“New York has the same electric energy I find in Tanzania,” says James Stephenson, sipping a glass of water at Half King as the first guests arrive to hear him read from The Language of the Land, a chronicle of his escapades with the Hadzabe tribe in East Africa. For a guy who spent half the year in the bush, Stephenson is surprisingly well turned out. That’s because his black pants and Velcro-strap sneakers (which he’s accessorized with a necklace “made of branches with medicine inside”) are a gift from DKNY Jeans.
The company, which has been hosting readings with literati like Candace Bushnell, is “sponsoring” Stephenson – outfitting him for appearances, throwing him a book party stocked with celebrities at Laparue on December 6, and potentially footing the bill for a book tour not offered by his publisher, St. Martin’s Press. “They also sent over a shirt,” he adds. “But it was a little tight.”
Stephenson may look like a male model, but it was his sister, Mary Alice, Marie Claire’s fashion director, who brokered the deal. “He’s exactly the type of person we’re interested in supporting,” says DKNY’s Kristin Kavanagh. “The head of the company’s interested in the same things: other cultures, yoga.” “The fashion world has helped him more than the literary world,” confirms Mary Alice, tucked into a booth with Lucy Sykes, Marie Claire’s senior fashion editor. Tonight’s gig, arranged by fashion publicist Marni Salup, is shrewdly located at the bar owned by that other adventure-writing hunk, Sebastian Junger, and the strategy’s working: Good Morning America is checking Stephenson out, and Metro Channel is filming for its literary show, Unblinking Eye.
But the style council’s full-court press is not confined to West Chelsea. At a book party in the Hamptons, “we all went round saying, ‘This is the most amazing book in the world!’ ” says Sykes. “It sold out within an hour.” She waves at Stephenson, who is autographing copies at the bar. “He is a sex symbol,” she announces. “He’s the new Peter Beard!”