At the beginning of the first episode of the new Netflix series titled Pretend It’s a City, Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese are answering questions from a live audience while taping during a public discussion. One person asks Lebowitz, “How would you describe your lifestyle?” In her signature acerbic tone, Lebowitz, author, and maestro of unapologetic quips replies: “Well, I assure you I would never use the word ‘lifestyle.’” Bam. Zing.
Pretend This Is a City, out today, is a portrait of the iconic author and humorist as seen through Scorsese’s lens and with her dually beloved and hated New York City as the backdrop. The series briefly touches on her history, as someone with no further education outside of a GED, as a writer, as the author of Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, and as an artist whose years-long writer’s block turned her into a prolific public speaker and political and cultural commenter. There are also flashes of her close connections to the literary and art world and to pop culture, such as her work as a columnist for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, her friendships with Peter Hujar and Toni Morrison and her youth in New York, visiting Studio 54 with Calvin Klein and Betsey Johnson and seeing The Dolls play at The Mercer Arts Center before it, quite literally, fell down. In the 7-part series, Scorsese interviews his close friend about everything from the evolution of Manhattan to jazz and space travel. The sit-downs are interspersed with scenes of Lebowitz strolling through the city (which, when they filmed, was still full of life as it was pre-pandemic), as well as footage from previous television interviews.
As much as she loathes the term lifestyle, hers is immediately recognizable. It is all about observation and cynicism, wit and direct, no-bullshit commentary, as well as art and creativity. Lebowitz has long been considered a caricature of a New Yorker, the kind that, despite being somewhat rough around the edges, has unmatched swagger and style. She is immediately identifiable on the sidewalks of the city by her long overcoats, pocket squares, Savile Row men’s blazers, and Levi’s 501 jeans. Her round tortoiseshell glasses and worn brown leather cowboy boots have long been a part of her sartorial self and persona too.
Her uniform is polished, dapper, and omnipresent in Pretend It’s a City. In a charming scene, she shows Scorsese a pair of gold vintage Alexander Calder cufflinks and discusses the history behind the artist, known for his mobiles, and his connection to jewelry. Her relationship to clothes and accessories can be a cerebral one, but more to the point, she represents the effortless, timeless style of a classic New Yorker. Lebowitz could care less about trends and she’s been known to wax poetic about how vile leggings are. And that’s why, whether she’s sitting on the subway or standing on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk screaming “pretend it’s a city!” to wide-eyed, unaware tourists who stop dead in their tracks in the middle of the sidewalk, she remains a singular style icon.
Her wit may be inimitable, but below are a section of pieces that can help you channel her style. Lebowitz will most likely hate this story, but that’s why we love her.