Interview with Kristian Laliberte

by guestofaguest · October 30, 2007

kristian laliberte

He’s been called socialgay, fashion publicist, and the “attention starved social butterfly.” His contemporaries have copied him, then turned their backs on him, only to party with him again.  Oh yeah and Gawker thinks he's a "fat douche". He can be seen rubbing elbows at Rose bar with the likes of Olivia Palermo, Peter Davis, and Paul Joshnson-Cauldron. He is the original “Unruly Heir” who himself claimed to the Observer that he wanted to be “New York’s answer to Rachel Zoe.” Maybe “people are starting to see that he’s playing the manipulative social game”, as his frenemy Micah Jesse claims, but does it really matter? Call him whatever you wish, just don’t call him stupid....Manipulative or not, Kristian Laliberte has made a name and a living in this town, and he’s ready to set the record straight.  From his entrepreneurial childhood in New England to his journey into the limelight, and his goal to tap into STYLE not FASHION, here’s a side of Kristian you can’t get from those Patrick Mcmullan photos.

What was your childhood like and what did you want to be when you "grew up"? My childhood was the most amazing and idyllic experience, and I can never thank my parents enough for that. I lived in this magical town, Nahant, one of the smallest towns in New England, surrounded by beaches, and water, and a tight knit group of close friends. I spent my summers building forts in the rocky cliffs along the shore, sailing in the inlets of the peninsula, and attending art classes at the ramshackle, laid back club that all of my parent's friends belonged too.

As an only child, my parents always treated me like adults--and they put a huge premium on travel. By the time I was ten, I had been around the world and back--always exploring different cities. Despite the bucolic nature of Nahant, my parents are real urbanites and culture junkies--so I've probably spent more time in Museums, Galleries, and historic Estates than I have watching TV.

Indeed, I was never allowed to watch TV, something I am so grateful for now. I was never ever bored, and I always had ten or twelve books I was reading. I remember when most kids read three or four books of the reading list, my parents would always make me read every single one--often times buying other titles from the same authors.  My dad worked in a big studio that is attached to the house---so he was always home. I had a lovely nanny Lettie until I was 5, and two amazing nannies--Emer and Maggie, when I was older--that being said, my mom always came home when I was back from school and we had English breakfast tea together.

I went through a million stages of the age-old what do you want to be query. I think I oscillated between ambassador, U.N. Secretary General, architect, hotelier, and artist constantly. I used to run a gallery in a part of my house right at the threshold of my dad's studio where I would sell things I had made---none of his clients or gallerists could come in without buying something. I was the neighborhood entrepreneur--my poor neighbors had to suffer me going door to door selling homemade perfumes, buckets of blackberries, pieces of painted driftwood, and other worthless sundries. Oh man---I was persistent!

What were your years at Milton Academy (boarding school) like? Milton was a strange place. It looks and reads like your typical WASP-y boarding school, but it constantly surprised me. I think living in a dorm terrified me at first---I was always a person that was completely obsessive compulsive about my things--and I always had my own wing of the house--so sharing a triple with two other complete strangers---one from Russia, the other from the Bronx, was at first a shock.

Milton, however, introduced me to such a vast array of people from all around the world--and I think its philosophy was more liberal and laidback than the Andovers and Choates of the East Coast. That being said, it was the most competitive atmosphere I have ever been in--I mean, twenty-two kids from my class went to Harvard, and I went to Columbia with twelve of my peers. We were all competing to get into the Ivies--and that race was always in the back of every one's minds.

Milton really opened my eyes to writing and charity as well---I had the most amazing creative writing teacher--he in fact won the National Teachers award and went down to get a medal from the president--and he pushed me hard to really develop a passion for writing.

