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CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN

Interview by Michael Bullock
Photography by Kiko Buxo

Published in apartamento 2, 2008

As the editor of the ultra-chic downtown fashion magazine V, Chris Bollen made what could have been something strictly to look at into something equally compelling to read. Chris gave V both heart and intellectual punch, interviewing heavy weights such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion. Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie and Robert Altman. Recently Chris made the move into publishing’s major leagues adding his name as Editor-In-Chief to the historic legacy of Andy Warhol’s Interview. His plan is to return the magazine to a place that New Yorker’s will be proud of again, dumping the celebrity worship for a focus on personality. Seeing Chris’s place his own personality becomes clear, right from the unique entrance. To get to his place you walk through a womblike hallway in a turn of the century West Village apartment complex. The back door opens onto something unheard of in the city: a front lawn. In the middle of this sizable private courtyard filled with tall trees and ferns is a free standing one story cottage, a place that looks more like the home of Snow White’s seven dwarfs then a dashing young editor. With this home Chris has pulled off the impossible. He created a tranquil writer’s retreat in heart of the urban jungle. His outdoor picnic table is the perfect place to spend a late summers night.

How long have you lived here?

I moved here from an apartment in Gramercy in May of 2006. I got it because my friend lived here. He had lived here for many years. I was at a birthday party, this was like early 2005, I was sitting across from him. He told me he had this amazing place, this cottage, he was saying “I think I have to move because I have so much equipment and so many clothes.” He was a fashion photographer, “that I can’t fit it all in anymore” So sight unseen I said “you have to make me one promise in this lifetime. If you ever leave it you have to let me take it over.” It’s exactly what I always wanted.

You could just tell from the description?

Just from the description. So, I was literately like a vulture. I called him like once a week for a year. Asking, so did you find a new place yet? He was a friend but not a close friend. I don’t know if I ever even called him before at all. Then, he finally moved out. I was with him when he told the landlord he wanted to move and I was there right away to sign the lease. It’s the only ways to get an apartment like this. You basically chain yourself to the person that was there before you.

Is it set up the same way as how he set it up?

He used the bedroom as an office and put his bed in here, (the living room) which made the whole place look so much smaller. I made it into a living room and took out the office and shoved my bed in.

Do you know what the history of the place is?

He was under the impression this was a carriage house, a staple and there were horses here and stable boys in the 1900th century. Which turned out to be complete fiction. The first summer I had a lot of people over and one night I had Chris Bram over, the writer who wrote Gods and Monsters. He lives in the neighborhood and he fancies himself something of a West Village historian.. He was very taken with this place he asked when it was built. I told him it was a stable for horses and promiscuous stable boys, of course as I said it, it sounded ridiculous. So he went to this library on Seventh Ave. where they have records of every building in the West Village and found out that the building that you walk through to get in here was two separate buildings and they were connected. The hall you walked through to get in here used to be an alley. It was connected in 1927. The same year they stuccoed the front. It was very popular at the time and it was the same year they built this cottage. I think it was basically a folly. Like it was someone’s bohemian arts studio. So it wasn’t for horses – and it was built in 1927. When you sit outside you realize how much it doesn’t feel like New York City.

Do the neighbors use this courtyard?

No, the only neighbor uses a small corner but the rest of it is all for me.

So they can all watch you?

Yeah. And I dance for them and I usually try to break up out there and give them something to watch. It is a bit rear window meets the shining. (laughing)... So I have been here two and half years. It’s so unusual to have a house in NY. I moved here to NY in 1996 and I think I have lived in every different type of place there is from Washington Heights, all the way to Green Point and this is definitely my favorite. I feel so happy here. I love the West Village, although it’s a little too cute for me. But this cottage is really the special part of it. It’s so quite. You never hear traffic when you’re here, you just feel completely away as you walk through the tunnel. And it’s magic. It is. It’s really good for writing and that is what I spend most of my time doing when I am not at work. And I want to keep it as a writing studio even when I move to somewhere maybe more livable because there is a lot of problem with living here too.

Such as?

Well for one there is no insulation in the walls so the winters are freezing cold.

Does the fireplace work?

