Julia Sherman: How would you describe the project? Is it an art project? A manifesto? A philosophy?
Jessica Davies: FAUX RICHE is a lifestyle and a sensibility that we created together and now share with others. So many people started asking us what we do. It’s become much larger than we initially imagined. We have consulted with boutique brands and nonprofit organizations to create experiences and products that make the FAUX RICHE lifestyle possible for everyone. We also have a TV show in development and are writing a series of guidebooks including How to Dress Rich in Poor Times, How to Be a Socialite in Your Own Home and How to Vacation Like the Upper Class on the Budget of a Regular Person.
JS: Your blog aims to share insider tips and tricks for living lavishly for less. Is this a pedagogical project for you? Is there a class critique embedded in this project?
JD: FAUX RICHE is a way of reconciling our profound love of decadence and luxury with the fact that most people on this planet will never be able to experience them. Economic inequality is staggering and increasing; we see it globally and around every corner in Los Angeles. Our goal is to share our education, experience and creativity to give people access to a world they thought they could never afford. It’s pedagogical to the extent that we have a unique perspective and offer practical information that you can’t just google. And we see so much anxiety and shame about class in this country. We want to alleviate that as much as possible.
JS: Your home is an incredibly considered place. Do you host often? What are some of the best dinners or events you have made here?
JD: Yes! Our hosting style is sort of Old Money meets Old Hollywood with a dash of Salvador Dalí: lavish, gracious, boozy, glamorous and surreal. One of our favorite dinner parties was called “An Homage to Plumage.” Inspired by an enormous emu egg that we sourced from a farm outside Solvang. Damon created recipes to pay respect to birds: The Golden Peacock Cocktail (apple infused bourbon and Recard), “Birdseed Bruschetta”, Neutron Star Chicken (Cornish game hens stuffed with emu egg frittata) and a Zaibaione (egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine) with macerated berries. When our guests arrived, we encouraged them to wear something from our flamboyant collection of plumes that we found at an estate sale at one of Busby Berkeley’s former mansions. The party was everything. And we still have the egg on display on a silver tray. It looks like a gorgeous miniature bowling ball.
JS: Where do you guys look for inspiration?
JD: We find inspiration in meaningful experiences that bring us joy or challenge us creatively. We pursue the things you might expect us to – fashion shows, unique restaurants, polo matches, the ballet, the symphony, estate sales, rare books, fabulous architecture. But, the truth about inspiration is that you have to be a little adventurous to find it. And you can’t be a snob! We will pretty much try anything or go anywhere if we think it has FAUX RICHE potential. We also travel as much as possible – always in FAUX RICHE style on a FAUX RICHE budget. Last year we drove across Morocco for two weeks to spend New Year’s dressed in finery riding camels. Just a few months ago we visited the Irish countryside to meet with scientists and interview landed gentry, explore the castles, practice archery and try our knack at dressage.
JS: Is style something that can be learned?
JD: Style isn’t something to be learned as much as unleashed. We never give people a list of dos and donts. We encourage them to explore their deepest aesthetic desires and not worry about getting it wrong. Jessica’s grandmother once told her that her biggest regret in life was caring too much about what other people thought and that she “should have worn more sequins.”
JS: How much of your time is spent thrifting and shopping for gems?
JD: Not that much. We are what we call “decadent minimalists.” An outrageous rococo gold mirror may hang on our wall, but it’s the only thing on our wall. Our general rule is that everything we own is either something we absolutely love or something we use all the time. Of course we always watch out for an extraordinary event or unprecedented opportunity – but we are never desperate about buying things. And we recommend that people spend less time shopping online. Get out there on the streets! That’s where we have made all of our best discoveries.
JS: Jessica, tell me about your graduate work. You wrote about people with exotic pets. Has eccentric lifetstyles always been an interest of yours?
JD: Yes! I have always been drawn to highly aestheticized lives and eccentric personalities. My interest in the history of exotic animal collecting began with the story of Luisa Casati – a late nineteenth century Marchesa and muse – who walked her leashed cheetahs through the streets of Venice while completely naked apart from the live snakes she wore around her wrists. She was known for her extraordinary menagerie of animals, elaborate costume balls and a desire to be “a living work of art.” It was her life that sparked my interest in the book I’m writing now – called The Gilded Cages of the Gilded Ages – about exotic animal collecting among the European aristocracy and the ways that it inspired the practice within the emerging American upper class. It is structured as a series of little known vignettes that explore what it means to collect living beings and how it transforms the boundaries between humans, animals, life and art. Although the book is informed by my academic training, I’m writing it to be accessible to anyone who is interested in the topic. It’s a fun project because it has sparked so many fascinating conversations. One night over cocktails with some ladies I just met, one of them told me that she owns the mansion that once belonged to Reed Erickson – an extremely wealthy and early transgender activist who lived there in the 1960’s with his leopard Henry who he also brought on vacations via private jet.
JS: Damon, you work at Space X. Tell me a bit about what you do there.
Damon Northrop: SpaceX designs, builds, and launches revolutionary rockets and spacecraft with the ultimate goal of making human life possible on Mars. We work with NASA, the Air Force and commercial customers to resupply the International Space Station (launch communication, weather, and defense satellites) and will eventually deliver the next generation of astronauts to space. What really distinguishes SpaceX is not only our technological innovation but our emphasis on cost-effectiveness – especially with our continued success developing reusable rockets. In that sense, it’s not that different from FAUX RICHE. As for what I do at SpaceX, I’m an engineer trained in metallurgy leading a team that identifies and qualifies new supplier technologies and materials. Since we don’t yet have the technology we need to get humans to Mars, it’s my job to develop and adopt it. I’ve wanted to work in rocket science my entire life. The day after I was hired at SpaceX, Jessica was sorting through some boxes of childhood memories and found a detailed drawing I made of a rocket launch to Mars when I was only five. The science is remarkably accurate. We had it framed.
JS: In some ways, it seems like you are working on the technology of the future while channeling the aesthetics and ethos of the past. Is that intentional?
DN: Yes. People often misunderstand an interest in the aesthetics and ethos of the past as a kind of nostalgia. Conversely, when people know that I work in rocket science, sometimes they assume that all I care about is the future – almost at the expense of the past. Yet for both Jessica and myself, we see no contradiction. We are constantly trying to recreate the world around us, to find meaningful experiences, use different tools, refuse the banal, find the unexpected and imagine something better. Maybe we will find what we need in a kitchen from the 1930’s, or maybe we will find it on Mars. What links all of our ideas together is the belief that if we want a better world, living needs to be less expensive.