Abbe Diaz turned the normally closed-mouth restaurant industry inside out when she published PX This, a memoir and tell-all of her extensive time behind the scenes with the stars, socialites and big-name restaurateurs of New York.
The book subsequently got her banned from a few of NYC’s best known venues, whose management did not take too kindly to their portrayals in the book– but we can’t find any evidence it stopped her grind as she’s still fully immersed in the Manhattan fast lane.
We talked to Abbe to find out what is happening this New York minute in fashion, celebs and her life… and to get her dish on stars behaving badly!
SoJones: Tell us about your Empire state of mind! What’s your favorite NYC neighborhoods for trendspotting, what are you seeing?
Well, my favorite neighborhoods in NYC have always been SoHo and the West Village. SoHo, naturally, for all the great shopping— which thereby attracts stylish fashion lovers from all over the world. It’s evident when you see the people and
crowds that congregate in SoHo; their styles are diverse but always captivating. The outdoor cafes dotted all along the streets of SoHo make for great people watching— of everybody from the most decked-out celebrity/power-player to the funky, bohemian street artist.
The West Village has a lot of this too, but still remains more of a haven for residents than visitors. It also contains some of the most popular restaurants in New York— and after all, where better to exhibit one’s great personal style in a “natural environment”?
I guess it’s no secret I love glamorous restaurants as well as fashion, so when the two come together in one place, it’s a lot of fun.
The trend I’m noticing lately is that this current economic climate has really fostered an appreciation and comprehension for quality items. So, I’ll often see somebody combining good simple pieces with more extravagant ones for a total look that seems more at ease. Like jeans and a teeshirt worn with a Chanel jacket and Dior heels, for example.
A very good quality item can be stylish over a person’s entire lifetime, so it’s great to see people love and wear their years-old items as if they’re brand new. But it’s also nice to see them “dress down” such lavish things and really get their use out of them comfortably.
Name a couple people whom you think really have their shit together when it comes to personal fashion.
Beyonce. I was lucky enough to get to see her rehearsing for a concert at Cipriani Wall St once, and my goodness, she is absolutely stunning. She rehearsed in weathered jeans and no makeup with unkempt hair, and I’ve never seen her look more beautiful.
Then later for the actual concert, everything she donned was all sequins and jewels and yet she managed to make that look effortless too. Plus, she just exudes a great energy. I think maybe what some people fail to realize is that truly great style comes from the inside, not the outside.
And Kate Moss. I probably relate to her because of her boyish body type. If a skinny flat-chested bow-legged pancake-a$% like her can look that fantastic in fashion, well then there’s hope for everyone.
… As for men, I know a guy named Merv Matheson; he’s one of those NYC out-and-about kind of dudes. Ya know— the type that’s not quite famous himself, but is friendly with every famous person on the planet? I run into him all the time; he’s always at all the hottest places in town, and we have a lot of mutual acquaintances.
Well, we may not always agree on everything and we’ve had our misunderstandings in the past, but I must admit in terms of personal style, he’s always quite impeccable. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that if a person can make me admire him simply because of the way he dresses, well then he must be reeeally good at it.
What was your first big splurge on a piece of clothing (or shoes or accessory)?
My Gianni Versace overcoat. Technically, it’s a mens’ coat, but when I saw it (in 1988) I just had to have it, because it was so unique with its shearling collar and big monk’s hood. I still wear it to this day, but mostly on special occasions.
And of course, now that’s it’s impossible to get a new real Gianni Versace, I treasure it even more.
What are you wearing right now?
An old Geld Iaz dress from 1997. From my first Spring Collection ever, when I had my store on Broome St in SoHo. It’s basically just a loose fitting knee-length jersey backless halter dress, so I can throw it on in one move. It’s my staple whenever I travel, too; I wear it over my swimsuits or when I want to run out for a coffee or something. But if I wear it with heels, it’s dressy enough for dinner.
I also used to wear it a lot while running my boutique back then (it’s easy and comfortable), and inevitably women would come in and want to buy one just like it.
SoJones: Favorite item in your closet?
Oh geez, we’d be here all day. I’m the type of shopper that would rather have one amazing thing I love than a hundred mediocre things I don’t care about. And since I’m not exactly so young, I’ve managed to amass some incredible pieces over the decades (not to mention the ones I’ve made).
But okay, if I were forced to just grab one item, like if there were a fire or something? Probably still that Gianni Versace coat.
SoJones: What one fashion trend do you wish you could flush down the loo?
Hmm, that’s kinda a tough one. Personally, I like to see people express themselves how ever way they feel best. I’ve always said I’d much much rather see bad style than no style at all.
