Come on in, through the marble Louis XIV foyer, past the formal living room, up the carpeted staircase, through the pale-peach bedroom and into what must be, per cubic inch, one of the toniest closets in Manhattan—Joan Rivers’s 12-foot by 8-foot shrine to designer chic. “As you know, in a New York apartment you don’t lose an ounce of space,” says Rivers, pointing to the floor-to-ceiling shelves and multitiered racks, as she begins a guided tour of her well-heeled world, one of the few aspects of life that the syndicated satirist takes seriously.
First she has to negotiate her way around the Marcos Memorial area of her closet—85 pairs of size 6½ shoes (each with pink tissue paper stuffed tidily in the toes). Higher up are scores of blouses, blazers, skirts, dresses and slacks, along with a chest of T-shirts and cubbyholes of jeans—not to mention 25 bras, 6 bathrobes and 15 nightgowns, all arranged by color and including some frilly numbers on standby “just in case I ever get lucky.” The evening gowns occupy their own walk-in annex elsewhere. And that’s just the clothes that are in season. The other half of her wardrobe is packed away in a cedar closet.
“I wasn’t always into fashion,” says Rivers. “But after I began doing Tonight, women would tell me, ‘I watch what you wear!’ That was the incentive to start looking good.” A size 2 to 4 (“Make my high school friends cringe—please say ‘a perfect 2’ “), Rivers positions her style as “somewhere between Margaret Thatcher and Madonna.” In fact she has been elected to Eleanor Lambert’s International Best Dressed List. “I’m very conservative,” she says. “I always end up in black, blue or red.” On TV she wears private-label clothes from Barneys New York. Off-camera, Joan goes for Armani, whose jackets dominate the “power corner” of her wardrobe—though she grumps that they will only sell to her retail. Other daytime favorites are Chanel and Valentino: “These are my let’s-go-to-lunch-with-Ivana suits.”
Then comes the semidressy area, with cocktail wear and suits by Yves St. Laurent, Donna Karan, Galanos and Geoffrey Beene. “Now say you call me up for dinner and the theater,” she says. “I’ll stay in this section.” Rivers shies away from “clothes that people remember,” she says. In fact sometimes even she needs help to remind herself what goes with what, so each suit hanger boasts a Polaroid of Rivers completely accessorized in the ensemble.
She keeps her dozens of pairs of hosiery corralled in bins on the top shelf of the closet, and her jewels arranged in a built-in wall unit in the entrance to the bedroom. In the top drawer, her own faux earrings (from the Joan Rivers Classics Collection) are mixed with the real McCoys from Harry Winston. Separate drawers are devoted to gold chains, eyeglasses, watches, fancy bows and pearl necklaces that put her in mind of the Barbara Bush look. “She should take the white pearls off the wrinkles and bring the pearls down lower,” kibitzes Joan. Once started, Rivers can’t stop dissing. “She should take Arnold Scaasi and shoot him,” says Rivers of the First Lady’s First Designer. “You don’t take a fat lady and push her into thick plaids. Arnold must be a Democrat.”
Joan Rivers’s one truly indispensable accessory remains, of course, her phone. There it is, in tasteful ivory, on the closet wall. “Very often,” she says, “I chat with a friend while I dress.” Can we talk? You kidding? No secrets in Joan’s closet.