“After Andy”: When a Former London “It” Girl Went Warhol
Summer 2017 may be starting to wind down, but there’s still time for some escapist reading on the beach towel. You may find the pages of Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni’s After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land to be perfect surfaces on which to accidentally splash your frozen margarita or dribble your sunscreen. The author writes breezily about the sex, drugs and scandalous doings in the international matrices of art and fashion, back in that often-glamorous but frequently tacky decade, the 1980s. But because the book’s ostensible focus is on Andy Warhol — a major American artist and an iconic cultural figure — you won’t feel you’re wasting your time on pointless, gossipy drivel. After Andy is sometimes a bit like Warhol’s Interview magazine as described by its longtime editor Bob Colacello: it prides itself on being “deeply superficial.”
Fraser-Cavassoni makes it clear in the book’s Notes section that After Andy is “firmly not” a Warhol biography. One of her editors, she tells us, suggested that the project be a personal memoir — with the author herself as a central figure. She was urged, specifically, to think of herself as James Boswell to Warhol’s Samuel Johnson. But there’s something of a problem with that analogy. Boswell may not have been acquainted with Johnson for the entirety of the great man’s life, but he knew his subject for more than two decades. Fraser-Cavassoni, on the other hand, knew Warhol rather casually for a mere three years before he hired her in February 1987 to work on his MTV series Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes. And, on the very day she was hired, Warhol was (unbeknownst to the author) on his way to the hospital in which he would die four days later. The opening chapter of After Andy is, in fact, a description of his star-studded memorial service a few weeks afterward, on April Fool’s Day.
The author would continue to work with the Warhol organization for two-and-a-half years, and there was plenty of Warholiana left behind for her to observe. And, in preparing the book, she interviewed others who knew Warhol well. Still, there are many chapters that describe her life before and after her stint at the famous Factory. In these pages she labors — sometimes awkwardly — to draw the focus back to the man in the silver wig, as in this excerpt from an early chapter:
During the 1970s, Andy Warhol became keen to do the Shah of Iran’s portrait. A much-criticized commission, it finally happened in 1976. Oddly enough, my family and I would entertain the Shah’s children in Scotland in 1974.
True, there is plenty of juicy-good stuff, even in the pre-Warhol portion of the book. Fraser-Cavassoni grew up in London, the daughter of conservative politician Hugh Fraser, a member of Parliament, and Lady Antonia Fraser, the writer who became famous in 1969 for the biography Mary Queen of Scots. In the mid-1970s, the Frasers’ marriage collapsed when Lady Antonia had an affair with playwright Harold Pinter, whom she later married. Fraser-Cavassoni describes well the bruising effects the Fraser-Pinter scandal had on her and her siblings. The glimpses she shares of her famous stepfather, though, seem even-handed and quite illuminating. “He could be trying and exhausting,” she writes, “but he had enough self-effacement and humor to get away with it.”
Fraser-Cavassoni would go on to become a London “it” girl while still a teenager and would eventually have a fling with Mick Jagger. (The seduction is described colorfully but succinctly. Young Natasha initially resisted, but she swiftly succumbed after Jagger helped her brush her teeth.)
The chapters on the author’s time with the Warhol machine in NYC cover such topics as the Sotheby’s auction of the artist’s personal effects, the establishment of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the bombshell publication of the gossip-riddled Warhol diaries in 1989. (After Andy seems to homage the diaries by not including an index listing the many celebs mentioned throughout. Too bad there’s no Spy magazine nowadays to create and publish an unofficial index for this book, as was done for the Warhol tome.) Fraser-Cavassoni long avoided pursuing a writing career because she shunned the idea of being compared with her mother. But when she worked for a time at Interview, she penned a short-lived column, “Anglofile,” that whetted her appetite for a career in journalism (though she despaired at the time that no one seemed to be reading her copy).
The author seems constrained by tying everything back to Andy.
She profiles some of the key figures in the Warhol world — people who carried on at the Factory after the artist’s death. Chief among them: Frederick Hughes, Warhol’s business manager. “Fred” is presented as a tortured soul, one who became increasingly difficult to endure as he gradually lost control of his body to multiple sclerosis: “It was tragic to witness someone who had been a droll and graceful dandy morph into a feared mutant.”
The final part of the book captures some of the author’s adventures post-Warhol. She relocated to Paris, where she worked with designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel studio, and later with editor John Fairchild at Women’s Wear Daily, a stint at which she continued to polish her skills as a reporter. The most gossipy and fascinating Paris chapter describes what ensued when American film director Robert Altman came to town with a passel of international movie actors to make the 1994 film Prêt-à-Porter. But even in these late chapters, the author seems constrained by the task of tying everything back to Andy. For instance, she includes a detailed passage that compares the style and working habits of Lagerfeld with those of Warhol. The book’s epilog centers exclusively on the Warhol legacy, leaving loose threads from Fraser-Cavassoni’s own story dangling.
But still. On a hot August afternoon, with another cool drink just poured, you can overlook these odd editorial missteps. Fraser-Cavassoni has an exuberant yet wry writing style. She knows and admits that she’s a shameless name-dropper who brazenly used her family connections as well as her self-celebrated pulchritude to get ahead. (She confides that she nicknamed her much-admired breasts “Micky” and “Minnie.”) Her writing style is decidedly not “Pinteresque,” but in her use of humor and self-deprecation to cover her sins, she seems to have embraced the very tactics she saw and admired in her late stepdad.