The Stylist's Guide to NYC
Sibella Court’s ‘The Stylist’s Guide to NYC’ reviewed by ATL
Global gypsy Sibella Court does everything with individual, charismatic flair. From her signature dress sense (think campaign style - cashmere shawl, panama hat, canvas luggage), to her shop The Society Inc in Sydney’s Paddington (chock full of bowerbird finds, from bell jars to bedheads), her imaginative shoots for glossy magazines, interiors (including a lighthouse installation for New York’s Anthropologie, the very cool rope-hung Ms G’s restaurant in Sydney) to her smart-looking books. Her first, Etcetera won design awards, garnered a cult following, and sold out its first print run on release. The Stylist’s Guide to NYC is her second book, and a slightly trickier proposition. Yes, it’s beautiful to look at and hold (in a distinctively Sibella Court way, with a tactile hardcover, brown paper flyleaf, matt stock, and organic, notebook design) but it’s also challenging to categorise. Is it a travel guide? Or is it for people who live in New York? Or for those planning a move to NYC? Or all of the above? Do categories even matter?
Sibella thinks not. In her introduction, she invites us to go on a journey, or rather a series of journeys, or “loops of interest” through a city she knows extremely well. She opens up her little black book of shopping (seriously impressive and frankly, fabulous) and takes us on a guided tour. She leads us beyond the glossy façade of this big, bold city, “this vibrant, elaborate city”. We find ourselves not just in curious shops, but back rooms, chatting to the owners & sharing a cheeky bottle of wine.
We are introduced to cat Ginger at tropical florist Caribbean Cuts on 28th Street, discover perfumes named after districts at Bond no 9 on Broadway, make an appointment with Bonnie Slotnick on West 4th Street for vintage cookbooks, head over to Purl in the heart of Soho for cool-meets-craft (Joelle the owner was a Martha Stewart stylist), find handmade felted children’s shoes in Makie, visit Sibella’s “all time favourite store in New York” Paula Rubenstein, buy a roll-up backgammon set at Chess Forum, end up in the basement of B4 It Was Cool on Houston ordering vintage MacGyver-style lighting, pick out the perfect man’s shirt, oversized stripy towels and Filson luggage at Steven Alan on Moore Street, buy an anchor necklace at the Grangi Family Project, and (a personal favourite) get to choose real old-fashioned stationary at Greenwich Letterpress on Christopher St, plus stamps (Alice in Wonderland, maybe) at the Ink Pad on 8th Ave. Possibly not all on the same day …. But then again -
Sibella sets a cracking pace. Her loops of interest are themed: 1. Scents and Flower Merchants, 2. Oddities and Curiosities, 3. Jewellery & Hardware, 4. Haberdashery & Handmade, 5. Drapers & Upholstery, 6. Art & Objects, 7. Paper & Art Supplies, 8. Kitchen & Table Paraphernalia, 9. Furniture and Interiors. These loops can take us all over the city. Do we have to go so far, sometimes crossing between maps, sometimes going from downtown to uptown and back down again? (Although never backtracking.) Please can’t we have loops that lead us seamlessly through adjacent streets and areas? By the time I’ve “virtually” gone from the Guggenheim to Bergdorfs to MoMa to Chelsea to the Meatpacking District I’m exhausted! (Thank god for the bar at Pastis.) Still, Sibella reassures us we don’t need to do it all in one day. Some loops stretch over different days. We can leave parts of the loop out. Decide we’re not interested in that bit. But, there’s an element of “what if I miss out on something amazing?” the lovely frisson of thematic association. And Sibella does encourage us to keep going. Luckily we stop for snacks.
Pit stops in cafes and restaurants & bars are given due and proper importance. Loops begin with good coffee (yes, even in New York) and food. And often there’s an interiors/design element. Why not have your cake and eat it too? Refuel at Kit Kemps’s Crosby Street Hotel, or Smith & Wills in Moore Street with its light blue walls, zinc bar and buttoned banquettes or “Jump in a cab to 202 for lunch. All about the fish tacos, and sitting among vintage European furniture”.
Needless to say, Sibella Court is wonderful good company. She’s an enthusiast. Reading through this entrancing book with its thoughtful layout and casually genuine photographs, is like spending an imaginary week in New York with a girlfriend who knows all the best places. Follow your heart, your imagination, your instincts, she seems to say at every turn. Be inspired, be stimulated, be enraptured. Be beautiful, be naughty, get distracted, skive off. (“There’s nothing wrong with a big boozy lunch. You’re on holidays.”) Be informed and be prepared: don’t be caught short, she says. Be ready for anything. “All good NYC girls carry two pairs of shoes.”
In the end, I come back to an essential dilemma: is this a book for beside the bed (well, definitely!) or the coffee table (absolutely) or a book for on the road (not so sure)? If you love NYC, dream of NYC, live in NYC, are visiting NYC, or wish to visit NYC, it’s gorgeously idiosyncratically indispensable. Ditto if you love to shop and decorate. But is it a handy tote-able guide? I don’t think so. I doubt this handsome hardback book would very often make it out of the hotel room (or apartment or brownstone or loft) and into the handbags and satchels of travellers striding the sidewalks. It’s just a bit too big. Which is a pity, cause it’s got really useful maps, inside pockets for stashing theatre stubs and restaurant cards and stuff. I wish it were softcover and thinner and smaller to carry; then again, do I? I love it just the way it is.
Sitting here in my flannelette pyjamas on a cold and rainy morning in my familiar hometown, reading and dreaming and writing of the “elaborate”, energy-filled, sparkling city, I begin to plan. Next time I go to NYC, I will carry a spare pair of killer heels. I’ll look for the squirrel at Stephen Sclaroff’s and ask for a seat at the bar at Fred’s. I’ll take notes from The Stylist’s Guide; write them down in my Moleskin. Even better, I shall snap photos of pages on my iphone for handy reference before hitting the streets. Ding! Come to think of it, there’s a win-win solution. We can have it all. Sibella, where’s the App?
- Susie Burge, all rights reserved
The Stylist’s Guide to NYC, by Sibella Court, is published by Murdoch Books, RRP $39.95
Heads Up: Sibella Court’s Nomad comes out later this year. Here she incorporates treasures from travels into interiors. To be inspired by the exotic (and avoid the tragic “I’ve just been to Bali” look) reserve an advance copy (& have it signed by the author, with a personal note if you choose and even individual gift wrapping) from