“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.”
The mood is so edgy and charged at the Prada party it feels as if they are piping small amounts of cocaine in through the ventilation system. There is a moment when Giuliani walks through with his Secret Service detail and former fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen when the room is forced to remember September 11 and what it left behind not far south of here. But before and after that, the vibe is undiluted nineties ice. Diane von Furstenberg arches an eyebrow as she motions toward a silver cage full of clothing suspended from the ceiling. Anna Wintour is scowling over her fur collar at the giant silver spaceship elevator in the middle of the room.
“Can I get some of that?” a nervous young guy in khakis asks one of the superhumanly handsome waiters strutting around the space with champagne in hand.
“I’m going to need to see some I.D. there, man,” the waiter tells him. The young guy’s face flashes a hot red as he fumbles through his wallet. When he finally locates his license, the waiter tells him, “I was just kidding, man,” pours the champagne, and walks away smug.
A Prada P.R. assistant moves the mouthpiece of her headset out of the way to ask another staffer, “Who is that?” as Candace enters the enormous room and strikes a girlish pose for the cameras.
“The Sex and the City girl.”
“Oh,” says Headset and mulls that for a moment. “Why isn’t she with Matthew Broderick?”Candace looks lovely in her dress and shoes, even if her stockings do bunch at the knee. “Ooh! I need that!” she says, following a waiter behind the door to the drink station. She reemerges with a flute of champagne. “It’s a ratfuck in here,” Candace says, shrugging.
“Candace!” shrieks a fellow in odd glasses. He points at his date, who looks like an underwear model from the eighties, all big, yellow-streaked hair and red lips. “She just climbed Kilimanjaro.”
“Twice,” says the model. “For IMAX.”
“That’s great,” says Candace. “Can we smoke in here?” She fidgets with the enormous emerald pendant dangling around her neck.
“I see you got the engagement ring made into a necklace,” says her friend, grinning.
Candace’s face freezes for a second, and then she changes the subject.
The guy from last night’s party never shows.
Candace has been in Manhattan for 25 years now. When she was just 18, she “ran away” from Rice University in Texas to come to New York, where she dated, for starters, the legendary black composer, photographer, and film director (Shaft) Gordon Parks, who was 58 at the time. “Gordon was great,” she says. “I met him at a celebrity tennis tournament in Houston, and he was just the coolest, most elegant person! One time he called my house and my mother answered the phone, and she was like, ‘Oh, he’s so wonderful, he’s the most charming, brilliant man!’ It was just like, wow. I was too young to be serious. I was totally electrified when I first got here,” she remembers. “I used to go to Studio 54, and I would walk everywhere at like four in the morning. If you look back on it now, it’s like, Oh god, all these horrible things happened to me! But at the time you could just get over them, because you had to.”
“I used to hang out at Fiorucci in the afternoon,” she continues, “and you’d meet so many weird people and kind of like be friends with them for just a couple of days? And everybody wanted to be famous. When I was 19, I had this boyfriend who was like 34, and he lived in a loft on Fifth Avenue and I was in love with him. He had this machine he was always working on, this painting machine, that would spray paint off these images, and it was quite brilliant. At four in the morning, he’d be working at this machine, and there was this other weird guy who was like this tall,” she says, holding a hand to her knee, “and he lived on Avenue C in Alphabetland. But it was bad then! And there was this guy Norman, and he’d be like, Norman, run down to the store and get me some chicken. And he’d do it! And then there was what’s-his-name – oh, Tony Shafrazi! He’s still around – I went to his apartment once and we drank pink champagne and he said he was starting an art gallery!”
Improbably, that way of life has continued. “I know so many women who, when you’re 50, you still think you’re 18! One time I was with a couple girlfriends going down the Housatonic River in this raft, and we see these 16-year-old boys on this rope swing, and my girlfriends say, ‘Let’s go pick ‘em up! Let’s paddle over!’ And it’s like, Wait a minute, guys, we’re not 16 anymore, don’t you remember? We can’t do this; we’re old coots! But it’s like we forgot! It’s extended adolescence; the hippies killed adulthood. And I think it’s wonderful.”
I ask Candace if she wants to have children.
“Well, if I got pregnant I’d have it.”
There is no velvet rope in front of Bret Easton Ellis’s apartment, but there is a guy with a list in the lobby, and once you make it inside the door, there’s a wall of bodies in every direction. The furniture has been cleared out to make way for all the people, and there is silver Mylar on everything. In the bathroom – for which the wait is around half an hour – there’s the movie poster for Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.
“Nothing changes,” says a silver-haired film producer.
“And that’s a good thing!” says Candace. She is laughing, with a cigarette in her hand and a lipstick kiss on her cheek. She is wearing a purple Prada peasant blouse, the shirt version of the dangerous, fat-exposing dress she noticed a few days earlier.
“The first time I met Candace,” says Darren Star, “she was interviewing me for Vogue, and she said, ‘Let’s just go out.’ So she took me to Bowery Bar, and the next thing I know she’s hiding on the floor of a cab so five people could fit in and we’re going to Tunnel.” He was interested in optioning her book, he says, because he liked the idea of “a woman who writes a sex column but is still trying to figure it all out.”
“Doesn’t Monica look great?” Candace asks, motioning toward a slimmed-down Lewinsky across the room. “This is Cynthia Rowley!” Candace grabs the designer’s hand. “We look for guys together.”
