An English Girl In New York

Sue Kreitzman - Part One

"Don't Wear Beige, it might kill you" says Sue Kreitzman and who am I to argue?

In 1998 Sue Kreitzman became an artist.

RD: What happened?

SK: "I burst into flames one day. I burst into art."

Photo by Denton Taylor

You fashionistas out there may know Sue Kreitzman from the documentary Fabulous Fashionistas. It's a gorgeous film; if you haven't seen it go seek it out. She can also be found on the pages of Advanced Style amongst many other publications on art and fashion.

I have split this interview up into two parts - part two will come out on Friday. I just simply couldn't contain her into one article! In this first part, we'll learn about her wonderful life up until that spark of artistic creation in '98. We'll go from Atlanta to London, via Budapest. From teaching to cooking to television to art. The photos are of her amazing apartment which is adorned with art collected from art fairs and friends. In part two we'll head into her studio. Strap in dears!

Photo by Denton Taylor

Sue’s clothing is wearable art. It is almost a suit of beautiful armor that she throws on each day as a protest against the age-appropriate, all-black, older-women-must-be-invisible blah blah blah tirade that most older women endure.  

Not Sue. 

Nobody puts Kreitzman in the corner.

Photo by Denton Taylor

I met this fabulous style icon at her New York home (she is also a resident of East London) last week to discuss how she became the artist she is today. Now, I’m not the daughter of social workers for nothing darlings; collecting life stories is a way of life for me.

“Further back, further back” I kept imploring poor Sue, “You really want to know all of this?” Sue kept asking, laughing, incredulous. 

Dear Readers, as you all know, we live in a youth-obsessed society. It loves to inform us that older women have nothing to offer. Even Sue herself was concerned that the tales of her many past lives might have been a bore to me. But there I was, sitting in an apartment that was a borderline art gallery, alive with color, talking to this woman who was vital, energetic, bright and dressed like no one I had ever seen before. Why wouldn’t I want to know the experiences that had brought her to this very moment?

When the schools in Atlanta, Georgia, began to desegregate in the 70's, Sue was there working as a teacher, a young Jewish New Yorker in a predominantly southern black town. She noticed that the children in her class were often arriving at school hungry, so she devised a scheme to provide each child with breakfast -at her own expense, I might add. Soon her husband became involved and approached the locals (who were nearly all Christians) to assist financially. Using their donations, he enabled more children to receive the breakfasts. Oh he is so Christian they commented, “and like a good Jew he took the money” joked Sue. Incidentally the scheme was adopted by many other schools in Atlanta for a time.

It was during this time that Sue began to throw dinner parties for her new friends. One of these parties would change the course of her life, though she did not know it yet, of course. Sue told me that she and her husband loved to go to a little Hungarian restaurant in town. The restaurant was simply called "Budapest". “The food was amazing, so I thought that eventually I’m going to go to Hungary and I’ll probably find a restaurant called New York or The Bronx or something like that and actually that’s exactly what happened, many years later!” Sue explained that she loved the cuisine so much, she learnt how to cook it and that is what she served on that fateful night. One of the wives in attendance at the dinner party adored the food and asked Sue to write a cookbook for her publishing house. So she did - many of them in fact. 

A few books in Sue, always ahead of the curve, wanted to write a book about garlic, “Because back then people were a little scared of it and my agent....” she sighed, “oh why are agents such assholes? Well he said, nobody wants a book about garlic. Well guess what? Crown Publishers took it on as the very first in an elegant little series they did on single subjects. So I wrote my garlic book and then I wrote a book on potatoes, on Jewish deli food, comfort food etc. That’s when I came to London. My husband had gotten a really big consulting job and they took me on as a consultant too because they needed someone to develop very healthy low-fat recipes. That’s how I got into the stuff that made me famous...well…a little bit foodie circles…a long time ago. Ha! Oh and then BBC picked me up and it really took off.

"When we first moved to England we lived in Cambridgeshire, ugh, boy was that not a fit for me. I was much too weird for them, much too American, much too New York, much too Jewish, much too everything. So I almost immediately got a pied-a-terre in an attic in Chelsea. Up a hundred flights of narrow stairs, there was no heat, but at least I had a place to stay."

"Back in Cambridgeshire, once I became a household face, they asked me to do everything. Open the supermarket, open the garden centre and I always said yes of course, but I was never really a person to them, I was a personage. I got out and I went to London properly, found an ex-council flat. London is paradise to me. Absolute paradise, I have a tribe of colourful people there."

RD: Tell me about the documentary you were in.

SK: "The director told me that if she tried to sell a film about inspirational old ladies, I hate that term by the way, and I’m not an old lady, I’m just cleverly disguised as one, she would never have found the backers. So she pitched the film through the filter of fashion, but it’s not about fashion. Nobody watches that film without crying and laughing. I’m very happy I was in it. Do you have the DVD? No? I’ll give you one."

RD: You've lived in England for so long, do you consider yourself British or American?

SK: I always say I’m not one, I’m not the other. I'm Half (she says in a proper British accent) and Half (she says in her best New Yoike accent) a little of this and little of that. I don’t know what the hell I am!

SK "Where were we?"

RD: London. 

SK: "Ah okay, so I was editing my 27th cookbook. I was sitting up in my office correcting the proofs which is, on the one hand is really boring, on the other hand it’s nice because you know you’ve finished the work, you are checking for typos so it’s very quiet , it’s very meditative. I had coloured markers, I had scrap paper. Now, I never even doodled. If I ever did it would be hashmarks and musical notes, did I mention I was an oboe player in the old days?

RD: No!

SK: "Quite a good one too. I went thorough university on an oboe scholarship. Anyway, I knew I was very bad at art, but I picked up a marker and my hand drew a mermaid on a scrap of paper. I looked at the mermaid, the mermaid looked at me and in that moment I became a different person."

That's where we will leave it today darlings. On Friday we begin a journey into the studio. Thank you so much to Sue Kreitzman for inviting me into her world. I'll let her have the last word.....