GANG OF New York
If they make it here, they'll make it anywhere. Meet the young South Australians taking on the Big Apple
BEC GILL, 33 Lives: Washington Heights Job: Writer and producer
IT’S not unheard of for Bec Gill to burst into tears as she pounds the pavement in her adopted city. “It’s easy to look at it in this idyllic way and I can’t stop doing that. Even if I’m walking along the street crying (which I do often – I’m so emotional), I think ‘Wow, this is like a movie’.”
Walking home bathed in city lights is particularly emotive. “I get so romantic about living in New York even though most of the time it’s really, really hard and sometimes takes a lot of personal sacrifice.”
Gill grew up in Henley Beach and moved to the Big Apple a year ago. Her career saw her live in Melbourne, Indonesia, Singapore and London where she and pal Jayde Lovell (writing and business partner) worked for an international advertising agency. They eventually left stable jobs to start their own “science, communication, filmmaking thing” and after a few months planning in Spain and Paris, headed for New York. “It’s so expensive and competitive here so we were broke pretty quickly.” She laughs. “It was our first winter here and we didn’t have winter clothes. We were living off 2-minute noodles thinking ‘Oh my God, will we have to go back with our tails between our legs?’ ”
The pair got their big break when they met the head of corporate affairs for LAbased online news network PYT. “They liked what we did and were looking to expand into New York so now we work from the
YouTube space which has afforded us a lot of opportunities.”
They also work for the New York Hall of Science and make science videos for the likes of National Engineering Academy, Scientific American and NASA – as well as a TV pilot, the result of Hollywood screenwriting competition The Next MacGyver. As part of the prize they are mentored by screenwriter
Roberto Orci whose screenplays include Star
Trek Into Darkness.
Home, for now, is an apartment shared with three gay Broadway performers (“they belt out show tunes when they clean”). “My sub-let runs out soon so right now I’m on Craigslist. Finding an apartment in New York is worse than dating in New York. It’s actually a living nightmare. I wrote a column about it for The Huffington Post.”
Gill loves to write and is a mentor with Girls Write Now which teaches young, disadvantaged city women about the art of writing. Busy is an understatement. “Everyone comes to New York to make something of themselves. You don’t come to here to chill out. Everyone has a bazillion things going on. I thought it would be like
Friends where everyone sits on the couch and drinks coffee but you’re pushed up against people all the time. You have to push to get on the train, push for someone to call you back, push for opportunities, push for someone to date you. I feel like my whole life is becoming pushier.” becsusangill.com
OLIVER & GEORGINA DUCKWORTH, 36 & 37 Live: West Chelsea Jobs: Manager – Soho House & Development Executive – Friends of Australian Wildlife Conservancy
NOT many toddlers can lay claim to membership at one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. That’s what happens when your Dad runs Soho House New York – the hip members-only hotel that features in Sex
and The City. Not that Harrison “Harry” Duckworth cares; he’s not yet two years old.
Despite mixing with the media bigwigs and celebrities who frequent the club in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the Duckworths are surprisingly down to earth. Probably due to their wholesome South Australian upbringings.
“We met in Adelaide over lawn bowls,” says Georgina during a trip home to SA to visit family. “I put together an event at the Adelaide Bowling Club called Superbowl Sunday. Oli came out to play bowls and I thought ‘This guy is quite lovely’.
“We were wearing the same sneakers so we were destined to be together!” They had their first date in 2008 and a year later, moved to London “to see what the world is like on the other side.” They had no idea what they’d do when they landed in Blighty.
“I thought we’d go have some fun for a year or so but we haven’t looked back,” says Oliver. “We left as boyfriend and girlfriend, were there for two-and-a-half years, got engaged and just before coming back for our wedding in 2012, relocated to New York.”
Oliver previously worked for Soho House in London and the company offered him an opportunity in the States. He bit at the chance and they arrived in New York at midnight, adventure in their hearts.
“We woke up to New York, which was cool,” says Georgie. “We went for breakfast in the Meatpacking District. We were just trying to take it all in. It was surreal.”
It’s been a whirlwind ever since – literally, including riding out Hurricane Sandy’s fury. “I remember seeing empty garbage bins floating down the street,” Georgie recalls.
In her current role she manages the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s office. “I build awareness, fundraising, putting together fabulous events.” She also organises an annual shindig to celebrate Australia Day at Soho House.
