The artful life of Lady D’Arbanville

CINEMATIC: Patti D’Arbanville taught Andy Warhol to crochet and inspired one of Cat Stevens’ greatest hits. These days, the Tryon resident acts in local and regional productions and hones her skills as a jewelry maker. Photo courtesy of D'Arbanville

Through her art, actress, muse and model Patti D’Arbanville tells many stories. She can often be found honing her craft at Tryon Arts and Crafts School; she’s now a resident of Tryon and will be the featured in The Artist of the Year Gallery Show in February.

A New York City native, D’Arbanville rose to prominence in the late 1960s and ’70s. Her career was serendipitous, launched by a chance meeting with pop artist Andy Warhol. The story goes that he walked into the Bohemian-style Café Figaro in Greenwich Village across from the apartment where D’Arbanville lived. Warhol spotted the pretty, young teenager playing chess in a room full of adults.

“He said he wanted to put me in a movie and said I would have to talk to my mother,” D’Arbanville says. “But then I realized I probably shouldn’t say a word to my mother about it. So I wound up just going over there, anyway, and we did a movie called Flesh.”

Underground art-house films like Flesh were gaining a cult following for their raw, provocative nature. “Andy just sat on the set, bored out of his mind,” D’Arbanville recalls. “He was so bored, one day, that he saw my crocheting between setups and he said, ‘Oh! Could you teach me how to do that?’ and I said, ‘You want me to teach you how to crochet?’ and he said, ‘Yeah. I do.’ … So I taught him how, and then we would sit on the steps and crochet.”

After another film, L’Amour, D’Arbanville distanced herself from Warhol because she thought people wouldn’t take her seriously. She went on to inspire another iconic artist, Cat Stevens. The singer-songwriter chronicled the demise of their intense relationship in the songs “Lady D’Arbanville” and his greatest hit, “Wild World.” With lyrics like, “I will always remember you like a child, girl,” it lingers like a lovelorn ghost from the past.

“It was a lovely time. He wasn’t the man for me — that’s all,” D’Arbanville says. “I certainly love all the men I have been with. I’ve been married three times, and I loved them all. You don’t stop loving someone just because you can’t live with them or stay with them.”

Throughout her acting career, D’Arbanville has worked with Barbra Streisand, Robin Williams, Molly Ringwald, Chevy Chase, Fairuza Balk, Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro and Woody Allen, among others. She won the Drama-Logue Award for Best Actress in John Patrick Shanley’s play, Italian American Reconciliation. No stranger to television, she was in the short-lived cult-classic, “My So-Called Life,” the HBO series “The Sopranos,” the soap opera “Guiding Light” and starred in “New York Undercover.”

In 2011, D’Arbanville traded New York City for the mountains of Western North Carolina. She settled in Tryon, the home of her late mother. “I kind of got tired of the rat race trying to find a job … and I just wanted to experience something else,” she says. “Actually, I kind of stepped away from it [my acting acting career] for a bit. [I] fell in love with jewelry making.” She spends time at Tryon Arts and Crafts School, where she’s a former board member, taking lapidary and silversmithing classes.

“It is part of the creative process for me,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have something you can touch. Something that makes someone look nice or beautiful or admired.”

The school’s executive director, Cathy Jewell Fischer, appreciates D’Arbanville’s devotion and talent. “She’s offered insightful advice and support to me, and though she’s truly worthy of being a diva — both as an actress and a craftsperson — she is just Patti here at TACS, and we all love her,” Fischer says.

“But it looks like I’m going to be back involved with my profession,” D’Arbanville adds, “so that’s wonderful.” Last year she performed a one-act comedy by award-winning playwright and fellow former New Yorker Catherine Gillet. Most recently, D’Arbanville just wrapped the pilot for the new USA crime drama “The Sinner” alongside Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman.

When asked about the experience, she lights up. “That was terrific! We shot in Charleston, S.C., for upstate New York because it takes place at the beach on a lake. We had a really good time, and it looks good.” The actress was also featured in the local film Unbecoming, released earlier this year.

Although there’s been much interest, D’Arbanville’s not writing her life story anytime soon — she’s still living it. “Everything I have done in my life has gotten me back to where I am right now, and I am very happy right now,” she says. “I’ve made mistakes just like anybody else, but those mistakes got me to where I am. So they were happy mistakes as it turns out, huh?”

About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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