I have a book, originally published in 1975, that features the wonderful writer Fran Lebowitz talking about fashion - her story simply titled, ‘Grouchy Simplicity’.
That perfectly describes the writer and iconic New Yorker, known for her acerbic wit and impeccable style. An expert haver of opinions and observer of the follies of modern life, she’s also beloved for her uniform of Levi’s 501s, shirt, spectacles and a well-tailored blazer or coat. She loves a cufflink. It’s a look she hasn’t deviated from since the ‘70s, when she worked at Interview magazine and had a column reviewing bad movies (it was called “Best of the Worst”).
A new generation is set to fall for Fran’s cynical charms with her new Netflix series Pretend it’s a City. Directed by close friend Martin Scorsese (who laughs his way through each episode), the show is an ode to Fran’s grouchiness - and to New York.
Over seven succinct episodes, the 70-year-old reminisces, and complains about everything from people being on their phones (she hates it) to sports (she also hates it). But she’s hilarious about it! And somehow, it is never mean. For years Fran has been a woman who is eloquently enraged, and not once been embarrassed about it - something to aspire to.
(She does love a few things: books, New York, parties, fun)
I adore her, and I adore Pretend it’s a City. Herewith, Fran’s best lines from the show...
• “Most people who love to write are horrible writers.”
• “I loved to write until the very first time I got an assignment to write for money. And then, I hated to write.
• “How would I describe my lifestyle? Well let me assure you, I would never use the word lifestyle.”
• “If you can eat it, it's not art. If you can say 'I'll have that and a cup of coffee,' that’s not art, that’s a snack.”
• “One of the reasons people our age came to New York, if you were gay, was because you were gay… That created a kind of density of angry homosexuals, which is always good for a city.”. There’s nothing better for a city than a dense population of angry homosexuals.”
• “I was supposed to be writing a novel six years ago, but I took ten years off to sulk."
• "There is a lot to be said for being in physical contact with other artists. Hanging around is important. [...] Do you know what artists sitting around in bars and restaurants, talking and drinking and disliking is called? It’s called the history of art.”
• “If you go to an auction, out comes the Picasso: dead silence. Once the hammer comes down on the price, applause. Okay? So we live in a world where we applaud the price but not the Picasso,”
• “My hatred of money is very profound. However my problem, not my only problem, is that I love things.”
• “Your bad habits can kill you. I’ve seen that. But your good habits won’t save you.”
• “Wellness for me is like a greediness. It’s not enough for me that I’m not sick. I have to be well. This is something you can buy.”
• “I have no guilty pleasures because pleasure never makes me feel guilty. [...] Guilty pleasure is always the enjoyment of some form that is not high art.”
Can’t get enough? Other Fran-related things to read or watch once you’ve finished Pretend it’s a City
Pick up one of her three books of essays, when she actually used to write rather than talk:
- The Fran Lebowitz Reader, a book of essays published in 1994
- Metropolitan Life, published in 1978
- Social Studies, published in 1981
I love this fantastic quote, one of many from this long interview published at the beginning of the pandemic: “I hate to cook. I find it incredibly tedious. Last night, I was peeling a cucumber and I was infuriated. Like, why am I peeling this cucumber? Why am I not in a restaurant, where they know how to peel a cucumber, and where I’m not doing it?”
An interview published by very cool (and now defunct) magazine No Man’s Land. “Fran really likes stuff, but she believes stuff has gotten worse: furniture, clothes, fabrics, objects. ‘There are no competing values in the culture anymore; everything is just money,” she said. “So things were better [in the past], but life was worse.’”
Her love of stylish details and well-made things shines in this piece from the Financial Times’ How to Spend It.
This Elle interview from 2015 is just perfect from start to finish. And she’s not wrong: “People care more about trends now than they do about style. They get so wrapped up in what's happening that they forget how to dress, and they never learn who they are because they never learn how to take care of anything."
A recent interview, focusing on the show and city life right now.