And I mean, for example, I don’t like Uggs, but I totally understand how someone else could. They are incredibly comfortable, warm, and practical.
So I guess I couldn’t pick a trend I’d like to see go away— except maybe the trend of people allowing trends to dictate their fashion preferences. It would be great if more people explored smaller or lesser-known labels on value and merit than just pick everything they buy out of all the biggest advertisements.
SoJones: Any celebs you want to call out as tools?
Well, to anybody who’s already read my book, I guess it’s no secret I’m not exactly a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. I’ve had to deal with her several times over the years, in numerous restaurants, and she always had a very odd habit of ignoring me. It was particularly noticeable because she went to great efforts to be sweet to all my colleagues, smiling to them… addressing them… thanking them. But even though I’d be standing right there next to them, she would simply behave as though I weren’t there.
Once as she was on her way out after dinner, four of us were at the desk wishing her a good night, and I was the only person she did not thank or acknowledge in any way; I was completely invisible. Even though I was actually the one person tasked with showing her to her table earlier that same night.
Another time she came and dined with Chris Rock and his wife, Malaak, Ben Stiller and his wife Christine Taylor, and Skeet Ulrich. Chris Rock had approached me earlier on his way to the men’s room, and asked what song was playing over the sound system. So I offered to check the MP3 playlist in the office and let him know.
Later when I went to deliver the song title to Chris at his table, Gwyneth sat stiffly and kept her eyes firmly affixed to her plate the entire time I was standing there conversing with Chris , even though her plate was completely empty— their dinner hadn’t even been served yet. It’s quite unnerving to be made to feel so unwelcome, so I can’t help but feel that was exactly her intention.
But it’s strange, because my male colleagues have told me how nice Gwyneth is (to them), on several occasions. In which case, a person in my position can’t help but wonder whether it’s a gender, race, or status issue that’s clearly so irksome to her. Perhaps it’s a combination or a different issue entirely, but I suppose I’ll never know.
The only other unpleasant celebrity I can recall is Russell Crowe. But, of course, it was all over the news already how he struck my colleague in the face with a telephone, simply because he was having difficulty placing a call overseas.
SoJones: Recent celeb spotting?
I did see Jay Z and Rihanna (with small entourage) at La Esquina pretty recently. And my friend saw P. Diddy at Minetta Tavern the other day.
Oh and a couple nights ago, I met Countess LuAnn de Lesseps (from Real Housewives of NYC) at Gemma. She has a new dance single out, and we tried to listen to it through my friend’s iPhone. She was really very nice and down to earth, much more so than I would ever have imagined.
I know it sounds awful, but I see celebrities quite a lot in New York, so it’s easy for me to forget.
SoJones: What’s in the works for you this year?
Well, a revised edition of PX This – Diary of the “Maitre d’ to the Stars just came out (e-book available now, print version coming soon), and my second book (PX This Too – The Sequel to PX This) should hopefully be out by this fall.
I was so busy with other stuff in the past that I never really got a chance to really promote my book as much as I would have liked when it was first released. But so many people have been so kind and encouraging all this time, I guess it gave me a new sense of motivation.
One night I ran into Steve Stoute (marketing exec and Nas’ manager) having dinner at Da Silvano, and since I happened to have a copy of my book in my handbag, I gave it to him, since he’s mentioned in it. He was so incredibly nice about it, even joking with me about the incident I describe in my book (which is technically a diary) when he and fellow producer Chris Lighty had an argument in the restaurant where I was a maitre d’ at the time.
Well, that gave my PR manager an idea— that this time around, I should make a very strong effort to find as many celebrities that are mentioned in my book as I can, and give them all a copy of my book. (Ha ha, that experience alone should give me ample fodder for a third book!)
So I’m really looking forward to accosting all these celebrities and important people, and then imagining my book sitting on their bookshelves and coffee tables and night stands and whatnot at home.
And I think I’d like to concentrate on getting it out to more fashion/art students, too. A few sent me great “fan” emails, saying how my book was a “great inspiration” to them, while still being a “very honest and practical guide” on how to “make it” in a big city like New York. That’s really an awesome compliment, so if I can really inspire more people to follow their dreams no matter what, I’d love that.
Abbe Diaz is a freelance commercial-artist, clothing designer, restaurant consultant and author. She is a war-weary veteran of the NY restaurant/bar industry scene, with numerous stints at Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, Club USA, Coffee Shop, Spy, Cafe Tabac, The Strand (Miami Beach), Mercer Kitchen, Ilo, Lotus, Theo, The Park, Smith, and 66. Abbe holds court at pxthis.com, updating daily with sightings, musings and news of the restaurant biz.