For almost three decades now, we've created our magazine by shining a spotlight on who and what we think is amazing. When I say "amazing," I don't necessarily mean successful (a different story). While we never seem to have a problem shouting from the treetops about superb talents who aren't necessarily famous or successful, we do sometimes avoid mediocre ones even if they are, for non-talent related reasons like cuteness, wealth, promotional skills or social status, the current "It" person. We're like heat-seeking missiles in our search for brilliant, creative work and nothing fires us up more than turning the world on to plain old extraordinary talent. Oh, and by the way, we live for the moment when we find out that spectacular work was also created by a spectacular person.
But what happens when it doesn't work out exactly that way? Every so often, we're surprised and crushed to find out that a true genius is also a true asshole. Oh dear. Even after all these years, we always seem to return to this debate around our editorial table: How can we rave about genius talents who we believe are not good people? Is talent really enough by itself?
Most of us were disappointed when we saw Oprah interview the talented yet super-arrogant and deluded Lance Armstrong. Who knew he was such a prick? After watching that, I could never forgive Armstrong because he was truly clueless about being the tremendous asshole he proved to be.
On another hand, I was devastated after finishing Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, which I read shortly after Jobs died. The Apple visionary had been my hero and inspiration for as long as I could remember. I followed him and idolized him with religious fervor. You can't imagine how my bubble burst when I read about his lack of generosity and empathy. Boy, what a letdown to find out that he was a mercurial and intolerant genius. That said, if Jobs were still alive and I knew what I know now, I would still write about, purchase and lust after his new products. Am I a hypocrite? Or does Jobs' genius win over Armstrong's?
Recently, jaded fashion folks saw a generous and classy gesture from the designer Oscar de la Renta, who welcomed the brilliant but disgraced designer John Galliano into his studio to help prepare for his show. Galliano, whose deep character flaws were exposed to the world when his drug- and alcohol-induced rant (about loving Hitler and hating Jews) was caught on video, told the press he was a recovering addict trying to make amends and he was humbled to be given this chance. Oscar defended the right of Galliano to be given a second chance. Although I never felt warm and fuzzy for Galliano personally, I've still covered his work regularly and have always regarded him as one of the great talents of the fashion world. Would I want to have him for a friend? (No.) But could I still get excited by his work, now that he has tried to do the right thing? (Yes.) Do I now have a newfound respect for Oscar de la Renta? (Yes.) In fact, I'm more excited for Oscar's show this season than ever.
I admit I'm a sucker for great talent. But, equally, I'm also a sucker for great people. And we will continue the debate in our editorial meetings. Should we cover this superb movie even though the director's evil? (Yes.) Should we write about the heart-stoppingly genius show of an artist who is a selfish, social-climbing jerk? (Yes.) Should we cover the work of one of the most incredible people though what they have done is not the best? (Perhaps.) Should we cover mediocre stuff from the "It"-person of the moment? (Probably not.)
I will certainly continue to give kudos professionally to deserving, great work no matter who creates it. But in my personal life, surrounding myself with good people is my top priority. And I feel extraordinarily lucky to have forged deep, wonderful friendships with people who are both brilliant at who they are -- ethical, generous and honest souls on the inside -- and visionaries in what they do. I like to call them "My Amazing Friends," and once even curated a gallery show of their work (and am longing to write a series of books about them). They're a diverse cast of characters, and include folks like Ted Muehling, Pedro Almodóvar, Ingo Maurer, Joey Arias, John Waters, Tauba Auerbach and Alber Elbaz (trust me there are many more on the list). Amazing talents, amazing people, amazing friends. This is where my heart truly is. Does it get any better than that?