Amy Van Doran has been hooking up couples through her high-end matchmaking outfit, The Modern Love Club, for a decade (a 2011 New York magazine write-up helped put her business on the map), but she’s now moving into a storefront for the first time to open a hybrid “store that sells nothing” and gallery in the East Village.
Outside of the space on First Avenue that used to house the Deep End Club, two empty chairs sit on the sidewalk with a chalkboard inviting passing pedestrians to share an Abramović-ian moment with an attractive stranger in the “free date spot.”
While she’s working, Van Doran will run out of the store to chase down visually intriguing passersby who might be good dates for her Modern Love Club clients. “It’s like real-life Tinder,” she said. Each person, if willing to be set up with Van Doran’s clients, is subjected to the same battery of questions, the answers to which she records and adds to her “Rolodex” of prospective matches. Van Doran says she’s compiled over 6,000 dating profiles through her interviews, each archived on paper in her files. (“Binders full of men. And women.”)
Along with fellow matchmaker Emily Lesser, Van Doran arranges dates between her interview subjects and the 16 “really rad” clients that she works with at any given time. Van Doran, once an aspiring actor, said that she applies the tools of her former craft in pairing clients with dates: “With the matchmaking you make a character. I just imagine my characters and then I imagine them being on dates. Would he laugh at her jokes? Would their outfits look good together?”
Opening a shop in the East Village is the culmination of a long-held dream for Van Doran, who said the neighborhood’s weird, funky dynamic is great for both the artistic and romantic aspects of her business.
The gallery, known as The Love Museum, opens this Saturday with its inaugural exhibition, Girls I Love, co-curated by Van Doran and Marina Press. The show features pieces by artists Kirsten Bode, Jenna Gribbon, Loretta Mae Hirsch, Sarah Moran, Carly Silverman and Sera Sloane, and promises to highlight “the necessity of strong relationships between women and society.”
The similarities between curating art and curating relationships are not lost on Van Doran, who said she loves matchmaking “for the same reason I love to do the gallery. I like the curating of people. Pictures next to other things I really like, cultivating this universe for people.”
“There’s a visual component to matchmaking,” Van Doran said. Online daters often have difficulty visually relating themselves to potential suitors, so she helps them more effectively package their true identities. “They’re so busy with their job, they’re just not focused on being a brand or visually representing themselves as a brand,” she said. “It’s like image consulting. You interview the person and figure out what they’re really about.”
Van Doran’s own visual brand is acutely developed. She favors bright colors and wears a ribbon in her neon orange bob, with oversized, white-framed George Burns glasses covering much of her face. She said a man on the street recently told her, “You look like all the members from Scooby Doo combined into one.” Modern Love Club works with both men and women as clients—generally creative types—and the service isn’t cheap, with rates running in the “thousands of dollars range.”
If you can afford it, it’s an intriguing alternative to all the online dating and hookup apps. “People are overly saturated with information,” Van Doran said. “They keep going to the ‘Next’ button instead of going deep with a person.” Van Doran finds that people simply try harder when they’ve been set up on a date by someone they know rather than via an algorithm. “It’s existentially relieving to have someone else do the picking,” she explained. “Instead of trying to figure out why they don’t like the person, they’re trying to figure out how they could like the person. I think it brings a lot more optimism back to dating.”
156 1st Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), East Village
Girls I Love opens with a reception on Sat. Oct. 8 from 5PM-9PM and runs through Sat. Nov. 5.