Fashion » Raising Kayne
Between them, Jenni, Saree, and Maggie Kayne have it all: beauty, brains, and the backing of Big Daddy. Kevin West meets Los Angeles’s coolest sister act.
Three sisters, Thalia, Euphrosyne, and Aglaia, the daughters of Zeus, were known to the ancient Greeks as the Three Graces. English literature found its enduring sisterhood in the three Brontës. Post–World War II tabloids and divorce lawyers were lucky to get Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva Gabor, just as reality television today profits from Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé, the three Kardashians. Now a new three-part sister act has emerged from the mansion-lined boulevards of Beverly Hills, where a wealthy financier, Richard Kayne, and his North Carolina–born wife, Suzanne, have raised their daughters to become the best-funded trio of young ladies since the Miller girls went trophy hunting for husbands back in the ’90s.
Jenni, Maggie, and Saree Kayne keep a lower profile than those blonde former ingenues of the New York social set, and unlike Pia, Alexandra, and Marie-Chantal—who married, respectively, a Getty, a von Furstenberg, and the crown prince of Greece—the Kayne sisters are getting by just fine without the shine of high-profile unions. But the braided story line of their young adulthood shows what happens when free-thinking daughters manage to get what they want from their free-spending parents. (Nice work if you can get it.) You might say that the Kayne sisters have made the best of a very good situation.
“We were raised about six blocks from here,” says Maggie, 28, during a late-winter alfresco lunch in Jenni’s backyard, a Mediterranean glade with olive trees, gnarled just so, and drifts of ornamental grasses. The thriving edible garden out front provides vegetables for Jenni’s home-cooked meals and flowers for her table—the enviable results are documented on her lifestyle blog Rip + Tan—but today’s menu consists of an array of salads called in from a nearby café.
“I thought I’d never want to live in the Beverly flats,” says Jenni, 30, whose house south of Sunset Boulevard is six streets from the home she and her sisters grew up in and on the same numerical block. “But here I am.”
The oldest child, Jenni, is also the family’s tastemaker. Ten years ago she started an eponymous fashion line, and in 2006 she joined the fray of New York Fashion Week, where reviews have been mixed. The line is sold at 16 retail outlets across the country; she also has two Los Angeles boutiques and plans to expand into other upscale California enclaves. “I want to go where I’m wanted,” says Jenni, whose casual sportswear is to Beverly Hills mommies what Tory Burch is to America at large. The designer is her own best advertisement, dressed in a nude-colored silk blouse, signature flats, and a sun hat. With no makeup and a fresh glow, Jenni is a précis of the vegetarian good life. It’s no secret that she made a visit to rehab as a youth, but now she has settled down and has two kids (daughter Ripley Jewel and son Tanner, for whom her blog is named) with her realtor husband, Richard Ehrlich, 43. Her cute sideline project is Ladys & Gents, a street-style blog in the vein of the Sartorialist but for the K-6 set.
Maggie—who is taller than Jenni and scrunches her shoulders anxiously beneath a cropped Proenza Schouler motorcycle jacket—is the rebel in the family. She dropped in and out of multiple colleges and horrified Jenni when she bought a Ducati Monster motorcycle; a glance at Maggie’s ashtray in her home speaks to the range of medical prescriptions now available in California. Over the past few years, she has emerged as a fixture on the local art scene. She began collecting on a small scale and persuaded her more conventional parents to commission a James Turrell Skyspace for their Santa Monica estate. Soon she was working with Bill Griffin, who has collaborated with Turrell on a number of projects, and befriending the reclusive dealer James Corcoran, a source for secondary-market masterpieces. In a deft move few foresaw, she then brokered the art partnership Kayne Griffin Corcoran, which in May opened a spectacular gallery on South La Brea Avenue, with a conference room and other architectural elements designed by Turrell. At 28, with little experience and no college degree, Maggie has become, presto chango, an art dealer.