No. I wanted to but it was going to take $5000 to clean it out. But is this old man on the third floor... He and his lover are the kind of people that scream things like “I’m not yelling at you” they’re fighting constantly, they are really great. (Laughing) One day he was out walking his dog and I said hi. He is really from a different time in the West Village, Which I love. He calls everyone Mary and stuff. I told him I might clean out the chimney so I can light fires and he paused for a bit and stared at me directly in the face with this hard look and said, “ If you start a fire all that smoke will go into my windows and there will be real trouble.” So I decided not to. So, it’s freezing cold. It’s like urban camping. But the biggest hazard may be that there is no closet space. So every inch of storage counts. I had to take out the stove for more room. So I don’t cook, I have a microwave but it’s just filled with cookbooks that I don’t use. Every extra space counts. I mean it’s amazing when you don’t have a closet how cumbersome shoes are for example. They don’t stack, you have to be inventive, and most of them are under the bed which is also nice because the ones that are out are the ones I really like .

In each apartment have you kept the same furniture?

The furniture in my last apartment in Gramercy, in fact, in the last three apartments I have had; Williamsburg, Gramercy and here are totally different, just because of how the spaces were layed out. I couldn’t keep the same stuff.

So eBay everything and start fresh?

Well the Williamsburg one was full of things I found on the street. It was also when I was young enough and it doesn’t really occur to you that they could have bedbugs or tics. I was so poor when I moved to Williamsburg. I had this red velvet fold-out couch bed that I would let guests sleep on, and it was basically all springs. It was the most uncomfortable thing ever. People felt really abused when they stayed with me. So I didn’t take that with me. But from Gramercy to here nothing fit. It was a long thin rectangular studio. So I bought everything long. And here there are so many edges in little rooms with so many corners... I had to change that up. So I got this couch. It’s a Chesterfield, it’s from Paris from the 1930’s. I love it unfortunately no one can sleep on it when they stay here cause it’s to short. I have always wanted a chesterfield my whole life, and I love that it is green. So that is great.

It looks literary?

Yeah, because this place could easily.... It was actually hard to get a good vibe in this place. I’m not one of those people that is obsessed with clean sterile environments. I would like it to be a bit chaotic and eclectic. But this place could easily become gypsy-like, Stevie Nicks style. One wrong batik and (laughs) and it could take you somewhere crazy.

Is it from friends?

Yeah Wade Guyton, made this little X print. See, everything has to be small cause there is no real way of attaching it to the walls. Judith Eisler drew that for me, it’s a sketch from Coal Miners Daughter which she did. Uhm. Who else? I have this post card from Joan Didion, she is one of my favorites. (he shows me a hand written postcard that is framed in glass so you can see both sides).

Who did she write it to?

To me, I’m a big fan of hers. This one is supposed to a portrait of me. But it really looks like a mix between my friend Drew and Hilary Clinton, (laughing) neither of whom I think I look like, at least I don’t think.

You’re much better looking.

Thank you.

Do you find that the art people give you reflects your taste?

I am really lucky, I don’t know if this is a telling thing about me but, most all of my friends who are artists, I really like their work. I don’t know if I picked them because I like their work, but I do really like it. I don’t have any friends whose work I secretly hate. Or maybe if I don’t like their work I just don’t invite them to birthday parties, I noticed that’s the real score.

You said you changed your furniture from one apartment to the next. Did your style change?

I like kind of a mix and match style but I did change it. It was much more modern at the old place. And that would not have felt right at all here. I kept the pieces I liked, but ones with little character and nothing to crazy or radical. This place has so much character on its own that you don’t need to over style it.

Do you think about what you would do if you owned it?

Oh yeah, I would build a second floor for the bedroom. And have the whole first floor be the living room. That would be ideal, but not possible. I tried.

You did try?

Well I asked but it is owned by a huge conglomerate owned by William Gottlieb who basically owned the West Village. He recently died. He was really wonderful himself. For years he kept people from building, so big part of the reason the West Village looks the way it does is because he didn’t let anyone tear it down. Now there are battles with his heirs. Who knows what is going to happen. This whole thing could be knocked down for luxury condos. It seems like every piece of property that has character will be maximized and turned into some glass box. It would be very sad to me if it went to a banker. Although a banker would probably not live here, it’s not the most comfortable place.

Does the place affect your writing?

