It Isn't Easy Being Fabulous
Don't hate Fabian Basabe because he's beautiful. "I don't work, and a lot of people just don't understand that," the 26-year-old Basabe says, sounding genuinely hurt by the less-than-sympathetic response his poor-little-rich-boy persona often inspires. Pausing for a sip of his margarita, he continues: "People focus mainly on the glamour and think that if you're on television and in the public eye, you have a perfect life." Au contraire, Basabe warns. "Most of the time it's great, but it comes with a lot of responsibility."
At the moment, though, Basabe's only responsibility seems to be working on his tan. And perfect or not, it's hard to imagine improving on his present setting: A private ferry ride away from the South Beach skyline that looms nearby, Basabe is enjoying some down time on the rarefied sands of the Fisher Island Beach Club and kicking back at its waterfront bar.
Of course, for Basabe down time is virtually all the time. The son of a successful Ecuadorian-born businessman now living in Bay Harbor Islands, Basabe has become famous for being, well, famous.
Over the past year, he's gone from being just another pretty face in the Nobu crowd to a gossip-page regular. There he is in the New York Post's "Page Six," cavorting into the wee hours with model Karolina Kurkova attached to his hip; the next day he's popping up on the E! Channel, holding court inside a new nightspot's VIP room, or flashing a disarming smile as Entertainment Tonight's cameras glide across the front row of a chic fashion show.
In fact listening to the trials of Being Basabe would be insufferable if he weren't simultaneously so eminently gracious about his newfound fame. While it's easy to think of him as simply this season's It Boy, a male version of Paris Hilton, he shares little of his high-stepping counterpart's open disdain for the Prada-deficient masses.
"I don't understand celebrities I've met who are so standoffish with the public, who don't want to give everyone the time of day. These are the people who are making you famous," Basabe chides. He begins to lay into a certain Mickey Mouse Club dancer turned midriff-baring pop singer, but stops short. "I don't want to say anything bad," he protests as Kulchur pushes for details. "I just don't understand her mentality.... Maybe it's because you're taking them from one life and trying to introduce them to another life they've only seen on television. They're still trying to learn how to adjust."
This friendly attitude is more than empty posturing on Basabe's part. As Kulchur makes his way around the Beach Club, he can't find anyone willing to offer up a sour note about Basabe. Polite to a fault, Basabe has not only his fellow guests singing his praises -- "Fabian's a sweetheart!" gushes one middle-age woman while her husband nods in assent -- but even the club's bartender giving him a thumbs-up.
Miamians are hardly the only ones to have fallen for Basabe's charm. Despite being kicked out of three separate South Florida prep schools ("I was a little bit of a troublemaker"), as well as being dismissed from California's Pepperdine University, he's managed to become a fixture among Manhattan's pedigreed Upper East Siders. Taking a cue from Peter Bacanovich, he's served as the gentleman walker of choice for the city's twentysomething socialite set. And while lending his cheekbones to a flashbulb-worthy gala may not draw a salary, it's also not without its perks.
"I guess it's kind of a paid appearance," he shrugs, referring to cohosting duties the previous evening at Casa Casuarina, the former Versace mansion-turned-hotel on Ocean Drive. That event, a party for Swiss jewelry maker Piaget, drew a well-heeled mix of Bal Harbour shoppers and New Yorkers in town for Art Basel. Piaget was so pleased with the branding opportunity, their resulting gesture still leaves Basabe visibly surprised: "You should see the package they sent me -- öThank you for letting us use your name. We'd like to offer you a complimentary gift of $10,000 toward any of our watches.'"
Not a bad haul for a few hours of greeting friends, posing for Patrick McMullan's snapshots, and hoisting a few cocktails. But is it a career?
Again, if Paris Hilton is any guide for the gilded, the answer is most definitely yes. Basabe says he's currently weighing offers for his own TV reality show. He's also been talking with a New York publishing house about issuing his memoirs under the title Model Behavior.
Informed by Kulchur that author Jay McInerney already used that very title in 1998 for a comic tale of living the high life, Basabe is momentarily thrown. "You can't take the same title again?" he asks, crestfallen, before quickly arriving at his own happy solution: "Maybe he'll like it -- they'll buy his book too, by accident." But first Basabe has to actually write his memoir, though that obstacle hardly stopped Hilton from landing a lucrative book contract before she'd penned a single word of (or if the industry whispers are to believed, had any involvement with) the Simon & Schuster hardcover that now bears her name.
Readers can at least get a preview of Basabe's inner thoughts via his debut column for Gotham magazine's current issue. "Life in the Fast Lane" teasingly chronicles late-night club-hopping alongside Bill Blass spokesmodel Zani Gugelmann and Queer Eye's Thom Felicia: "We wound up at Bungalow 8, but that part of the evening is classified -- for what happens at Bungalow 8 stays at Bungalow 8."
Frankly, despite Basabe's demurrals, Kulchur is having difficulty discerning any downside to all this fabulousness. Is the excess wear and tear on one's loafers really that stressful?
"We have to answer to a lot more than whoever's paying the bill," Basabe argues, adopting the royal pronoun. "If you do something bad, it's remembered. People will talk. You'll have so many people in your life that weren't invited."
Case in point: Basabe's provocative twirl with First Daughter Barbara Bush last February. Thanks to a well-placed photographer at Manhattan's Viscaya lounge, the New York Daily News splashed its front page with an exceedingly limber Bush straddling Basabe's leg while employing the kind of cleavage-baring dance-floor moves that would make an Olympic gymnast proud.
The result was a media frenzy. International paparazzi staked out Basabe's home, reporters dredged up unpaid speeding tickets and a DUI citation, while pundits tittered about redefining George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing." Online the dish took an even racier tone. "People actually go to these trashy Internet sites like Gawker and Jossip and give them information," Basabe sniffs. "Supposedly they know me from school or they saw me dancing at a party. People should mind their own business."
There were subsequent stories that a furious White House had banned Basabe from any further First Family contact, lest more images of a louche Barbara nuzzling her escort alienate evangelicals along the presidential campaign trail.
"As an election year, it opened up an opportunity to attack a very good family through a friend," Basabe recalls with a scowl. "As if somehow the choice of people [Barbara] hung out with reflects on them. It's just really disrespectful. I don't know how the press has this freedom to do these inappropriate things. But it was an opportunity and they took it." He stares at his drink, lost in thought, before suddenly brightening. After all, the Election Day results are in. "It was a cheap shot," he concludes with a wry grin. "It didn't work."
For the record, he adds, accounts that he sent Karl Rove on the war path are false. As soon as he heard of the early editions of the Daily News hitting the streets, "I called Barbara and said, öSomething's happening. I don't know how this works, but I'm sure you have a social secretary to handle this. What do we do?' We all spoke and they just said not to respond. That'll only make it last longer. Just wait a week and it'll go away. And it did."
Papa Bush, Basabe says, was very understanding. "There was no flak. If anything, they were more concerned for me." Papa Basabe, however, was beside himself.
"My parents were furious," he sighs, cringing at the memory. "They made me leave New York."
Where did you hide out?
Oh, what a rough life. Banished to Malibu!
"Well, it was a rough week," Basabe halfheartedly insists before finally blushing in the face of Kulchur's incredulous look. Then, with a self-deprecating laugh, he throws up his hands: "There are people starving! Don't they have anything else to write about? I had all these John Kerry people e-mailing me, asking, 'Can't you take her out dancing again?'"
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