During lunch, Jenni and Maggie’s conversation is polite and nimble, friendly but not too intimate. Jenni is the more effortlessly correct of the two; Maggie has to try harder to mind her manners. When at one point she obliquely alludes to what may have been a dispute with another branch of the family, Jenni interrupts, cutting her off with a sharp glance and a quick “That’s off the record.”
Born 21 months apart, the sisters have a strong bond within the more complex sibling dynamic. Jenni recalls how, in order to save money when she started going to New York Fashion Week, she would stay with Maggie, who for a while was enrolled at New York University. “I’d take over the whole apartment,” Jenni recalls. “I’m a Virgo, so I’d reorganize everything and give her anxiety attacks.”
“I’m a Gemini: commitment issues,” adds Maggie, who has overcome them enough to have bought Jenni’s former bachelorette house a few minutes away in Coldwater Canyon and invited her boyfriend, the artist Aaron Sandnes, to move in. Jenni’s decorating influence on Maggie is unmistakable: One of Jenni’s signatures is to lay frayed Persian rugs wrong side up to reveal their graphic undersides. (Jenni’s current residence was featured in a lavish house-porn spread in Architectural Digest.) When Maggie faces a design decision, she frequently asks herself, What would Jenni do? In return, Maggie makes sure that Jenni has artwork for every room, including the children’s bright nursery. (Maggie’s personal collection in Coldwater Canyon is less family-friendly: Two early drawings by the ceramist Ken Price are vividly pornographic.) Jenni and Maggie both own French bulldogs. »
Saree, 25, is a cat person. She’s also the brain of the family, a doctoral student in cultural anthropology at Stanford who lives in San Francisco with her boyfriend of four years, the documentary filmmaker Michael Gregory. (His feature-length Painter, about Caio Fonseca, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year.) Saree isn’t at lunch at Jenni’s, but by chance—burning ears—she calls just as her sisters are talking about her. “I should put her on speakerphone,” jokes Jenni, before telling the housekeeper to say she’ll call back.
“Saree and I look a lot alike, and we talk a lot alike,” Jenni says. “But Saree’s way smarter than I am—more in Maggies’s realm.”
“There are all different kinds of smarts,” Maggie adds. “Saree is an intellectual. I think she’ll be a professor and write books.”
Jenni and Saree are both equestriennes—Saree actually competes at a high level—but Jenni’s more practical nature contrasts with the romantic sensibility evoked by Saree’s ballet-trained posture and poetic red hair. Of the three, Maggie is the oddball, the most like their father, with whom she shares a love of expensive toys and the rush of adrenaline they provide. (Her 2013 Audi S7 revs to a top speed of 155 miles per hour.) Maggie claims to know how to fly the family’s helicopter and private jet, but her impatience with formal schooling means she has yet to earn a pilot’s license. At times during lunch, Maggie makes a show of her rebel image, all slouch and grumble, as when Jenni describes her boutiques as places where a stylish woman could buy “an outfit she loves, her jewelry, a hostess gift, and a baby gift.”
“I love the term ‘hostess gift,’ ” interjects Maggie, not quite contemptuous but almost, as if she were amazed that her sister, raised under the same roof, had somehow come to speak French when she herself had learned English. “I’m like, Who the fuck even thinks of a hostess gift?”
A few days later in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, Saree’s cats Sushi and Sake are calling for attention, the noisiest creatures in the two-story house that the youngest Kayne rents with Gregory, a dark-haired emo dreamboat with preppy spectacles and impeccable manners. The place is nice but not so much so that it would embarrass the young couple among their less privileged peers, and the decor speaks to a shared intellectual life. A Turrell drawing of Roden Crater hangs on one wall, and neat piles of books are gathered on tabletops. Among them are Saree’s prized possessions: a hardcover set of the complete works of Henry James and her senior thesis on James, which Gregory had bound for her in pale linen.
