Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Where does one meet a New York City cultural icon for a drink? No place other than at a landmark location.
Bemelmans bar at the Carlyle Hotel seemed like the perfect spot to invite social-entrepreneur, Malcolm Harris, for a cocktail and chat. Named in honor of the legendary artist, Ludwig Bemelmans, Bemelmans is a timeless New York establishment that has attracted socialites, politicians, and power players for over five decades. Harris, dressed head to toe in sequins, fit right in.
Since his move here in 1985, Harris has emerged as one of the leading figures in New York’s lifestyle community building a staunch reputation as a humanitarian, visionary, philanthropist, and self-proclaimed “professional muse.” Both his extravagant personality and knack for starting charitable organizations have won him support from celebrities like George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna.
In true New York fashion, we order “5th Avenues” (a concoction of top shelf tequila, fruit infused vodka, and lime juice) while Chris Gillespie sings at the piano. After a short conversation regarding his recent work (a foundation to support women in the arts) it becomes apparent that Harris is not a member of the glitterati. Harris is the glitterati.
WHITEWALL: Can you describe your role as a professional muse?
MALCOLM HARRIS: I just came up with the answer the other day. I just say I am the Olivia Pope of magic, mystery, and money. People come to me when they have the perfect life, but they want to make it better – when they know that there is something missing.
In the end, everyone is searching for how to be a better person. What I love the most about this work is the look of sheer disbelief on the face of a straight-laced client from Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan when presented with real life experiences, which become empirical data that magic and miracles truly do exist. These magical moments and concrete events often occur in direct contrast to their formulas, algorithms, and pessimistic predictions.
My friend Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his best seller, The Tipping Point, about the concept of 10,000 hours. I have applied this to my existence as a creative anthropologist of sorts here in NYC. I have spent the past 30 years living, toiling, and disrupting the status quo in the city while a great number of my friends and colleagues have been focused on money and traditional career paths.
Instead, I decided I would excavate the darkest, deepest, treacherous hellholes, as well as the swankiest penthouses in search of truth, beauty, and art. In these areas, I’ve not only earned my honorary doctorates, I’ve also designed the t-shirt and drafted the blue-print for others to follow.
WW: Is that how you maintain your sincerity?
MH: You know what it is? It’s every day I wake up and I dust off yesterday. I think that most of us, we don’t. We hold on to yesterday and carry it on until the next day and the next day. Someone once told me that they picture me as dark and moody. People think I take myself so seriously, but that’s my movie in my head. And I have to be dressed for my movie. I love creating a story.
WW: What projects are you currently working on?
MH: I’m working on the Rue de Fleurus Foundation. Through Rue de Fleurus, I hope to be able to even the playing field for women in the art world. The foundation will focus on empowering, educating, and enriching the lives of women making a living in the world of art. This includes female artists, curators, collectors, and rabble-rousers alike.
WW: What inspired you to establish Rue de Fleurus?
MH: What I really was thinking about is Gertrude Stein and her idea of the salon. I really miss the New York City that I moved to in 1985. We didn’t have salons. We had what we would call “get togethers.” It was an event where people could bring their art, fashion, and whatever else they created no matter what.
Also, there is a problem with gender inequality. A person like me who can recognize both his masculine and feminine qualities can recognize that as a problem. I grew up in the United States as a gay black man. I know what that feels like.
WW: Who are your influences?
MH: My two big creative influences would be the artists Erte and Keith Haring. Through his art and costume designs, Erte taught me how to aesthetically move through the world. The lines, shapes, and silhouettes of his iconic illustrations are a part of my daily ritual when preparing to face the world on my own terms. If I really look at it, I have physically attempted to turn myself into an Erte sculpture.
Then there is my dear Keith. I met Keith when I first moved to NYC in 1985 and he tried to pick me up – but I was having none of his shenanigans. However, what I eventually learned from Mr. Haring was how to love the world and her inhabitants without shame or restraint. Keith inspired me to give the world my heart and the belief that the universe would heal it every time it found itself broken. Keith taught and continues to teach us how to love.
WW: If you had to offer a bit of advice what would it be?
MH: Bit of adivce? Never follow anyone else’s advice. Just do. Just wake up and do. If it’s painting, paint. If it’s writing, write. Wake up and do. If you want to change the world, just do it. Fuck advice. Advice is overrated. However, if I could give a small suggestion, I would suggest one always add a little bit of glitter to their life. No one has ever caused any harm to the world by sprinkling a bit of glitter…