You went from a double major in European History and International Politics at Columbia, studying in Paris, and working at a Pokhara refugee camp to a career in fashion and PR…How did you make that decision? Was this something that was hard or did you know you always wanted to be doing this? I've always been a history nut and an avid follower of international affairs, but I slowly realized I didn't want to make my career out of that. I still an intensely interested in charity, but I realized I was never going to do the Peace Corps.  Nepal was an amazing, surreal experience, and my professors at Columbia were often legends in their fields, but coming to New York made me more aware of the fashion and luxury world. I didn't know what it was exactly that I wanted to do, but I just followed my passion, and it lead me here. That being said, you can prosper in one field while still maintaining your interests in another. I drink in history books before I go to bed--right now I have an affinity for Imperial Vienna, and I can't survive a week without my C-Span and the Economist---but what I'm best at and what makes my heart beat faster is the whole world of branding, and luxury goods, and selling a "lifestyle." I think my biggest gift is my eye---I feel like I know what makes a room look chic, or what makes a website look glamorous---my parents both have that eye too.

As a kid, did you ever picture yourself running around in this popular social scene in New York City, showing up on sites like Patrick McMullan? Never, ever. I always had an affinity for glamour --my mother has a way of making everything elegant, and my parents were extremely cultured, and I used to go through my dad's old boxes and see all the articles he was in, but that was it---I was a very imaginative child, and for some reason my thoughts were extremely centered around past eras--I used to always want to live in the Victoria's London, or bohemian Paris--I never thought I would end up in New York.

How did "Unruly Heir" start? Why the name "Unruly Heir?" Unruly Heir was founded by Joey Goodwin and Curtis Rose about a year ago when they met at the West 4th Cage playing basketball. I came on in February, and since then it's become a partnership of five people all with an equal share in the company. It's amazing to me that my company will soon be selling at Bloomingdales and Fred Segal. The name Unruly Heir reflects the line's sensibilities. We espouse many of the aesthetics of the inheriting class--the colors, refinement, and tailoring that hearken back to Goodwin's Palm Beach upbringing, but we also embrace the street, downtown look of New York--our graphic artist, John Gagliano, works at an off-track betting parlor in Queens, and Curtis Rose grew up on the less than preppy hood of Brownsville. I think our customers are all a lot Unruly--they don't play be the rules. I know none of us do.

Who do you admire? My mother and father are the biggest inspiration for me---they have managed to create a life for themselves that is not filled with any regrets---they are still desperately in love and defied so many conventions to marry--age, religion, parents, backgrounds... They are passionate about their work and have also managed to make an amazing living doing it.  My dad fought in WWII, took a scholarship at the now defunct Art Institute of Chicago, and studied with all the amazing thinkers expelled from the Bauhaus--Bucky Fuller, Gropius, Mies Van der Rohe. He was lucky enough to be in that four yeartime bubble before the school was closed---and like many of his teachers had been before him, he was hungry, literally, for a very long time, but never gave up.

Who are some of your best friends? I keep my cards very close to my heart, and only have few people I would consider best friends.  The beauty of this city is that a stranger can turn into your best friend--just like a best friend can turn into a stranger.

Favorite places in New York? Hands down Rizzoli bookstore. I'd kill to live in a place just like that. I cried when it closed down in Boston. I just recently discovered the Pierpont Morgan Library---that's a nice way to spend the day. I also love the Barnes and Nobles in Lincoln Center. Hmm, I think there's a trend emerging.

What is a typical day in the life of Kristian Laliberte like? In all sincerity, I don't think I've had a typical day yet.

What is the best party you've ever been to in New York? I am constantly impressed by the imagination and talent that goes into planning a party here. New Yorker's get jaded pretty fast, so I am happy that I still get my breath taken away on a constant basis.

