Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni on Andy Warhol, Fame, and the Importance of Authenticity

In her new book, "After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land," the author details coming of age in the artist's star-studded orbit

You move to New York, you start a dream job, and your boss dies on the fourth day. That’s chapter one of author and journalist Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni’s new book, After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land (out now from Penguin Random House).

“It’s very much not a biography,” said Fraser-Cavassoni, who sent waves of fabulousness through my iPhone while speaking from her Paris home. “It’s a memoir using Andy as a thread. He was there during a key time of my life, and it was kind of an exciting time.”

Born into something of a literary and intellectual dynasty (her mother is novelist and historian Lady Antonia Fraser, her father was politician Sir Hugh Fraser, and her stepfather was Nobel Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, actor, and director Harold Pinter), Fraser-Cavassoni was one of the 1980s’ ultimate English It girls. She was featured in British Vogue, dated Mick Jagger (yes, that’s obviously in the book), and attended the best parties about town, all before turning 18. It was at one such soiree where, at 16, she first met Warhol. “He was so chatty!” she recalled. “I always had a good time with him.”

Fast forward to 1987, and Fraser-Cavassoni, who had since moved to the States, landed a job at Warhol’s New York studio. She started on a Thursday. Warhol died the following Sunday. In less than a week, her glamorous gig had morphed into fielding calls from mourners. It makes sense, then, that her memoir opens with a detailed and deeply droll account of Warhol’s glitterati-packed funeral, which Fraser-Cavassoni refers to as her “first New York society event.”

So, no, the book is not a Warhol bio—there are a million of those and we’ve all read them. (Fraser-Cavassoni’s favorite is Bob Colacello’s Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, should you be so inclined.) Rather, After Andy is the coming-of-age tale of a dynamic, curious woman who spent her early adult years in the artist’s star-filled orbit. Girls and Broad City this is not—I mean, post-Warhol, Fraser-Cavassoni went on to assist Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld in Paris, not to smoke pot in Brooklyn—but the author’s recollections of getting by on her wits while mingling with pop culture’s most influential and notorious characters are the stuff binge-worthy entertainment is made of.

Fresh off a U.S. press tour, which included a party in Houston thrown by hostess extraordinaire Lynn Wyatt, Fraser-Cavassoni spoke with Fashion Unfiltered about After Andy, how to charm celebrities, and why authenticity is the “the best passport.”

Katharine K. Zarrella: Would you be the person you are today if you hadn’t met Andy Warhol when you were 16?

Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni: No, I wouldn’t. Meeting Andy Warhol did change my life. It was so strange because I was only 16 and I did think, God, this is the famous American artistand yet, he’s so accessible. And if that happens to you when you’re youngAndy was such an all-American icon – you do have this idea that everything can happen, incredible things can happen. Meeting Andy gave me courage to leave England in ’85 and that was the best decision I ever made.  England was so different then—I was 22 and it just seemed very small. I love being English but getting out was key. I was eager and I’d always worked—always, ever since leaving school at 18but I had to commit self-imposed exile, to quote a rather bitter ex-boyfriend !

KKZ: You worked for Warhol at the end of his life. Do you feel he was as exciting and magnetic then as during his 1960s heyday?

NFC: Remember, I was hired on the Thursday and he died on the Sunday, which is why my memoir is called After Andy. So instead of being prepared for the cameras—I was meant to be working on Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes for MTV—I was on a desk taking calls about his death. Suddenly, I was faced with people who had lost this friend and or figure.

His final decade was a very rough moment for him. What was admirable is even though there were critics—think of Robert Hughes, who just destroyed him—and he didn’t have the collectors that Jasper Johns had, it didn’t stop Warhol from being a mean machine. He never stopped working. And if he wasn’t in his studio, he was going out to nightclubs and thinking, Oh, I could sell ads for Interview here or he would be a good guy for Interview, or, Perhaps we could do portraits of them. He was always thinking business.

One of my favorite Andy dictums, which I’ve used a lot, is, “I’ve got to keep the lights on.” It had that blue-collar sense—got to work—and if you notice, all the people I focus on, my stepfather, or my mother, or Mick Jagger, or Karl Lagerfeld, I mean, talk about work ethic. Yet they make it seem easy and light-hearted because they love what they do.

KKZ: Perhaps it’s his witticisms or his ability to turn anyone of his choosing into a star, but Karl Lagerfeld reminds me a bit of Warhol. Having worked for them both, would you say they’re similar?

NFC: The work ethic is similar. Karl never stops and, like Andy, is always looking forward. Andy’s expression for his ’60s work was “rainy day paintings,” because he knew they would sell but he didn’t particularly like referring to them. And Karl, well, I’ve done so many interviews with him. Karl is admirably Monsieur Lucid. But when you try to talk to him about a past collection, he’s just not going there. It’s all about looking forward, perfect for the fashion world. Obviously, both Andy and Karl have that instantly recognizable appearance. But Karl resents the comparison because he describes Andy as manipulative with people. Remember he acted in Warhol’s film, L’Amour, in 1970.

KKZ: It seems as though we’re living in such a Warholian world at the moment, what with the rise of social media and reality TV fame. Do you think Warhol perpetuated today’s self-promotional culture?

NFC: Andy obviously did social media before anyone. When I was with him at Régine’s in 1980, he was clicking and taking photos but not looking through the lens. And I said, “Andy, you should look through the lens.” And he politely nodded his head as if to say, “I’m fine.” Perhaps one of my more dorky moments!

