The first time I made my way to the unbelievable studio/life space at 95 Grand Street, I was nervous. My dad's cousin, forever the Larrains' dentist, first invited me to their monthly Art Salons. "You're artsy, you'll like this," he said. Having been in the city less than two months, I figured why not?
When I first arrived at the end of September 2010, there was probably a
bright, wildly constructed dress in the window. There were probably nude
models downstairs being painted and drawn by artists using brushes or
pastels or pencils or charcoal. There was probably a small child covered
in black smudges from playing with one too many art supplies. There was
probably the famous roast pork with pineapple and the infamous sangria.
Gilles was probably playing that incredible flamenco guitar, Louda
bedazzled in one of her couture fabric creations. Because those things, I
would learn, were what was always there in the delightful tradition of
Gilles and Louda Larrain's Art Salons.
There was always a feeling of magic I got when I entered Gilles and Louda's, like I had been transported into the life I always thought New Yorkers lived: a three-story studio space that opened onto the street with a gallery, descended downstairs to Gilles' photography studio, and upstairs to their living quarters via one staircase and Louda's workspace via another. Gilles' photography lined the walls: pictures of Sting, Miles Davis, Mikhail Baryshnikov, the American Ballet Theatre, Taylor Dayne, Robert Mapplethorpe (plus unnamed boyfriend), and infinite others. Each photo was rich with styles of 20+ years past, from Baryshnikov's feathered hair to Billy Joel's bright white patent leather ankle boots, to the distinct absence of lines on Glenn Close's face. Louda's couture fabric and dress designs featured prominently in their gallery window overlooking the street. She would also have a rack of her clothing on display, allowing some hosts or patrons or performers to don the colorful, handmade garments.
"Salonistas!" The voice of the night's emcee would cut into the jibber-jabber of guests' voices, asking them to quiet down or go upstairs if they wanted to talk before introducing the next performer(s): a jazz band, an ethereal-voiced pianist, a violinist, a poet, a burlesque singer, and the list went on. In between performances, elegant humans clad in silk robes would release said garments to the floor, to be drawn by those who had brought their sketchbooks, or by Louda who always drew them on the big white sketchpads she balanced on an easel. I met graphic designers, vintners, architects, creative directors, photographers, writers, editors, glove designers, makeup artists, hairstylists and god knows who else at these parties that brimmed with people, creativity, and life.
This past Thursday was the last ever Art Salon, as Gilles and Louda have sold their space and are moving to Hawaii. They will not miss the weather, they say, but I am sure they will miss the family they created at the salon. I have never written about the salon before, though I have been going since 2010, because I never felt like it was my place. The Art Salon, I felt, was a place you had to be invited to by someone else who had already attended. Though it was by no means a secret party, I believed the sense of community there was maintained by the idea of bringing a friend as opposed to advertising it on your blog (though The New York Times did write about the salon in 2010). One of my favorite things to ask people at the parties was how they found themselves there--my friend knows so and so, we met at such and such, and the reasons continue. But, for the most part, everyone had someone else to thank for being there, for being a part of a community they never really left. After a while, people recognized your face, they said hello, asked how you were and you really talked to them like human beings, not like human beings making small talk. People were interesting and interested. They will continue to be, though I don't know where they will congregate the last Thursday of the month from now on.
Though I hardly attended the salons for as long or as often as others, I felt something slip away on Thursday, that kind of feeling you get when you know, pardon the cliche, that something is "the end of an era." There were 46 art salons total, and I'm sure a life was changed by every single one of them, be it in a tiny or a big way. I learned lessons from people I met at the salon. I embarked on wild, exciting business ventures. I made friends. I drank sangria. I fell in love. I was inspired.
Thank you to Gilles and Louda Larrain for their years of salons. I'm sure I can speak for all of the salonistas when I say you will truly be missed. And if you happen to start a new salon in Hawaii, you know we'll all be there, certainly in spirit, hopefully in body.