“Honey, i’m a total animal,” says Lauren Ezersky, fashion animal, into her cell phone during an early-September pedicure at the Stephen Knoll salon on Madison Avenue. She’s wearing bright red-and-white-striped overalls, her earlobes are weighted down by two rows of dusty diamond earrings, and the pedicurist is artfully avoiding a golden toe ring. “I’ll do, like, anything … ,” she says in her signature Fran Drescher whine. She snaps her phone shut. “It is, like, the best time of my life ever,” she drawls.
As the host of Behind the Velvet Ropes, a decade-old fashion-industry talkfest (currently shown ten times a week on the Style Network), Ezersky is fashion’s most joyously kooky cheerleader, dragging cameras and chihuahuas through the showrooms of the industry’s top designers, providing animated commentary and swooning over the clothes, the clothes, the clothes. Elsa Klensch she’s not. Her black-and-white-streaked hair, raccoon-kohled eyes, and “I love fashion” getups (one night she can look like the Addams-family child who ran away with John Galliano, and the next like a forties housewife in head-to-toe Prada: stacked heels, tweed suit) have always seemed outrageous in a town where most fashion editors walk around like soldiers in the Army of Michael Kors.
Nevertheless, Ezersky, at 48, has become a force to be reckoned with. Those in the fashion world who matter – Calvin, Donna, Marc, and so on – have all appeared on Behind the Velvet Ropes at least once, and the program can currently be seen in twelve countries and counting. This season, for the first time, she’ll also be covering the New York shows as a Style Network correspondent, in addition to writing her fashion column for Paper magazine. “It’s been hard for us cartoon girls, like me and Lauren and Pat Field,” says designer Betsey Johnson, “but Lauren’s really stuck it out, and now it’s working for her.”
Agrees Nicole Miller: “She’s here to stay.”
At the very least, she’s here to be noticed. Witness her at work during Fashion Week last February, as the Japanese paparazzi chant her name. “Lauren, Lauren,” they call, trailing her all the way to the Porta-Johns.
And here she is backstage at the Marc by Marc Jacobs show (“I’ve known Marc, like, twenty years! Since he was a salesboy at Charivari!”), interviewing the designer. As the models peel out of their brightly colored, mismatched layers – which call to mind Sesame Street circa 1978 – she interprets the look for her viewers. “Marc doesn’t expect his girls to wear something head to toe,” she stage-whispers to the camera. “And I’m like, ‘I love Galliano, I want the shoes, I want the bag. I want it a-wall.’ I love Prada. I want the whole, whole thing.”
At an industry party, she’s cornered by more fans. “Oh. My. God,” exclaims Hervé Pierre, design director at Bill Blass. “The interview you did with Helmut” – only he says it El-moot – “Newton. It was amazing. Amazing. When we look back, when our children look back, they will say that was the most important interview with Monsieur Newton. Ever. It will be our eee-story.” Ezersky smiles. New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham snaps her picture. “Hi, Bill!” she says sweetly, and everyone from Diane von Furstenberg to Stan Herman to Iman comes by to pay their respects. “Do you have enough Paloma?” the P.R. girl for the perfume wants to know. “Because I’ll send more … “
Every fashion type seems to have a story about Ezersky. She started out as a call girl, some insist, in the seventies. No, others are certain, she’s the estranged wife of a Japanese tycoon. Neither scenario is true. “I’m just a girl from Yon-keeerrrs,” she says with a shrug, drawing out every vowel. (And, for the record, she gets her designer clothes like every other fashion editor in town: in a precarious balance of discounts, loaners, and the occasional splurge.) “I just wanted to be in fashion,” she says, sounding for a second like so many girls who dreamed big over photographs by Penn and Scavullo in their suburban bedrooms.
And yet so different.
She graduated from Garland Junior College and spent a while in the Boston area. “After college I wanted to get a job in, like, this suburban department store?” she remembers. “So I showed up in, like, a full turban. It was like, ‘She’s totally out to lunch.’ ” She didn’t get the job. She decided to return to New York and try her luck on Seventh Avenue. “What did I know?” she asks. “I worked anywhere.” Showrooms, low-end garment businesses. “I was a receptionist,” she says, “and none of it was glamorous. It was, like, weird, ugly jeans companies.” This was all in that time she refers to with a wave of her long-nailed hands as “you know, the seventies.”
Her good-looking parents didn’t care about fashion at all. “They’re sweet,” she says, “but they, like, aren’t, you know, into it.” In 1988, she and her then-husband, Jordan Plitteris (who shared Lauren’s love of consumerism, and kind of looks like the big one from Penn and Teller), were recruited for an Oprah Winfrey special on shopaholics. “After Oprah, someone from Behind the Velvet Ropes called me, and, like, I never say no to anything,” Ezersky recalls. Behind the Velvet Ropes was, at the time, a low-budget cable-access program that fetishized the glamorous life. Lauren was a perfect fit: She became a fashion correspondent until the show’s funding dried up in 1995.
