No one can forget the hammock. Made of lush black fox fur, it hangs in the center of Alexander Wang's gleaming white New York store in SoHo, adding a touch of opulent whimsy to the young fashion designer's brand. It also has made Ryan Korban quite a few enemies. "I get lots of mean emails," he admits. As Korban's most high-profile commission, the space -- which also includes a tufted leather lawn chair and a metal cage -- has come to define his visual mix of black, white, chrome and… animals. "I'm trying to define luxury for a new generation," Korban, 27, says. "And luxury for me is not treating things as if they are precious. I think things should be used. The new luxury is the use of luxury."
The collaboration between Korban and Wang began years ago when the two became friends while at college (Wang at Parsons, Korban pursuing cultural studies at the New School). Since then, Korban has designed Wang's TriBeCa apartment and his showroom. "We would bounce ideas off each other," he explains. "He's one of the very few people with taste I trust." Korban also finds inspiration at luxury hotels because they can do so much with so little space. His own apartment is a perfect example: It's packed with treasures, including a stuffed African grey crowned crane from a Paris taxidermist.
"I like anything that shines or glistens," he says. "Someone once told me that being attracted to shiny things was a sign of ADD."
A.K. Burns & A.L. Steiner: Artists
Double-entendres were inevitable while speaking with queer artists A.K. Burns (right) and A.L. Steiner (left) about their traveling video installation, Community Action Center, which could be described as erotic art or artsy erotica depending on how you experience it. "We called this a 'hole-filler,' ' says Steiner, describing CAC, their response to the lack of desirable feminist porn amid the modern lesbian canon's immaculately lit, airbrushed, and impersonal offerings.
Their final product, a fantastical, transgressive porno cheekily clocking in at 69 minutes, was conceived three years ago with few specifics in mind, besides a commitment to acceptance and openness. In fact, Burns and Steiner, both prolific queer multimedia artists, intentionally gave their stars (many of whom were their friends) few directives aside from general scenarios. "We would present a very loose framework to the people we worked with," Burns explains. "Like, 'Let's go upstate and your character is some kind of perverse psychedelic witch or a radical fairy in the woods.' "
While extremely egalitarian in its filming, CAC is deliberately edited with nods to both popular art-house directors such as Kenneth Anger and outlandish mainstream porn tropes, including a randy cop, an unassuming pizza delivery boy, and a busty chick (credited as "Juggz" and played by Steiner) sudsing a car topless. Nostalgic for the long-forgotten public adult theaters of the 1970s and '80s, the duo is adamant that the film be viewed communally as "an antithesis to the private viewing experience that is prevalent with Internet and other modes of contemporary consumption of porn," says Burns, who later adds: "One of our big goals was to get fags to want to watch feminist lesbian porn because all the dykes are always watching gay porn, but it never goes the other way."
Within the past year, Community Action Center has largely exceeded its initial aspirations, having screened at numerous venues, including the Tate Modern and the Gaze Film Festival in Dublin. It will continue showing internationally -- in New York City, San Francisco, Toronto, Paris, Copenhagen, Portugal, and Ecuador -- over the next six months. When asked about whether the two will develop CAC into a series, Steiner responds, "We're hesitant to say yes to that. We're such bad capitalists, especially when we don't see it so much as a product, but more as an experiment."
John Forrest Ales: PR Guru
Hilton Hotels used to have a popular slogan: It happens at the Hilton. For young John Forrest Ales, growing up in Louisiana, everything really did happen at the Hilton. It was where he and his friends hung out at the pool in the long summers of his teen years. "I just remember being fascinated by hotels, because you walk into this place and you have this magical feeling that you can be anything that you want, and that's what travel is -- stepping outside of your daily routine, being able to throw on a terrycloth robe, call up ice cream at two o'clock in the morning, order breakfast in, and do things you may not get to do elsewhere." Ales was such a hotel nerd that he used to draw pictures of hotels (his parents still have them); it's no surprise that he should now find himself with a place at the table of the 92-year-old hotel chain that sparked his childhood enthusiasm.
As the director of global brand public relations for Hilton Hotels & Resorts -- with more than 540 hotels in 76 countries -- Ales is involved in almost every aspect of brand development, whether it's working with skincare specialist Peter Thomas Roth to develop new bathroom products, or responding to crises such as the U.K. riots, which forced Hilton's London office to close in August.
