“How the hell did you end up here?”
After negronis with the ICON team at Sel Rrose – a post-war Parisian looking, non-descript bar on the traffic-clogged Delancey Street in New York – I walked the three blocks home to my new apartment on the Lower East Side. Seven times I had visited this incredible city as a journalist but finally, I was able to stand atop of a rooftop and call it home; Sharp shivers as I stared down at the drunken silhouettes, neon signs and flashing firetrucks. Sweeter goosebumps as I took in the enormity of the skyscrapers in the distance. After about the fourth visit to NYC, you start to see the city with a different lens. You start to see the rubbish and the rumbling subway beneath you is less of a novelty and more of an annoyance. But that magic hour – 1am – became both the hard part of the night and my favourite space of time. I’d be taking calls with our Sydney office while watching the dear characters outside my window. How did you end up here? I would muse to myself.
The answer was a cruel shrug in a series of now-fleeting moments; A cheating ex-boyfriend who had smoked my heart like a cigarette, the perspective gained after the passing of my ill father and monthly business trips to New York to realise Sydney’s Bondi bubble was never going to serve up even half of what I really wanted. The cultural epicentre of the ICON brand – it’s love affair with the street, it’s fashion, it’s film and what made you guys tick – was not going to be uncovered first-hand in Australia alone. America offered all of this. And so the ICON team’s first foray into the US was before us, standing 10 stories tall – maybe even 20, 50, 104, as high as the beams shooting off the new One World Trade Center in front of me on my rooftop that humid night in September. The task ahead was huge.
Yes, the experience of uprooting an office to the other side of the world was expectedly full of challenges. What wasn’t expected were the absolute weirdos. Actor Bill Skarsgård of IT fame warned me of the strange characters roaming the city during his shoot at a studio in TriBeCa. He remembered a time when he was actually one of them, dancing and laughing in full clown makeup on the sidewalk on his way to the film’s audition, something he said no one even flinched at because, “that’s America”.
While our general manager Marne and fashion director Kim were shooting in the wee hours of the morning in Brownsville, Brooklyn – AKA the murder capital of NYC – Marne’s laptop was stolen by a prostitute. On that same shoot, Kim was also accused of running a brothel out of her Airbnb, the result of a mere misunderstanding when the host asked what Kim was doing with so many men in her room and she replied “I’m undressing them, you cannot go in there.” On another occasion, a man masquerading as a regular human began screaming at me while I was picking up props because I wouldn’t withdraw him $6 from an ATM on Broadway.
New York was hard.
ICON’s office basically operated out of my apartment’s kitchen which was equipped with little more than a couple of laptops and a set of knives. I’ve written copy for this issue on flights, in hotels and from the back of a Chinese takeaway because that was the only spot I had access to a printer. We’ve raced across the island of Manhattan to retrieve last minute garments for shoots that were happening in real time. I’ve had fights with Marne at 2am over image selections and headline changes. I’ve had more fights over why I needed budget to fly to LA because “the interview is with Morgan fucking Freeman and find the money.” (They did.) Model Luka Sabbatt was stuck in London without an American passport two days before he was due to shoot with us in NYC. (He made it). We’ve lugged 14 30-kilo suitcases up and down stairwells. (We made it.) Kim even sat across from a man who had been stabbed through the cheek on the subway, a tale that surely belongs on Page 74 of the magazine. (She nearly didn’t make it.)
While interviewing American writer and producer Max Weissberg – the grandson of the owner of the Gramercy Park Hotel – I was caught up to speed on wild stories of iconic musicians who played up during their stays. (It was the 80s and, as Max tells it, you could order a guitar pick, a cheeseburger and cocaine via room service. Madonna even tried to seduce Max’s aunt into a threesome – a detail Rolling Stone wouldn’t push publish on. But we did on page 50.) “Once Joe Strummer and The Clash went into some rough neighbourhoods and befriended some gangs,” says Max. “They ended up changing their music style and coming up with ‘This is Radio Clash.’”
I’d like to think the ICON team were a little bit like Joe Strummer. A couple of issues in and it was time to enter new territory. There’s nothing quite like experiencing a Shawn Mendes concert from the photographer pit at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as a means of previewing his upcoming Australian tour. Or sitting down with and picking the brain of the LAPD lead detective who solved the Tupac and Biggie murders and still has a bone to pick with P. Diddy. Or shooting across to Los Angeles and laughing hysterically during an interview with Bill Hader and James McAvoy.
That’s the short version of how we got here. And I look forward to bringing you more icons up close from the American frontline. Even if it means a bad Airbnb rating and a Negroni hangover.
Enjoy the issue.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE OCTOBER 2019 EDITION OF ICON AUSTRALIA.