I first met Pol in London. We had been introduced by one of the directors of a model agency and connected immediately. She was an ex-model living in New York who clearly had a wild side and few cares in the world. Before Pol flew home, we arranged to have a drink at Sketch, at the time the hottest place in London. Lost in conversation, we were the last to leave the bar that night and agreed to meet again when I moved to New York at the end of the month.
Once settled at my new flat on 15th Street and 7th Avenue, I reached out to Pol and we started seeing one another regularly, meeting for lunches at Bread or Café Habana in SoHo. I found Pol intriguing, she was always flying somewhere fabulous or dining with an eclectic crowd uptown and I envied her Chanel-heavy wardrobe. I could never pinpoint what exactly she did for work, but I took her vagueness around certain projects as a sign that she was not at liberty to discuss any details.
I had been living in New York for six months when my flatmate announced she would be returning to her family home in LA. I could move in with another friend who I adored, Jess, but the prospect of sharing a flat with someone that unbearably messy was less than appealing. Pol and I agreed we would move in together and set about finding a flat.
As fortune would have it, my hairdresser Amie and her DJ boyfriend Spiky Phil were moving to Brooklyn and let Pol and I have first refusal on their rent controlled third floor flat on Crosby Street. The street where we lived then wasn’t what it is now, the Crosby hotel wasn't there and it seemed to be the only street in SoHo that the bin men bypassed on their daily rounds. But we loved being in the centre of SoHo, with Balthazar a few minutes walk away where Crosby crossed with Spring Street. We had the N Bar directly downstairs, a tiny, dimly lit Spanish tapas place which many of the staffers at the nearby V Magazine office frequented after work. Jean Yu had her store next door and we used to sit on her steps drinking coffee while watching the Lower East Side hipsters make their way back downtown from wherever they had been, and the Chinese community close by below Houston Street going about their daily routines. It was the New York I wish it was today, everything was so simple.
Our flat wasn’t showy or elegant, quite the opposite with its uneven wooden floors and outdated appliances, but it felt like home and it was clear we both loved being in the space together. We talked for hours about nothing in particular while sitting at the window watching New York go by. Our rent was also insanely low for the three bedrooms and our location. Pol was earning considerably more than I was and offered to pay the majority share of rent if she had the two main bedrooms that took all the light, while I would live in the smaller back bedroom. My room was compact to say the least and faced directly onto the neighbouring building, but it was in the centre of an area I longed to live and was a willing compromise for the rent I would pay. The arrangement suited me perfectly; I was renting my flat out in London, the profit of which afforded me the chance to not worry too much about my less than consistent styling work, but the city still swallowed up money with the almost daily lunches and dinners at the hottest restaurants that I frequented. I’m unsure how I managed it on the meagre dollars I was making, but most days friends and I would lunch at Pastis, drink cocktails into the early hours and end the night eating skinny fries at Florent in the Meatpacking district.
I had been given a break at Interview magazine by the then Fashion Director Annabel Tollman, a warm, funny, open Brit who sadly passed away far too young from medical complications in the late 2000’s. On our first meeting at Interview’s Broadway offices, I didn’t have a book of work as I hadn’t styled anything worth showing, so concocted a story that my portfolio had been intercepted by US Customs and confiscated as they suspected I was entering the country to work before my visa came through. Annabel was smart as a whip and I’m sure saw through my story, but we got on well and she trusted me to style a front of book two-page feature with an up and coming photographer. Then another. Finally, I would have pages to show and could use the Interview name to access other work. These editorials didn’t pay, but it was the magazine pages I wanted in order to build up a portfolio that I could use to meet clients and agents.
I partied hard through those New York years, often waking with an outrageous hangover and having an entirely unproductive day, meeting friends for lunch and planning which fashion parties we would attend that evening. In the late 2000’s there was a party in New York every night; a photographer’s exhibition in Soho, a designer would be launching something-or-other and one of the hottest DJ’s of the moment would always be playing at the Tribeca Grand. It was Sway on a Sunday with a DJ-designer I had no love for, but he pulled a great crowd and was usually accompanied by Cat Power and Chloe Sevigny. And of course Beige with my best gay friends on a Tuesday night at the Bowery Bar. The days and nights often rolled into one. We were never exhausted. The wild energy of that time in New York took us from one heady experience to the next. I loved the city and it loved me back.
Pol and I kept our social lives mainly separate, my friends were too fashion for her and hers too uptown for me. Occasionally we invited each other to events or dinners, but on the whole it was during the days that we spent the most time together. Pol had a boyfriend, James, who I had met a few times when Pol had invited me to his Tribeca loft for drinks. It was clear James was into drugs and on the several times we met he had made no secret of his frequent visits to another room to get high.
I had been at James’s the night before he and Pol were due to fly to Mexico, he had booked them into a beachfront resort in Tulum to escape the big freeze in the city. He was preoccupied from the moment I arrived and spent the majority of the evening on the phone in heated conversation. James had returned to the dinner table, where his housekeeper had cooked for eight of us that night and announced that he wouldn’t be flying in the morning. Pol should invite someone else he said. It was all paid for, bar the flights, so when Pol asked me if I wanted to join her, I saw no reason not to accept. That night I booked my flights and at sunrise the following morning, we took off from JFK headed for Cancun airport.
On the flight, Pol explained that James had been unsuccessful in finding a reliable drug dealer in Tulum, so had forsaken the trip in favour of staying in New York, with its current -02°c temperature and snow on the ground.
James’s drug dependency meant I was now heading for the sandy beaches of Tulum, a destination on the verge of becoming the hottest place to stay for the coming years.
As we checked into the hotel, Pol was reluctant to let the hotel staff take a small black leather case she had been holding for much of our ten-hour journey. Nerves set in as Pol became agitated. The contents of the case was clearly something she wanted to hide. From the now obvious secret second life she lived in New York, I began to suspect we would be arrested for drug smuggling at any moment.