"I don't know of many jobs where you get to go and dabble in so many different things," he says, pointing out that Hilton is not just a place for guests to lay their heads at night, but is also among the world's largest spa providers and event planners -- one hotel in Japan has three wedding chapels. "At the end of the day, the fundamentals are still what matter most," he says. "People want everything to work, but you can't build a great hotel in India without being inspired by the flavors, the color, the palate, and the look and texture of your surroundings."
Tommy Ton: Photographer
Tommy Ton's résumé includes advertising clients Saks Fifth Avenue, L'Oréal, and Lane Crawford, plus editorial credits in the French and Japanese editions of Vogue -- prestigious gigs for someone who doesn't even consider himself a photographer. "I'm not trained at all," he admits. "I'm more of a fashion enthusiast or documentarian."
Born in Canada, Ton was first captivated by fashion at 13. "[It was] Gucci's spring 1997 show -- the 'heroin chic' collection," he remembers. "Afterward, [then creative director] Tom Ford was interviewed, and I was hooked." A decade later, he inadvertently found himself an influential imagemaker. After two years tending to his little-known online magazine Jak & Jil, Ton ventured from his home in Toronto to London and Paris for their annual fashion weeks, snapping the people and clothing he found most striking and posting his pictures. His eye for framing aspirational garments worn in a quotidian way caught the industry's attention. "It's addicting to be part of that chaos," he says of the seasonal shows that he now regularly attends in New York City, London, Milan, and Paris, on assignment for the likes of GQ.com and Style.com. It's when he captures a pair of vertiginous stilettos in a brisk trot -- practically out of frame -- or the insouciant off-duty models flitting from show to show, that he's at his most rhapsodic. He's the anti-fashion photographer, penetrating an industry built on the artifice of perfection for a moment of humanity and individuality.
He still nurtures the more than 1.5 million fans who check his site each month. "I owe everything to the Internet," Ton says. "The digital age has changed fashion, democratized it." Lately he's obsessed with others' Tumblr pages. "Anyone can create their own public mood-board," he says. "It's like jumping through wormholes -- you can easily get lost in that universe."
Jody Williams: Chef
Jody Williams wants to feed her friends, her family, and her neighbors. She and her pals coined the term "gastroteque" to describe the novel, yet traditional, experience she created: a place to meet for an early morning coffee, or later, for a casual glass of wine. It could be a nice, sit-down dinner or a hangout after work. So at Buvette, her small but charming restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, there is attention to every seductive detail.
"I do what I love," Williams says with a broad grin. "I'm sort of lazy. It's rather innocent and intuitive: Otherwise, it's a job." But no one else could call Williams lazy. The California native who spent years honing her skills in Europe and made her name at New York establishments -- Tappo, Morandi, Gusto, and Gottino -- is often found working industriously in the kitchen or behind the bar. Williams admits that she has an opinion on every detail, from the pressed French aprons to giving grooming tips for new "gastrognomes" (another made-up word, for a server or sommelier or all-around guiding hand).
Her main goal was to purge the "restaurant" from the space -- to rid the dining experience of formality -- and foster spontaneity and a feeling of surprise. It begins with the warmth of the brick walls, red-painted clapboard, pressed-tin ceilings, the long marble bar, and antique chairs tucked under tables fashioned from industrial sewing-machine stands. But it's also the handcrafted pop-up menus, designed by Max Poglia, and the small, round water glasses, that feel suited for ablutions.
She keeps her friends and family close: Her girlfriend, Rita Sodi, has a restaurant, I Sodi, a few blocks away, and Williams's father lives around the corner. "I do what appeals to me," Williams says. "I think you have to do that. You can't compromise, and you must have confidence in your decisions. It's all tied to who we are and how we treat people, how we make the world a better place."
Dan Cameron: Art Curator
An international art biennial in the Deep South seems like it would be a tough sell. But Dan Cameron, founder and curator of Prospect New Orleans, is as sanguine about art, culture, and America's creative future as ever. "I'm from a generation of curators that came of age in the '80s. Then, after the Berlin Wall came down, everything else seemed to change at the same time -- all of these barriers between different cultures," Cameron, 54, explains. "So we all had to have a very broad knowledge of international trends in contemporary art, not just the industrialized countries. That's the challenge: If there is an exhibition of contemporary art, all the different pockets and approaches are linked together. I get intoxicated by that vision. Biennials are where that is happening."
