In The Magazine

House Rules: Do’s and Don’ts for New York’s New “New Immigrants”

Thursday, February 2, 2017
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By Suzanne O'Malley

Welcome, High-Net-Worth People of the World. Not since Dutch patroons bought the first Manhattan time-share from the Canarsee Indians has New York seen such wealthy immigrants.

You are not the émigrés for whom the Statue of Liberty typically lifts her lamp, nor are you “homeless” or “tempest-tost” (unless your G-650 encountered wind shear on the flight over).

Whether you’re a Type A (Ni Hao) immigrant to whom the U.S. Congress has given a permanent green card in exchange for your $500,000 investment in a qualifying U.S. commercial real estate development, or a Type B who merely visits your direct investments and personal banker, you’re no refugee. You’ve got the “pomp” that the sonnet etched in the base of the Mother of Exiles expressly commands you to leave behind in “ancient lands.”

Maybe New York appeals to you because your home country discriminates against you suddenly for being too obviously a money launderer. Maybe you’re wanted by your ex or by Interpol. Or you’re simply seeking proximity to your children who were educated in the United States and refused to come back home.

Regardless, your generous contributions to the city’s tax base, restaurant revenues and consumer sales taxes generate some good will—especially if you also buy a condo in a sold-out luxury high-rise with 25 percent occupancy near Penn Station or over on Eleventh Avenue.

You may have parked some cash in our “New Switzerland” because, hey, everybody needs a little international banking privacy. Even though using your New York place as a hard-asset savings account drives up their cost of living, Millennials in the city are happy to have you show up here a few weeks a year and subsidize their subway rides. Just be sure your building doesn’t cast a shadow across Central Park—it’s been their backyard since the day they were born.

We know that if the true extent of your wealth were known back home, you might be subject to extortion, kidnapping or some other threat to your health and well-being. Like prison. Or paying taxes.

Whatever your circumstances, deep down you probably also want the kind of affirmation only New York City can offer.

But can you ever truly fit into New York society? Just follow these dos and don’ts and you’ll be on your way.

MATTERS OF SIZE

You do want size—“some wild and permanent kind of size,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald once put it. While real estate doesn’t automatically achieve that, when purchased with care it can’t hurt.

You want something impressive without seeming to try too hard. Don’t have too many bedrooms, for example. You have too many bedrooms if you’ve made one into a second kitchen that you never set foot in (much like the first), another a theater, another a wine cellar, a fourth a squash court, a fifth a family chapel, and you still have plenty space for an indoor swimming pool.

 

WALKING VS. DRIVING

Don’t be caught dead in a stretch limousine. It’s comparable to dying in flagrant. Walking is the chicest means of transportation. In New York City, as opposed to your home country, you don’t need an armored car and a retired Mossad driver cum bodyguard. Every Sunday afternoon there is an informal Midtown promenade on Madison Avenue. Look your best: there’s no telling whom you’ll meet.

 

ATTIRE

Both men and women can look appropriately well-dressed on most occasions with only six articles of clothing: a blue blazer, gray wool slacks or chinos, a long-sleeved shirt, a high-quality neck tie (Hermès for men is a safe choice) or signature piece of jewelry (for women, say, a Chanel chain, a Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra pendant, or some Mikimoto pearls); a proper pair of shoes; and a watch. Consider a tasteful watch particulaire: Cartier, Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe—a watch you never actually own but “merely take care of” for the next generation. A Rolex is always a Rolex, but do keep it simple. Men, don’t ever wear an undershirt of any kind under a dress shirt. It creates an “oh no” moment, distinguishing “you” from “them” permanently.

 

MADAME PAULETTE

It’s good to know there’s a cleaner to the elite—if only to avoid condescension from the person who informs you the first time you must send all the pieces of a suit to the cleaners at once, even though you only dripped soy sauce on your vest. Sending pieces separately can result in subtle color changes.

Madame Paulette has launched a “Destination Valet” service whose professional staff understands “emergencies” can occur at any time to any client anywhere in the world. A 24-hour number exists for this purpose. They will come to you. Indeed, as this issue went to press, Madame Paulette’s website features a team on the runway in front of a Trump-branded jet.

Which reminds me: do resist the urge to stroll down the street eating $5 Cinnabons and taking selfies in front of Trump Tower. And don’t ever cross a room to meet a Real Housewife of any city. Madame Paulette is now on its third generation of family owners. Tragically, this owner, John Mahdessian, is a character on The Real Housewives of New York. Paulette can also fix the red bottoms of your Louboutins.

 

MEN’S SHOES

Shorthand? Do go to John Lobb, cobbler to the queen of England, and have one of everything made for yourself. You need a dress work shoe, a casual work shoe, a leisure shoe, a tuxedo shoe and a tuxedo slipper. Oh, and a golf shoe. Though Lobb has sports shoe designs, unless you’re a professional athlete, hip-hop artist or hipster wannabe, it’s a mistake to invest heavily in your sports shoes. There are women’s shoes as well, but they’re a little more Queen Elizabeth than Duchess Kate. Ladies, do grab a pair of Everlane’s women’s loafers.

Belgians are lovely. But ask yourself, does your Belgian dealer hand-sculpt the shape of your foot in hornbeam wood—the shoe forms are called lasts—and store it in a last safe? Shape it into a shoe exactly the proportions of your foot? Can you pick up the phone in London or Paris or New York when you suddenly need a comfy pair of bespoke tuxedo slippers for dinner at Balmoral? Thus, John Lobb.

