Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni is the author of Sam Spiegel, Tino Zervudachi, Loulou de la Falaise, Monsieur Dior, BiYan and Vogue on Yves Saint Laurent. Fraser-Cavassoni was the European Editor for Harper’s Bazaar from 1999-2004 after serving as a staff member and journalist at Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine. She lives in Paris with her two daughters.
How would you describe your new book, After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land, published in New York by Blue Rider Press?
After Andy is a memoir of my early life using Andy Warhol as a thread. He was there at key moments starting from the age of sixteen. The book ends in 1994 and, in writing style, is very inspired by Andy’s work. By that, I mean, After Andy is as light or as layered as the reader decides.
Why do you start with the memorial that took place on April 1 1987 in St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York?
I started with a memorial because a strong, relevant scene is a great way to introduce the main characters. In this case, it was Fred Hughes (Warhol’s business manager,) Vincent Fremont (who ran Warhol’s studio) as well as famous artists and fashion designers. Andy was Mr New York, and his memorial was my personal introduction to New York. I’d been to Manhattan before, but I’d never seen all these people together, “people” who I would eventually get to know and present in After Andy.
In fact, you had been hired by Warhol’s studio only four days before he died?
I was hired for Andy’s MTV programme Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes. It was very exciting. That was on Thursday. Sadly, I am one of the few people to see him just before he checked into hospital on Friday; and then he died on Sunday. He checked into the hospital under the pseudonym of Bob Roberts.
The book turns to your own family and childhood. Do you have an extraordinary family?
Yes, it is a memoir as I said. I don’t know if my family is extraordinary but everyone feels very authentic. My siblings and I were lucky to have parents who were doing something with their lives. Our mother is Antonia Fraser, the best selling writer, and our father Hugh Fraser was a conservative politician. Although my mother was very famous, my father made much more of an impact on me. Writing is a solitary profession whereas a politician’s life is much more inclusive. I can still remember canvassing for him during the British elections. It was fun and sharpened my social skills.
You were very influenced by your parent’s strong work ethic?
True, I did not go to university, but I have always had to earn my keep and I love that. A decadent life has never appealed. And that’s what I really liked about Warhol. He had a strong work ethic and often said, “I’ve got to keep the lights on.” Warhol was financially responsible. It’s good to be an artist but you have to pay the bills too. Throughout After Andy, I have purposely focused on people who have kept relevant via their strong work ethic whether they’re Harold Pinter or Mick Jagger or Karl Lagerfeld or Christian Louboutin.
Yet like Proust and Warhol you are fascinated by famous people?
I am more interested in talented people. When they’re very lucky they can become famous and make a financial career from it. But the business of fame is quite destructive. Extreme intelligence is required.
In the book you give a lot of space to Fred Hughes, Andy Warhol’s business manager, who was not so publicly well known. Why did you make him one of the protagonists of the book?
Fred Hughes was Andy’s eminence grise in many ways. We mustn’t forget that after Andy’s assassination attempt in 1968, the American art establishment turned its back on the Pop artist and said his talent had dried up. Fred understood the situation and thanks to his taste, intelligence and contacts, he made Warhol into an international figure. It was also Fred’s idea to create a partnership with the powerful Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger who setup the society portraits – nicknamed Les Must de Warhol. Besides that, Fred also organized many amazing shows with prominent European gallery owners. In general, Europe appreciated Warhol more. For instance, Warhol’s first retrospective was in Sweden, it wasn’t in America.
When Warhol died wasn’t he in decline, people dismissed him?
People were confused and probably felt that the Warhol performance had overshadowed his talent. To quote Thaddaeus Ropac, the gallery owner, “it was only later, when the performance was finished, that we could look at his work.”
But he was a great artist and a society person at the same time.
Warhol managed to do art and society and make money with both. It was all work even if he was at Studio 54 rubbing shoulders with Bianca Jagger. The problem was that Andy was firing on too many cylinders for that period. Yet he was ahead of his time, a genius and a sort of prophet. Sir Norman Rosenthal said he was incapable of being dishonest. The work of an honest artist is always going to last. Personally, I think the Fright Wig self-portraits, commissioned by Anthony d’Offay in 1986, remain extraordinary.
He was very religious wasn’t he?
Andy had great faith that increased after his assassination attempt. He’d go to church on a daily basis. He was also quite Arthurian. All the people around him resembled knights from a fairly camp round table. I found it interesting that they were mostly Catholics, albeit lapsed.
After an experience as a columnist for Interview magazine you started doing jewellery, and with the encouragement of Anna Wintour of Vogue you moved to Paris?
When Anna heard that I was moving to Paris, she offered to contact all the French fashion houses. It was tremendously helpful. Funny but I fell in love with Paris when I was 13. Everything struck me as civilized from the smell of the baking baguettes to the sprinkling of sugar in my citron pressé.
And there you worked for Karl Lagerfeld, another great man?
Yes, fantastic. He also made a film with Andy Warhol, ‘L’Amour’ in 1973, and that is why my book is called ‘Adventures in Warhol Land’ because there’s a link between Warhol and every character.
So you went into the fashion world?
Karl and the Chanel studio are running their own orbit in fashion. Everything is so personally and seamlessly run. But yes that’s how I got into fashion.