Yeah, because of this court yard the idea of nature comes into the book I’m writing a lot more. I even put the cottage in the book; It’s owned by an old man who looks nothing like me, hopefully, and he actually gets killed in the cottage. I hope I have not written my own fate. If you find out that I am dead, you’ll know to read the book.(laughing)

What is the most important thing to make a place feel comfortable for you?

I feel like it can’t be sterile, the one nice thing is because for those of us who live on our wits in jobs in offices where we are moving so much, you could easily feel in NY and I have felt this way at times, like a factory worker, you know, you go home lie down get up and repeat the same routine day after day.

NY’s culture factory.

Yeah, exactly, I mean their great uniforms, but I still think it’s important to have the feeling that your not living in some sort of storage unit. You need the feeling of humanity in your space. I actually love hotels. I love traveling because I love staying in hotels. And I love the idea of living out of hotels.

What is your favorite hotel?

Well I always loved the Château Marmont, but that’s a given.

Your place feels a bit like that hotel.

It has the same kind of bohemian but somehow vital feeling.

Would that sum up your style?

That makes good sense. I never want anything to be too quirky, I don’t want it to be too eccentric: It could get into madness.

What was your notion of the city before you moved to NY?

I moved here for college but I always knew I wanted to live here because my aunt and uncle lived here when I was a kid, and I would come up in the summers and visit them. They had a great loft on 26th St in the Flat Iron district. My uncle was a surgeon and my aunt was very fashionable and fun. I would come up to visit and she would take me shopping. I remember she was trying on clothes in this store in Soho and there were all these giant Irish wolfhounds walking around in the store and I thought it was the craziest. It was the 80’s and it was a decedent insane place. It had that “anything can happen” kind of feeling. I think that’s common, that’s what one feels one will find in New York. I was always very attracted to it.

Do they still live here?

No they moved out in 2002. They live in Paris now. I always wanted to live here, but I have to admit I find it odd that all of us are adults and we live in places smaller than our childhood bedrooms. I mean, it’s not what you dream about when you’re a kid, that one day you’ll live in a smaller and less comfortable place.

But who needs a big place when you have the whole city?

Well, the next place I’ll live in will definitely have closets.

What do you still love about living in NY?

I love that it is all street culture, and even if that is an obvious thing to say, it really is amazing that everyone, no matter how rich or poor, have to eventually walk out on the street. You just run into anything and everyone, unfortunately less often than before because it’s so cleaned up. But it’s still great that you’re forced out into humanity. NY is very European in the way it is built, with a small center and all wedged in so everyone has to walk around. To me that’s so important for being inspired. I take the subway to work and I love it. Some people give you that look like “you take the subway, you must be having financial problems”. I think the subway is so great. I love it.

How has the city changed since you have been here?

I don’t know how it’s changed but I think I have changed. When I first lived here I was living way uptown with not any money as a student. I remember my friend Susan and I would go downtown to the Lower East Side or the East Village. Avenue A was so dangerous then, in the 90’s. We would stay out until very late because we didn’t have the $20 it took to take the cab home and the subways were very infrequent at 3 in the morning. We would just stay out because we didn’t want to accept the fact that we had to take the subway... And it was 7 in the morning and you were going home looking crazy and everyone was going to work and it was just like “Jesus Christ, thank God I’m really young”, and I was, so in a way I feel like I have just gotten older. Sometimes the utter excitement and euphoria of living here dies and you become an older person, I don’t really like the idea of being jaded but I think there is a moment when... It’s like a marriage; you fall out of sexual love with it and it becomes like a companion, it’s still a sexy companion. It could still surprise you maybe if it put something exciting on. (laughs) but sometimes I think of moving. I would never leave altogether but I would love to spend a year away.

Where would you go?

Right now, I really want to go to Morocco.

Have you been?

No, I often fall in love with places I have never been but I would also like to live in Paris. I actually find it hard to write in NY. That’s one of the blessings of the cottage. You can concentrate and be uninterrupted but there is a very great distraction level. An A.D.D. level.

Well yeah. There is always an opportunity for instant gratification but then that starts to get soul-less.

