Liz Lange lets the sun shine in the gray gardens
When Liz Lange walks you through Gray Gardens – the East Hampton home made famous by the 1975 documentary that featured its eccentric inhabitants living in transcendent misery – you’ll notice very little is gray.
Ever since Ms. Lange bought and renovated the place, turquoise bulbous chandeliers hang from the ceiling, blue leopard wallpaper lines the entryway, and painted wicker chairs and flamingos abound.
There are still plenty of gardens. A walled garden flush with dahlias and digitalis sits on one side of the house, with a topiary garden on the other. There’s also a low-key plot, etched with an elegy to a loved one of the house’s famous former residents, Big Edie and Little Edie (both Bouvier Beales): “Spot Beale. A nobler gentleman has never lived. Loved by all who knew him. Died May 29, 1942.
Here Ms Lange, 55, walking barefoot and wearing a paisley-patterned kaftan, interrupted the pace to think. “Wasps really know how to bury their dogs,” she said.
The Beales were Catholics, not Protestants, but Ms. Lange used the acronym as a catch-all for a former white, Christian, wealthy class of power brokers and taste makers. This upper crust held a prominent place in the minds of some 20th-century immigrant families whose American dreams were to bulldoze past the suffocating guardians of the financial, educational, and cultural institutions that bestowed status.
Ms. Lange has made a name for herself as a designer of maternity clothes. More than a fashion line, the Liz Lange brand reshaped the way many women thought of dressing during pregnancy, eschewing Peter Pan collared muumuus in favor of tailored, sophisticated styles in stretchy materials that followed the trends. contemporary women’s clothing. She started the business in 1997 and sold it to a private equity firm a decade later for tens of millions of dollars.
Less well known is that before being Liz Lange, she was Liz Steinberg, a descendant of the corporate raider family led by Ms. Lange’s uncle Saul Steinberg, the chairman and CEO of Reliance Group Holdings, and his father, Bob Steinberg, his deputy.
The new-money excesses of 1980s New York were embodied by the Steinbergs, particularly the ad-loving Uncle Saul of Ms Lange (who died in 2012 at age 73) and his third wife, Gayfryd.
Saul and Bob, the Brooklyn-born grandchildren of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants, made their way to immense wealth, instilling in their families a sense of mission to use their brains and bank accounts to fend off the keepers of the old money. When Ms Lange was growing up, she heard those close to her joking about the waning power of this ruling class. “Lots of lineage, no dough” was a common family refrain, she said.
What Ms. Lange didn’t see coming was that for a long time “no dough” applied to the Steinbergs as well.
Mrs. Lange had always cherished the idea of sharing her family history. If the world has fallen in love with the “Sopranos,” she reasoned, why not the Steinbergs?
“’Mobsters: they’re just like us,’” she said, describing the HBO series’ appeal of New Jersey mobsters as she sipped cranberries and soda on a couch on her porch.
“He has problems with his children, he has tsuris with his wife, ”she continued, using the Yiddish word for“ problem ”,“ her mother is a pain we can all understand. “
Stuck at home during the pandemic, she agreed to record a podcast episode about her life with her close friend, journalist Ariel Levy. But there was so much material that Ms. Levy decided to do an entire series. The result is “The Just Enough Family,” which draws on Ms. Levy’s interviews with Ms. Lange; his sister, Jane Wagman; his mother, real estate agent Kathryn Steinberg; her father, Bob; and his aunt Gayfryd.
It’s the story of how a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn turned a rubber company into a financial conglomerate that paid huge dividends to Saul, Bob, their two sisters and their mother – who ultimately ended up paying huge dividends. pursued his sons when the opulent lifestyle of birthday parties at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and private trips on 727 came to an inevitable end.
In 1995, Saul suffered a debilitating stroke that left Bob primarily in charge. But in 1999, Reliance’s performance plummeted, with losses of over $ 300 million, and Saul fired Bob. In 2001, the company was bankrupt.
The podcast centers on Ms. Lange’s memories of her own experiences, including surviving cervical cancer, her first husband’s struggle with mental illness, and the discovery that Bob, whom Ms. Lange revered, had a secret life. The first two of eight episodes will be released next week.
Her self-reflection took root at the start of the pandemic, as she poured into her Instagram feed, sharing photographs from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with nostalgic captions about her youthful aspirations to affect Christie Brinkley’s hair. (“I used to take my hair diffuser, fill my hair with mousse, turn my head upside down”) and on-screen obsessions, like Tatum O’Neal, Kristy McNichol and Matt Dillon.