“I turn the rooftop into an Australian pub and if you jump in the pool in your dickies, there’s a jug of beer waiting for you on your way out. We sing John Farnham songs, eat sausage rolls, pies, and pavlova.”
Oliver has big plans on the horizon, too. “I am establishing an art and hospitality concept (in NY) with two other remarkable South Australians. Watch this space!”
As for Harry, he’s got big brother duties to look forward to. The couple’s second child is due in November and if the delivery is anything like his they’ll make the trip to hospital in a yellow cab.
“... You think about not having family nearby and how to cope but it’s New York ... you just do it and find a way,” says Oliver.
MAX PAPENDIECK, 28 Lives: Lower Eastside Job: Fashion photographer
THERE’S living the dream and then there’s smashing it for stylish six. That’s what 28-yearold Max Papendieck is doing in the city he’s called home since 2010. “I actually came to America 10 years ago on a basketball scholarship to attend university,” he says. “Once I graduated in Miami, I fell into the fashion world (modelling) and had to quickly move up to NYC.”
He shoots for high end mags and has rubbed shoulders with the cream of the A-list crop. “I recently got to work with Beyonce and her team to shoot some of her artists,” he says. “To have her go over my images and be impressed was pretty remarkable. It was also pretty memorable to shoot fellow Adelaidean Kayla Itsines (personal trainer, Instagram hit and the woman behind the Bikini
Body Guide) around the streets of Soho earlier this summer. Oh, and I got a selfie with Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robin Thicke, A-Rod from the Yankees, and Noel Gallagher from Oasis ... all in the same pic!”
Papendieck says Adelaide will always be home. Although he’ll be back for Christmas and his sister’s wedding in January, there’s no plan to return for good. “This city is pretty addictive. If you’ve never been to NYC you should definitely come. Just a couple weeks here can change your outlook on life.”
Watch this space. “I have some really exciting jobs coming up with some big names in fashion and the music industry... I really have to pinch myself sometimes.” maxpapendieck.com, @maxmoments
DREW VILLANI, 31 Lives: West Harlem Job: Fashion designer & style consultant
THE clock was ticking from the moment Drew Villani landed in New York four years ago. “Having a set visa time is a burden and a blessing because you don’t have days to be lazy,” he says. “It’s like a personal trainer in some sense … there’s no time to mess around.”
Villani studied a Bachelor of Business, Property and Marketing at UniSA but followed his calling – fashion. It was a pal who urged Villani to make the move: “You’re 26, you’re still living at home with your parents, you talk a big game but you don’t back it up”. “It was true,” says Drew. “I was working in Ralph Lauren in David Jones and got a contact in NY and said, ‘I’m moving there in a month and I’d love to work there.’ They didn’t have anything but I said, ‘Well I’m coming anyway’.”
Villani arrived armed with a suitcase, a one-year visa and a vow to work his stylish posterior off. “It’s weird. I was going there with the intention to work for Ralph Lauren and the in-flight magazine cover was Ralph Lauren. I still have that magazine.”
The serendipity didn’t end there. “I dropped my bags off and walked to the store to find the guy I’d spoken to on the phone. “He said, ‘you got in two hours ago? Wow, you’re keen!’ ”
The next day he had an interview at Ralph Lauren’s flagship store. Three days later he was employed. He hasn’t stopped since. “I’m there to work. I still haven’t seen the statue (of Liberty) and I’ve been here four years!”
Tenacity saw Villani hit fashion heights. On days off he worked for free. Internships came – with major fashion player and style icon Nick Wooster and June Ambrose, top New York stylist who works with the likes of Jay-Z – after months of persistence. “Most people ask, get a ‘no’ and give up.” In what little spare time he had, he worked on sketching and designing knitwear for his label DREU. “I wanted to do suiting and found a really good factory in Queens, they do a lot with Thom Browne. From suiting, coats, pants, they do it all and one of the head tailors at Ralph Lauren made my shirts on the side.
In September 2014 Villani’s dreams came true. “It was very surreal to do a show at New York Fashion Week. I was on the calendar and everything. It was my first collection – it’s insane. I didn’t sleep for days. I was picking up garments on the day of the show. Nick Wooster came to the show and loved it. He said he was nervous to go to my show because he’s been to so many that are a complete disaster.”