Before Cameron founded Prospect in 2008, he served as senior curator at Manhattan's New Museum for 11 years where he crafted many influential shows -- including the 1999 David Wojnarowicz retrospective -- as well as biennials in Istanbul and Taipei. Cameron still spends the majority of his time in New York City with his partner of 20 years, in the same Lower East Side apartment he's lived in for three decades. But after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Cameron decided to launch what became the most ambitious art biennial in the United States. The second edition, Prospect.2, will run October 22 through January 29, 2012, and include 27 artists in multiple venues.
His experiences in New Orleans have caused him to examine many of his strongly held beliefs about art. "I used to have a much more unshaken, unquestioned view of art history and the way museums function...Now I also have a completely unironic relationship to the tourism part of art. We wanted to impact the art world, the field of museum and fine art practice, and the only way that would be demonstrable was as a touristic enterprise."
Simon Holloway: Designer
This British-born designer was 12 years old when he had his "fairytale" moment. Holloway's father invited him to accompany him on a business trip to the U.S. that included a layover in New York City. It wasn't the Empire State Building or Times Square that appealed to the young Holloway; it was the new Ralph Lauren mansion on Madison Avenue. "I remember getting out of the cab and looking down Madison Avenue and seeing all the stoplights and just being completely wowed," he says. "And then I stepped into that untouchable world that Ralph created."
That untouchable world would become Holloway's home -- he worked with Lauren for 3½ years, in between bouts with designer Narciso Rodriguez. Between those two poles, Holloway found his own style in his collections for Sex and the City fave Jimmy Choo, drawing from Lauren's acute understanding of tradition and Rodriguez's modernity. At Choo, Holloway oversees the menswear line, now in its second season, as well as handbags and accessories for the lucrative women's line. He describes his ideal customers as men who are confident enough to make their own way in the world without being distracted by the vagaries of fashion. "I live in Mayfair in London, so I was inspired by that," he says. "You see all these cute boys walking around in scruffy jeans and nice expensive blazers, but they're wearing something funky on the foot." As for his own footwear fetish? "There's something about brown suede shoes that transmits success and luxury, and I'm not very English in that respect. I believe in being well-dressed and living a nice, glamorous life. Why not?"
Tarell Alvin McCraney: Playwright
If you've wondered what the talented playwright has been doing since The Brothers Size -- the first of his Brother/Sister trilogy, wowed audiences at New York's Public Theater in 2007 -- you're about to find out. McCraney, who has spent much of the last three years in the U.K., where he is an International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, working furiously on a series of new plays for the American stage, including a project based on the Old Testament story of Job for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and, for the Manhattan Theatre Club -- Choir Boy, "about a choir in an all-black, all-boys prep school that is lead by an overtly effeminate young man named Ferris," says McCraney. While both works are quite different, each touches on the subject of faith that has illuminated McCraney's life ever since his grandfather, a pastor, encouraged him to write at the age of 14. By the time his mother died of AIDS (she had been a heavy drug user), the young playwright was at the Yale School of Drama, channeling his painful experiences into his art. "There are things that happen every day that we try to explain, but the more we try to explain them, the more they get away," he says, in answer to how a black gay kid growing up in a housing project held onto his faith through overwhelming turmoil. "My friends would ask me all the time, 'How is it that you stayed committed to the church and religion when it condemns you?' And I don't know how to answer them save by saying that, without faith, I don't know what I would have done in the first place. It's that need for faith, and for community, that I think drives all of us in a way."
C.C. Conner: Ballet Impressario
Arts administration may not seem like a sexy job. But C.C. Conner has emerged as a leader through his position as managing director at the Houston Ballet over the past 16 years by successfully tripling the company's endowment, while also fundraising to build the largest professional dance center in the country during the Great Recession. During his tenure, he's forged collaborations with American Ballet Theatre and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, among others, to commission major new full-length works, including Ben Stevenson's Dracula, David Parsons's The Pied Piper, and James Kudelka's The Firebird.
"I love being a part of making stage magic happen. Every time the curtain goes up there is an exhilarating feeling," Conner says. "A brief visit to a class or rehearsal wipes away all the frustration that can come from running this complex operation."
Originally from Greensboro, N.C., Conner studied dance as a child, but his parents pushed him to go into law. After working on Wall Street, he eventually ended up in the arts, helping manage organizations, like the Joffrey Ballet (which he helped move from New York City to Chicago). It's also when he met his partner David L. Groover.
Their home is stuffed with 'street art' collected from outdoor markets during more than 35 years of international travels together. The couple typically takes two trips a year -- and Conner, who turns 70 in January, hopes they'll be able to make it to Antarctica soon. Although he's announced that he plans to retire in February, he says his dance outreach work is far from over.