On a clear Friday evening in Paris, Stephanie LaCava read excerpts from her debut work, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris (HarperCollins). The reading was held at the charming Shakespeare & Company bookshop, located adjacent to the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral.
LaCava stood before the audience wearing an oversized flannel shirt paired with thigh-high black socks. She narrated short passages and Q&A-ed with Sylvia Whitman of Shakespeare & Co. Her personal anecdotes and footnoted object histories recount her family’s short-term move to Le Vésinet in France in the ’90s, and her struggles during this move. Collecting objects was a respite and a delight as a teenager in a foreign country, and this collecting impulse still holds strong for her today. She read about touchstone ephemera—pearls, beetles, cult TV show My So-Called Life—in her breathily girlish way. After the reading, we spoke about the book, nostalgia, secret admirers, and new collectors items.
“It was a really long time ago,” LaCava says of the events described in the text, “so I wrote it the best way I could to convey the same sensibility.” To retrieve this sensibility, “it’s almost like a funnel,” she says. “Funneling, funneling, funneling it down… Fragments, fragments, fragments, fragments,” she chants. “It’s never linear.” She continues: “I used the objects to distract myself from myself, ‘cause that’s how my mind works.” She later reiterates: “a lot of my life is about distraction, because my own head is so manic that I need distraction.” Perhaps for the sake of distraction, her book has illustrations throughout to complement the text. The elegant sketches were done with a light hand by her friend (and husband-of-jeweler-Pamela-Love) Matthew Nelson. “They’re the perfect spirit,” she gushes. Now that she’s exhausted her “20 years of backstory,” she describes her next project as sliding into roman à clef territory.
Our discussion is interrupted when a bouquet of flowers is hand-delivered. “Is it who we think it is?” Upon reading the note, she lets a long and absolutely ear-piercing shriek, followed by a slew of “OMIGOD!!”s. When prodded, she does not divulge the sender. “Whoever the gentleman is, he didn’t sign it,” she says coyly of the card. She admits it’s a writer friend with whom she recently had dinner, but keeps it at that.
Although France was initially a place of emotional struggle, her relationship is quite conciliatory at present: “It’s what makes me special,” she says of her earlier experience. For her, previous interim French trips were only “for work, as a fashion journalist.” (She used to be on the Vogue masthead.) She elaborates: “I’d never come as a visitor, because that would have been too much. When you have to get up and work, you have to get up and work.” On this trip, she returned to Marymount, the international school she attended in the posh suburb of Neuilly, which seemed to help turn her around.
And another—though unrelated—source of French reminiscence for her? “Going to the Franprix!” (A French supermarket chain.)
Lacava may have now put her past behind her, but her obsession with objects remains constant, regardless of where she is. “I have certain things I like, and certain things I don’t like, do you know what I mean?” she queries. “My dad always came from this perspective of finding and creating things, and never from a perspective of cost. It was a unique idea of what special things were, and it had nothing to do with their cost value. It was about treasure.”
As for the treasures she procured from this particular Paris trip? A carved coral octopus pendant. Dries Van Noten Spring/Summer pieces she describes as “so ’90s and so my Parisian sensibility.” And back issues of erotic Edwarda magazine. All in all, a tidy little collection.
For more on Stephanie LaCava see her website here.