Nadine Coullier was the toast of New York’s downtown elite. But it turned out she was mean and poor and weird. I should know; I was her best friend.
As told to Jenny Jaffe
In the summer of 2018, it felt like Nadine Coullier was everywhere. At least, everywhere that mattered: having a post-dinner cocktail at The Blond, dancing at Public Arts, just “winding up” at 1Oak at 3am as everyone seems to on a Saturday. If you scroll through the timeline of any Chelsea gallerist with a septum piercing long enough, it’s likely you’ll be able to spot Nadine in a group photo, making bunny ears on Lorde or a member of the Saudi royal family. You’ll recognize her because her shock of platinum blonde hair will be in her signature messy topknot, her pouty lips will be painted in Beso by Stila and frozen in a smirk, and her hooded taupe eyes will be staring out from behind layers of Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir mascara, watching you, daring you: “try to keep up with me”. You’ll also recognize her because she’ll probably be tagged.
She’d show me these pictures the next day over brunch, when I’d buy her ricotta and grilled bread at Wild Son in exchange for feeling like someone in the know. I’d nod along as she rattled off the names of DJs she’d bumped into at Decibel, as though I knew who Chelsea Leyland or Alphie Pizz were. I didn’t do shots with Cat Marnell or Mimi Valchik at Djorna Sun’s Gowanus loft. In those days, my job was nibbling barnacles off the side of The Frying Pan, a bar-slash-barge on the west side, where I earned minimum wage and which, Nadine informed me, hadn’t been cool since the Obama administration. I paid for brunch in wet quarters fished out of the ground zero reflecting pool because Nadine had accidentally left her credit card at H0L0, where a lesser Jenner sibling had been using it to cut ketamine.
I met Nadine when she got on the same soup kitchen line as me, thinking it was the crowd waiting to get into the after-after-after-after-hours at Mood Ring. When I told her of her mistake, she laughed and clapped her hands in delight, demanding that I take a Huji photo of her in front of the line. She then passed her jailbroken Huawei phone to me and told me to put in my number; she was hosting a table at Mission Chinese with Bubble_T and I just had to come. Then she pulled up my hand-me-down Paula Deen for Rite Aid t-shirt and wrote her phone number across my stomach. A police officer stopped to ask if I was okay and Nadine reassured him that I was fine. Looking at Nadine, how could I not be? I was infatuated.
For a few weeks that summer, we were as thick as thin, very small, very small and very white, bird-like thieves. Nadine brought me along to invite-only parties at Le Bain or Falter, where she’d excitedly introduce me as her peasant friend, and in return I’d buy her Postmates when she had a 3am craving for Zenkichi (she told me she had too much money to trust her credit card information to an app). Sometimes, after lunch at the Crosby Street, she would take me to Tokio 7, where she’d hold up an Alexander McQueen jumpsuit or a Maison Rien skirt, insist I try it on, and then giggle and take pictures. She’d excitedly show me the responses from her friends- “Billie Eilish’s mom loves it!” she’d report back. “She says it makes you look like you have a personality.” The Brinatte vest in question cost more than my rent, but I bought it anyway. Such was the power of Nadine.
Nadine looked like money, but never seemed to spend it. Her daytime uniform consisted of Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh joggers, a Rouie peasant blouse, an oversized, vintage Givenchy tote, and a pair of pool slides she’d gotten for free at a Drip Parade fashion week event. By night, Nadine wore metallic Paul Bettany sheath dresses and carried pots of By Terry rose lip balm in a Mansur Gavriel bucket bag. She wore minimal make-up but regularly got zinc facials at Paula Jett that left her skin flushed and glowing. Her nails had been bitten to chic, unpolished nubs, which I later found out was a side effect of her regular jenkem usage.
Once, when I complimented her Supreme x Vagrancy hoodie, she took it off and gave it to me. When we went out, I always seemed to foot the bill, but she loved showering me in little gifts: Pinrose perfume samplers or delicate macarons from Peché. I treasured these flashes of affection, and squirreled them away in my 8-story walk-up in Staten Island’s then-undesirable Cornbag district.
I only saw Nadine’s apartment once. She called me sobbing as I was about to board a train home for my grandfather’s funeral and demanded I come over- it was an emergency. I told her I’d spent my savings from my side job as a Motel 8 scullery maid on this train ticket, but I could hear the panic in Nadine’s voice, and anyway, I could never say no to Nadine. I jogged from Penn Station to her one-bedroom on Grand, and found Nadine on the floor wearing nothing but a size XS Ivy Park hoodie, which absolutely drowned her tiny frame. The apartment was decorated with portraits of Nadine gifted to her by artists like Damien Guerre and Shashuk, and the garbage can overflowed with discarded presents from Swedish suitors and empty Balthazar coffee cups.
I asked what was wrong and she told me she was out of Crème de la Mer moisturizer because she’d mistaken it for a tub of truffle butter and eaten it while doing Ayahuasca with Orla Wells at Kinfolk, and her on-again, off-again Russian mafioso boyfriend Pasha was at Art Basil where Domino Kirke had burned his wallet as part of an installation, so couldn’t I spot her the money? I looked online and balked at its $90 price, but Nadine told me that was for the 0.5 oz jar and she needed the 16.5 oz, which was $2400. I knew I’d have to take out a loan in order to get it, but Nadine told me through sniffles that she’d Venmo me as soon as she got her residual check from the Austrian sitcom her sister guested on and that that I could be pretty if I just had less oblong boobs, so I pulled her up off the floor and reassured her I’d head right to Bergdorf. As I left, she threw a flip flop at my crotch and told me to buy her a pashmina, too.
It was only a few weeks later that I started to wonder if something was off. It was my birthday, and I was in my room, singing the birthday song to myself and lighting a single candle on a bowl of gloopy unsweetened oatmeal. Nadine was on St. Martin with Natti Vogel, Billy McFarlane, and Isobel Waller-Bridge for Jemma Augustine’s bi-yearly Velvet Bash, so I was surprised when my phone buzzed. It was a text from Nadine, who told me to meet her at Hotel Giraffe, where she’d told the manager she’d soon pay him back in precious ambergris if he let her stay in the presidential suite for the night. Apparently she’d forgotten a promise she made to Martin Shkreli that she’d give him a kidney for a year-long supply of Xanex Plus, which was still pending FDA approval. But the thing was, Nadine told me, she really loved her kidneys- they reminded her of her late father- and couldn’t she have one of mine? She hugged me close; she smelled like Juliette Has A Gun eau de parfum and Black & Milds.
When I came to, I was alone in what Nadine had promised would be a luxe recovery suite but what looked to me more like one of the private champagne rooms at Bax V. The thump of the hi-fi brown noise chill wave that shook the room every time the bass kicked in seemed to confirm this. I reached around for my phone, and sent Nadine a text- I was alive, but could I get a bandage to cover the sutures? As I walked out onto the street, a three-dot bubble appeared, and, just as quickly as a co-dependent female friendship blazing bright through the Bushwick night sky, disappeared.