day in the life

Up on the Rooftop in Gohar World

“Everyone is equally confused.”

Nadia and Laila Gohar at Laila’s apartment on the Upper West Side. It’ll be a long day. Photo: Andres Kudacki
Nadia and Laila Gohar at Laila’s apartment on the Upper West Side. It’ll be a long day. Photo: Andres Kudacki

For several years, Laila Gohar has been delighting and unnerving guests at things like the Frieze Art Fair and Vogue’s pre–Met Gala party with installations that fall somewhere between finger food and conceptual art: challah thrones, jellied mochi breasts, and fish-shaped butter sculptures, among other curiosities. It’s as if the Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington had a side hustle as a caterer.

“When you put my work into these spaces, it’s sort of like an equalizer,” Laila, 33, says. “Everyone is equally confused.”

Now the confusion comes home. Laila and her painter sister, Nadia, 32, are introducing a line of odd housewares called Gohar World. To launch the collection, they are throwing a rooftop-garden party in a tucked-away part of Rockefeller Center, with a snack buffet in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Cathedral: topiary towers of boiled potatoes and hakurei turnips, alternated with tiers of carnations; long braided ropes of mozzarella waiting to be scissored by weathered iron shears; éclairs by the yard like party subs; and octopussy candelabras cupping deviled eggs instead of votives. (Talks are under way to open a Gohar World shop in Rock Center later this year, hence the venue.)

Like Laila’s food, Gohar World’s aesthetic emphasizes artisan quality and craft but falls somewhere between funny-ha and funny-huh? The egg candelabra can be yours for $298. A pair of ribbon-trimmed Egyptian-linen bibs are $135. A miniature lace shawl — they call it a bonnet — for a tomato is $42.

Much like the sisters themselves — Nadia attends the party in a sequined Chanel suit, Laila in a pink satin Prada minidress, cut low in the back to reveal a (temporary) bean-shaped GOHAR tattoo — the items emanate a defiantly playful sense of luxury. “Most of the things, you know, you don’t absolutely need,” Nadia admits. “But it’s something to add to your table.” Or your person: a beaded necklace resembling chicken feet (already sold out) or a satin satchel meant for a baguette. “There needs to be humor,” Laila says. “Otherwise, it’s just kind of unbearable. If something is too chic for its own good, it really gets on my nerves.” Chic forestalls conversation; Gohar World demands it. “I mean, if you’re going to the farmers’ market with our baguette carrier with satin ribbons draped all over your arms,” Laila says, “people are definitely going to be like, What the hell is going on with you?

A Gohar spread offers experience and ambience as much as ease; when Laila did the food for her friend Daphne Javitch’s baby shower, she served carrots still caked in soil. “People didn’t know whether it was to be eaten,” Javitch tells me. “I’ve gone to events where it’s like, This is gorgeous, but I’m wearing high heels — do I need to peel a hard-boiled egg? But I love that about her, because I can get a peeled hard-boiled egg at any old place. There’s so little eccentricity left. She has this air of abandon as if none of it really matters.”

The Gohars grew up in Cairo, where their father — a journalist, photographer, and inventive cook who goes by just Gohar — would invite both local dignitaries and the fishmonger to dinner. “His claim to fame is that he doesn’t make anything twice,” Nadia says. “It was always a little bit veering on gross, but in a delicious way,” says Laila. “Once he made a fish terrine with strawberries on it. I remember Nadia and my mother didn’t eat it. And he and I were like, Mmm, gourmet, delicious. I definitely took a page out of his book.”

Both Laila and Nadia went to the U.S. for college. Nadia studied art, Laila international relations. “I was always interested in food,” Laila says. “But I thought I needed to do something more intellectual.” But when she moved to New York, she tested recipes for cooking websites and began making esoteric snacks for her stylish and well-connected friends. Snacks became a business.

On the roof, a mix of fashion, design, and hospitality types (Laila’s boyfriend is restaurateur Ignacio Mattos), all of them well turned out, sip mezcal margaritas. Jenna Lyons, the former president of J.Crew, is enthusing in a three-piece suit, no shirt, about the lace doilies; growing up in California, “I never saw a doily,” she says. In Cairo, Laila replies, even their roll of toilet paper had one. As the evening wears on, the dancehall MC Sister Nancy takes the mic to perform, Mark Ronson DJs, and the Cobrasnake appears, wearing a trucker cap, snapping photos of cake slices and partygoers, in that order.