Chatting online with her followers reminded her of her early days at Liz Lange, when she spoke directly with clients about how clothing influenced their confidence at work.
It fueled her own professional confidence, and at the end of last year, Ms. Lange purchased Figue, a line of flowy caftans and dresses sold at Neiman Marcus and Shopbop. (The price of the items ranges from $ 295 to $ 1,500.)
“Before the pandemic, I spent a lot of time wobbling in high heels and tiny dresses and it wasn’t very comfortable,” she said.
Liz was seeing everyone dressed in sweatshirts and athleisure and with Fig, she said, ‘That’s great, but can we add some glamor and hedonism? “,” said her friend Simon Doonan, author and former creative ambassador for Barneys New York. (He is also the husband of Ms. Lange’s best friend since college, Jonathan Adler.)
“I went for a hike with Liz, and she is wearing a kaftan,” Mr. Doonan said. “She knows we would never have seen Marisa Berenson and Bianca Jagger in yoga pants.”
Ms. Lange’s first designs for Figue will be released in October. “I finally feel fully myself professionally again,” she said.
An “identity crisis”
When Ms Lange came up with her new take on maternity wear in the mid-1990s, she was a college graduate working as a model and fabric buyer for an entry-level fashion designer. She had recently married Jeff Lange, a hedge fund executive, and as many of her friends started to get pregnant, she noticed that they were stuffing themselves into clothes that didn’t fit her or wearing ugly tent-shaped dresses. .
Taking a $ 25,000 loan from her father, she made samples of maternity models in stretchy, fitted fabrics and reached out to friends and famous advertisers to offer tailor-made services. Word spread, and soon she had a crush on business.
Pregnant actresses and models have been shown in magazines like People wearing her pieces. Nike asked her to help develop a maternity line with the brand and she partnered with Target.
Her first show at New York Fashion Week – the first maternity show ever held there – was on the morning of September 11, 2001. As her models paraded the runway, Ms. Lange noticed CNN videographers and of “Good Morning America” running from the venue tent.
In October, Reliance filed for bankruptcy and was ordered into liquidation. That same month, Ms. Lange was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Shaken by the uproar and pushed by her first husband to cash in, she sold Liz Lange in 2007. Ms Lange said the price was between $ 20 million and $ 60 million.
After the sale, however, she realized that she had quit more than a job. “I felt a real sense of loss,” Ms. Lange said. “It was almost like an identity crisis.”
She had more time to spend with her children, Alice, now 20, and Gus, now 22, but the cracks in her marriage also became more evident. She and Mr. Lange separated in 2009 and finalized their divorce in 2014. (Mr. Lange died in 2018.)
Renovation and Rejuvenation
Ms. Lange had continued to work with Target as the face of the brand she no longer owned and spent a few days a month selling an affordable line on the home shopping network. It was lucrative work, but in 2018 she was bored and quitting.
At that time, she was with her current husband (a corporate lawyer who asked not to be named in this article because media meshegas are not his thing). They got married in 2015 at Gray Gardens, which they had rented.
In 2017, they bought the house for $ 15 million from Sally Quinn, then widow of Ben Bradlee. Although the house was remodeled after the Big and Little Edie days, Ms. Lange had something bigger in mind. She oversaw a renovation that included raising the house to allow for the addition of a 4,000 square foot basement.
She called in Mr. Adler to help her with the interiors. “A good interior designer should be like a slimming mirror for your client,” he said, “reflecting her at his best.” The result is a colorful assortment of what Mr. Adler calls “eccentric American glamor” with unmistakable WASP-style accents (think shabby chic – minus the shabby, plus a little LSD and a lot of money).
Last summer, on the veranda overlooking the walled garden, Ms. Levy conducted podcast interviews with some of the Steinberg family. The project gave them the opportunity to connect during the pandemic, Mr Steinberg, 78, said in an interview. “I am a private person,” he said, noting that he had, in his professional heyday, avoided the press. But his daughter’s friendship with Mrs. Levy soothed him. (Recalled that it was partly his brother’s courtesy that led to the family’s tabloid status as an uplifting tale, Mr. Steinberg replied, “I’m well aware.”)
Mrs. Lange is curious and a little nervous to witness the answer to her family saga, rich in money and privileges. “I don’t think my family story is more or even as important as a lot of the other stories being told today,” she said. “But I think it’s a pretty crazy story, and who doesn’t like a crazy story?” “