Legendary Adman Richard Kirshenbaum on Life and Strife Among the One Percenters

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsI was eager to meet my Lunch partner at Michael’s this week because, as he so astutely wrote in his monthly column for the New York Observer, we are in the midst of  ‘The 1% Summer,’ with plenty of media attention being given to Park Avenue primates and the skinny strivers of the Upper East Side. Legendary adman, serial entrepreneur and prolific chronicler of the social customs of the wealthiest New Yorkers, Richard Kirshenbaum proved to be a delightfully witty dining companion who had far too many interesting anecdotes about life among Manhattan’s true movers, shakers and spenders to be contained in one column. But I shall try.

Diane Clehane and Richard Kirshenbaum
Diane Clehane and Richard Kirshenbaum

Fresh off a trip to France and Italy (“I haven’t partied like that in a long time”) where he sipped rosé with the private jet set and met with his tailor in Naples, Richard arrived at noon on the dot sporting a natty bespoke jacket in a summery plaid, monogrammed oxford shirt and white jeans, looking as if he’d moored his yacht on 55th Street.

Apparently Richard is a firm believer in that old chestnut, ‘write what you know.’ In his new book, Isn’t That Rich? Life Among the 1%, he clearly has. Published last month by Jane Friedman’s company, Open Road, the book (there’s also an e-book) has been getting plenty of attention, including a lengthy piece in The London Times yesterday, much to Richard’s great delight. The compulsively readable tome is a collection of his wittiest and most clever columns, as well as several new essays on what it’s like to be really, really rich—and still often be left wanting more and more. Among my favorites: ‘Billionaire Buzzkill,’ where he writes about the woes of mere millionaires who are, believe it or not, engaged in the great divide between the ‘haves and have mores’ and ‘Frozen,’ about the high cost of high maintenance. “In the last ten years there has been an increase in the level of overt aspiration that is shocking,” he told me as he nibbled on his watermelon and nectarine stone fruit salad.

Richard’s style in his columns and his new book (which he wrote while immersed in his tub) is a mixture of gossipy fun and a healthy dash of wry social commentary, although he says, “I don’t judge, I merely hold a mirror up to both sides.” He also engages in somewhat of a guessing game. He never names names in his pieces, choosing instead to give his subjects intriguing monikers like ‘The Impossibly Blonde and Glamorous Socialite’ and ‘Recently Divorced Hedgefunder’ which, of course, only adds to the fun. “It works two ways,” he explained in describing the reaction he gets within his social set. “People either ask me ‘Is that my kid?’ or, they’ll tell me something [juicy] and then say, ‘But that’s off the record.'”

Unlike many of the send-ups offered on what he calls “the golden triad of Park Avenue, Sagaponack and St. Barths,” Richard gets all his intel and insights from the inside, as evidenced by the bumper crop of über-rich Manhattanites that filled the Lotos Club for a swanky soirée for the new book earlier this summer. “I have friends with old money, new money and no money, which makes for some really interesting dinner parties.” I’ll bet.

Isn’t It Rich is his third book. Richard has also penned the business tome Under the Radar; the relationship guide Closing the Deal and a memoir of his adman years, Madboy (Love the title!) which was an Amazon bestseller. But he still considers himself first and foremost “an adman” which, in fact, is how I first came to meet him back in the ’80s (we were both clearly child prodigies) when I was a lowly assistant for Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio when they were designing for Anne Klein. I clearly remember Richard’s arrival in the office that day with his leonine locks and adman swagger. He’d come in search of new business for his advertising agency, Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Alas, he didn’t get the business, but he continued to send me what I thought were some of the most creative media kits I’d ever seen at the time.