Youthquake! Girl of the Year: Hannah Bronfman

Friday, January 7, 2011

Well hello, Hannah!

Meet the girl of the moment. With her beauty, pedigree and off-the-charts talent, Hannah Bronfman has stolen the spotlight. And P.S., she just graduated from college. Bronfman recently took a break from DJing, working on her clothing line and the restaurant and record label she co-owns to sit down with Peter Davis and talk about her whirlwind life.

Photographed by Morgan Miller

Styled by Cricket Burns

New York is experiencing a major youthquake. All over the city, you can just feel the tremors of trendiness. And leading the young, new and exciting movement is Hannah Bronfman—the girl of 2011. Yet unlike the days when having a famous last name, a trusty trust fund and good looks were enough, today’s it-kids—girls like 23-year-old Bronfman—are poised and prepped to become mini-moguls of all things cool.

The daughter of Warner Music Group C.E.O. Edgar Bronfman Jr. and actress Sherry Brewer, Bronfman has started a record label, is launching a 100 percent sustainable, organic, eco-chic clothing line, is a talented sculptor and also a part owner of the hot spot, Hotel Griffou, where she also happens to DJ and host regular dinner parties. And Bronfman accomplished all of the above while still a student at Bard College. Not bad for a girl who got booted out of The Spence School in 6th grade.

“My father was a big influence because he taught me about work ethic,” Bronfman explains, sounding more like a no-nonsense businesswoman than a trouble-making club kid. “He’s worked extremely hard to get where he is today, and that always showed. It was important for me to make my own money. With my dad’s influence and my ambition, it was inevitable that I would try and get my foot in the door at a young age.”

And now Bronfman has her feet (often in Fendi pumps) in quite a few fashionable doors—from music to fashion to nightlife.

After graduating from Bard, Bronfman is planning to move to the Lower East Side with her boyfriend of more than two years, the rapper Asher Roth. The Bronfman kids’ hip factor doesn’t stop there: Older brother Ben is engaged to the rapper M.I.A., with whom he has a two-year-old baby boy named Ikhyd Edgar Bronfman. Ben schooled Hannah in music, introducing her to ska, punk, rock and hip-hop bands.

“I grew up in a very musical house,” she says. “My brother has the largest spectrum of music that I have ever been exposed to. I still listen to a lot of it, and I’m grateful for learning about it so young.”

Ben, who co-founded the carbon capture firm Global Thermostat (GT) and recently worked on Kanye West’s new album, says about his little sister, “Hannah is really amazing. I’m so proud to have her as a sister. She’s got great taste, she’s loyal and she understands what true artistic value is—whether it’s in the form of food, fashion, music or art. I don’t know what to say . . . she just gets it.”

With her brother, Bronfman is involved in the fledgling record label Green Owl, which currently has seven bands on its roster. Extending his eco-activist work beyond GT, Ben Bronfman transformed an old school bus into a “green” tour bus for Green Owl’s bands: it runs on bio-diesel, a.k.a. vegetable oil. “We have these 100-pound slots for oil that we put on the bus,” she explains. “That way we don’t have to hit up a sushi restaurant for their vegetable oil. It breaks down every now and then, it’s not the most efficient, but it’s a start.”

Bronfman admits that she and her brother haven’t made much money yet with the record label, so they’re launching a Green Owl clothing line in 2011. “We want to promote green awareness to a hip, young, sexy, new generation,” Bronfman explains. “We constructed a line of chic street wear after our band, The Very Best. They’re from South Africa, and their artwork is very Africana. We have elaborated on their artwork and put it into the clothing line. So that’s one way we’re keeping a connection between the record label and the clothing line.”

Bronfman—who looks just as comfortable in her favorite Miu Miu heels and Marchesa dress as she does in vintage rocker tees, nerd glasses and cut off jeans—wants to expand the Green Owl label to encompass a complete lifestyle brand. “I can see Green Owl clothing going into couture,” she muses. “It’s definitely going to go through stages. It’s about bringing awareness and saying, ‘Hey, being green is sexy.’”

When Bronfman was two, her parents divorced but remained friends. She shuffled between her mother’s apartment on West 106th Street and her father’s place on the Upper East Side. She attended Spence, where she says she was one of two black girls in her class. She mentions that all her friends went to Chapin.

“I had a great education at Spence, but I didn’t have a single friend there,” Bronfman says. “Growing up in New York was really nice. My group of friends now is the same people that I knew when I was five years old. New York is such a great place to hang with friends. It’s just so easy.”

She adds that the women in her family (herself, plus a grandmother and an aunt) ended up leaving Spence. “I just think Spence is really different from other girls’ schools, and it’s a really difficult place to be understood,” Bronfman says. “I think the Bronfmans were a little too rebellious to be confined to the Spence walls—the red doors of Spence!”

After leaving Spence, Bronfman attended Poly Prep in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which was a whole other world. “It was so different, going to a co-ed school. It was really good preparation for college, being in a classroom with boys,” she says. “But in a lot of ways, it was also really difficult for me because I felt like I was subjected to more judgment. I remember being bullied by some of the football players. But it was also more laid back in Brooklyn. The kids weren’t as concerned with material things. Everyone was kind of just being a kid, which was really nice. I had a great experience at Poly and, in a lot of ways, if I had stayed at Spence, I wouldn’t have even known about Bard.”

For college, Bronfman decided between Williams (“a little too preppy for me”), Skidmore (“just a little too jocky”) and Bard, which she chose for its liberal attitude and focus on nurturing the creativity of artists. “I got to Bard and it was really weird,” she remembers with a laugh. “But I thought, better to find your friends in a group of weirdos than be unhappy somewhere else.”

At Bard, Bronfman focused on sculpture, building large-scale installation pieces. “I am graduating with a B.A. in fine arts,” she says. “It’s been a really beautiful, weird experience at Bard, especially with my artwork. I really grew as a person. I had two significant relationships throughout my college years, and I learned a lot. My senior sculpture show is so in tune with my feelings and who I am as a person now.”

Although she is more business savvy than most 23-year-olds, Bronfman is still young and out to have some fun. She DJs at clubs like Sway and The Jane Hotel, and stops by Hotel Griffou, where she is an investor, for dinner at least once a week.

And even though she is billed as a DJ (a youthquake status symbol among the current crop of cool kids—think Alexa Chung and Alexandra and Theodora Richards), Bronfman says it’s more than just playing music. “I set the tone and mood of the party,” she explains. “I have a lot of friends and we throw a good party.”

Friend Katie Schecter, for one, agrees. “For whatever reason, I find it hard to go out in New York and have an awesome time if Hannah’s not in town,” she says. “All of our friends think it feels like something is missing. Hannah could turn to me at 2 a.m., after many consecutive hours of television-watching, having had no prior plan of going out, and say, ‘Should we have a drink and a dance?’ and I am right off the couch. It’s like this twinkle in her eye, this amazing energy she gives off. You may not have thought so before, but now you know you’re going to have the best night ever.”

Unlike the youthquakers before her—like Edie Sedgwick, who made headlines by dancing on tabletops and dyeing her hair Andy Warhol-silver, or Paris Hilton, who made a sex tape and got sent to jail—Bronfman is much more than just a pretty party girl posing for photos with famous friends. She plans to live up to the success of her well-known family name.

“My dad has advised me a lot in terms of handling my money,” she explains. “He’s been super supportive with Green Owl, my artwork and my DJing. He’s just happy that I’m out there and making a name for myself.”


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