Location: Scarsdale, NY
Marital Status: Married
Education: Bachelor’s Degree from Brooklyn College
Why did you graduate High School so early?
It was my parent’s ethics. My father was Austrian, my mother Russian–White Russian. When I was 14 she sent me to finishing school—of all ridiculous things. My parents believed education was the most important thing.
Did you feel different, growing up with foreign parents?
I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood. Everyone else’s parents looked like the “Brady Bunch.” My parents were older with cockeyed accents. And in the backyard everyone had a fabulous pool. We had a garden. I was completely humiliated. Even now I’ll joke with my Aunt Shirley: “Shirl, you can tell me, who are my real parents?” I always felt like I was plopped in the wrong place. Later all that stuff that made me feel different than everyone else would define me in a good way. Who knew?
What did your father do?
My father was a caterer, but he had a Ph.D. in language. My parents were like Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eddie Albert in “Green Acres.” My mother made Olivia de Havilland look ugly. And my father was good-looking in an awkward way. He’d wear polka dots and plaids with two different colored socks.
Did you go to public school?
Yeah, I went to South Shore in Brooklyn, which I think is condemned now. Thirty-six years ago they had a metal detector. That’s how bad it was.
What about college?
I got into Vassar and my parents wouldn’t let me go because I was 15. So I went to Brooklyn College and studied everything from fencing and ballet to swimming and art. I liked learning. To this day I’m taking Kabbalah, I’m studying Buddha. I meditate everyday. I’m always growing and learning ‘cause I feel like there’s something I’m meant to do. I haven’t figured it out yet, but somebody said it will come to me.
When did you open your first store?
While I was going to school, I was working in a showroom typing for a guy who was selling men’s things. People would come in and try things on and he would say, “Oh this is beautiful.” I’d say, “It’s better in blue.” Finally my boss said, “You know what, if you think you could do it better, do it.” So I started in wholesale and then I opened up my own store. I just begged and said to everyone, “if you love me, this is your chance to show me. You have to send me merchandise and I’ll pay you a quarter after never.”
What was your style like then?
I was a diva. I had my first kid at 24. The first day back to work I wore hot pants with fishnet tights and high heels.
How many kids do you have?
Two ridiculously sick, amazing, gorgeous females. They are from my first marriage.
And your husband now? Tell me about him.
Michele. He’s from Rome. He trained as an architect, and now he designs unbelievable, beautiful jewelry. His company, Sartini Designs, is on 47th street. He’s very respected among his peers for doing everything by hand—it’s really a dying art form.
Has your style has changed?
Oh, totally. When I was younger, I wore all one designer—head to toe. I would wear all Azzedine Alaia. When Gaultier did the Russian thing I had to have all Gaultier. (It was me and Janet Jackson wearing that look.) Everything was very body conscious, because that was the style: Big hair and boobies that looked like torpedoes, thanks to Madonna. And shoulder pads!
Now I’m a lot less showy. There comes a point when you don’t have to do that anymore.
Define your look now.
I’m a Jappy Hippie. I’m a Jippy. And my style is eclectic. I go against what’s expected. If everyone is wearing narrow, I go the opposite extreme.
Who are your favorite designers now?
Stella McCartney. Her clothes are style—not fashion. Everything Stella does, everyone can make it their own and that’s what style is.
So what is fashion to you?
Something for the moment. Trendy and fashion are almost synonymous. Style is making whatever you’re wearing your own.
Who influenced your style?
My mother dressed like a mom–not cool or hip–but she always looked finished. When I thought my hair looked its coolest she would say to me, “Can’t you do something with your hair?”
Do you have a signature accessory?
A long chain necklace that I wear under everything. It has charms from all different times in my life, and from people I love or have loved. That, my Kabbalah ring, and a one-of-a-kind ring that Michele made for me. It’s a 40-karat black diamond ring surrounded by 500 white diamonds, with 4 yellow diamonds in the back. I call it my portable cocktail table.
What about a signature scent?
Kiehl’s Musk. I love refreshing with a dash of the oil during the day. It is my cup of afternoon coffee, so to speak. I am a big fan of classic things, and bringing back a classic like Kiehl’s is often a shock to those who ask what I am wearing.
Who or what inspires you?
When regular people go outside of the box and do something that’s not comfortable for them to better someone else.
What about books?
My all-time favorite is Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, by Jamie Zeppa. So beautiful. It takes you with her and inspires you to re-evaluate your own life.
You know what else I love? American Idol. That is the American Dream realized.