Next to a 22-tonne dragon, on Toronto’s widest boulevard, stood Rufus Wainwright. Smoking, and lost in a scrim of thoughts, he swivelled his neck skyward—like a commuter inspecting the flicker-board at a train station—while taking in the monstrous steel sculpture that guards Momofuku. Possibly he was communing before heading back into a dinner party happening inside.
Like David Chang—the culinary boldface behind Momofukus, on both sides of the American-Canadian border—Wainwright disembarked in the city, circa 2012. He has been made to feel most welcome: Canadians often get downright rapturous whenever there is a whiff of a reverse celeb-migration from the U.S.
Back inside Momofuku, this night, the singer-songwriter, and his husband—the tall and bearded German, Jörn Weisbrodt—worked the room. Or, to be more precise, perhaps: the room worked to them.
Even here at a dinner held for those eccentric Dutch designers, Viktor & Rolf—and hosted by retail magnate, Hudson’s Bay—the arrival of Wainwright and Weisbrodt had caused a stir.
“They did our wedding suits,” Wainwright was heard saying, as varied socialites hung to his words. He was referring to the Viktor & Rolf get-ups for his People mag-worthy wedding—the one held some summers ago, in Montauk, where Yoko Ono, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ronson, among others, celebrated the couple’s nuptials over lobster rolls.
Fast-forward some months, and there they were again, Wainwright and Weisbrodt, sandwiching starlet Jessica Chastain outside a bash, on King Street, also in Toronto, immediately after a heady concert that Rufus had tah-dah’ed, dubbed “Gentlemen Prefer Broadway.”
The actress had flown in to support the dudes-only one-night-only of love duets featuring Wainwright and pals like Josh Groban, Ezra Koeing, and Boy George—just one of umpteenth events comprising an annual multimedia cultural fest known as Luminato that Weisbrodt runs up here, and the reason that they decamped to Toronto after living in New York City.
The couple, who met in Berlin a decade ago when Weisbrodt was working for the State Opera House, make their stead these days in a cozy pad in the Annex, a just-scruffy-enough neighborhood in Toronto that is also home to actress Rachel McAdams and author Margaret Atwood. Weisbrodt describes it as the “two top floors of a Georgian row house.”
Socially, meanwhile, they are perhaps the looser, cooler answer to that world-trotting, alpha-gay, half-Canadian duo, i.e. Elton John and David Furnish. Rana Florida, who with her husband, public intellectual Richard Florida—author of Rise of the Creative Class—forms her own about-town couple, thinks that the pair add paprika to some of the more traditionally staid meals of Canadian society. “Jörn and Rufus are the modern-day power couple,” she construes.
Weisbrodt, for that matter, shoos away such descriptions, only to tell me he is touched “about how openly we’ve been welcomed” in Toronto. In terms of how he sees his partner, he added, “I love him as a person and I love him as an artist. I am still devastated when I know I am not going to see him for three days, and I still pick up my pace when approaching our front door and I know that he is home.”
An in-demand Wainwright (once dubbed “one part Morrissey, one part Mahler”) tours all over. When they are both together at home, it’s not an unusual sight to see them out, often entertaining familiar faces.
One night they were making a trio of it at a dinner with actor Jake Gyllenhaal when he was in town shooting a movie, spotted together in the discreet back patio of The Harbord Room (one of Wainwright’s favorite restaurants in the city).
Another time Weisbrodt, solo this time, arrived with art historian and Picasso heiress Diana Widmaier-Picasso at a shindig held for Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind fashion line Rodarte, this time at Italian go-to Campagnolo.
And there was Wainwright—complete with glittering bolo tie—at a suitably grand 70th birthday bash held for Canadian goddess Joni Mitchell at Toronto’s celebrated Massey Hall.
Weisbrodt’s own star, too, has managed to steadily rise, with his stewardship of Luminato, which in a few short years has accrued much international attention, and attracted A-list artists like Isabella Rossellini, Marina Abramović, and Philip Glass.
Indubitably, though, it’s Wainwright’s place in what is a sprawling singing dynasty that especially endears the couple to Canadians. It’s a Montreal-sprung tribe that includes his mother, the late folk singer Kate McGarrigle, Rufus’s sister, Martha, also a singer, his estranged father, sixties folk sensation Loudon Wainwright III, and his aunt, Anna, the other half of the duo—together with Kate—known as the McGarrigle Sisters.
We can probably also add in here Leonard Cohen, courtesy of the next generation: Wainwright’s 4-year-old daughter, Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, is a co-production with Cohen’s daughter, Lorca. (She and her mother live in L.A., and Wainwright and Weisbrodt pop in often.)
“I think Canadians feel protective of Rufus, especially those who knew his mom,” observes Allison Eastwood, editor-in-chief of the Canadian edition of Hello! She adds, referring to his no-secret addiction to crystal meth in the early 2000s, “His union with Jörn solidified his reformation, if you like—a final goodbye to his wilder, ‘Bad Boy’ days.”
With Wainwright’s career in full-on gypsy-mode—he tours as far away as Turkey—and Weisbrodt busy as ever with Luminato—he just announced the world premiere of David Bryne’s “Contemporary Color” at its next edition, in the spring—their is a peripatetic life meshed with a boho domesticity. And getting invited to their parties? A social marker, for sure.
At their home, during their first big bash, guests were tickled to see Wainwright present Weisbrodt with an old “magic wand” on the occasion of the latter’s 40th birthday. To go with the wand, Wainwright also presented him with a living-room ditty he’d conjured up for the occasion.
It was a Hildegard Knef song—“Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen”—and, naturally, Wainwright sang it in German, the language of his beloved.