LIFE AFTER LIZ
Byline: Jessica Kerwin
NEW YORK — When Andrew Tilberis first met his late wife, Liz, in 1965, he had no inkling that one day he’d qualify as a fashion insider. At the time, he was a charming, roguish art professor with a reputation as a major flirt (Liz’s window overlooked her future husband’s apartment, where, she wrote in her autobiography, “No Time to Die,” “I could observe an endless line of long-haired miniskirted colleagues trooping up and down his stairs…”). But these days he can detail both hilarious and sobering episodes from the world of fashion — off the record, of course — that he witnessed during his marriage to the Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief. And he recently decided to put his insider status to work.
Last year, Tilberis signed on as associate producer, along with business partner Damita Kinapota, of an independent film called “Perfume.” The movie stars Rita Wilson and Paul Sorvino as two high-profile New York designers besieged by difficulties in the days before their runway shows. “I had input, because I was the only person who knew anything about the fashion industry,” says Tilberis. He introduced the film’s writers to photographer Patrick Demarchelier, worked his friendship with onetime fashion model Vikram Chatwal to secure Chatwal’s Time hotel as a shoot location and convinced Kyle MacLachlan to play a cameo role.
Tilberis’s cinematic career was long in the making. In 1993, he moved from London to New York when his wife took the reins at Harper’s Bazaar. He wanted to break into the film business but didn’t know where to begin. “I came to the U.S. with a script in my bag,” Tilberis says, referring to a Western a friend had written, “but I had no idea what a producer did.” Shortly after their arrival, though, Liz was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the disease that caused her death two years ago. “It was a very concentrated period for me. I had to keep backing her up and keep the home fire burning, so to speak. I never really had the chance to apply myself.”
“Perfume” earned favorable reviews at Sundance and Cannes this year, and Tilberis hopes it will be released this fall. And he’s already at work on a big budget project with a more romantic bent — a drama detailing the epic romance behind India’s Taj Mahal. “The story has never been told properly with the right scale,” he says. Of course, he has also been busy looking for both a telecommunications partner to package some cellular-phone software to which he co-owns the rights and a manufacturer interested in producing a low-tech exercise device he patented a few years back. He talks passionately about this product, which he calls the Ten-tor, for “tension torsion,” but how it works is top secret.
Tilberis got his introduction to the fashion world when Liz took a job at British Vogue in the early Seventies. “They offered her a job for no money,” he remembers. “She was a gofer, picking up pins, running around.” Around that time, Tilberis bought into a restaurant in a seaside town. “I ran that restaurant for 10 years. As Liz said in her book, she was always criticized for not dressing well, and that gave her a little extra money to go to Mary Quant and Biba.”
These days, despite his involvement in “Perfume” and his delight in sharing racy bits of industry gossip, Tilberis’s main connection to the fashion world is his work with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund that Liz built. Next weekend, Donna Karan will host the fund’s fourth Super Saturday sale at the Nova’s Ark Project in Watermill where over 100 designers will offer their samples at 30 to 50 percent off of retail prices with 100 percent of sales going to the fund.
Still, Tilberis recently sold the New York apartment he and Liz shared and moved with his two sons to East Hampton, and insists that he’s keeping his distance from her former realm. “I’m not that into fashion,” he says. “I never was.” He still sees Demarchelier and Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, but for the most part Tilberis avoids runway shows and fashion events. Not only would seeing all of Liz’s old friends be painful for him, but Tilberis says he has realized that some of his late wife’s associates have a hard time seeing him get on with his life. He raised eyebrows at a fashion party a few months back by showing up with a young date.
But then the fashion world has always found Tilberis — to use Princess Diana’s assessment — incorrigible. He has a habit of teasing both commoners and royalty alike. “Diana was to receive an award along with Colin Powell and a few others,” Tilberis remembers. “We went for lunch in her suite in the Carlyle. We were laughing and joking. When there was a lull, I said, ‘Diana, do you realize that you’re going to be sharing the stage with a distant relative of yours this evening?’ and she said, ‘No, who’s that?’ “
Tilberis told the story of one of Diana’s ancestors, an 18th-century nobleman who was a colonial official in Jamaica. Reportedly, the man had a child by one of his slaves, and Powell is a descendant of that child. “She said, ‘Well, what do I call him?’ “I said, ‘Cuz, of course.’ ”
Julia Roberts knows that a night out with the girls is one of the best ways to mend a broken heart. At Tuesday night’s premiere of her new film, “America’s Sweethearts,” at the Mann Village Theater in L.A., costar Catherine Zeta-Jones wasted no time in giving Roberts an old-fashioned bear hug, right on the red carpet. “Julia and I become ‘absolutely fabulous’ off screen,” said Zeta-Jones. “She was Edwina and I was Patsy.” Later, Zeta-Jones teased a group of reporters with some baby-talk. After explaining how she had once asked her personal assistant to buy her a preganancy test, Zeta-Jones patted her stomach and said, “Now I’m on to the next one.”