Decorating & Design

October 3, 2011

Interview: Shinan Govani

Whether it’s through his National Post column or on his constantly updated Twitter page, Shinan Govani is Canada’s direct link to Hollywood A-listers, society divas, and the movers and shakers from corporate, cultural and political spheres. He dishes incessantly about their lives, red-carpet moments and VIP parties, divulging juicy details, fabulous scandals and anything else fit to print, in a trademark writing style that’s peppered with made-up words, clever quips and a few well-placed puns.

As Canada’s ubiquitous gossip columnist, he’s rubbed elbows with Oscar de la Renta, Nicole Kidman and Naomi Campbell, to name a few, and has been among the few journalists handpicked to attend Vanity Fair’s exclusive Oscar party. Celebrity-crazy onlookers can’t get enough of him, or at least that’s what he’s banking on with his first novel, Boldface Names (2009 Harper Collins Canada).

The book follows a spry gossip writer as he jets from one city to the next, going from party to party. Yes, Govani admits it’s a story very much based on his own life, with a few outrageous twists. “There are real stories about fake people and fake stories of real people,” he says. “Fiction gave me more latitude, but I wanted to mix in real situations.” Even H&H publisher Lynda Reeves makes an appearance in the book as doyenne of home decor and style Reeva Lynds.

Pop-culture obsessed readers will have fun deciphering who’s fact and who’s fiction in the colourful, over-the-top characters. One thing they will have no problem identifying is the city where the story is anchored. “I wanted to create a sense of place for Toronto,” he says. “One of the reasons we go to New York or London and we think they’re so glamorous is because they’ve been mythologized. So we see New York through the eyes of Woody Allen or Candace Bushnell or Nora Ephron and everything feels more special. I wanted to do that for Toronto,” he says.

We caught up with Govani to talk people, parties and beautiful homes.

House & Home: Describe your home.

Shinan Govani: My condo is in Toronto, but I’m not there much. The best feature is a painting of Mao [Zedong] done by my friend Joanne Tod.

H&H: Describe the most spectacular home you’ve ever been in.

SG: One house that stands out is a hilltop estate near Vicenza in Italy. The home of Renzo Rosso, founder of Diesel [clothing], the whole place looked like it was out of a David LaChapelle photo. Indeed, it is. LaChapelle used Rosso’s pool as the setting for his photographs.

H&H: Who are your cultural icons?

SG: I love Rex Reed. He still writes movie reviews for the New York Observer. And Simon Doonan, who’s the window dresser for Barneys. I’m drawn to Jacqueline Susann. I reread Valley of the Dolls last summer and it still stands up. She just “got” people. But I also love [Pedro] Almodóvar; all that high drama. And I’m into the Truman Capote scene of the 1960s. Sadly, I don’t think it will exist again. Now because of the Internet, reality TV and Twitter, we know too much about people.

H&H: Who do you follow on Twitter?

SG: I follow people who provide insight into their worlds. So I love to find out what Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet, is cooking. That feels like insider information to me. I also follow Diablo Cody, who wrote the screenplay for Juno, because she has a warped mind. And I’m following Derek Blasberg, who’s the party columnist for

H&H: What makes a great party?

SG: There’s a point in my book, where the main character, Ravi, says that people are the best decor. You can have the snazziest look, sublime flowers, the most delicious hors d’oeuvres, but if you don’t have a crowd that’s the right mix, with people who are informed, the party just falls flat like a soufflé.

H&H: How do you get that golden mix?

SG: Sometimes it involves inviting people you don’t like. You want a little frisson — you want some tension. I always say a little bit of gauche goes a long way. You need to pepper it. You need to make sure there are people who are downtowners, who wouldn’t talk to uptowners in any other forum. You want to make sure there are some literary people looking down at fashion people, and fashion people looking down at literary people. I’ve had the opportunity to circulate in all these different tribes — and I can say the same egos and insecurities come into play in any sphere, big or small.

H&H: Describe the most interesting party you ever attended.

SG: A party that is tops is the Time magazine soirée in New York for their 100 World’s Most Influential People. There may be more lavish parties, but nothing beats the mix at this one. From Martha Stewart to Malcolm Gladwell, from Tina Fey to Queen Rania, they’re all there. But, in terms of pure, get-down, carpe diem fun? I’ve had some of my best times at Le Baron, a bar in Paris. It looks like your cousin’s rec room, but is central to the international fashion-art orbit.

H&H: What about dinner parties?

SG: A friend once turned her bathroom into a pop-up art gallery; that was really memorable. There’s also something instantly glamorous about one long table. A good host always drinks water. Hosts have to be watchful. As effortless as we think the best hosts appear, they put effort into appearing effortless.

H&H: What about party killers?

SG: I wish people would think twice about serving fried food. It’s amazing to be in an incredibly well-adorned place, and then be turned off because it smells like a greasy spoon. You may not even notice it while you’re there, but when you leave, your clothes stink. I also hate the questions: ‘what do you do?’ or ‘what’s up?’ Both these questions are passive aggressive because you’re asking someone else to entertain you. I think what works best is to ask a question that suggests you know something about the person you’re speaking to. If you’ve met before, try to bring it back to something you’ve talked about before. And if you don’t know the person, use a common thing about the party or the host.

H&H: How do you decompress?

SG: My favourite respite is Barbados. I stay on the east side of the island, far away from see-and-be-seen Sandy Lane.

H&H: How do you feel about the response to your book?

SG: I’m ecstatic about it. For too long, Canadian literature has come in the form of what I call ‘V8 Literature’ — good-for-you literature. I wanted to write what I call a ‘Red Bull Book’ — a fast-paced, funny romp! — and I think I accomplished that.