Peeking Behind The Diva Curtain



Diva the movie

Diva the movie

Mandatory accessories behind every Diva are tons of devoted fans or even one lone obsessive soul.  For me, the metaphor for Diva worship is the cult 80’s film of the same name directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, about a young man who is obsessed with a stunningly beautiful opera singer played by Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez.  The Diva never allows her performances recorded yet this young postal worker secretly and illegally tape records her performance one night and steals a gown from her dressing room. 

Diva, Paris evening

Diva, Paris evening

Against an operatic Vladimir Cosma score including Sentimental Walk and the aria from La Wally the film speeds and pines with racy 80’s music and Zen droning chimes, it is a kooky case of who is possessed by whom. Mistakenly switched tapes puts the young postal worker in the midst of a crime caper which results in all manner of characters, obscure and wonderful environments like a high-style labyrinth (in more ways than one) behind the city stage of Paris.  The Diva-obsessed postman himself lives in a huge loft with fantasy car murals, neon and abandoned luxury car wrecks evocative of the worlds just beneath our surface.

The Postman's Loft

The Postman's Loft

Movie-like Serendipity, Gown-Flying Mayhem and feeling like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole can often be just another evening in NYC. Specifically in that department, every year the New York City Opera’s City Opera Thrift Shop fundraising event, Divas Shop for Opera, feels like some kind of a movie caper.  From Fred of the B52’s to Pat Field to crowds of tranvestites and club kids mixing with socialites…put several 100 varied people in a room with low prices and high-end thrift shopping to benefit the Opera’s costume budget via it’s thrift store, which Vogue magazine calls “The highest quality thrift shop in New York,” …and well…suddenly everyone is a Diva.

This year’s event reminded me of the movie Diva.  Usually held in a vast loft space, this year it was 2 floors of crowds, chaos and thrills.  We took pictures of the most interesting people and upon digging deeper found truly remarkable individuals that are Divas in their own Worlds.

(Listening to the music from Diva, while writing this post, I recalled with mixed tears and smiles my 1980’s Desperately Seeking Susan inspired thrifting capers with my boyfriend, Jose, he in a satin dressing gown and huge Dutch wooden shoes, both of us taking turns on the thrift-purchased megaphone, careening down the streets of Philadelphia, intoxicated with Love and the giddiness of thrifting.)

Austin Scarlett, Lori Sutherland

Austin Scarlett, Lori Sutherland

Lori Sutherland is The Diva of the event.  Behind the shop’s Director, Eric Hagmueller is the gorgeous Dame Lori and behind Lori is a couture-savvy stylist who “Soul-Styles” her clients with expertise hovering neatly between her Buddhist Chaplain studies and her studies of Pleasure with world experts such as Mama Gena.  Austin Scarlett is a designer who got his start with Project Runway, (I had a very pre-Project Runway early street style picture of him, taken by Time-Out magazine, with his huge white fur hat and round hat box purse to inspire me as it was pasted to the inside of my closet for years).   A Boy Who Lives Beyond.  

Austin Scarlett at Young Fellows

Austin Scarlett at Young Fellows

Outside we found this adorable couple.  Very Non-Diva-like they simply said what they did with no flourishes which made them even more impressive.

Ted Lee and

Ted Lee and E.V.Day

E.V.Day told me she is doing an installation with opera costumes for the Opera, but when you google this installation artist represented by Deitch Projects, you realize she is not just an exhibition designer but a well-established artist collected by museums such as the Whitney with pieces like this next image.  It reminds me of a white Jackson Pollack action painting in 3D. (Bride Fight 2006)


e v day opera installation

Here is the image from the article in New York Times on E.V. Day’s installation using vintage costumes (and the part about the underwear is fascinating!)

And E.V.’s boyfriend/husband/friend Ted Lee, who humbly told me he was a “cookbook writer” just happens to be one half of the Southern cooking duo, The Lee Brothers.

