Remembering Studio 54


Sixteen years ago I moved to New York and started what has become a rich, long & winding road in the world of fashion.  I enrolled at F.I.T., moved into their dorms, fell head over heels in love with the city, and set out to rule the world.

Exactly two weeks later, I was invited to stay at a sprawling mansion somewhere in the Hamptons.  It was one of those large estate type of places with at least 20 bedrooms, a perfectly manicured property, a pool, and all kinds of empty rooms that seemed to serve no purpose.   I remember having my first drink out by the pool with a bunch of fun people I had never met before.  And that is the last clear memory I have of this weekend.

After being whisked around to a few beaches (all of them with some very steep admissions fees, none of which I had to pay), I then found myself at this insanely lavish ocean front mansion with an echelon of people that was quite creamy.  You could just feel the money pulsing through this company of people, most of whom were investment bankers, models and je-ne-sais-pas (people whose professions remained largely a mystery to me and to others).  Being a young fashion student, I was the odd-woman out.

Among one of these fabulous people was the legendary Carmen d'Alessio, a party promoter who, along with partners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, started Studio 54 and, well, the rest became history.  To quote Andy Warhol circa 1979 in London:  “Carmen has a list. Her list is worth a fortune. She has the names (spelled correctly), the addresses (summer, winter, city, and country), and the phone numbers (with area codes) of everyone beautiful, young, and loaded.”   

Here are some snaps of Carmen during her heyday.

Carmen stood out mostly because she seemed to be from another era.  An era of perpetual partying.  An era of total je-m'en-foue (I don't care).  An era that I did not yet know very well, although I knew already that I liked it.  In that moment I had no idea who she was nor about her involvement with Studio 54.  For some reason, Carmen immediately zeroed in on me.  Our conversation went something like this:

CDA: ''Hey, d'you got any bl*w?''

Me: ''No, sorry.'' 

CDA: ''So, where are you from?''

Me: ''I'm from Toronto.  Where are you from?''

CDA: Cackling under her breath, ''I am from everywhere, dahrling.'' Then she said hello to a few other guests and paused before saying, ''How many dreams do you have in your pocket?''

Me: ''Lots.'' I smiled.  ''What's your name?''

CDA: ''I am Carmen The Great.  D'you got any bl*w?''

Me:  ''No, sorry.''

CDA: She looks at me very seriously and says something I will never forget, ''Dreams are nice, but be careful.  I once knew someone who drowned in his dream.  Dreams can be dangerous.''  Shivers ran down my spine.  It was one of those moments when I did not fully understand the meaning behind what was said, other than I knew that it was important.  I wanted to ask her more questions, but something in the back of my mind held me back.

Many years later while vacationing on the Greek island of Folegandros, I read the book entitled 'The Last Party: Studio 54 Culture & The Culture Of The Night.'  Now, Carmen and her goonies were far from my mind, a forgotten memory of sorts.  But I could not put down this book.  It told the story about Steve Rubell and how he had put everything on the line -- his heart, his soul, his friendships, his health -- into the creation of what was for him a bubble containing everything that was good, pure and fun in the world, Studio 54, only to see it crumble beneath him and to be left to die all alone.   As I was reading this book, Carmen's words kept ringing in my ears.  I then realized that she had been referring to her late friend Steve who, incidentally, had fired her when things started going south.

I have always wished that I had been able to go to Studio 54 (note: I was still in diapers when their doors were open, thank you very much).  At least my experience with Carmen, all be it brief, made me feel like I had experienced even just a little slice of it.  Here are some epic snaps of those crazy days.

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