Maura Moynihan in the News
New York Times, August 31, 2003
Stories By Maura Moynihan.
ReganBooks/HarperCollins, paper, $13.95.
MAURA Moynihan has an unlikely
resume: singer-songwriter, fashion designer, actor, comedian and refugee
consultant in India and Nepal. (She is also Daniel Patrick Moynihan's
daughter). Judging by her first book, however, keen observation is perhaps
Moynihan's truest gift. The six stories in ''Yoga Hotel'' cast a witty,
unsentimental eye on the complex transactions between East and West.
For every mystically minded American eager to penetrate the subcontinent's
heart, Moynihan gives us an Indian maneuvering for a ticket out. What
makes for ''A Good Job in Delhi,'' for instance, is access. ''Everyone
knew that the point of working for a foreigner was to procure a passage
to the West,'' thinks Hari, who helps his English boss juggle girlfriends
in between tending bar and polishing the silver. Elsewhere, a homely
embassy employee falls for a married Indian man, only to realize he's
in it for her power to grant visas. The rich Delhians of ''Paying Guest''
use a beautiful American music student as currency in their status wars,
and are indignant to find she's more interested in dating Bollywood
stars: ''You know these foreign types, you can't be friends with them.
They're always using us for something, not just lodging. They come here
with their India fantasy; they don't think any of it is real.'' Characters
both Indian and Western see one another chiefly in terms of their own
secret desires; only in a pair of stories about religious seekers does
the veil lift. The novella-length ''Masterji'' paints its wealthy, bored
pilgrims in overbroad strokes, but it also describes moments of ecstatic
revelation in startlingly immediate language.
— MARY PARK
- - -
New York Times, July 1, 2001
A Little Bit of the East, on
By ABBY ELLIN
HIGH above Fifth Avenue in a
duplex apartment brimming with Matisses, Picassos and presidential autographs,
the talk turned to saris. Can Western women get away with traditional
Indian garb and not look as if they're wearing a bedspread?
only way is if we're in another country, and then at a party,"
said Sarah Giles, the design editor at Harper's Bazaar. "Bindis
are fine, but not saris. We don't know how to walk in them."
__ A woman
with a tiny diamond-shaped bindi dotting the space between her blue
true," said the woman, Maura Moynihan, who in addition to the bindi
was swathed in a diaphanous gold sheath. "And Indian women say
the most terrible things about you under their breath." She broke
into a flawless Hindi accent. "Look at that foreigner, how ridiculous
she looks in that! "
__ Maura Moynihan's
latest bohemian incarnation is as a dressmaker, in Kathmandu.
sari is the Indian babe's fashion trump card," said Ms. Moynihan,
who, throughout, swathed herself in various garments from her collection.
"They're very sexy. But not for Westerners."
__ Ms. Giles
turned to her and said, "You can wear them, but the rest of us
__ Ms. Moynihan,
who is 43, has been wearing saris since the early 1970's, when her father,
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was ambassador to India. They lived
in New Delhi. Since 1999, Ms. Moynihan's adopted home has been Katmandu,
Nepal, where she founded a company called Choli, the Hindi word for
the shirt worn beneath the sari.
__ On Wedn6sday,
she held a sample sale at the Upper East Side home of Sharyn Mann, whose
husband, Steve, is the former finance chairman of the Moynihan for Senate
committee. "She used to lend me clothes for Dad's fund-raisers,"
Ms. Moynihan said. "Now she's buying mine."
__ Ms. Mann,
a co-founder of the Food Allergy Initiative, a nonprofit charity, purchased
two jackets and a pair of pants. " I love that her clothes come
from a different era," she said. "You get really tired of
designer clothes. This has meaning."
__ Over a
four-and-a-half-hour stretch, about 20 customers zipped in and out,
while a uniformed butler passed around silver platters of pirogis (he
called them Nepalese dumplings), fresh asparagus and lemonade in crystal
glasses. Many of the customers were friends Ms. Moynihan knew through
people who traveled in her father's circles.
