The Fashionable Life of Art World Heavyweights, Adrienne bon Haes & Marvin Ross Friedman

One benefit of being a fashion editor and covering the beat for so many years is having the chance to meet some remarkable people who are authentic, passionate about what they do, have their own unique style, and are not seeking the spotlight. It’s rarer still when those individuals are a couple who are so in sync they can literally finish each other’s sentences. Not to mention the fact that they always seem to dress to best complement one another. Such is the case with Adrienne bon Haes and Marvin Ross Friedman.

Sheila Natasha Simrod Friedman dress 1977

The couple invited me to have breakfast with them at the Carlyle Hotel (their home away from home) on Friday morning, where I learned more about their lives. Marvin’s first wife, the late Sheila Natasha Simrod Friedman, was an accomplished writer, poet, and designer. One of her creations, a 1977 beaded surrealist dress – in collaboration with Roy Lichtenstein – is part of the Met Museum’s permanent collection. Marvin was a widower, and it was a dark time in his life when he met Adrienne. He credits Bon Haes with saving his life.

Adrienne bon Haes and Marvin Ross Friedman at the Iris Apfel 100 birthday party
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

I was intrigued when I first met the textile-collecting, world-traveling, contemporary art-dealing couple at Iris Apfel’s 100th birthday party. One of the first things I noticed was Adrienne’s elegance, uniqueness, and unusual dress. This was a party for Iris, so Bon Haes was not the only interestingly attired guest. However, I can guarantee she was the only one wearing a dress of her own creation fashioned from two adapted three-dimensional tapestries found in Kathmandu. Adrienne then added some additional yarn work to compliment and finish. “Clothing has always been my playground and has led to amazing exchanges with people across the globe.”

Adrienne and Marvin

Adrienne says that Marvin, who she refers to as her “dapper paramour,” has his signature pieces: Ferragamo loafers, bespoke slippers from London, custom shirts, and round tortoiseshell glasses from Italy, the velvet, corduroy, or seersucker jackets. Some of Marvin’s pieces are ordered from his tailor in Delhi. He started wearing patterned socks long before that became a trend for men. Adrienne notes, and she routinely makes the neckerchiefs he wears around his neck. “Marvin devotes far less time to his wardrobe than one would imagine. His confidence seems to be the other constant accessory that really defines his cache,” Adrienne observes.

Adrienne wearing a dress she made for the Bass Museum of Art Ball made from electroluminescent wire and powered by 25 battery packs. It’s an examination of language and some of its ironies. The lights will blink to reveal varying phrases.

Adrienne recounted that she and Marvin have been friends with Iris (and her late husband Carl) for over 20 years. “Antiques, aesthetics, travel, and collecting were common tongues for us, so we hit it off instantaneously.” Adrienne went on to say, “I have thought the most remarkable thing about Iris and Carl was their zest for life, people, and conversation even more than their visual splendor. Fashion provides an additional avenue for fun and exchange, as you must well know.” Indeed I do!

The Friedman home in Coral Gables

Adrienne and Marvin reside in Florida. They live in a historic 1926 Italianate residence in Coral Gables, once owned by Johnny Weissmuller and the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Marvin’s older daughter lives in Manhattan, and as avid art collectors, they come to New York quite often. In fact, we reconnected on Wednesday evening at the Art Show Preview to Benefit the Henry Street Settlement, held at the Park Avenue Armory. Even with their face masks (mandatory unless you were eating or drinking), they stood out. Adrienne wore a men’s gold bullion work embroidered woolen vest with flared skirting from Albania, 19th century. Marvin was in a dark blue velvet jacket and his signature tortoiseshell glasses.

Leo Castelli, James Rosenquist, Marvin Ross Friedman, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein circa 1996

Marvin is a senior partner of his boutique litigation law firm. Still, for the past 50 years, he is also a highly respected private art dealer building premier collections and as a source for museums. Among his great friends were legendary gallerist Leo Castelli and revered artists Christo, James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, whose 70th birthday party was held at the couple’s Florida home. They remain close with Rosenquist and Lichtenstein’s widows. When I asked what the show’s highlight was for them, Adrienne commented that it was the Leonora Carrington surrealist drawings exhibited at Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art.

Marilyn and Adrienne
Photo by Marvin Ross Friedman

“The truth is, Marvin’s first wife Sheila, and I, are the lucky ones,” retorts Adrienne, who is uncommonly chic with an old-world elegance that defies her age. She mainly collects ethnic dress and vintage textiles and loves patterns, prints, and passementerie, but makes them wearable by pairing things with basics to make it less like a costume.

Adrienne tells me that she taught herself to sew as a young girl, cutting up whatever she came across to achieve her end goal but went to vocational school to learn the fundamental skills of pattern drafting. “I worked briefly at a sportswear company but never connected with streetwear.” One of her dearest friends is Barbara Hulanicki, founder of London’s historic BIBA.

Adrienne bon Haes wearing vintage Shaheen caftan and Prada boots

Adrienne says that most of her wardrobe is comprised of pieces she has collected, but her hand is in all of them, whether it’s weeks of restoration or minor tailoring adjustments. She explains that major gala gowns are where she focuses her most intense efforts. She now designs mostly for herself or occasionally, for a friend, using unique materials that are hard to find.

I will never rush a piece to meet a deadline. I have too much respect for the fabrics. The craft is my passion and all the magic that can come from the mere twisting of humble thread.

Adrienne bon Haes

The most rewarding part for Adrienne is when she examines a piece for restoration. She is constantly learning and delighting in methods and innovation. “Touching history is really an amazing privilege,” observes bon Haes, who collected vintage as a young girl and began antiquing with Marvin soon after they met. Their extensive world travels have taken the couple to many exotic places where they could buy old textiles. Burma is a favorite destination, and they have been to India about 13 times. In fact, they were in India, visiting nomadic tribes in the middle of the desert, when Covid hit in March 2020.

Left, Adrienne wearing a white sculpted dress of her own design, Right, multi-media artist Danie Gomez-Ortigoza

The couple traveled to Paris this past October, during the collections, where they took in the Thierry Mugler exhibition, saw Christo’s wrapped Arc de Triomphe, and of course, made a trip to the famed Marche aux Puces. They keep adding to their collection. As Adrienne said with a laugh, their overweight baggage fees are always exorbitant after these trips.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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