Dianne Brill was the Queen of New York’s nightlife who managed to transcend her star status into a successful career working with Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and Prince
Photographed by everyone from Robert Mapplethorpe, Steven Klein, and Mario Testino to Annie Leibovitz, Michel Comte, and Bill King, to name just a few, Dianne Brill was at the very heart and soul of the New York scene in the 1980s and 90s as a creative coterie of artists, musicians, and writers forever changed the world of pop culture. As Andy Warhol wisely observed, “If you were at a party and Dianne Brill was there, you knew you were at the right party!”
Brill’s star rose in the club world but it didn’t end there. Whether serving as a muse for Warhol and Keith Haring, working with fashion designers Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Vivienne Westwood, designing clothes for rock stars and actors, or penning a bestselling self-help book, Brill was at the top of the game.
Now the art world pays tribute to the Queen of the Night in the new exhibition, To the Future Through the Past, which will be on view at PHOTO 18 in Zurich, through January 12-16, 2018. Featuring hundreds of images of Brill at her best, the exhibition celebrates her roles as It Girl, model, designer, and the bon vivant of your dreams.
Here Brill shares the secrets of her success, revealing how you can spin your social life into stellar opportunities.
“Don’t ever trail in behind somebody – that’s the worst” – Dianne Brill
BE REGAL IN YOUR MANNER
“The time is now for the next major Queen of the Night. Manners have gone through a revolution. At first, they were repressive. Now, they have become a little wand, like a magical bibbity bobbity boo. It makes things nicer. Imagine if giving a present gives you the same joy as getting a present. That is possible if the other person responds.
The Queen is this classic femininity from another time. We don’t always need to be that exact character because it doesn’t always fit, but just be her sometimes. It’s lovely.”
MAKE AN ENTRANCE
“We’re kind of sloppy standing in line to get into a club. Finally, when you have a second to go in, you rush in. But in reality, when you’re walking into a room or into the actual party, let whoever is ahead of you make their entrance. Leave a little bit of space and then walk in like a Queen. They have their entrance, and you have your entrance. Don’t ever trail in behind somebody – that’s the worst.”
HAVE A NATURAL CURIOSITY
“I lived in Wisconsin, then Florida, and moved to London. I had some visa problems and wound up back in America. I was freaking out about what was going to happen and there I was in New York. The first six months were tough and then I started going out after that point. At that time, people were going out, smoking a cigarette, chilling out, posing against the wall and being unavailable. People were sick of that. Along came this girl (who was me) and I was thrilled about every person I met. If you have a natural curiosity about yourself and about others, that comes across.
“I went into the club. I dressed up, I always made an effort to look a certain way, but my eyes were open wide because I was curious and excited about everyone I was meeting: artists, writers, musicians – all creative people. Some of them became famous. Some of them didn’t, but they were all fabulous. Our rents were $300 a month so we could do whatever we wanted. I had found my tribe.”
MIX WITH ALL GROUPS
“Have friends of all ages. Keep current with the worlds of art, fashion, music, and literature. Be creative, open, and go to things you think are going to be boring. All these people you meet help stretch you into what you want to achieve in life. It’s not like networking. It’s more like a natural evolution.
I remember I had a carpenter who came in and he was the most gorgeous, charming, wonderful man and I put him into a party mixed with some CEOs, models, and photographers. Andy Warhol ended up throwing a party for ‘The Bachelor of the Universe’ at Palladium. We invited only women – and him
The mix of the crowd is important. We didn’t have that bottle thing where you could buy yourself in. You couldn’t do that. Then you have to have a certain look, a certain behavior, a certain openness to be able to get in and that attracts another kind of person.
I understand self-promotion. I was part of a big group that started that with Andy. We were new. We needed to get ourselves noticed. We wanted to do things and we wanted people to understand what we had to say. A lot of people wanted to express themselves and we just did.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE ROOM
“The next Queen of the Night has to know that the person you are talking to is the most important person in the world. You can’t be looking left and looking right or behind them. That’s tacky. Whether it’s three minutes, one minute or an hour, no matter how long I am talking to someone, they are the most important person in the room. That makes the other person feel important – because they are.
You need to focus completely on that person and find out what you like about them. Don’t look for what’s wrong or check for labels. Find out what you like and accept that. Then you can move on to the next person. Appreciate the people that come into your life.”
“You have to go out even when you don’t want to” – Dianne Brill
“Don’t get too drunk. I never got drunk or did drugs so I can remember everything (Laughs). I didn’t make too many mistakes because I wasn’t sloppy. You have to be able to handle yourself when you’re in a crowd. You have to be able to control yourself.
You have to go out even when you don’t want to. There’s a lot of self-discipline in going out. I had a menswear company and did band clothes for people like Prince and Duran Duran. I did clothes for Miami Vice and I still went out to every party I thought was fabulous. I started to believe, ‘Oh my God – if I miss a party, I could miss the best thing that ever happened!” And the truth was, at that time, I could have (Laughs).”
KEEP YOUR PHONE IN YOUR BAG
“I think you can run to the bathroom and use your phone. Go hide in the corner and use your phone. But don’t use your phone in the club. Keep your posture nice. Let people look at you. Flirt, and play, and smile with the entire environment. Be democratic with your manners and demeanor. Be open and giving.”
DO FAVOURS FOR PEOPLE
“Being the Queen of the Night gave me the feeling that I wanted this to go on. I knew that there was more to see and more to explore. You start meeting all of these people and you realise that there is a lot going on.
Do favours for people. I notice a lot of people don’t do that. Everyone is too good for everything and that’s boring. If you don’t go past what is comfortable, you’re not going to be able to get what you want anywhere.
You start helping people – they start helping you. It’s human nature. If you want to get, you have to give in a clean way.”
ALWAYS STAY GRACIOUS
“When I was modeling, mannequin manufacturer Adel Rootstein made a mannequin of my body named the ‘Shape of the Decade’ because I was a model with boobs and a butt. This was early in the game, like 1990. I was going to have a few of them delivered for this exhibition – but I was told it wasn’t possible.
Instead of getting angry, I got on the phone, and said, ‘Okay, it’s impossible to do that but what could we do and how could we work together?’ Instead of playing the blame game, drop that attitude and focus on solutions. It’s easy to get lost in a situation and bitch or gossip about people but you’re better off just to bite your tongue and move on to the next thing that makes you happy. That sounds grand but it’s effective. You waste a lot of time being negative – I know I do and I have to fight it.”
DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PEOPLE
“All those years with Andy and I never got him to sign anything. He would bring a pile of Interview magazines to the club, sign them, and give them out to everybody – then we would go on with our evening. I could have easily said, ‘Give me one,’ but something inside of me said ‘No.’ I didn’t want to take advantage of him. I never got one piece of anything and he would have done it for me but something said, ‘Don’t.’ I didn’t want to be one of those people.”
“If you don’t go past what is comfortable, you’re not going to be able to get what you want anywhere” – Dianne Brill
MAINTAIN YOUR INDEPENDENCE
“For all the parties I have done, I have never been paid. It’s stupid as hell – but on the other side, it gave me this lofty position of never having to answer to anybody. The club owners and organisers had to be more beholden to me because I brought in the audience.”
KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE
“Knowing when to leave a party is very important. If you leave at the peak of the party, if you do this a lot, it starts to look like as soon as you leave, the party goes down and when you’re there, the party is up.”