You were friendly with the Saint Laurent people weren’t you?
No, I wasn’t. When I was at Chanel, there was the Karl gang and there was the Saint Laurent gang. They were real gangs even if I was too naïve to then realise it. I didn’t meet the Saint Laurent gang properly until I was employed by Fairchild Publications in 1991 and worked at W and Women’s Wear Daily.
How was Mr Fairchild?
Like Karl, Mr Fairchild and always Mr Fairchild, never John!, was another mentor. He ran a media boot camp and allowed me to become a proper journalist. Strange but I first saw him at the Warhol Studio when he was interested in buying Warhol’s Interview magazine.
You also reveal in your book some of your Warhol linked love affairs, and in particular the one with Mick Jagger?
Well, Andy’s portraits of Mick Jagger are fantastic. Our casual and always delightful relationship began in September 1980 and continued for about 5 years. I was at a lunch for Warhol given by Marguerite Littman, a socialite, when Harry Bailey, who was an art dealer, said “you should meet Mick.” He was also the first to mention the portfolio of Jagger portraits, done by Andy in 1975
You also wrote a biography of a very different character, the producer Sam Spiegel. How come?
Sam was another mentor. He gave me my first job and also introduced me to Mick Jagger. Sam invited me on his boat, and, through Ahmet Ertegun, Mick was there, with Jerry Hall and his daughter Jade. Six weeks later, I began to see Mick.
How was such a thing possible when he was with Jerry Hall?
Jerry Hall was a hugely successful fashion model who was travelling all over the world. And he was Mick Jagger, left alone in London. He was irresistible as well as being incredibly intelligent and funny. That said, I always knew the limits of the relationship. He was a burning light who belonged to Jerry. Put it this way, he was Jerry’s hero but not mine.
Who was your hero?
It began with my father and then continued with my husband Jean-Pierre Cavassoni.
The world of legends, famous beautiful people in London, Los Angeles, New York and Paris that you describe so well in your book is gone forever.
The world of legends and Beautiful People still exists but it’s become very private and exclusive. What’s different today is the incredible importance of money and that has changed everything. For instance, now to have connections or be a player in London you have to spend masses of money. During my childhood, charm, humour and intelligence were enough. And the elegant rich tended to hide their wealth. There was an innocence.
Did the internet somehow kill talent?
No, there is still so much talent. But there was once a great romanticism around famous people. Or rather you only knew the good stuff. Now with the internet we are bombarded with the bad stuff, based on the idea that stars are like you and me. They are not! And these tarnishing facts do not make us alike. They are horrible. I don’t want to know. Their talent or wealth or beauty is enough. Why should we all be the same?
Warhol loved fame and money?
Yes, Andy used fame, he milked fame, he realised it was a business. He was wonderfully lucid. But he also kept his own work in the closet – he was a smart guy who was self-effacing. He realised he was creatively brilliant but that other artists existed like Jasper Johns and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He did not have an inflated ego and that explains his posthumous longevity.
What about Lagerfeld?
Like Andy, Karl is a brilliant talent who shares the same-grounded attitude and remains in the present. Try talking to Karl about a former fashion collection and he’ll be appalled. His sights are firmly fixed on the future. It explains how he has lasted so long. It remains impressive.
Is your book nostalgic?
No, but it evokes another time. I don’t say then was better. I just reveal what I personally witnessed.
Does it read like a novel?
I wanted After Andy to be informative but fun and easy to read. People say that when they start reading it they can’t put it down. Music to my ears!
Going back to Fred Hughes, why is he so important in your book?
I guess because Fred was so touching and so tragic. He got all that he wanted and then it all went wrong and he died in reduced circumstances. Fred was like a character out of Scott Fitzgerald but not the hero.
Are you pleased with your book?
I’m pleased when people enjoy After Andy. That means a lot. My book catches another side to Andy, the human side that cared about people as well as his years in Europe and the English Muffins – those well-born English women who worked for him. I was the fifth English Muffin. Warhol had a rolling camera and, in a way, I had a rolling camera too. I now realise how full my life was, and how I was always motivated by curiosity. Curiosity is a great ‘moteur’. If I hadn’t been curious, I would have stayed in England. Imagine, no adventures!
But Paris is your place?
Yes since September 1989. What I love about the Parisians is their deep respect for intelligence. Their big insult is to be described as ‘un con.’ Adore this. I also admire their heightened sense of quality, their need to express and the real appreciation of the creative and their distrust of money. En masse, they continue to intrigue. Finally, they have always made me feel welcomed. And to quote the American artist Jim Hodges, “go where the heat is.”
Like an English muffin?
Yes, an English muffin in Paris! I learnt a lot from Parisians, but have remained very English, and I get the best of both worlds.
What about America?
This time in New York, I suddenly realised how both my mother and stepfather Harold Pinter became famous via the United States and what a strong link they shared. For an European to make it in America, it’s equivalent to being alone in a field and suddenly a shining knight on a horse in platinum armour arriving and sweeping you up. It’s extraordinary to make it in America because they love success and they embrace you with that famous American enthusiasm. There is no downside; whereas in Europe we mistrust success.
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Portrait of Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni by Laura Friezer.