Party Czar Carmen D’Alessio, Empress of the Sun and the Queen of the Night

October 08, 2018 10:00 PM

You may not know Carmen D’Alessio by name. But if you’ve ever popped bottles at an upscale Manhattan rooftop bar, danced until sunrise in Ibiza, toasted to the new year in Rio, or sipped on pisco in Lima, then you know Carmen. Her footprint is global. Her reputation as a public relations czar in the nightclub industry knows no borders, and her ability to stack a party with VIPs from fashion and finance, to politicians and performers (then surround them with beautiful people in an outre atmosphere) is unparalleled. As the brains behind the most legendary nightclub in history, Studio 54, Carmen has influenced the way the world parties. And in the 40 years since its opening, she hasn’t stopped dancing yet.

But the last thing Carmen wants to talk about is what she was doing four decades ago. “I’m all about looking forward, not looking back,” says D’Alessio over branzino at Loi Estiatorio,a chic Greek restaurant near her home in Manhattan. Carmen is elegant and effervescent, with red hair and smiling eyes, and it is positively confounding how someone could have been a part of The Studio in its heyday, yet look as spectacular as she does now. But it seems to have something to do with her personal philosophy. “Every day for me is a celebration, “ she says. “I walk in gratitude. In life, there are no problems, just projects. No losses, just lessons. And they’re all designed to help you get stronger and better.” 

Self-made aphorisms roll easily off her tongue, and Carmen takes great joy in sharing what she has learned from her ups and downs in life. Tanned and svelte, she says her energy comes from the sun. “I worship it,” she says with an ebullient smile, stretching her arms up to the heavens. “I absorb the sun’s energy, and then I transmit it back to the people I meet.” She winters with her family in Lima, Peru, where the weather is warm year round, and music and dancing are a vital part of the culture. She spends May through November in New York, holding court at her legendary sunset party on the rooftop of the PhD Downtown, and tending to a very active social calendar. Her Instagram reveals a non-stop parranda of events. One night, she’s taking in the Donna Summer musical on Broadway (which includes the reenactment of a Studio 54 party organized by Carmen and headlined by Donna Summer). On another occasion, Carmen is at Bergdorf’s sipping pisco with Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra, toasting to their homeland’s thriving fashion industry. 

And although The Studio was 40 years ago, scarcely a week goes by in which Carmen doesn’t run into an old friend from the club. In September, there was the release party for “Starmaker”  the magnificent Rizzoli book about Carmen’s dear late friend Richard Bernstein who designed all the early covers for Interview magazine, which featured the likes of Grace Jones, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Diana Vreeland, all of whom were part of Carmen’s orbit in the 1970s. During Fashion Week, Carmen hosted her annual presentation at PhD Downtown, a blockbuster, standing room only presentation which brought Randy Jones (the original Village People cowboy) and a bevy of Carmen’s young beauties and old school acolytes out of the woodwork and into the sky at one of the most scenic venues in town. 

But Carmen is never one to drop names or sing her own praises. In fact, she finds this aspect of the entertainment business rather undignified and contrary to the good manners she was taught growing up. She was born in Lima, Peru, the oldest of three children in family of significant means garnered from South America’s nascent mining industry. Carmen describes her youth as “sheltered and privileged.” She attended the elite Villa Maria academy, where she was educated in English and French as well as her native Spanish. During a trip to Chile to visit her extended family, she became friends with an artist public relations agent named Guy Burgos, who eventually moved to New York, and was the first person Carmen visited when she came to town.

The second person she visited was Susan Salas, a friend of hers from Lima who was working at the United Nations. Noting her fluency in three languages, Susan suggested that Carmen apply for a job as a UN translator, thus initiating Carmen’s three year stint inside UN Plaza. Carmen loved the bustle and infinite possibilities of life in New York, but she felt that a certain joie de vivre was missing. Sure, there was the socialite scene, and Carmen knew it well. She spent her first weekend in New York at a mansion in Hamptons, and never stopped meeting interesting people among her expanding circle of friends, through her work at the United Nations and in her travels. Carmen always made it a special point to take down her friends’ phone numbers, address and first and last names, spelled correctly, as Andy Warhol famously noted. It was this hallowed contact book of Carmen D’Alessio--which contained everyone from Halston and Calvin Klein to Michael Jackson and Diane Von Furstenberg--that made Studio 54 the legendary nightclub that it was. Carmen always knew that famous people aren’t always rich, and rich people aren’t always beautiful, but when you put the rich, famous and beautiful in a giant room together you get magic because people like to mingle.  

Carmen’s genius is in connecting people. She has the intuitive ability to assess who is going to hit it off with whom, and she puts them together. It was her vision--and her famous address book--that gave Queens nightclub impresarios Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell access to the crème de la crème of Manhattan’s food chain. But sometimes people forget that. In fact, if you happen to have caught the new Studio 54 documentary, a revisionist retelling of the club’s history, there is scarcely a mention of Carmen at all. The film is more focused on Schrager’s greed than Bianca Jagger on a horse and other legendary party moments that comprise the 54 legend. 

And even though the world can’t stop talking about Studio 54, for Carmen it was just one of dozens of clubs that she has built up over the years. It comprised just 33 months of her life, a very full and joyful life which is always in motion. Carmen has a book and a documentary film of her own in the works, and one of her chief concerns right now is the environment. She promotes the work of eco-conscious fashion designers, and wants to do more work to advocate conservation and preservation. Carmen hits the gym five days a week, carefully follows a low-carb diet, and never drinks at home or at lunch, only on nights out. She works hard and plays hard and keeps everything in balance. She is the woman who taught New York how to party, and she is still the living embodiment of the bon bon bon vie. And we can’t think of anything more fabulous than that.

 

 

INTERVIEW BY KAREN FRAGALA-SMITH


PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHIAKI KATO

 
EDITOR SOPHIA PENG
 

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