As we now appreciate, Warhol was this prophetic genius. His quotes are ridiculous starting, with “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”uttered in Sweden in 1969! And if you look at his Mao painting at the Art Institute of Chicago that inspired the idea of doing After Andy, Warhol painted that in 1973, and it’s such a forceso today, so tomorrow and so threatening. As an artist, Andy was also incapable of being dishonest. And when art is honest, it’s gonna last.

KKZ: At this point, one could say that Warhol is never not having a moment, but recently, his work turned up on the Spring 2018 Calvin Klein runway; Comme des Garçons has collaborated with the Warhol Foundation on a series of fragrances; Warhol was introduced as a character on the new American Horror Story: Cult; and The Whitney is planning a Warhol retrospective. What makes him and his work so appealing to creatives in this moment? Why is he everywhere?

NFC: Because they realize that he was the ultimate creator. Andy was turbo-charged. Yet he was criticized for it during his life. In my book, there’s a great quote from [gallerist] Thaddaeus Ropac: “He almost had to die for the performance to end and us to see his work.” Everything that Andy was doing, it was the equivalent of five people. Nowadays, an artist and or fashion designer has to do the same. They can’t just be an artist or fashion designer, they’re encouraged to fire on every front…social media and of course being funny helps. So this explains the permanent return to Andy. And it will continue because Andy was authentic and remains ahead of the game.

KKZ: In American Horror Story, Warhol is portrayed as being oppressive to women. Do you feel there’s any truth to that?

NFC:  Well, one thing I have to say. Or rather what really, really did in Warhol’s reputation was the best-selling Edie book [Edie: An American Biography, 1982], which was [written by] Jean Stein and [edited by] George Plimpton. I remember reading it and thinking, Wow. Andy just came out so badly. Perhaps because he refused to talk to Jean Stein. But boy did that book do damage and cast such a horrible shadow. Still, reading in-between the lines, Edie was seriously glamorous yet a trainwreck waiting to happen. But a waif, and the public likes a beautiful waif.

KKZ: Like Kate Moss?

NFC: Not really because Edie was a victim and Kate Moss has never been a victim. And Edie was an addict. If it wasn’t drugs it was food or men. But that entire Edie book business happened at the wrong time for Andy.

I didn’t say this in my book because it didn’t hit me at the time, but Andy before the assassination attempt [by Valerie Solanas], was very much under the influence of his mother, who was wildly talented, very charming but quite manipulative. And I wonder, after the assassination attempt, when he realized the Factory had to change and become a serious business, whether Andy didn’t become more and more like his father. At the end, Andy turned into this paternal figure who cared and encouraged according to Warhol intimates like [jewelry designer] Wilfredo Rosado. So little is said about Warhol’s father. We know that he was hardworking, blue collar with peasant origins. Yet this was a man who kept money aside to allow his younger son to be an artist and Mister Warhola knew nothing about the art world. How impressive is that?

KKZ: You had a front-row seat to the lives of so many eccentric and famous people. How do you feel fame was different then vs. now?

NFC: There’s just no comparison. Famous people were accessible without bodyguards and there just weren’t VIP zones that have to be the bane of today’s events. Certain readers have teased me about the name dropping in the book but hello, the 1980s were like that and I wanted to capture that energy in After Andy. You really would go to a party and there’d be Joan Collins and Jack Nicholson. In general, parties were inclusive and there was a certain innocence. If you were attractive, if you had something to say, if you were funny, if you were doing something interesting, you were part of the swim. Also, there was less money—or people who had money did not show it like they do now.

KKZ: Were you ever starstruck?

NFC: I was a fly on the wall. At no point in time did I ever think I was up there with those famous people. A lot of the time, I couldn’t believe it. I was in my late teens and or 20s, and I was just there having fun, but I knew how to talk. One time, I was with a boyfriend in Annabel’s nightclub [in London] when Muhammad Ali came in. Everyone in our group was staring, and my boyfriend and I went over, sat down and talked to him. Afterwards, someone said, “Oh, you’re both so ridiculous.” And I said, “What is so ridiculous about talking to Muhammad Ali?” The trick is, you have to ask questions and be charming. Never fails.

KKZ: You’ve mentioned Mick Jagger a few times, who is, of course, in the book. What does he think of your account of your romance?

NFC: I said, “Mick, I’ve written about you in glowing terms,” and he replied, “I love to be written about glowingly.” He does have the talent to make me laugh, always.

KKZ: Though the book is called After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land, it’s not a Warhol bio—it’s about your adventures. What do you hope people take away from your story?

NFC: After Andy’s main message is: be curious, be adventurous and never lose your sense of humor, ever. It also pushes the “Life is not a rehearsal” theme. By that I mean: get out and move on if you’re not happy. I moved from London to Los Angeles to New York to Paris…

In tone, After Andy’s goal is to be an upper because I’m not a misery moo and really have nothing to whine about. I have my health, I was born privileged and the 1980s and early 1990s were often outrageous. There’s an expression in French, j’accuse, and I didn’t want to accuse anyone in After Andy. I wanted it to be j’avoues, which means “I confess.” I decided that, if I was going to write this memoir, I wasn’t going to hold back. Finally, am happy to report that fellow females find After Andy riotously funny. Laughing out loud on planes and so forth! That means so much. And no one can quite believe all my adventures–even my own siblings! But hey, if you’re authentic or rather true to yourself, it’s the best passport, really.

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