I heard word of this whilst meeting with the architects/ visionaires/ designers and thought it sounded like a trip. A good trip.
This is an interactive, make it your own kind of theatre. It plays out at the McKittrick Hotel on 27th St which you check into for the evening (note: this is not a real hotel).
You are enticed & intrigued at once, even with the simple act of checking your bag & heels as I did. You’re elevated to the 2nd floor which is a bar that acts as a kind of super fun alcohol fuelled waiting area hosted by the marvellous Maximillian.
On check in you receive a ‘key’ which is also a card, that is required at some point (so don’t lose it). I am not going to reveal all, but do suggest the absinthe spiked shots, and St Germaine & champagne cocktail. You are allowed access into the upper 3 floors as long as you agree to the rules of No Talking and wearing your white nosed mask at all times.
I went alone & many are broken up anyway, so have fun, don’t worry if you are not following a plot or are slightly lost (there is a book for sale at the end for $20 with some form of explanation). The actors come in & out of the many rooms (I think it’s about 50) and you might stumble upon them dancing in a ballroom, setting a table, naked in a tub with blood smeared hands or crashing into the funeral parlour, whose drawers you may be riffling through! I took several breaks on the 2nd floor to listen to the quartet & gorgeous jazz singer with her silky smooth voice and top up on the cocktails.
It goes for about 3 hours, you can check out whenever you like, but I never wanted to leave. It is a somewhat choose-your-own-adventure and adventure it is. You are often on your own, and unaware of how many participants there actually are. The sets and attention to detail is extraordinary: sweet shops, forest, funeral parlours, pheasant filled janitor cupboards, cardboard bars, lounge rooms, dimly lit sconced hallways, bedrooms, cavernous ballrooms, an empty restaurant with a horse, a curiosity shop with taxidermied creatures amongst other oddities, stone garden with scuptures and book shelved lined rooms.
You are encouraged to touch, listen, sit, open, try on, lie on and explore all corners in any order at any time, but more time is what I needed! This is the best fun, intriguing, mind blowing, uplifting, sexy, dark, eery, curious (if your are afraid of the dark I recommend you do not go). I could go 20 times & have a different experience each time at Sleep No More.
After a day of meetings at Anthropologie HQ in Philadelphia I had arranged to stay with my great friend & often travel companion (see Nomad Japan, India and in upcoming book, Gypsy) head home designer Mitzie.
To fill the last of the day, I headed to the newly opened Barnes Foundation. A modern building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects and purpose built on a 4.5 acre strip in a park to house the collection. Its interiors were designed to replicate the original display & feel of the Barnes House, originally settled in the outskirts of PA but now well & truly in the burbs of Philly.
Although it has opened with some controversy, the collection is impressive, and display Barnes’ ensembles (see definition in attached pic) with 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos and 69 Cezannes jostling for wall space. Amongst the paintings that wrap around the walls are impressive pieces of door hardware and furniture pieces are arranged against the walls with pottery and carved African pieces mixed in. The walls are lined with linen to replica the original property giving it a residential feel, as if someone is home. It’s beautiful. The display is unconventional & refreshing reflecting Barnes: a visionaire who detested art historians and welcomed students over intellectuals to view his collection. Barnes had a passion for education (not museums!) and wanted the underprivileged to have direct access to art without being influenced by curators. He is famous for sending rejection letter signed by his dog to famous writers & poets.
Although it does not quite reach the standards of Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature, it is up close & personal and if you are as big a fan of Matisse as I am, this is the place for you. Plus the Postman by Picasso just takes your breath away.
The Grand Bazaar/Kapalicarsi has 22 entrances, 64 streets, 17 inns, 10 wells, 4 fountains, 2 mosques, 3500 businesses/shops and about 25k people working it. It can feel like a rabbit warren but you are never really lost here because there are maps taped up at most intersections, or you can ask any of the shopowners – though you may have to repay them by looking in their store. They are true merchants & traders! Here are some of my stops.
-Dervis Keseciler Cadessi, no.33-35 and Halicilar Cadessi, no.51
I stopped here briefly on the first day but went back with more time on my last day. The longer you stay, the more you find. Passionate owners (they have 2 stores & a few brothers) find old dowry pieces amongst many other textiles, mostly from Turkey but some from India too, and have a great selection. Some more precious than others, but my love is for the more naïve, understated nomadic ones. They have bolts of old hammam linen, Turkish towels, woven jute, sacks, blankets and all the new hamman towels as well. I bought tassled everything: woolen blankets, hand-beaten hammam bowls, dowry tea towels and other must haves that I kindly left with them to ship home.
Home Textile Kapalicarsi Takkeciler Sok. No.48-50
New by-the-yard ikat lengths in silk, cotton and velvet. I am crazy about dots & zig zags at the moment. So after about an hour of pulling everything off the shelves, decisions were made. The fabric is folded so neatly and concisely. It is mind blowing. They have ready-made cushion covers & bolsters, an easy suitcase pack!
Horasan Yorgancilar Caddesi no.22.
If, like me, you love talisman & amulets and other jingle jangle, this store is chocabloc full of all your needs. Tassles, beads, coins, bells, readymade stuff: it’s all here.
I have worked with this wonderful girl & amazing stylist from way back when in my early NY days. She is a star stylist & one of the few amazing ones that exist in this world. We had some lovely hang-out time on my last trip and visited some hot new Brooklyn & NY spots. These are her go-to’s for The Stylist’s Guide to NYC (& Brooklyn):
I had time to drop into her super oragnised office/prop stop (private I’m afraid) on Crosby St, that she shares with Copenhagen/NYC-based stylist, Christine Rudolph another great in the styling world. Check out Kim’s portfolio.
Mr William Wagner (merchant, philanthropist, amateur scientist) began holding free lectures on science at his home, men & women welcome. He used the specimens he’d been collecting since he was young as examples.
He believed people had the right to education & when the lectures got so popular he could not upkeep the audience in his home, he built this natural history museum, library & auditorium to run educational workshops dealing with the questions of the day.
I had organised to hold my meeting of the day at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, smelling new fragrances for my soap range. We were for the most part the only guests & were left to our own devices to conduct our business within the upstairs museum.
The room is large, full of glass topped scientific counters & large cabinets displaying Wagner’s mounted taxidermy, skeletons and large conchology (Wagner’s fav topic), crustation & fossil collection. His collection is by no means complete, but a lovely personal one, that reflects the man he must have been and a sign of the times.
The building is over 3 floors, with people working away in book-lined rooms, a generous library & auditorium on the ground floor & the museum on top.
The auditorium seats about 500 and was known to be packed out when Wagner was holding court. It is set up in a semi-circle with fold down wooden perforated seats and glass display cabinets book end the stage with a large table for experiments, show & tell and demonstration. The corridors are wide, the wood well-oiled. I would love to hold workshops here, this was definitely my kind of place.
Note: If you are heading here, do not get perturbed if you feel like you’re not in the right place. It is in the middle of an unlikely place in Northern Philly, that would once have been quite different. Book a cab well in advance, the friendly staff are more than happy to help.
Ps. Look in the small door beside the main door.