Nubby-soled Italian “driving shoes” are so-named for providing extra traction when driving high-performance cars. Diego Della Valle reinvented them for Tod’s, got Fiat impresario Gianni Agnelli (RIP) to wear them to soccer matches, and struck gold. As their name implies, driving shoes should be worn to the casual place to which you drove. But don’t use them in place of hard-soled dress shoes.

This begs the question, how often do you actually drive yourself? To the beach club, you say, behind the wheel of your 1964 Porsche 356C convertible. Wouldn’t it be more distinctive to wear an older pair of your Lobb slip-ons (sockless, of course)? You can recklessly kick them off in the sand before you swim all the way out to the buoy in the 60-degree Atlantic. It’s a story that will outlive you: “Remember Dickie swimming all the way out to the buoy every Sunday until the day he died—what was he, 93?”

And in the end, do know how to pump your own gas, even if you rarely use your skill. I know a man so privileged he never learned. It’s un-American. Who can imagine President Trump pumping his own gas? Yet we know he knows how.

 

CLUB QUIZ

1. The Tuxedo Park Club is a private club just outside NYC where members always have to wear tuxedos. True or False?

2. The Reading Room in Newport, Rhode Island, is a place men go to read. True or False?

3. The Cosmopolitan Club of New York City is known for being hip and serving fine Sex and the City. True or False?

4. The New York Yacht Club is known for its breathtaking view of New York Harbor. True or False?

5. The Brook is a sport fishing club for gentlemen. True or False?

6. The Lotos Club offers the best Bikram yoga classes in the City. True or False?

Answer key: FALSE.

The Tuxedo Club is named for its location in Tuxedo Park, in Orange County, New York, but can legitimately claim to be the source of the “tuxedo.” In 1886, member Griswold Lorillard attended a ball in a short jacket styled on the English “smoking” jacket. The term is now used interchangeably with “black tie.”

The Reading Room is a place to drink (reading optional).

The Cosmopolitan Club (a women’s club), like the Knickerbocker Club (a men’s club), is a place where your kid takes ballroom dancing classes in grade school, but isn’t essential to you. For women of a certain age and class, the Cos Club is a nice social and luncheon place. Buy your mother or mother-in-law a membership.

The New York Yacht Club, at 37 West 44th Street (73°58’53.6”W), has no view of the harbor whatsoever. Its Newport, Rhode Island, clubhouse, however, does have a majestic view of Newport Harbor.

The Brook is where you go after you’ve had drinks and a steam at the Racquet Club and have either won big or lost too much at backgammon. It’s also a place where you can have a nightcap before heading home, and where a member might
occasionally receive a mistress (at least, JFK did).

The Lotos Club, known
architecturally as the Schieffelin Mansion, is a stunning literary club whose best-known member was Mark Twain. Lovely for lunch, putting up guests and marrying for the first time.

 

THE COUNTRY

“Are you out here now?” is the proper form for inquiring whether you are in full summer or merely weekend residence in the Hamptons or the Vineyard or Newport. Because they have become so touristy, the word “Hamptons” is falling out of favor. Discriminating residents prefer to say they have a place on “eastern Long Island.” Among city friends, you’re just going “out east” or “to the beach.”

The tonier homes in the Hamptons look like they were built in 1897. This is not due to a lack of imagination. It is code: we voluntarily build and keep our homes like this because we can.

Any deviation from the norm (with the exception of great modern architectural experiments on land not previously occupied by a vintage home or barn, which of course you should renovate and never tear down) is frowned upon. Decades after its construction, one still hears, “Have you seen that monstrosity on Rennert Road?”

A newly constructed home on the Atlantic with a tiled roof is a don’t. Such a blot on the New England seaside gives rise to nicknames like the “Taco Bell” house. No matter how careful you are in other ways, you will forever be identified as the owner of the “Taco Bell” house. Not that there’s anything wrong with Taco Bell—we crave Taco Bell. But don’t look for any fast-food chain outlet east of Southampton. While villages and towns haven’t found a way to legally ban them, they have found discreet ways of discouraging them.

 

WEEKENDS AND SUMMERS

Are you planning to join the National Golf Links of America (in Southampton, New York), a British Isles–style course on one of the single most breathtaking pieces of private property in the United States?

No, you’re not joining the National. But if at a minimum you once attended Buckley, where you were best friends with Artie Jr., whose father practically adopted you and followed your career as captain of the Harvard golf team before asking you to join the family firm—one day you might be invited to join Shinnecock
next door.

Shinnecock has hosted the U.S. Open four times in three different centuries and will host again in 2018. The National could host any tournament it wants, but it chooses not to.

There are 350-ish members of the National, including at least one honorary man (Terry Allen Kramer: do correct me if I’m wrong). That’s all there will ever be. Atlantic (the golf club, not the ocean) opened in 1992 expressly in recognition of this fact.

Members know their golf club was a solution to the “not belonging” problem, so you may have better luck there.

 

IN CONCLUSION

They’re endless, really, the paths to belonging in New York City. We’ve covered some of them: suggested dos and don’ts for your attire, your real estate and your transportation; and measured your social IQ.

No doubt you’re curious about other things. I’ll be addressing them on the last page of this magazine every month. Stay tuned. Oh, and don't let the golden door slam you on your way in. F

 

 
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