William & Park | It Girl Syrie Moskowitz Shares Her 1930s Throwback Palace
If Clara Bow were still alive, Syrie Moskowitz would surely give her a run for her money. Syrie possesses the kind of ethereal, cherubic beauty that you rarely see anymore in the era of botox and photoshop enhancements. But don’t let her delicate exterior fool you. Beneath those dreamy looks is a multitalented artist and a shrewd business woman who’s been on her own and calling the shots since she was fifteen.
In the ensuing years she’s found herself on both sides of the camera: serving as muse for artists like Ellen Von Unwerth and developing her own photographic instincts as the eccentric forbears in her family did generations before her. She also acts, writes, and directs. And did I mention Syrie believes in past lives? She swears there’s a painting of a man whom she was married to in a previous life hanging in The Met.
One afternoon spent in Syrie’s Bed-Stuy apartment and you could easily forget you came from the 21st Century. It’s palatial by New York standards and every square foot is outfitted with storied family heirlooms, vintage hats and dresses, antique collectibles, and any number of wooden chests.
Of her space, Syrie says simply, “I like creating environments for people to let go of what they’re used to.” She even fashioned her home into the set for A Telephone Call, a short story by Dorothy Parker that she and director Avram Ludwig adapted for film. It’s no wonder her bedroom looks like a scene straight out of the 1930s. To say that an old soul lives there would be a vast understatement.
So if you happen to see a pouty pair of rouged lips in the glossy pages of a magazine and wonder why they look so familiar, you’ll know they belong to none other than Syrie Moskowitz. Look for her alongside Karlie Kloss in Kate Spade’s upcoming Spring 2015 ad campaign photographed by Emma Summerton, or catch her in the flesh at the Broadway show The Midnight Frolic presented by Speakeasy Dollhouse.
Tell us about yourself. What do you do to survive?
To survive I have a production company and I direct music videos and films. I also do a lot of modeling and acting. So I do a hundred things to pay the bills.
I’m not a normal model, I’m short and curvy so no modeling agency will touch me with a ten-foot-pole. I started modeling doing self-portraits when I was really young. People saw them and wanted to work with me. I was in Paris at an exhibition and the photographer Ellen Von Unwerth saw me there. I had no idea who she was, but she came up to me and said [Syrie mimics a German accent], “I want to take your photo.” So I started working with her for years and I’ve done fourteen shoots with her.
Where are you from and how did you end up in New York City?
I was born in Saratoga Springs, New York. I grew up in Tennessee (where my mom’s from) and in Florida too. I’ve been here for 6 or 7 years now. Shit. I love New York and I can’t stand it at the same time. I think I’ll always have some kind of connection here.
In addition to being a model, actress, and director, you’re also a photographer. Tell us about your photography work.
I shoot everything on film. I recently finished a ten-year self-portrait series—before people were doing self-portraits and shit like that. They’re evocative and about self-discovery as a young woman growing up down south and exploring the world and a lot of spaces that people have forgotten.
How did you get into photography and learn how to develop film?
When I was in high school I would skip my classes and sneak into the dark room and actually hide underneath the enlarger table and watch everyone doing it and learn that way. I’d skip the next class when I knew no one was in there and just print.
My mother is a photographer, my grandfather is a photographer, my great grandfather was a photographer, and my great-great grandfather was a photographer when photography was new. And they all did self-portraits. I have these incredible photos from the 1880s of my great-great grandfather, who was a naturalist, taking photos of himself with a raccoon on one shoulder and a bird in his hand. They’re such fucking nutty photos. It’s really cool.
Do you prefer working in one medium over another?
It’s a very funny thing. I feel like my generation is a generation that is actually allowed to do all these different things. People used to just say you were scattered. I threw a bunch of balls in the air that I all love doing and they all got caught at the same time. Instead of one falling, they’re all going up at different speeds. I love directing. I think when I’m older that’s what I’ll solely be focused on.
How do you like living in Bed-Stuy, which is a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood?
I love the people. I love the general energy. I know all my neighbors. You go to the deli and you say hi to everybody. People are very embracing of each other in the neighborhood and want to continue that bond and not create division.
There was a coffee shop across the street that was all about that. The owners who had lived here for years, built this outdoor coffee shop where people could just get together. And then somebody burned the place down. It was really fucking upsetting. That day the owners were upset and crying. Everybody who lived on the street sat on their stoops together, crying in solidarity. There was so much love. Everyone pitched in and we all went over there and helped clean it up. That’s a rare thing.
What attracted you to this space?
I grew up in old houses, filled with details and strange things. My kitchen has tin ceilings, and I remember when I was a kid my mom got into a huge fight with my father. We lived in upstate New York in this cold, enormous, drafty house. As punishment [for this], she decided to tear down the kitchen ceiling because she was convinced there was a tin ceiling two feet above it. I remember my mother and her best friend laughing maniacally with hammers and chisels and fucking dust coming down on us as kids looking up at them, and my father coming in and going, holy shit. Half the ceiling was gone, but there was tin ceiling above it. It was one of the reasons why I took this place. The tin ceiling, to me it is my childhood. It is home. I feel really safe here.
Describe your home’s design aesthetic.
My home is my mother’s home inside the head of a deranged Victorian girl [laughs]. My mother has a very classical Victorian house filled with antiques and beautiful things, but it looks very traditionalist. Me, I’ve always had this screw-loose mentality about things. Instead of just having a sea shell, there’s a sea shell with a broken doll bit and a spool of thread. Everything has gone a little bit wrong. Childhood memories thrown in a blender and spat out the wrong way, that’s my house.
Talking about past lives, I have a lot of visceral connections to objects. One is this gold pocket watch that dates from around 1900. I had always wanted to find one for years, and this one just spoke to me. It’s on my mantelpiece. My mother is an antique dealer so I’ve held thousands of gold pocket watches in my hand. There’s something about this one, probably the way it lingers in my hand for too long.