I think there is an idea that NY is dead like it’s over and not as fun anymore... well I am also 32 years old, I’m not 22 anymore. I mean how much more fun could someone possibly eak out of their life than I already have. When you are looking to be entertained at maximum speed constantly, It starts to become tragic. And you have to give it to the kids, you have to let them do their thing and butt out a bit. I don’t think I’m that old (laughing) “just wheel me back to my room. Grandma’s tired now”. That is something you hope for in NY, that there will be new chapters.

Well Interview is a new Chapter, has it been a big difference to go from making a magazine that is independent and sort of niche to something everyone can see.

Completely, V was really exciting because it felt so utterly new. There was really no history to it and you could invent it but Interview has such an amazing legacy, and everyone has ideas. I mean you go to parties and hear, “if I had to remake Interview this is what I would do to it.” Everyone has an opinion on what Interview should be because everyone had a time when Interview meant something to them. So it has been fun because everyone is so curious and also it’s a big responsibility because we want to make everyone still want the magazine. People have this idea of what it was back in the 70’s and 80’s and you want to return that feeling to it. And to me it felt like now it wasn’t New York centric, it started to feel like it was made in Los Angeles because it was full of actors. And I understand it was just because the obsession with celebrity increased. I want to bring back the feeling of NY.

Well there was no living downtown culture in it.

No, none, that’s why it’s really great to work with Glenn O’Brien who was there back in the day and is a real New York character that has heavy roots in the city.

That is what is so unique about the situation, when businesses are bought out the goal is never to return them back to their roots.

It’s a really rare thing. I want to make it younger too. I think that’s also a rare thing about Interview even though it is 40 years old next year. It still has vitality to it. I think it is the Andy Warhol syndrome. That’s a great thing to have, people have more respect for him now. I think people that have no faith in magazines anymore still believe in the mythology of Interview and what that was and what that will be again.

What is the philosophy of the makeover?

The worst thing you can do when you take a magazine like that is to make it look exactly how it once was, because then it’s just pure nostalgia. I looked at all those old issues I really pored through them to get ideas and get the feeling. I think it’s about getting the spirit back in entirely new ways, ways that other magazines have not even been doing, to re-think the formula entirely of interviewing itself. I think there was a real attempt to give it a heavy emphasis not so much on celebrity but personality. Which is what the early ones had so much. At the same time Fabien Baron re-designed it completely so it doesn’t really look like it recently and it certainly doesn’t look like it did in the 70’s or 80’s but it has a cleanliness the 70’s and 80’s had to it. We definitely wanted it to feel downtown. It’s weird when a magazine doesn’t feel like it’s from the city it is from. It’s really important to have the people that live in the town the magazine is made respect it most, not least. You know what I mean.

Like it became a lie?

Well, why don’t you just move to Los Angeles then? I mean a magazine should know what’s going on five floors below on the street. That’s where I can give something and Glenn and the people we know. V was a totally different beast, but they are similar in a way because they have the idea of pulling together all different types of culture and pulling them together. So it has that similarity but it has been a blast, I am really happy. I often wondered at V, “What I would do next?” I thought maybe I wouldn’t do magazines anymore. Like maybe I would do film, or be a freelance writer, I really did not want to do any magazine that I could think of, and then when this magazine came along, it was like it came out of the sky and it was just the best thing. I didn’t even question it. I was absolutely sure. I mean Interview was the magazine I read when I was in middle school thinking about New York and dreaming about what kind of lives are being held elsewhere so I was excited to enter my name into that kind of legacy.

Any parting thoughts, anything heavy on your mind?

I wish New York would go through some sort of art renaissance. I think it’s sad if people can’t look at New York and be a bit dreamy about it. About the craziness... I am from Ohio, so I hope kids in Ohio feel like New York can be a place to be free. Maybe they don’t feel as trapped as I did when I was in Ohio. Maybe New York isn’t the beacon anymore because the rest of the world has eased up. Even if that is the case, I still hope New York is a promise to them, that there is still somewhere crazy left to go.

Being editor of Interview you’re in a position to create the seductive signals that call the next generation to New York.

Probably we all got into magazines and the art world because we were a little bit freaks ourselves. It’s likely the only business that would have us too. It’s not like there were a lot of options. So those are important to keep going

They are safe havens.

Yeah, safe havens for the deranged (laughing).


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