According to your website "Unruly Heir" is about "Style" not "Fashion"…we like that. How would you describe your own style? Yea, I like that too. Style is a way of being, its a way of expressing yourself, not just in clothes, but in all aspects of your personage. To me style is second nature to breathing.  Grace Kelly had style--it permeated her life, her essence. Cary Grant ate TV dinners in full black tie. That's style too.  Nicole Richie--she's fashionable. I try to infuse my personality in everything I do---judging by my pictures I don't subscribe to one look or trend. I vacillate between preppy and edgy, luxe and boho. But ultimately I think its a mélange that works for me. My apartments have always been that same eccentric explosion, and it's echoed in the way I act as well. I love to experiment, but there are certain things that are always going to be a classic--that defy fashion are always in style. The slim fit polo shirt--that was genius. Creed Imperial Millesime. I.M. Pei's pyramid at the Louvre.

kristian1

Who are some of your favorite designers? Favorite places to shop? Besides Unruly Heir, I am absolutely obsessed with Carlos Campos--he is this master of menswear from Honduras with an incredible eye for detail. I'll often go to the showroom thinking I'll stay a minute, then just get so caught up in his excitement for clothes that I stay for hours. He can tinker with my outfit so that something I didn't know was missing becomes apparent and he always knows what looks good on me. He will win a CFDA in the very near future---I will bet my wardrobe on it! I also am a huge admirer of two new brands--Lova, and Shades of Greige---they will both go very far.

I honestly don't have time for shopping anymore, but when I can spare a second, or a dollar, I head to Tokyo Seven for amazing second hand, Screaming Mimis for vintage sunglasses and vests, A.P.C. and Tsubis for jeans, Ralph Lauren Soho for cable knit cashmere sweaters and oxfords, and Seven for t-shirts and hoodies that no one else has. I am beyond ecstatic for Blue and Cream to open up here in NYC-Jeff Goldstein has an amazing eye, and besides stocking Unruly Heir, he will carry labels that I can only now get in Argentina, like A.Y. Not Dead, and Felix. I also have a soft spot for those Lola Ts. Cry Wolf is going to be another great store that's set to open on St. Marks, right by my parents old townhouse---keep your eyes open for some great Swedish labels. My all time favorite stores in the world are Collette in Paris, and Liberty in London. They are the two stores I can never leave without a shopping bag. OK, you think I like clothes just a little bit?

Do you like the term "socialite"? Do you consider yourself and your friends "Socialites"? Who are you favorite Socialites? It's a moniker that gets bandied about a lot. I looked it up in the dictionary the first time I saw it used in conjunction with my name and I still don't get what it means! I really don't think its an applicable term in this day and age.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 40 years? I want my own lifestyle empire (clothing line, hotel, TV, books, etc) great friends, good health, and who knows, a nice guy wouldn't hurt. I also promised my Mom that she will get a very tastefully appointment guest suite in any house I have--so I guess the guy will have to like my mom too!

What are the biggest misconceptions people have of you? Do you ever get offended by negative things written about you or friends of yours? I stopped caring what certain people thought about me a while ago. There are always going to be people who you can't please or who simply don't mesh with you. There was a point and time that I actually gave weight to what that certain group of people thought or said. The moment you stop playing by their rules---and there's a lot of examples, you suddenly cease to be of use to those people and you get a reputation. That's a clique I never want to try and be in again--they take themselves and the New York social world very seriously. Just the other night, someone yelled at me because I brought a someone to a party who wasn't considered to be "acceptable." I've had people refuse to talk to me because they didn't want to be seen associating with me without ever giving me the benefit of the doubt. The people in my life now take the time to find out the truth behind the misconceptions.

I'd be lying if I said I never got offended. It's hard to not get upset or angry when you read lies or distortions of what you said. A lot of shit floating around out in the blogosphere is simply that, shit. New York is like high school on a really big playing field--he said, she said--or don't talk to that person. I heard a lot of stuff in conjunction with my name---from social pariah to fat sausage legs! I've made mistakes--we've all made mistakes. Does it suck that everyone else you know also sees or hears about some of you or your friend's mistakes---yes. But ultimately I know what's true and what's false, and I know who I respect and who I don't.