Villani now works as a style consultant for actors and is speaking with investors. The sky is the limit. “Tomorrow doesn’t exist, I do what I can today. That helps me stay on top of things.” dreunewyork.com
LIZ NOWELL, 30 Lives: Greenpoint, Brooklyn Job: Curator, writer and arts administrator
CAMILLA SCALES, 32
Lives: Alphabet City, East Village Job: Creative Project Manager at
BBDO NY TIMOTHY MYERS, 42 Lives: Brooklyn, Prospect Heights
LEAVING Australia in 1991 at age 19 wasn’t easy but Timothy Myers didn’t think he’d end up there for good. “I went to university in Texas then found my way to NYC in 1996,” he says. “Shortly after that, due to a little visa oversight, I got deported, spent time in Adelaide, and when things were sorted made my way to NYC in 1999.”
The relentless pace is challenging but he says the energy makes it near impossible to leave. The artist makes beautiful multimedia works using found materials. The eclectic flea market and sidewalk finds are given new life in pieces that hang across the city – and the globe. Myers didn’t just find inspiration in his new digs, he also found love.
“I met my ‘Best Girl’ Sarah here,” he says. “She moved into the apartment next to me. One night I got a knock on the door ... she had mice in her apartment, asked if I could help out. She moved in a few months later and we’ve been together every day since.”
He is also inspired by his son. “He approaches life on earth in a vastly different way than I did at his age ... he’s a constant source of inspiration.”
He’s busy, especially after the recent opening of BIGHEAVY STUDIOS. “It’s a design company. We partner with fashion companies with a focus on brand enhancement through art and design. I split my time between that and making art.”
Camilla Scales visited New York for the second time on holiday she had trouble leaving. “It felt like a second home from the moment I visited in 2007. I got home and within a month made the decision to take the leap and move.”
She arrived in May 2014. “I really wanted to challenge myself and put myself out of my comfort zone to see what I could achieve. I arrived in the city with two suitcases, no working visa, no friends and a mixture of dread and excitement for what the future may hold. Luckily I found work in one of the greatest global agencies ... a real sense of achievement doing something I love in such an intensely competitive city.”
Scales lives in an apartment surrounded by dive bars, restaurants, community gardens, cultures and characters. “I love Sunday afternoons walking down the street seeing the old Puerto Rican grandmas on deck chairs on the street, smelling the grilling of meats, the music blaring from the boom box of the old guy in the park and all the bars and beer gardens full of people trying to embrace the short summers.”
It’s not all fun. “My days are very long and frantic and sleep is rare. I hit a 12-plus hour work day that is more fast paced than you can imagine and then I meet friends at a bar or dinner. There is too much happening to be sitting at home. I fill my weekends with galleries, museums, loft parties, concerts, theatre ... I feel like I belong here. New York is full of surprises, uncertainty and insanity. If you learn how to embrace this chaos it is one of the greatest places in the world.”
is no such thing as a typical day in New York – at least not for me!” Liz Nowell laughs down the phone. “It always begins with a desperate search for decent coffee, and usually ends with an equally desperate search for a nice glass of wine.”
Nowell, who previously lived in Sydney for five years is in New York for a short time but a good time. “For the past three years one of my many jobs was managing the studio of Australian artist Tony Albert. New York has always been one of my favourite places to travel, so I decided to join him. I really wanted to immerse myself in the New York arts world. My dear friend, and curatorial powerhouse, Dr Maura Reilly introduced me to the team at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum and I have been working on a large research project with them.”
Her partner, artist Jason Wing was accepted in the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. “completing new work for TARNANTHI Festival in Adelaide during October”.
Liz returnes to Adelaide this month to take on the role of Executive Director of the Contemporary Art Centre of SA but will miss the New York State of mind. “I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most important thinkers, curators and writers in my field. But often the memorable moments catch you off guard; the busker who stops you in your tracks, an unexpected act of generosity from a stranger, talking with a local while you’re both schlepping it out to the Bronx.”
Will he return to Adelaide? Yes, for a holiday with his family in December. Permanently? “I think about it all the time, I love Adelaide but I have some pretty deep roots here with the business, my art career, and my son who just started third grade.”
Myers is partnering with Club Monaco on sculptural work in New York, London and Canada and in January participates in a group show at the CMA (Children’s Museum of the Arts) in NYC and “(has) a small amount of work at Aptos Cruz in the Adelaide Hills (Stirling).” [email protected]othypaul myers.com and Instagram @Bigheavystudios