How art gets generated.
“My best friend is Johnnie Walker,” Ms. Kosoy said, half-joking, before pushing open the door to Beauty and Essex, a nightclub on the Lower East Side. Looking like a butch Annie Hall in a black Prada blazer and crisp white dress shirt — her brown spiky hair accented with barbell-shaped earrings, and her forearms covered in tattoos — Ms. Kosoy wove through the late-night crowd of men with thick collars and skinny women in tight skirts. For a gym guru, she did not seem overly athletic.
“I never work out,” Ms. Kosoy said. “I think fitness is a fraud. That’s why I try to make it look like fashion.”
That’s an unlikely sentiment coming from the woman responsible for the overall look of an upscale fitness empire, with 55 high-rent locations nationwide. With its high net-worth clientele, ideally formed trainers and modern design, it is considered by many to be the most fashionable gym chain. And in October, Equinox is taking its gym-as-catwalk vision global, with a 33,000-square-foot club opening in London on Kensington High Street, and another on fashionable Bay Street in Toronto.
Much of the credit goes to Ms. Kosoy, who leads a team of 10 designers in Equinox’s headquarters in the Flatiron district, where they create a brand image that marries sex and sweat, wellness and bad behavior. “It’s not fitness,” the tagline reads, “it’s life.”
To that end, she has hired provocative photographers like Terry Richardson to shoot Equinox’s ad campaigns. The most recent campaign features a young blonde in a schoolgirl uniform (shirt, tie, knee socks, yes; skirt, no) pinned under a muscular young man in nothing but boxers, glasses and leather loafers. Judging from the Chesterfield sofa and leather-bound volumes, they are in some sort of library. “Brainpower by Equinox,” the tagline reads.
Critics said that the ads promoted body dysmorphia, even violence. Ms. Kosoy isn’t apologetic. “The campaign is a gatekeeper,” she said. “We know we’re not for everyone. Either you get it or you don’t.”
Soft-spoken is something Ms. Kosoy is not. In fact, every avenue of self-expression is traffic jammed. Ms. Kosoy, a Beatles fan, has three vanity plates: “Ey Jude” on the custom Vespa she drives to work, “Srgpeppr” on the Mini Cooper she keeps in Brooklyn and “2 Haute” on the plush Ferrari doggy bed in which her Yorkie sleeps.
Golden skulls, motorcycles along with works by Shepard Fairey and Alexander Calder crowd her Dumbo condo. Tattoos cover her body, including a portrait of Angelina Jolie from “Girl, Interrupted”; Terry Richardson’s signature; a Capuchin-monastery’s worth of skulls; and, on her middle finger, brass knuckles.
Ms. Kosoy, who speaks Russian fluently, emigrated with her parents from Odessa when she was 6. “I’m an only child,” she said. “My parents call me the Great White Tattooed Lesbian Hope.” She grew up in Marin County, Calif., and attended Parsons in New York for fashion photography.
After graduating, she bounced around different creative-director and visual-marketing jobs on the West Coast, including rocky stints at the Gap and Old Navy. She prefers to remember the good times. “I spent a lot of time at parties drinking out of martini ice luges made of people’s logo,” she said.
In 2004, after cashing out her stock options and after a few months of intense partying, Ms. Kosoy saw an online listing for a position at Equinox. “I applied on a whim,” she said. “I never thought they’d hire me.” But 15 minutes after submitting her résumé, Ms. Kosoy was on the phone, scheduling a trip to New York.
It turns out she was exactly what Harvey Spevak, the strait-laced 48-year-old chief executive of Equinox, was looking for. “Bianca’s unique vision blurs the traditional lines between fashion and fitness,” he said.
Back at Beauty and Essex, Ms. Kosoy stopped at the faux pawnshop in front of the club and looked at a gold pendant shaped like a revolver. “Is this 24-karat gold?” she asked. “I’m all about guns and skulls.”
Ms. Kosoy was buying a gift for a new paramour, after breaking off an engagement last year. “I’ve given her a present every day for the last three weeks since we started dating,” she said. “I’ve never been so in love.”
Shopping complete, Ms. Kosoy headed inside where the hostess, a good-looking woman with a headset, greeted her by name and showed her to her usual table, a prime booth under the skylight. On the way there, a young woman with blond highlights, vertiginous peek-a-boo heels, shimmering wrap shirt and revealing décolletage brushed by. Ms. Kosoy tracked her with wolfish eyes.
She reflexively murmured “Yummm,” before adding, “I’m a pig.” Then she sat down and ordered a Johnnie Walker on the rocks.