It has the feel of a chaotic dinner party; Sister Nancy leads a round of “Happy Birthday, Gohar.” By the end of the night, the tables, covered with Gohar World’s shirt-tablecloths — complete with collars — are scattered with half-eaten sandwiches, knives smeared with pastry cream, and little orphaned sausage bits, and the music can be heard pounding seven flights down on the street. Well after midnight, the cops show up. Laila is unperturbed. “I think it’s better for a party to end on a high note,” she tells me, “than fizzle out.”

8:24 a.m. Not long after 8 a.m., Laila is already brushing her teeth for the second time. “I generally wake up at like six, but I woke up at five today out of nerves.” Photo: Andres Kudacki
8:27 a.m. Nadia arrives at Laila’s apartment on the Upper West Side by cab from her home on the Lower East Side for a full day of preparations. The women, who generally don’t eat breakfast, have black coffee and spring water. Photo: Andres Kudacki
8:28 a.m. Laila’s boyfriend, Ignacio Mattos, says good-bye before heading off to work. Throughout the day, there is a lot of running back and forth between the rooftop and Lodi, Mattos’s restaurant, café, and bakery across the street. Photo: Andres Kudacki
8:43 a.m. Laila gets dressed and ready. Photo: Andres Kudacki
8:48 a.m. The sisters at the breakfast table with their mother, Nevin, who is staying with Laila for the opening, and Mattos. “My mom is great. Very low-key. I don’t have to babysit her much,” Laila says. Photo: Andres Kudacki
8:50 a.m. Laila with the Prada dress she’ll wear to the party that night. “I was at a shoot once, and they gave it to me,” she says. Photo: Andres Kudacki
9:03 a.m. The sisters head to Gohar World’s Chinatown studio, where their staff is ready to bring everything to Rockefeller Center in shifts. Photo: Andres Kudacki
9:29 a.m. Laila has been in her studio for four or five years. “It’s a kitchen I kind of built — a bit of a DIY kitchen. Now, with Gohar World, we’ve changed the space a little so it’s mixed-use. There’s studio space, an inventory room for Gohar World, and then a kitchen.” Photo: Andres Kudacki
9:38 a.m. Laila and one of her assistants braid homemade mozzarella. Photo: Andres Kudacki
10 a.m. The Gohars’ younger sister, Janna (left), came to help. Laila’s longtime assistant and friend, Malena Burman, packs potatoes for the topiary towers. Photo: Andres Kudacki
10:54 a.m. Nadia delivers backup carnations for Miguel Yatco, the florist who built the food towers. Photo: Andres Kudacki
11:21 a.m. Mozzarella resting. Photo: Andres Kudacki
3:27 p.m. Laila, Burman, and a freelance pastry chef, Lauren Schofield, hand-carry meter-long baguettes custom-made for the event by Mattos’s restaurant Lodi. Photo: Andres Kudacki
3:34 p.m. Nadia and staffer Kieran Turner load in a cherry-studded food tower. “We had to wheel it down Fifth Avenue. People were loving it.” Photo: Andres Kudacki
3:59 p.m. After arriving at the space around 12:30, Laila and Nadia lower the shades for a video installation by the sisters’ friends Hailey Benton Gates and Lena Greene. Photo: Andres Kudacki
4:50 p.m. Building the cherry and potato food towers on-site, a feat of engineering. “We build the internal structure, too,” Laila says. “Miguel, who works with us, has been working on it for about a week.” Photo: Andres Kudacki
5:50 p.m. In the roof garden, Laila fills up deviled eggs in Gohar World’s egg candelabra. In all, 124 eggs were made for the event. The mixture is “pretty classic,” Laila says. “Tabasco, mayo, vinegar.” Photo: Andres Kudacki
6:06 p.m. Party snacks: an extra-long ham-and-butter sandwich and homemade mozzarella on one of Gohar World’s extensible shirt-fabric tablecloths. Photo: Andres Kudacki
6:51 p.m. Laila gets dressed in the bathroom of the venue. Photo: Andres Kudacki
7:44 p.m. The preview hour begins. “We were nervous that we were going to be over capacity, which we were,” Laila says. “And we were nervous that we were going to get shut down, which we did” — but not until after midnight. Photo: Andres Kudacki
7:57 p.m. “The doves have to be released by a certain hour in order to find their way home” to the Bronx, Nadia says. “So we had a strict dove schedule.” Photo: Andres Kudacki
Up on the Rooftop in Gohar World