As an entrepreneur with a variety of careers under her belt, Nikki Haskell has paved the way for many women after her. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Queen of New York nightlife has any immediate plans to slow down. Unafraid to take chances, Haskell defies the odds, does not apologize for her beliefs, and plays by her own set of rules, all while keeping her sense of humor.
“I never conformed to what people thought I should do,” she explains. “There will always be someone telling you you can’t do something. For me, I just rolled up my Chanel sleeves, went to work, and did it.”
Raised in Los Angeles, the woman of many talents made her way to New York City in the early 1960s with her then-husband. Although the marriage lasted only a short period of time [the couple would remarry two years later, only to divorce again in another two years], it was the catalyst for life-changing opportunities, Haskell says—both personally and professionally. In fact, it shaped the direction of her future.
“There’s a reason for everything; if I hadn’t married, I would have never ended up in New York.”
BELLA sat down with the fascinating socialite for an in-depth conversation about her life and her career, and why even now—at the age of 75—she’ll never stop dancing.
Before your life in front of the camera as a TV host you were a stockbroker on Wall Street. What was it like being one of the first female brokers?
I loved it! It never entered my mind that there weren’t any women on Wall Street. My ex-husband was the one who suggested I get a job. During the two years we were divorced I had turned $18,000 into $2.5 million, so I thought, Why not do this for a living? I worked in the business for 10 years and it was an interesting time. Women were not permitted in a lot of the restaurants—they were for men only. I paid no attention though because I didn’t feel that meant me; I walked right in to all of the hot spots the guys went to for lunch.
But it was also a challenging time. When I first started, everyone thought it was a cute idea, but then I created a successful business, and they started to resent me. One day I had enough and quit. Then I thought, now what am I going to do?
Luckily, you found another outlet in the entertainment business. How did “The Nikki Haskell Show” come to fruition?
A friend of mine, Prince Egon Von Furstenberg, approached me about doing a TV show. At that time there were no other entertainment talk shows around; we really paved the way for future programs like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and “Entertainment Tonight.” At the time I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing, nor did anybody else. We were on cable, which was like the new kid in town—nobody had heard of it—and the celebrities and big names didn’t want to be on it.
To bring in talent, I made a deal with the clubs I attended; they paid me to throw parties on Friday nights. Whether it was for a celebrity, a movie premiere, or a record launch, there was a high-powered party every week that I’d shoot for the show.
As the show gained notoriety, you interviewed some of the biggest names in the industry and traveled all over the world doing so. How would you describe that time in your life?
The show was all about fashion, fun parties, and lots of interviews—around 3,000 people! I traveled to the most amazing locations to cover events like the Cannes Film Festival, Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, even the Philippines Film Festival, where I became very friendly with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Essentially, the show was my view of how I lived my life, and it was great!
I was also the first person to put fashion on television. In the 80s, fashion in the United States became very important; prior to that it all came from Europe. I covered fashion shows like Carolina Herrera, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, and Calvin Klein, and featured them on the program. We shot about 300 shows over a period of six years.
You filmed from one of your favorite places, the legendary nightclub Studio 54. What was that like?
I loved going to discotheques and was totally addicted to Studio 54. I went opening night with Donald and Ivana [Trump], who were good friends of mine. When people asked me where I lived I told them, “Studio 54, but I keep an apartment on 68th Street.” Because I went there all the time I thought, I better come up with a clever idea as to why I have to go dancing every night otherwise they’re going to start ‘Disco Anonymous’ for me.
You’ve said the club changed your life; in what way would you say that’s true?
Before Studio 54 I would never go out at night by myself; I’d go on dates, have dinner, and then go home. The men I dated were successful businessmen who didn’t want to stay out late dancing, so when they dropped me off, I’d get out of the cab, go right through the revolving door, [get] back into a cab, and head to Studio 54. There was something that came over you when you walked in; the energy from the place was miraculous.
Because I was always out, people had the impression I was just a “party girl.” Well, I am a party girl, but a party girl with a purpose. I do my best thinking on the dance floor; it’s where I’ve come up with some of my best ideas.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m always doing something because you never know what’s going to work. I wrote a screenplay called, “Overdressed When Naked” which is autobiographical. It’s a chunk of my life that runs from 1962 to 1977. I also co-wrote an urban musical comedy called, “The American Dream,” and just finished a pilot for a new TV show currently titled, “Flashback,” where I re-interview the same people I interviewed 30 years ago with the original interviews incorporated into the show. This is going to be a big year for me; I have a bunch of projects that are going to come to fruition.
I also own the rights to “The Nikki Haskell Show.” We currently have 27 episodes up on Amazon Prime and plan to add another 40; hopefully by the end of this year there will be close to 100 shows available.
Over the past year you’ve been vocal in your support of Donald Trump, who has been a friend for many years. As a result, you’ve received backlash, especially from close friends. Do you ever second-guessspeaking up in support of him?
I’m never going to change the courage of my convictions. I’m an American and proud to be one, and will do everything in my power to be supportive of whomever our President is because a country divided is dangerous. I was always under the impression that win, lose, or draw—whoever wins—you go with the flow.
I am still shocked that some of my friends aren’t speaking to me because of the way I voted. I live in two places (New York and Los Angeles) that are mostly all liberal, but I’m not someone who is “in your face” with my political views.
What do you love about NY and LA?
NYC is fabulous—it exudes a certain energy you don’t find elsewhere. I lived there during the most amazing time and I enjoy going to some of my old haunts like Polo Bar, Cipriani, Elio’s, and Amaranth when I’m in town.
As for LA, I love Soho House, The Beverly Hills Hotel (my home away from home),and Polo Lounge, where I love to go to the pool—it’s absolutely beautiful and charming. The hot spot these days is The Tower Bar, which has an elegant charm. Then there’s Craig’s for its excellent food and great people-watching. When it comes to dancing, I enjoy going to Giorgio’s in the Standard Hotel.
I love that I get to live and work in both places. You can’t hit a moving target, so if you’re in different places, people won’t know where you are. I like that!