__ She was
inspired to import ethnic Indian clothing, she said, because she thinks
Western women could benefit from the Eastern addition to their wardrobes.
"In Asia, women are allowed to age
gracefully," she said. "They attain more status as they get
older. Not here. Asian women have uniforms, but American women don't.
I'm trying to bring the uniform to American women. Besides, I am so
sick of the little black cocktail dress. I could die of boredom."
__ Black dresses
aside, Ms. Moynihan's life has been anything but boring. For the past
28 years, she has been ricocheting between Asia, Washington and New
York, where she stays with friends. Her latest visit has been extended
because of the turmoil after the massacre of most of the members of
Nepal's royal family on June 1. Fearful of going back to chaos, Ms.
Moynihan rescheduled her departure from about three weeks ago to August.
__ An accomplished
bohemian, Ms. Moynihan has a long resume of artistic gigs and social
causes. She published a short story collection, did a stint on "Saturday
Night Live" in the early 1980's, released two CD's, worked at the
Holocaust Museum in Washington and was a celebrated friend of Andy Warhol.
"He didn't quite get my love for the slums of India," she
said. "If I could be backstage at Xenon with Keith Richards, why
would I go to India?"
__ Over the
last few years, in Katmandu, she worked in Tibetan refugee camps with
Refugees International. Last year, she started Choli, and says that
one of the appeals of having a business in Nepal is employing the local
a certain point, you need to provide jobs and not just wrap Band-Aids,"
said Ms. Moynihan, who has 15 people working for her. She says that
typically a Nepalese school-teacher makes the equivalent of $40 a month,
and that by paying her workers by the garment, she enables them to make
as much as $60 a month.
need work," Ms. Moynihan said, "especially now with the tragedy.
Business is on hold. Tourism has dropped."
__ Ms. Moynihan
transforms luminous antique fabrics embroidered with beads, brocade
and finely spun gold and silver thread into blouses, dresses, pants
and the coats that gained popularity as Nehru jackets but are known
as sherwanis in India (Joseph's technicolor dreamcoat meets Sergeant
Pepper). Her clothes are now sold at Portantina, on Madison Avenue.
fashions are timeless," said Barbara Bergreen, the owner of Portantina.
"They override trends while managing to look trendy."
__ As Ms.
Moynihan elaborated on each piece of clothing, the women rifling through
the racks of brightly colored garments included Vera Blinken, wife of
Donald Blinken, the former ambassador to Hungary, and Sheila W. Schwartz,
whose husband, Richard J. Schwartz, is the chairman of the New York
State Council on the Arts. Lynn Forester, founder and co-chairwoman
of FirstMark Communications, sent her assistant, who picked out - with
Ms. Moynihan's help - a pale blue blouse and gold evening jacket for
clothes are wonderful," said Ms. Schwartz, as she purchased a gauzy,
three-quarter-length evening jacket ($400) and rushed off to a benefit
at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
__ Pam Putney,
an international public health worker, modeled an electric-blue coat
and announced, "Blue is the color of communication, the throat
chakra." She bought it for $400.
__ Is seems
axiomatic that all well-heeled, well-connected people must at some point
travel to India and return with inspired fashions. Certainly, India
has long been a source of fascination for spiritually and stylistically
bereft Westerners, from the Beatles and Mia Farrow to Madonna, not to
mention all those caught up in the recent craze for pashmina shawls
and Sun Salutation.
__ Ms. Moynihan
sat down on a multi-colored tapestry. "I know, everybody has a
line," she said, laughing. But she sees herself differently, disregarding
people who assume she leads a dilettante's privileged existence. "I've
never used my connections to get into the boardrooms of Wall Street
or Hollywood but into the slums of Katmandu," she said.
__ Choli is
a for-profit business, and at the sample sale Ms. Moynihan pulled in
a few thousand dollars, but she says that her company is not just about
design in Nepal is not the easiest thing\240 in the world," she
said. "It would be much easier sitting in Manhattan. Working in
the third world is totally unpredictable. The tragedy now is a case
in point. But I have to do it, I wouldn't be my father's daughter if
(c) New York Times