I really don't want to be friends with anyone who buys into something without making a consistent effort to get to know me or hear my side of the story. But there are certain things you have to accept and move on, and you have to learn how to laugh at yourself. I’ve definitely had my share of horrible outfits, embarrassing moments, and words I wish I could take back---but who hasn't? If you can't laugh at yourself I don't think you should be in New York. What are you most proud of so far?  The fact that I've learned from my mistakes and I still know that I have a ways to go to be the person I want to be.

Despite what anyone says, I've managed to pack a lot in to my twenty-four years. It's a constant learning curve, and sometimes I cave, but I know thatI am moving forward.

Can you tell us more about your new projects including your PR firm and your television and book projects? Unruly Heir is more of a lifestyle company than anything. Everyone has special skills they bring to the table, for instance we have a design shop and an amazing sales team. For me, doing PR for other clients was just a natural extension. I only work with people whose brands I believe in---right now I'm working with an amazing new denim and contemporary line, Angry Genes ( www.angrygenes.com) which has edgy urban styles for dudes. I also am consulting with this amazing entrepreneur who has realized helped revitalize Harlem, and is bringing his stuff downtown--B. Oyama ( www.boyamany.com ), as well as a restaurant, East Village Yacht Club, and a new hotel opening next year. I've been offered a lot of TV projects that I simply haven't had time for, but I hope to have news for you guys very soon about an amazing new series...As for a book and journalism, its an option I have been exploring, but am only now getting serious about it. Things always move really fast once you decide to move forward with something....

We believe that one of the secrets to having a happy life is to learn how to not take yourself too seriously. We see things about socialites and famous people all the time in newsprint, blogs, tv, etc. and often wonder if the majority of them hold this same conviction as us, or if it gets to be too hard to NOT take yourself too seriously when you have everything and everybody at your fingertips. Any thoughts on this?? Once you start taking yourself too seriously, and believing the hype, life ceases to get fun. What's the point of living if you aren't enjoying yourself? My friends would kick my ass if I started behaving "better" than them. I've definitely lost some good people to fame or self-importance, but you have to ask yourself, would I really want to be friends with those people anyways if our friendship was so easy to throw away?

Is New York "Dying" like so many hipsters keep claiming? If not, where's the next "hip" spot going to be? New York will never die--I'm certain of that. I think what is happening is that some countries are experiencing economic success, and democratic freedoms and air travel and media coverage are more ubiquitous and accessible. That creates conditions where places that once could never be conceived as "hip"--Riga, Dubrovnik, Shanghai, Cartagena, and Marrakesh--are developing artist communities, or restaurant scenes, or eco-resorts that have brought them more into New York's consciousness. People are always going to be looking for the next "hot spot" and I for one love exploring them but I don't think their lustre will take away from the creative beacon that is New York.

What are you going to be for Halloween? What are your plans? I'm one of the few people who doesn't love Halloween. I feel like I dress up enough every night to care about one day. But I get why people love it--sometimes its their ONLY day to dress up. If I do anything I may go as Harry Potter. I dressed up as a pilot for an event on Wednesday and I couldn't wait to change.

Top 5 most played songs in ipod? My musical tastes have no rhyme or reason, but right now I really enjoy--Aqualung, especially "brighter than sunshine," Kanye West--"Good Life", Britney Spears "Gimme More," Justice..D.A.N.C.E (the mstrkrft remix), and Stephan Pompougnac's entire Hello Mademoiselle record. Oh and I'm obbsessed with Mickey Avalon doing the Jane Fonda. I listen to it on repeat.

Are you friends or frenemies with Micah Jesse? I can't say I know Micah very well at all. Our connection was that he was a friend of one of my old and favorite interns. I wish him the best in life.

kristian and timo

[pictured above with friend Timo Weiland]

Are you, yourself the ultimate "Unruly Heir"? Yea yea. I definitely don't do well with authority. I like to be my own boss. All the contradictions that are implicit in our name definitely run through me. I always surprise myself. I slip from low key to high maintenance very easily.