“It’s my favorite present ever,” says Saree, who speaks with a slight croak, as if she had just woken up from a nap. Her manner is considered—every word weighed—and she demurs from seemingly innocuous questions about her academic program and her family’s charitable foundation on the basis that her answers might invite minute scrutiny from unsympathetic corners. She is polite to a T and, like Jenni, engages in the conversation with full attention. Still, I had the sense that she would be happier after I left and she could return to her books. “Maggie and I are loners,” she says at one point.
When the two older girls were teenagers, the Kayne family relocated from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica. Jenni had been enrolled at Marlborough, a rigorous girls’ school in Hancock Park, and Maggie spent middle school and her freshman year of high school at Harvard-Westlake, reckoned the best college prep in Los Angeles. But both chafed under the structure, and each in turn bounced out for Crossroads, a school of a looser pedagogical model that favors creative expression. The family moved to be closer to the ocean—and to avoid the dreaded commute on the 405 freeway. So Saree considers herself “from Santa Monica,” while her older sisters grew up in Beverly Hills. It’s not the only way Saree’s childhood differed. She describes herself as the “little leftover, always running after them,” who didn’t earn full sorority until her teenage years. Maggie and Jenni insist that Saree also had a less strict upbringing because their parents had gone lax by the time she came along; Saree counters that she was naturally obedient and that Jenni needed tougher rules because she was “a little bit naughty.” For college, Saree made a beeline from touchy-feely Crossroads to the intensely intellectual University of Chicago, where she went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa—the only Kayne sister to claim a degree.
“For four years I was so happy,” recalls Saree, whose doctoral thesis at Stanford will examine the Olympics as a cultural phenomenon. “It really ended up being a place for me to come into my own.” Her decision to pursue a Ph.D. surprised no one in the family; nor did anyone ask Saree the question dreaded by most young scholars in pursuit of an advanced liberal arts degree: What are you going to do with it?
“Those are not the kind of questions that get asked in my family,” says Saree, as if somehow I’d missed a point that should be patently obvious. “My parents want us to be serious and engaged. They want us to care about what we’re doing and work hard. But they’re not measuring us against a standard of what they think we should be doing.”
Richard Kayne—Ric to friends, Big Daddy Kayne to his teasing daughters—grew up middle-class on Long Island and for a time attended Bucknell University before he decamped to California, where he finished his undergraduate degree at Stanford in 1966 and earned an M.B.A. from UCLA. After an early career in boutique investment houses on Wall Street, he headed west again in 1984 to found Kayne Anderson with John Anderson, an older investor whose sterling name lent credibility and opened doors for the ambitious young financier. Today Kayne Anderson manages $19 billion in assets, specializing in energy. Kayne founded a second investment firm with Anderson and Allan M. Rudnick that had grown to $10 billion by the time they sold it in 2001. Her dad, Maggie says, divides investments into two classes: There are pigs and cows. Pigs you fatten for slaughter, but a cow, if you take good care of it, will keep you in milk, butter, and cheese for years to come. Ric sees himself as a cow farmer.
“Business is a game to him, and he’s really good at it,” says Maggie one day her in her office at Kayne Griffin Corcoran’s soon-to-relocate gallery space in Santa Monica. “It’s nice to have that model of someone who’s inspired and passionate about what he does and is successful at it,” she adds. “But it’s intimidating too.”
Suzanne Kayne was raised in a modest Christian family in North Carolina and worked as a bus driver and then a flight attendant before marrying Ric. “She’s someone who was eager to see the world and figured out how to,” says Saree, adding that her mom would be just as happy if financial reversals meant the end of her creature comforts. Although Suzanne never converted to Judaism, Ric’s religion, she brought the kids up Jewish and is now, says Jenni, “the most Jewish of us all.” If Ric and Suzanne object to their daughters’ cohabiting before marriage, they’ve kept that view to themselves. “My parents are not squares,” Saree says.
