“Follow your impulses” was the dogma dished by Simon Doonan during a conversation Sunday in one of the many outdoor gathering nooks at his Shelter Island house on Gardiner’s Bay. The fun-loving fashion writer and “creative ambassador” for Barneys New York shares the delectably appointed retreat with Jonathan Adler, his husband, a ceramicist and home-design guru, who retails and wholesales his creations worldwide.
It makes for the perfect weekend respite for the fashion commentator and writer, who has just finished his latest book, due out next month, “The Asylum: A Collage of Couture Reminiscences . . . and Hysteria,” which he called a humorous love letter to the fashion industry and a “good-natured romp through my 40 years in the fashion world.”
Mr. Doonan will be at Guild Hall on Sunday at 11 a.m. for Fashion Insiders With Fern Mallis, and the interview will be broadcast in the future on SiriusXM radio. Tickets are available online at guildhall.org.
The two designers have been coming to Shelter Island since their first summer together almost 20 years ago. After getting enough glitz and glamour in the city, the two spend their time as amphibious creatures on their paddleboards and kayaks, running, or at the waterfront pool and cabana, where they often host family members. Mr. Doonan said that when their nephew visits, seeing a New York kid having Huckleberry Finn moments is “very touching.”
He said he and Mr. Adler even enjoy the long car ride out east on the Long Island Expressway, savoring the opportunity to chat and catch up on details. Mr. Doonan sometimes reads aloud his most recent Slate column for Mr. Adler’s feedback.
The loyal Shelter Islanders dine out at the Vine Street Cafe and “thank God for Marie Eiffel” for opening Reddings Market. “The people here who have these businesses, they are my heroes,” he said. “To serve food to people at the best of times is difficult. During the summer, it is not an easy way to make a living.”
Mr. Doonan said he also spends a lot of time cuddling Liberace, the couple’s 15-year-old terrier. He took him out in the kayak last weekend, he said, though the pooch’s blindness prevents the explorations by paddleboard of his younger years.
“Johnny and I do the 10K every year,” Mr. Doonan said, and this year, “Johnny had a record time.” Mr. Doonan himself has always been athletic, he said. As he prepares to turn 61 in October, “I celebrate being able to participate.”
“Shelter Island is getting a teensy bit groovy, but not really,” he said, something he is grateful for. “It will always be authentic . . . that’s what’s great about it.”
While island life is simple and sweet, Mr. Doonan also feels free to walk into the hardware store with one of his big toenails painted blue, a small souvenir of his “glam rock years.”
Reminiscing about those early days living in London, when he went from David Bowie concerts to the punk scene, he said, “Those two grassroots-style movements were very influential. . . . The idea that men could be that flamboyant was extremely liberating and meaningful to me.”
As for women and fashion, from a man’s perspective, he said, it is uncomfortable to hear the self-criticism. “American women are harder on themselves than European chicks.” He encourages women to be playful and non-masochistic, uninhibited, to experiment with their personal styles.
“There are no rules; pretending that there are is weird to me.” Today’s fashion landscape, he said, “has millions of voices . . . everyone now can do their own thing.”
“Fashion is a refuge, but it is also a nuthouse,” he said, adding that humor has always been important to him, whether he was writing, working in advertising, or designing windows.
Since “putting down the glue gun” of window design, he has had the time for a second career as a columnist for Slate, the online magazine, and has written two new books, the other one being “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.”
His former creative director position at Barneys now belongs to Dennis Freedman, who lives in East Hampton. Mr. Doonan said he loves to see his window creations and is pleased to remain with Barneys, which he said has recently gone through a glamorous reinvention.
He is proud of having been a part of the huge leap fashion has taken, from its tiny industry roots to its current “spectator sport” status.