On the last season of “Real Housewives of New York City,” viewers were treated to a somewhat surprising new cast member: Author Carole Radziwill, who has been a New York City fixture and household name for years now. Her 2006 New York Times bestseller What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love, based on the tragic passing of late husband Anthony Radziwill and close friends John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, is a haunting must-read—and her latest novel The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating (out September 17) is a more humorous look at life after the death of a loved one.
Radziwill is also a bona fide fashion lover, with a unique sense of style. We caught up with her to chat about her favorite spots to write, her enviable closet, and her memorable run-in with Karl Lagerfeld.
The Vivant: Tell us about your process when it comes to writing.
Carole Radziwill: Okay, so there’s this glamorous notion that writers knock out their Great American Novels in smoky cafes while slamming back absinthe. But most writers I know, myself included, are loners who spend a lot of time in pajamas at home, going through a series of compulsive rituals before opening up laptops to stare at the blank screen. But every now and then we need to venture out among the living. And in those times you can catch me at one of my favorite neighborhood haunts.
Where are your favorite spots to write in New York?
The best place to spot interesting characters and steal dialogue is the lobby of the Mercer Hotel. On a given day you can see supermodels and rock stars, and Hollywood directors taking meetings with their stars. Once I saw Karl Lagerfeld arrive with five cases of luggage, two assistants and a dog. It was like a scene from Dr. Seuss.
I also like Doma Cafe in the West Village. I used to go there to finish edits on my column when I was writing for Glamour magazine. It’s crowded and bustling, so a bit distracting for serious writing but there’s a sense of community and energy, and the people are so young and stylish.
Housing Works is perfect when I need quiet and discipline. The cafe is at the back of the Housing Works bookstore, so you can take breaks and wander through the reading selection for inspiration.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers, and where do you draw your biggest inspiration?
Every writer, aspiring or otherwise, should embrace their dysfunctional childhood. It’s the root of every great work of art. I draw inspiration from my observations—I’m always watching, recording—and my imagination. I have a big fantasy life, like Walter Mitty.
How would you describe your sense of style?
I think if you can describe your style then you don’t have one. Style is not about what you’re wearing, it’s about how you wear it. If I had to pick a word, I’d say confident. That’s my style.
What are the staple pieces in your wardrobe?
My Levi’s jeans, my Balmain leather pants, and my Rick Owens long skirts. I’ve recently started to collect printed vintage tees. I have one of Raggedy Ann and Andy in a compromising position from the 70s that I love!
What are three items in your closet you’ll never throw out?
My black leather motorcycle jacket. My 1960s Courrèges trench coat. And my 1970s green wool bouclé car coat from Chanel.
What has been your biggest splurge?
An original Bert Stern photograph of Marilyn Monroe. He’s a fashion photographer who took 2,500 pictures of her shortly before she died. It was a shoot for Vogue magazine at the Bel-Air Hotel in Hollywood and the collection is very famous now, it’s called “The Last Sitting.” I went to a furniture show one day looking for dining room chairs but instead brought home Marilyn. I’m still sitting on the floor.
What’s been your favorite vacation destination?
Cambodia. It’s beautiful and haunting, steeped in tragedy yet still so vibrant. It’s a very moving place to set foot in.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered on “Real Housewives”?
During a fight scene between Ramona and LuAnn, Ramona, true to form, stopped mid-sentence and announced that her shellac manicure lasts for three weeks. The next week I got my first shellac mani! I get inspiration and ideas from the least expected places.
How did you deal with the tension between the girls on the show?
I resisted the pressure to take a side. Instead, I took a position and my position was that I do not take sides between grown women arguing. Also, and this was another tip from Ramona: I took a Xanax.
Carole Radziwill’s Favorite Spots To Write In New York City:
1. Mercer Hotel, 147 Mercer Street, New York City, mercerhotel.com
2. Doma, 27 Morten Street, New York City, domanyc.com
3. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, 126 Crosby Street, New York City, housingworksbookstore.org