Interview with Glenn O'Brien
The interview was conducted in August 2015, and was published by Euroman Magazine in September 2015.
Glenn O’Brien passed away in 2017.
Glenn O'Brien started his career working for Andy Warhol at The Factory as an editor of Interview Magazine in the early 1970’s. Years later, he would become the host and co-creator of iconic show TV Party that would feature the first recorded interview with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1979.
Decades later, he would become the man behind GQ’s famous Style Guy column as well as the writer of the prestigious Mark Warhberg and Kate Moss Calvin Klein ad. I spoke to him in his downtown apartment on Bond Street in August 2015.
Let’s start off with New York. For how long have you lived here?
I grew up in Ohio and went to university in Washington. I moved to New York in 1970 to study film and art at Columbia and because I knew I wanted to live here.
You lived in the city throughout the 70’s when the culture around Andy Wargol and the post-punk movement was peaking. How do you see the culture in New York now versus back then?
New York was worn down and cheap to live in back then. That’s part of what made it the epicenter of art at the time. Not necessarily when it comes to selling art, but definitely in terms of making it. After the second World War, New York took over from Paris as the place in the world for modern art. It was a great place for young artists to live because there was a community of artists and rent was cheap. It’s still an art city, but it’s difficult for young artists because living here is so expensive. But New York is still an interesting place. I mean, where else would you go? I heard that some people are migrating to Detroit in the hopes that it will one day turn into Berlin.
You worked at The Factory with Andy Warhol in your early career. Rumour says you’re the model for The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingaz album cover. Is that true?
Yes, I can confirm that.
How did that come about?
I worked for Andy editing Interview Magazine. And The Rolling Stones had reached out to him to make their new album cover. He made a lot of album covers at the time. I don’t think I was the only one modelling for it. He ended up using another person on the cover, my photo is on the inside sleeve.
Does that make you happy?
Yeah, it’s a fun thing to have been a part of. At this point, The Factory was located on Union Square and his office was on the sixth floor. The Interview office was on the 10th floor. I remember going up there to take the photo. So I stood there with my pants down to my angles while Andy shot his photos on this polaroid camera. All of a sudden, some guys in suits walked in. They obviously thought they were going somewhere else. They must have been so confused.
You were the first person to interview Jean-Michel Basquiat when he was a graffiti artist in the late 1970’s. What was your relationship like?
We became friends. I was writing a piece on graffiti so I interviewed some of the most interesting graffiti artists in New York at the time. And I really wanted to find SaMo. So, Fab Five Freddy, who was one of my friends, told me he would find him and set it up. And he did. First, for the article and after that I told him about TV Party where he would do his first interview on camera. He just became a part of the circle. I introduced him to Chris Stein, Debbie Harry and a lot of other great people.
After spending decades living here, what do you find to be the most interesting thing about the city today?
It’s hard to say. There are good artists and musicians living here, but it’s not the same. What was once so exciting was the community of artists, actors and musicians. We used to go to Max's Kansas City every night. Everyone who came to New York went there. I must have been 23 years old at the time. Robert De Niro, Roman Polanski and the Kennedy brothers were all there at the same time. Designers and artists and musicians would just get together and socialize in the same spaces. I don’t think that happens anymore. I mean, Marc Jacobs definitely knows Richard Prince, but they don’t hang out.
You’ve written quite extensively about mens style. How do you feel about the fashion industry today?
I don’t really notice it. The business is very much about getting people to buy new stuff. I don’t think things change much. They do for women, but for men I’m not so sure. The shirt I’m wearing now is 20 years old. I like that. In that sense I’m anti-fashion. I like wearing clothes you can wear for years. And you throw it out because it’s worn out, not because it’s out of fashion.
I think Andy Warhol said he liked “a good plain look”?
Exactly. I like what’s happening in menswear because you can find things you wouldn’t have been able to find before. Even for someone as traditional as me. I always liked suede saddle shoes and now you can get them in a range of different colors from different designers. I like having options, but I don’t refer to it as fashion. I wear the same stuff all the time.
And what’s that?
One of my favorite designers was Adam Kimmel, but his brand closed. I often wear A.P.C. and I have a lot of stuff from Rag & Bone. My tailor in London is James Pearse who’s been operating since the 1960’s. He’s somewhat traditional and yet insane. I have a suit from him that’s all denim. You know, like jeans, but as a suit.
Where do you like to shop?
I like Supreme. Now, they have a store in Paris, but they used to just have the ones in New York, Los Angeles and Japan. I like what they do. I have a teenage son so we both go there. When we go together, he’s the youngest person in the store and I’m the oldest.
You’ve worked with Kate Moss a few times through your career, what is your relationship like?
Yes, I worked with her when she just turned 18. I wrote the ad with her and Mark Wahlberg in the early 90’s. I was friends with Corinne Day, do you know her?
Of course, she took some of the most iconic photos of her.
Yeah, she played a part in discovering Kate. She shot her portraits for The Face in 1990. Corinne and Mario Sorrenti were the best photographers to shoot Kate, I think.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
It’s one of the questions I hate, because I don’t want other people to go there. But I live right down the street from Il Buco and I like that place. I like going to the same restaurants because if they know you, they treat you better. I’ve been going to Indochine my entire adult life. The food is good and the waitresses are beautiful. I like institutions. Like in Paris where you can go to the same restaurants for 20 years in a row and it all stays the same.
And one last question, have you ever been starstruck?
Yes, when I interviewed Gore Vidal. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to being starstruck. I had read all of his books and I was a big fan. I definitely idolized him. Probably because he was a writer and I was a writer.
And how did it go?
Really well. I think it was a great interview. I gave him one of my books and he told me he liked it. That was huge for me.