Remembering Glenn O'Brien, and his truly exceptional style
The man who helped a generation find its sartorial identity passed away last week.
BY scott christian | Apr 10, 2017 | Fashion
There are people in this life who, even if you've only encountered them for a brief moment, you will remember forever. Glenn O'Brien was one of those people. He was like a modern-day mashup of Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, David Ogilvy, and Marcel Duchamp. He was, among many things, a writer, a TV host, a critic, and a linchpin of the 1980s downtown New York scene. He was also a man of incredible style. And now he's gone.
The news came earlier today that Glenn O'Brien, truly one of the stalwarts of art, fashion, music, and media in New York City, has died. And the world is now an emptier place for it. If you were lucky enough to meet Glenn, then you know how remarkable of a character he was. Even a five-minute conversation with him would yield up highly entertaining anecdotes that you'd gleefully recount for years to come. He lived a life that most people only dream of.
I was lucky enough to not only meet Glenn, but to have several long conversations with him over the course of my first few years as a writer in New York City, one of which took place in his downtown apartment, a place loaded with artifacts from New York's glorious, grimy '70s and '80s golden age. A wonderful era when Glenn's social circle included such luminaries as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol, Richard Hell, and countless others who basically created late-20th Century American culture.
That he would take time to chat with (and more often regale) a slightly starstruck young writer only speaks to his incredible generosity. But what was so wonderful about him was how that generosity, deadpan wit, and erudition were equally matched by his willingness to stand by his strong opinions, even if—especially if—they rubbed people the wrong way.
If Glenn didn't like something, or someone, you knew it. But that only added to his charm. Because, along with being a talented writer, editor, art and music critic, TV host, and fashion guru, Glenn was also an instigator. He was a guy who never totally left that mid-1970s punk rock ethic behind.
Of course, for a generation of men, one of Glenn's greatest contributions was his comprehensive instruction on every element of style. Whether it was through his "Style Guy" column (which ran for 15 years, first in Details and then in GQ), his book How to Be a Man: a Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman, or through his own impeccable wardrobe (which ran the gamut from natty tailoring to his black leather Perfecto motorcycle jacket hand-painted by his pal Jean-Michel Basquiat), Glenn showed us not only how to dress, but how to behave in a way that elevated the world around us. He taught us that beauty, cultivation, and erudition really do matter.
There was also his legendary public broadcast TV show, TV Party, which ran in the wee hours of Tuesday mornings between 1978 and 1982. It was there that Glenn honed his skills as one of New York's greatest raconteur/iconoclasts. A talent that he then poured into everything from high fashion ads to his "Style Guy" column to a series of highly entertaining podcasts with our very own Michael Hainey to his most recent project, an interview series called Tea at the Beatrice with Glenn O'Brien. Whatever Glenn touched, if it didn't become immediately better, it at the very least became far more interesting.
And while Glenn's life continually entertained and impressed us, it wasn't a life entirely unexpected. At least if Andy Warhol had anything to say about it, which he did, seeing as how the legendary pop artist gave Glenn his first post-college job—as editor of Interview Magazine. But that was merely the match that lit the fuse of a life that really did make the world a more fascinating and aesthetically appealing place.
And that is, perhaps, what we will miss the most. That he was a man who, with such joy and enthusiasm, could suss out the best parts of our culture and give it all back to us in such a perfectly—though not too preciously—curated package. It leaves us with a gaping hole that will be very hard to fill indeed.
From: Esquire US