowly avoiding the approaching gang of Felske’s high-school buddies, who smother him with bear hugs and painful-looking noogies. “This dude,” gurgles the beefiest one, grabbing him by an Armani lapel, “was so popular with chicks in high school that cheerleaders from the other team were asking for his number.”

Sipping an Amstel Light with three or four undone shirt buttons revealing dark tufts of chest hair, Felske runs a hand through his white-blond, shoulder-length locks before jumping onto a conga line between Mark Bavaro and Daniela Pestova, his five-foot-eleven stature greatly diminished by their hulking figures. He leans in close and confides, in utter mock seriousness, “I’m the Mad Hatter.”

Over the din at da silvano a few nights earlier, felske takes gulps of San Pellegrino and looks over the crowd – David Duchovny, Helmut Lang, and, to his delight, Robert De Niro eating penne with his family at a corner table: the perfect setting for what he wants to discuss.

“See, the most important businessmen, bankers, film producers, and studio heads don’t know squat when it comes to women,” says Felske, winking indiscreetly in De Niro’s direction. That’s what Word is about: the Faustian bargain struck between a film writer struggling for credits and a 50-year-old studio head trolling for dates. It’s a relationship not unlike Felske’s with Ted Field, the fiftyish head of Interscope Records, who is rarely seen without a woman hovering around legal age (“Ted has no problem getting dates,” Felske retorts, denying widespread buzz that the character is based on Field). Not to mention Felske’s friendship with Mickey Rourke, with whom he lived for five months while rewriting Rourke’s boxing movie, Homeboy. “I only got respect once he realized that I could get him pretty girls,” says Felske.

After dinner, Felske suggests a trip to Lot 61 – “I hear it’s the hot joint” – but I beg off. He asks if I have a boyfriend, and walks me home. Running his fingers through his mane concernedly, he has one last thing to say before stepping off into the night: “So, what’s going on with my hair?”

A Model Wordsmith