Ode to the Wing

New York’s Chicest Women-Only Club

In a matter of months, The Wing already has a 3000-strong waiting list.

(lead image credit: Harper’s Bazaar)

The pastel-hued Wing. Photo: Supplied

Late last year, after a decade trying to make it in New York’s hectic media world, with a weekly podcast interview series with writers I admire, I had fully embraced the freelance lifestyle. But, that meant working from home and I had developed a habit of talking to myself that didn’t stop when I was writing in cafés (and often overstaying my welcome). Like a lot of women, I wondered if my love affair with expensive, crowded New York had run its course—especially after America elected a pussy-grabbing reality TV star as president.

Enter The Wing, an unapologetically feminine and elegant, women’s-only co-working space and social club. Founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan and located in Manhattan’s historic Ladies’ Mile District, The Wing is a nod (and a wink) to the late 19th century female-centric commerce and ladies’ clubs that flanked the area around the iconic Flatiron building.

Step out of the elevator and you walk into a light-filled, pastel-hued space with views of the Manhattan skyline. To the right there’s a café nook offering an array of fair trade coffee, tea and chai, with treats and snacks from Brooklyn-based Ovenly bakery and the Lower East Side’s healthy-hotspot Dimes (both female owned and operated, like all their amenity partners). To the left, there’s the library curated by librarian and writer R.H. Lossin, plush velvet couches for cozy catch-ups, and communal work tables punctuated by fragrant floral arrangements. Going to the bathroom has never been so enjoyable because it’s stocked with Glossier products (founder Emily Weiss is a member). Add marble showers, a pump room, a beauty room (with on-demand hairstyling and makeup services) and the place is like a fantasy come to life.

The Wing's beauty room. Photo: Supplied

The Wing’s beauty room. Photo: Supplied

Looking around I can usually spot recognisable faces, like that of Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine, or co-founder and editor-in-chief of Refinery29 Christene Barberich, or rapper Remy Ma, but the vibe at the Wing whispers, “we are all equal here—merely women trying to live our best lives.” For me, the simple act of saying hi to the woman next to me often leads to the most inspiring stories.

The project was born when Gelman, a former political and public relations consultant (she’s also Lena Dunham’s good pal and the inspiration for the character Marnie on GIRLS), met former Class Pass studio empowerment director Kassan, and they bonded over the working-lady frustrations most of us can relate to, especially if you live any distance from where you work. The term ‘bag lady’ comes to mind—a harried woman lugging around a tote stuffed with a computer, makeup, workout gear, and an after-work outfit and heels. Gelman’s original idea, called Refresh, aimed to provide women with a practical personal space where they could stash their stuff, take a shower and freshen up.

“We became energised by the idea of creating a modern, robust community of women who wanted to link arms, collaborate, lift each other up, and give back to society,” says Kassan. (Each member must commit to three days of volunteer service a year.) After a crash course in fundraising—they raised $2.4 million from majority female investors— and The Wing was born, opening it’s doors in October last year.

Gelman and Kassan enlisted Marianna Martinelli, The Wing’s community director & general manager, to cultivate a diverse group of founding members. “We wanted all kinds of women at different stages in their lives, from different backgrounds, and with varying interests,” she explains. “For the founding members we reached out to women in our extended networks and contacted women we admired out of the blue and hoped they would answer our emails.”

Today The Wing has 600 members, but there is a 3000-plus wait list for membership. The cost is surprisingly low for a city hardly known for being affordable: $1,500 per year for the 200 founding members, or $1,950 (or $185 per month) for later recruits.

When Kimberly Drew, social media manager at The Metropolitan Museum, joined the Wing, she was looking for a co-working space. “I surely wasn’t expecting to find a second home,” Drew says. “The empowerment, criticality, and energy that I’ve felt in The Wing has renewed my spirit in ways that I could not have imagined. Pre-Trump and post-Trump, the Wing has been a space for radical fellowship.”

Kassan says The Wing’s broad variety of members is its key, bringing women together without boundaries and judgment, to realize, “It’s okay to care about politics and your lipstick.” From braiding workshops, to off-site Beyoncé-themed dance classes, to the monthly book club lead by New York Times contributor Iranian-American Porochista Khakpour, the programming and events reflect this philosophy.

The resounding feedback is more, more, more…Someone even started the hashtag #bringthewing hoping to entice the pair to open a location in their city. The last burning question is, ‘why no men?’ For Gelman and Kassan it’s less about excluding men and more about the special kinetic energy that is created when large groups of women gather together. “The women who belong to The Wing say they are more productive, feel more affirmed and more confident and feel less alone,” concludes Gelman.

That’s something a lot of women—this one included—sorely needs as well.

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