According to a family friend, the Kaynes were just well-to-do when their daughters were born; today, they qualify as superrich, with a 173-foot luxury yacht, SuRi, that is a former crabbing boat outfitted with staterooms, an elegant wooden speedboat, a hovercraft, and a helicopter landing pad. The current Kayne jet is the third, each upgrade a response to the family’s rising fortunes and the addition of significant others and, now, grandchildren. Ric and Suzanne believe that a family that plays together stays together, and group vacations are nonnegotiable. For the past 35 winters, says Saree, Ric and Suzanne have trekked to a simple ski lodge in Alta, Utah—a powder hound’s paradise known for its untrammeled terrain and dinky amenities. The Kayne daughters grew up skiing there, and for years Jenni has tried to persuade her parents to leave Alta for the comparatively more glamorous resort of Jackson Hole—so far without success.
The Kaynes are also building a reputation for philanthropy in Los Angeles. The family foundation showed assets of more than $21 million in 2011 tax filings (the most recent available) and disbursements of $4.5 million to support the arts, children’s causes, and special education. Suzanne sits on the board of trustees at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ric dabbles in art but is not a serious collector, since he thinks of art as a “pig” investment, according to Maggie. He owns Turrells and other works bought under Maggie’s guidance, but he also commissioned carved-wood sculptures of the entire family by Jim Lewis, which he has displayed in various rooms at home and which his daughters find “creepy.” Ric has christened the informal collection Maggie’s Gallery, an honor Maggie tries to dodge. “I’m like, ‘Let’s not call it Maggie’s Gallery, because this is not what I’m doing.’ ”
Maggie’s actual gallery, the new home for Kayne Griffin Corcoran, is nearing completion among the auto shops on a funky stretch of South La Brea. “I like to be a little bit removed,” she says when she drops by to check on its progress after Jenni’s lunch. Walking around the 15,000-square-foot space, a former garage, she points out the Turrell-designed skylights and conference room, as well as other elements of her vision. “This is the biggest commitment I’ve ever made,” Maggie says. “It made me itchy for a minute.”
Just as Ric funded Jenni’s fashion line and remains a partner in her business, he has provided backing for Maggie’s share of Kayne Griffin Corcoran—you might say he’s buying Maggie a cow. But Maggie insists that the gallery needs to make money and will, thanks to Griffin’s sharp management style and the lucrative backroom sales brokered by Corcoran. Maggie is the ideas person, a scout meant to travel the circuit from New York to Miami to Venice to London—and then return home to Los Angeles with fresh concepts and new artists to show.
“They joined forces,” says Turrell, a lifelong amateur pilot who shares with Maggie a taste for planes and dirty jokes. “It’s three generations: Corcoran the wise man, Bill as today’s worker, and the next generation coming up with Maggie. It’s terrific.” Griffin describes his junior partner as someone who arrived in the art world from an unconventional trajectory and carries with her the potential for creative disruption in the Los Angeles gallery scene. “The art world is a bunch of lemmings,” he says. “She’s moving to her own beat.”
Despite her lack of formal arts education, Maggie has won respect on the scene. “What I find fascinating is that things always seem to go right around her,” says Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, which Maggie supports through the Kayne Foundation. “She’s a rebel, but she’s highly professional and responsible as well. Her boho-goth look and supercasual manner belie her seriousness.”
Surely no one is more pleased by Maggie’s newfound seriousness than her family. In the long-running Beverly Hills, 90210–like dramedy of the sisters Kayne, this is the Act II transformation of the moody middle child formerly overshadowed by her efficient sisters. Perhaps Maggie has required longer to identify her spot in the world because she is most like her father and therefore the most burdened by his outsize legacy. She acknowledges that she is “lucky” to be able to pursue her new passion for art with the sort of financial means most people only dream of. But Maggie also makes it clear that wealth like her father’s comes with a certain amount of built-in anxiety. “Big Daddy Kayne casts a big shadow,” she says.