The New Gatsbys of Snobsville USA; TRAVEL MAIL,THE FOOTHILLS OF THE HAMPTONS' SOCIAL-CLIMBING HEIGHTS,The Decor Was Mainly Scattered Film Scripts

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

The New Gatsbys of Snobsville USA; TRAVEL MAIL,THE FOOTHILLS OF THE HAMPTONS' SOCIAL-CLIMBING HEIGHTS,The Decor Was Mainly Scattered Film Scripts


Byline: Laurie Pike

HAVE always been intimidated by the Hamptons.In recent years, this glittering constellation of beach hamlets on the south-eastern tip of Long Island has become less an artist's retreat from New York City, and more a Kilimanjaro of social climbing.

If this place is about relaxing, it's only the Type A version of the sport.

Summer residents such as Steven Spielberg, model Veronica Webb and Martha Stewart, the model turned lifestyle guru, don't relax anyway. Martha has been known personally to cook brunch for 50 at her East Hampton mansion, Veronica shows up at so many functions I'm convinced she has a clone, and Steven . . . well, I can't really picture him weeding a garden.

No, the Hamptons are about polo matches, mobile phones on the beach, and the classic mating dance between models and moguls.

The strange thing about the Hamptons is that everyone claims to hate it.

Oh, the three-hour drive from the city. Oh, the new money. Oh, the onslaught of Streisand, Sting, Basinger and Baldwin. The New York-based media dutifully lampoon the Eighties-style excess of the Hamptons. It's an American oblig-ation to skewer the snobs - esp-ecially when so many Hamptonites are British, or worse, Hollywood celebrities. But the jabs reek of envy. I admit I'm jealous, too. So I faced my demon - I spent a long weekend in the Hamptons.

Driving out on Thursday evening, I easily picture the Hamptons before it became New York's Riviera. English immigrants set up fishing and whaling villages here in the 1600s. They kept many of the Native American place-names (Sagaponack, Montauk, Amagansett), but their descendants knew exactly what the area lacked: 40-room shingle houses. Such foresight! Today, the lighthouses and windmills of yore stand in strange juxtaposition with the brand new metaphysical bookshops and gourmet food stores.

A quick tour: Southampton is WASP - old money (where Diana is rumoured to be spending this August); East Hampton is flush with new money and movie stars; Westhampton has the mega-discos; Sag Harbour is literary and artsy; and then there's Bridgehampton, Hampton Bays, and other points not fab-ulous enough to mention - all throbbing with fashion, media, and art celebutantes.

MY BIGGEST fear is that I will be snubbed in

the Hamptons. Because stronger than sea brine is the smell of ambition. The Gucci loafers are shined and primed for walking over people, or at least for protection from names being constantly dropped. The big parties, held on estates under tents, are always written up ahead of time, so you're keenly aware of what you're missing.

On the drive from New York, I grow increasingly worried that the Atlantic Ocean is really a giant litmus test that will turn me the wrong colour when I swim in it. Then, when I walk down the beach, people will recoil and shriek: `What is she doing here?'

Arriving at the American Hotel, I need two martinis just to calm my nerves. As if on cue, a fashion model walks by. Not a one-namer, but a well-known one, at least in these parts. (OK, OK, Gail Elliot). I interviewed her once, but I'm sure she won't remember. I should snub her, I think. Snub or be snubbed. But like a fool, I nearly fall off my barstool saying Hi.

`Oh, hi,' she says vaguely. My friend Roger looks impressed. That social-climbing mountain I'm scared of? Well, I've just scrambled through the foothills. Roger has a three-bedroom bungalow in the Hamptons, which he rents with five friends. It won't be crowded this weekend: one housemate has a meeting with Sean Penn in LA, and another is doing a director's workshop at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. The writer Brett Easton Ellis came to dinner last week, Roger tells me, but this week it looks quiet.

By the time I finish my dinner of gin-soaked olives I'm finally feeling at home, even at the Hamptons' oldest and grandest hotel. …

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