Two sylphs in leather pants teeter on the cobblestones of a Tribeca street, confusion on their pretty faces. “Over there,” says a construction worker, pointing down an alley to what he seemed to know was their destination, the fashion-industry-hangout-cum-workspace-cum-private-club Spring Place. Ah, yes, you can see the women thinking as the doors open to reveal a stark white entryway, bustling with stylish individuals. This is the place.
Upstairs is a desk staffed with imposingly beautiful receptionists, who watch guests type their names into iPads and direct them to their destination. It’s nearing Fashion Week, and by the elevator bank is a sign listing the up-and-coming brands showing there, names you wouldn’t recognize unless you were in the know: Adsum, Albam, Andersen-Andersen, Anonymous Ism, Arpenteur. But then, everyone in Spring Place is in the know.
“She was apoplectic,” a man informs a colleague as they sit in the restaurant’s leather chairs, clocking the guests as they arrive in bursts of Le Labo and air kisses before settling in for lunch and the murmur of quiet, businesslike conversation. Meanwhile, in the adjacent lounge, a millennial with chiseled cheekbones frowns over his laptop at the marketing materials for his start-up. It will sell only one kind of T-shirt: the only T-shirt, the young man believes, anyone really needs.
Spring Place is one of several high-end coworking spaces/ social clubs that have opened their doors in New York City in recent years. Like WeWork, the coworking juggernaut whose business model—renting desks and office space to companies and individuals—earned it a valuation of $20 billion, these venues offer an office-away-from-home for freelancers, small companies, and serial entrepreneurs. They also offer a clubby atmosphere, with the kind of amenities you might find at Soho House, the very popular global network of private social clubs. Unlike the membership clubs of the past, which required a certain class standing, these new places are designed to be self-selecting along professional and creative lines. Each is invariably described as “Soho House for X”— among them The Wing (for Millennial Women), The Assemblage (for Rich Hippies), and NeueHouse, which is basically a more work-oriented version of Soho House. (“My line is that it’s the Soho House for thinking people,” says NeueHouse membership director Tim Geary, who used to run membership at Soho House. “Because Soho House is the Soho House for drinking people.”) Even Soho House itself is getting in on the action: Its London-based spin-off, Soho Works, plans to open a second location this year in Los Angeles.
“Our community is very...specific,” says Francesco Costa, the Roman-born, London-and-New-York-based cofounder of Spring Place. “People today identify themselves through what they do,” says Costa, who is also launching a Los Angeles branch this year and has plans to expand the concept to Paris and Milan. “This place isn’t just a workspace. You come here because it tells you who you are.”
He might as well be speaking of himself. Costa isn’t a fashion guy; he’s a numbers guy, a former financier and entrepreneur who purchased a 130,000-square-foot Verizon building in Tribeca in 2009. But he’s also a creative soul who considers anthropology a “personal passion” and comes from a family of architects. (His business partner, Alessandro Cajrati Crivelli, runs the design-focused development firm Est4te Four.) They bought the building as an investment and chose their target clientele for similarly sensible reasons. (“The fashion industry in New York is bigger than London’s,” Costa tells me. “Not double. Twenty times.”)
Costa was also intrigued by the social aspects. “These are people who all know each other,” he says, gesturing toward the members mingling outside the glass doors. Okay, they may not know-know each other— members include the CEOs of Gucci and LVMH, models like Irina Shayk, and designers like Jason Wu, in addition to T-shirt Guy—but they have a kind of likemindedness: what sociologists call “consciousness of kind.”
“They may not go to the same places, but they have certain points of reference in terms of what they like,” says Costa. For that reason, they feel immediately comfortable at Spring Place, which has made a point of bringing that lifestyle to them. The club hosts guest speakers, ballet performances, and pop-up restaurants like jet-set favorites Caviar Kaspia, in Paris, and Noma, in Copenhagen.
In the Flatiron District, on the very same day I visited Spring Place, a wholly different flock of individuals had gathered at The Wing, a pink-hued club for women with color-coded bookshelves and Chanel and Glossier products in the bathroom. Launched in 2016 by thirtysomething power players Lauren Kassan and Audrey Gelman (who served as a spokeswoman for a city comptroller’s campaign and had a recurring role on Girls), the space was inspired by the women-only Colony and Cosmopolitan clubs uptown, which boasted members like Willa Cather and Dorothy Thompson back in the early 20th century and still play by stuffy rules—no jeans, no sneakers, no phones. The atmosphere at The Wing is far more relaxed, and the events it hosts are more in line with its members’ interests. For instance, earlier in the week there’d been a cupcake-decorating class—playfully named Ice Ice Baby— although tonight’s event, held on the anniversary of the passing of Roe v. Wade, was more serious: a panel discussion and screening of the video series No Choice.
The Wing, which has had a waiting list since its inception, is expanding. The club raised $32 million late last year from investors—including WeWork—and celebrated the opening of its Brooklyn outpost in February. Its Chicago and Washington, D.C., branches open this spring. “What really interested me was their swag,” says member Bethanne Patrick, a D.C. area– based author, referring to the Wing Coven Member T-shirts and Careful, I Scratch nail files the Wing sells. “I was like, Oh, this is not going to be stiletto-wearing Barbie dolls. This is going to be some really interesting women.”
Of course, the single-sex model doesn’t work for everyone. “Will I see you at the sound-healing later?” a young woman with a nose ring shyly asks a man sitting cross-legged on a velvet cushion at the Assemblage, a space a few blocks north of the Wing in the NoMad district, arguably the heart of the private-club trend in New York. Next door is NeueHouse, the bicoastal hub where, in the evenings, members of the creative class sip Manhattans and hear talks by artists like Julian Schnabel and Laurie Anderson. But no alcohol is served at the Assemblage, the brainchild of Rodrigo Niño, a tech entrepreneur who dreamed up the concept after taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru several years ago. With live mushroom walls, a café offering a variety of nut milks, and a rooftop elixir bar, it cultivates a healthy, Zen vibe for its members, who, in the mornings, are invited to do yoga before heading to their workspaces. “And in the evenings, we have talks on everything from shamanism to cryptocurrency,” a bright-eyed, multi-braceleted guide informed me. “We’re going to need a lot of candle action,” the café manager said, looking at a sheet that listed that night’s talk, titled “Bliss Void Indivisible: Integrating Oneness with Compassion.”
About that Oneness: You can sink into these cozy ideas about community like a leather club chair. You can almost forget that they’re private clubs, which by definition exist to be selective or, as sociologist Diana Kendall points out in her book Members Only, to accrue social capital “that is unavailable to outsiders.”
Indeed, this is “the most important element” of Spring Place, according to Costa. “That people, being here, can improve their chances to succeed.” Although unlike the clubs of yore, this is more meritocratic: It’s not lineage and breeding that gets members in. It’s professional stature, what they can do or make or the kind of social currency that belongs to a fashion designer or, say, the CEO of Gucci. That said, you need some real currency too. As Costa points out, it’s an investment.
“This room is available for $3,000 per day,” he says, running his hands on the custom conference table. “But what’s the brand exposure?” One member, he says, recently invested $15 million in another’s start-up. Others, like perhaps T-Shirt Guy, might benefit from this piece of wisdom from NeueHouse’s Geary: “You don’t necessarily have to be used to beautiful Italian leather to create something beautiful,” he said. “Although it does help.”