Candace’s ex-boyfriend Bob Guccione Jr. enters the room, and she gives a little yelp.
“You look awesome!”
“No, you look awesome!”
“Did you get married yet?” Candace asks.
“Where’s your fiancée?” she asks. “Home? I think it’s so good not to keep tabs on each other in a relationship.”
“Bunny!” he says.
“Bunny!” she says.
“The bunny thing came about when we were lying in bed one morning and Candace was giving me grief about not going out to enough parties,” Guccione explains on the phone, later. “And I said, ‘You’re like a little bunny who hops out to the edge of the riverbank and sees the bright lights of the big city and feels the lure of the fabulous bunnies.’ It was an issue that Candace wanted to get married. During our relationship, she turned 40 and she didn’t want to be dating anymore; she’d been dating her whole life.”
“Guys always think you want to marry them, don’t they?” Candace says, on the way from Ellis’s party to a late-night drink at the bar Pop. And then: “But Bob was great.”
Ellis, McInerney, and a few others are already seated around a table. It is a scene of people who did something big, got on the map, and have been hanging out there ever since, doing pretty much the same things for recreation. Candace orders the pink drink she made famous. Everyone drinks – a lot – but no one gets drunk. In fact, everyone stays wide awake. A young man with big muscles and flowing curly hair wearing a fur pelt and a pentagram approaches the table. “I think he’s a Prada model,” says Candace.
“A young one,” says her friend Adam.
“Adam’s a really good dad,” she says.
“It’s the most important thing,” he says.
“When I was a teen, I was always mad at my dad,” Calvin Bushnell, an engineer who patented the fuel cell that powered the Apollo’s first run. “I had so many rules! But now it’s like, if my dad doesn’t like a guy, he’s gone. I brought Ron up to meet my dad. Ron was always like, ‘My friends all think you want something, but they don’t know what it is.’ I’m like, ‘I just want to be successful!’ ” She gives a little snort. “It’s those BFDs” – Big Fucking Deals. “They’re always trying to put you down a little bit and like put you in your place.”
“I’m really trying to do better than my dad,” says Adam. “It’s really too bad my ex-wife is bipolar, but I’m dealing with that.”
“Um, how’s your son dealing with that?” Candace asks.
“That’s his burden to carry. I have mine, and this will be his.”
“Are you a Scorpio?” asks the pagan Prada model.
“I’m constantly trying to do better, to find my flaws,” Adam says.
“Flaws?” says Candace. “When I think of my flaws, my flaws are like, I smoke. I drink too much sometimes. I yell at men. You don’t want to sit around dwelling on your flaws.”
“Yes!” Adam shouts. “Self-criticism is the most important thing! You always have to be looking for what’s wrong with you, what you can fix.”
“I don’t think so,” says Candace. “I think that would be like the worst flaw of all.”
It’s a new year, and Candace is in no mood for it. She’s up in Connecticut at a house she shares with a friend. “Isn’t this the worst day: January 2nd?” Candace asks. She is glum and unmade-up as she drives her car under an old covered bridge in Litchfield County, not so far from where she grew up with her two sisters and their parents. She just spent Christmas with the family and her sister’s new baby. “I never feel that comfortable picking up other people’s kids, but it’s different with my nephew. It sounds stupid, but you really can play with babies.” She zooms past a field of grazing cows.
“When I see my sister with the baby, she’s so in love, and I just think that’s a unique and special kind of love. But I think it’s really silly to be 43 and look around and be like, ‘Oh, I wanna have kids.’ Because the fact is, most doctors will tell you,” she scowls and adopts a monster voice, ” ’Your eggs are old! You’re over!’ I wouldn’t respect myself if I suddenly changed my mind at 43. It’s like, No. It doesn’t work that way.”
You hear a lot about time and place when you are with Candace. It’s about being in your twenties or it’s about being in your forties or it’s a New York thing, rather than a Candace thing. “Part of being from New England is about being really realistic. So instead of being driven by neurotic kinds of emotions like, ‘Oh, my god, I have to have children so I can fit in and do what society tells me,’ I just have an ability to not get pulled into that.”
Her house up here is simple clapboard on a big piece of land with a swimming pool and a pond. Inside, there’s a lot of chintz, bricks, and old wood planks. In her bedroom, there’s a picture of her with Darren Star in Tuscany, another with her first publisher, Morgan Entrekin, and quite a few of her – just her. There’s also a shot of her with Stephen Morris in Switzerland. “Look what he gave me for my birthday,” she says. It’s a rabbit’s foot on a gold chain, engraved with her birthdate. “He has a good sense of humor,” she says, sounding not entirely amused. She does not say anything about “great.”
“When I was in that relationship, I did feel like it was a priority. But I think at a certain point it sort of needs to move on. You’re going to get married, and if you’re not, it’s probably better to just end it.”
Candace makes her way to the kitchen, where she has a little pile of Ipswich clams she’s frying for lunch. “We have this fantasy of some guy coming along, and he’s going to be so madly in love he’s just dying to marry you. But if you talk to most men, most men will tell you: No man wants to get married. We all think it’s like our right as human beings to be loved by somebody, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. You can love people, but it seems a little immature to me to think just because you’re a human being somebody’s going to love you back.”
She laughs and starts dropping clams in hot Crisco. “I don’t know what I’m saying. My father used to say to me, ‘The older you get, the less you know.’ When you’re younger, you think you have the answers to everything. Then you get older, and you realize actually you just … you don’t.”