The Lee Brothers, cookbook authors and wine experts

The Lee Brothers, cookbook authors and wine experts

Also there was Amy Fine Collins, who is best known as the muse to Geoffrey Beene and Ralph Rucci.  The fact that she is a Vanity Fair magazine writer and style icon who lives in my dream home in NYC makes her even more lovable.  She has supported the NYC Opera for years.

Amy Fine Collins

Amy Fine Collins

A collector of fashion-pedigree art and furnishings, she pens her work at the desk once belonging to Hugh Hefner and furthermore has an elephantine Rolodex which is one of my enduring loves for it’s design and simple function.

Amy Fine Collins write on Hugh Hefner's desk

Amy Fine Collins writes at Hugh Hefner's desk

(Amy Fine Collins in Peak of Chic by way of Elle Decor)

leith ter meulen

We caught leith ter meulen, (no caps requested) CEO and President  of Landair Project Resources, managing some of the most noteworthy arts organization, municipal and corporate real estate projects in the city, as she emerged with her findings.  She was elegant, funny and had to take two cabs home. 



Christine Traina

Christine Traina



Christine Traina, VP, Commercial Sales and Leasing with The Grossberg-Sroka Group-Prudential Douglas Elliman RE, was thrilled most about her Grandmother’s vintage diamante pin.  The quilted coat from Donna Karan was stellar, the stitches forming designs like a quilt from the 1900’s meeting Mondrian.  And the shoes!

Lorry Newhouse,Lauren and Amy Fine Collins

Lorry Newhouse,Lauren Bridgeman and Amy Fine Collins



Lauren, who works at the NYC Opera Thrift store

Lauren, who works at the NYC Opera Thrift store

Lorry Newhouse, Michael Bruno

Lorry Newhouse, Michael Bruno

Lorry Newhouse is an Opera supporter stalwart, Lauren works at the store and owns the best profile in NYC.  Lorry is here with Michael Bruno, the expat in Paris who started which he describes himself as “eBay for rich people.”  And I would add that it is the epitome of upscale “thrifting”, with experts and items coming from the best European sources.  Reserved for those who pronounce “thrift” and “flea market” as “Marche Aux Puces.”  

Michael Bruno's Paris home

Michael Bruno's Paris home

Michael Bruno’s Paris living room is a showcase for thrift decor with its Cubist painting from the 1940s and electric blue furniture from the same era in its original silk, from This image is from the Rizzoli book, Rooms to Inspire by Annie Kelly, photography by Tim Street-Porter.

Clair Watson, Ava Kaplan, Lori Sutherland

Ava Kaplan, Clair Watson, Lori Sutherland

And really, this is New York City’s Diva of Vintage Couture. Clair Watson at Clair was instrumental in creating upscale thrift in New York City and as Couture Director for Doyle Auctions she is The Diva.  I love what she calls her design mantra (after Carlos Castenada), “Everything has its beneficial spot.”


So I have Peeked Behind the Diva Curtain.  Finding the jewel in the dirt, flea market or thrift shop bin opens the immediate experience. Mirrors it Serendipitously. Honoring, firing the imagination with history, it is a travel through Life Operatically. The Larger than Life style of a Diva.  The Art of Watching.  Knowing you are on Life’s Stage being Observed and identifying Who is Observing.  A thrift shop is Enlightening! YOU better be dressed for it!

Diva in the mirror

This still is also from the movie Diva.  Many event photographs by The Kaitlyn Barlow, credits where known, please advise if you took some of these images!  

The City Opera Thrift Store is 222 East 23rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Aves. New York City 212.684.5344

written by Jade Dressler

3 Responses to “Peeking Behind The Diva Curtain”

  1. 1 Timur

    That art instillation looks amazing Jade…… gotta look it all up…

  1. 1 In Love with The Make, Isabel and Ruben Toledo « Jade Dressler
  2. 2 My Genius Yes’s of Love: You Taught me, I Love you, Thank you. « Jade Dressler

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