Name: Eric Stern
Profession: Stylist to the Stars
Rosendale attracts the most eclectic mix of offbeat characters – including some you might not expect to find in this rough-and-tumble rural setting, but who somehow fit right in.
Case in point: Eric Stern. He works as a fashion stylist to the stars – he dressed Marisa Tomei for the Oscars this year, and is the stylist for The Real Housewives of New York City reality show. He posts sartorially-minded declarations on Facebook, like, “Today I am dressed head-to-toe in vintage Hermes!” And he can frequently be found prancing up and down Main Street in a bright blue fur coat, dripping bling, telling colorful stories about growing up in Queens and then Lawrence, New York, where he dressed his mother from the time he was five.
What’s he doing in a place that feels more like Sicily, Alaska – the rustic, fictional setting for Northern Exposure – than upper Madison Avenue?
“Nobody judges me here,” says Stern over lunch of an egg and cheese sandwich on semolina bread at Market Market. (He’s been known to show up there for three meals a day, plus cake.) “Nobody judges anybody here. Everybody fits in – bohemians! Lesbians! Celebrities! You’ll be sitting eating lunch and Willem Dafoe will walk in, and then you’ll see John Leguizamo’s kids jumping on the hood of his car. Nobody makes a big deal.”
But it’s more than that. “Rosendale has been very good to me,” he says, switching from his usual playful tone to a more serious one. “People here took good care of me when David had his accident.” He’s referring to his partner, David Meidenbauer, who was seriously injured while working in San Francisco.
“I had been living here two months,” Stern recalls, “and then suddenly I had to go out to San Francisco to take care of David. People immediately stepped up to help me. One person took care of my apartment, another took care of my cat and my mail – for five months. And every morning, I got a call from Woody Pirtle just checking how I was. I barely knew the guy. I had just met him having coffee here. I couldn’t get over it. People really care about each other here. It is the most tight-knit community of the nicest people anywhere. It’s not anything like living in an apartment building in Manhattan, where you don’t really know your neighbor.”
Stern knows a thing or two about that. Before moving to the new construction behind Bill Brooks’ shop in 2007, he lived for many years in a large junior-four in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. “It was an amazing apartment,” he says. “It had this outdoor space that I’d enclosed and turned into a smoking room. It had been rent controlled, and then I bought it – for nothing. But eventually I got tired of looking at the same four walls.”
He’d had his eye on Rosendale for a while. “My brother Ira has lived in Accord for many years, and when I would take the bus up to see him, I’d get off in Rosendale, and we’d drive through town on our way to his house,” he says. “Every time we drove through I thought, ‘I’d like to live here some day.’”
He heard through local lawyer Sarah McGinty that barber/contractor/Picklefest impressario Bill Brooks had an apartment to rent. “It was a non-smoking, no-pet apartment,” Stern recalls. “The only thing worse would have been if it was no-shoes – I’ve got 600 pairs.” He showed up on move-in day with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a cat in his arms. “Bill Brooks said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to still let you move in.’ I promised him I wouldn’t smoke in the house. I don’t do that.”
After two years in that apartment, Stern and Meidenbauer moved last month – a whole eight miles – to Alligerville. While they are no longer Rosendale residents, they remain fixtures here, often frequenting Market Market and the Red Brick Tavern. From a computer set up in the guest room in the new house, he picks clothes for his Housewives.
This is his third career. After graduating from FIT with a fashion buying and merchandising degree, Stern went to work in his father’s printing company. He married young and had two sons, who are now 20 and 21.
“Then, one day, I decided to quit my job, get divorced and come out of the closet – all at once, like that.” he says, snapping his fingers. He found himself working in a completely different field: as a counselor in hospital psychiatric wards, for seven years.
Then, a few years ago, when Meidenbauer was running a photography studio, he asked Stern if he could help out one day by ironing clothes during a photo shoot. “It was for Ralph Lauren,” Stern recalls. “A week after I started, one day while the stylist on the job was in the bathroom, the producer said to me, ‘Why don’t you send down the next look?’ I did it in my own signature style – I unbuttoned the model’s shirt to the navel, had her take her bra off, put on 30 bracelets. After the shoot, David said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Am I fired?’ And he said, ‘No, they want to know if you are available to style next week.’” That led to three years in a full-time job styling for Ralph Lauren, which gave birth to his freelance career.
Fashion styling is clearly Stern’s calling. His signature super-glam look has been in his blood since he was a small child.
“My mother and I used to go to the theater once a week, after she went to Bonwitt Teller to get her hair ‘did.’” he remembers. “One day when I was six, she said, ‘I’m taking you to Radio City to see Liberace, a pi-A-nist,’ because she was from Queens. We get there, and we’re sitting in the audience, and out comes this mirrored Rolls Royce right on the stage. Liberace steps out wearing a white mink cape with all this jewelry, and there’s this candelabra. I said, ‘I know what I want to be when I grow up!’ And she said, ‘Mother of God, why did we come here?’”