She was still gainfully employed: Around 1990, she had started to write for Paper. After a million phone calls to the editor, Kim Hastreiter, Ezersky landed a fashion column. “She kept calling me, begging to write,” remembers Hastreiter. “So finally she did an interview with Donna Karan, and we were all howling. She would say, ‘So, Donna. Tell me. Do you, like, pig out at night?’ ” She was hired. Another legendary interview was with Alber Elbaz, the former designer for Yves Saint Laurent. “You’re Jewish?” Ezersky (who is) asked over and over again. “But you don’t look Jewish!”
Ezersky continued the column even after a brief move to Japan to be with Plitteris, who was working there in the computer industry. But she eventually gave up on both the marriage and the country and came home. Of her ex-husband, she says only, “He was a nice guy, no big deal. He didn’t, like, get it. No fashion.”
On returning to New York, determined not to let her television career go, Ezersky applied for sponsorship in order to resuscitate Behind the Velvet Ropes. She got a yes from Moët & Chandon in 1997; the following year, the program was acquired by the Style Network. “I was on Behind the Velvet Ropes a bunch in the early days, and back then I sort of thought, Okay, so she’s funny and quirky,” says designer Cynthia Rowley. “I didn’t realize how ambitious and how hardworking she really was. She’s dripping in diamonds and beads and fur in the middle of the day, but she’s not really in it for the glamour. I always think of her like Judy Holliday in It Should Happen to You – she creates this whole persona and becomes this huge success because she’s worked so hard.”
Ezersky shoots upwards of five segments a day, and this year so far she’s delivered more than 100. Often, if a designer has been reluctant to be interviewed, she’ll show up at his showroom anyway – camera crew in tow. And she never misses an event where there might be a goody bag.
Although she sits out the European shows, Ezersky’s a hit internationally. “You know, in France we like this kind of thing,” says designer Catherine Malandrino, a friend. “The crazy ladies.”
And then there’s the rabid Japanese following. “I don’t know!” Ezersky says, laughing about her Japanese fan base on her way to a shoot at the Madison Avenue jewelry shop of Laurence Graff, a tight-lipped Englishman accustomed to dealing with oil tycoons and the women who love them. “I feel a real affinity for the Japanese, too.” She’s wearing mint-green Roberto Cavalli – her bellybutton is peeking out, and her neck is trimmed in fur. Graff takes one look at her and retreats to the back of the store to catch his breath. When he emerges, he inspects her jewelry. “These should be real,” he sniffs, objecting, perhaps, to the unshined quality of Ezersky’s bijoux.
She looks at the camera and rolls her eyes dramatically. “Well, okay. Like, give me some diamonds, mister!”
Offscreen, Lauren’s a pretty regular freelancing girl. She rides the subway, carefully picking her way around sidewalk grates in her Manolo Blahniks, oblivious to the stares of everyone who recognizes her. She worries about whether or not the bellybutton pierce she got last year is ever going to heal, and hopes things will work out with the guy she met over the summer. “You have no idea how hard it is to find someone who gets it,” she says with a sigh. She’s been with plenty who didn’t, like the guy with a big house in the Hamptons – who was “like, way too macrobiotic.” She goes out with designers and other people she knows through work, but hangs on to a few old girlfriends from her college days, with whom she takes quiet trips to Vermont and Florida.
She lives in a studio apartment on Central Park South with messy closets and two chihuahuas she paper-trained after Bobbi Brown spotted her walking her dogs and looking like: “Hello? a total disaster.” Her apartment, however, is far from ordinary. It calls to mind the boudoir of Marie Antoinette: all courtly damask and pillows arranged, it seems, for cake-eating. “Everyone’s surprised when they see it,” she says, “like they expect it to be more … something. It’s really very girly. But that’s what I’m like. Totally femme.”
She drew inspiration from Galliano for the vanity dripping with dusty beads and mirrors and porcelain cherubs. Everywhere you look, Steiff stuffed animals peek out. There are pillows and footstools and dozens of oil paintings. “I found it all in flea markets,” she boasts. And lined up along the mantel are a dozen or so clocks: “I’m totally punctual.”
But the truly great part of Ezersky’s apartment is the narrow hallway that leads to the bathroom: her hall of fame, studded with dozens of eight-by-ten black-and-white photographs in gilt frames. Here is Karl Lagerfeld spritzing her neck with perfume and shots of her with Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen, Kate Spade and Helmut Newton and Sonia Rykiel. “It’s a work in progress,” she says. “Like me.”
But despite her burgeoning success, she’s really feeling Zen about it all. “I think this is really the best time of my life,” she says again with a sigh on the banquette at Stephen Knoll as the pedicurist scrubs furiously at her heel. “I might even get an agent!”