Sonja Morgan has it down — blonde hair gathered high and dramatically coiffed, or perhaps tied loosely in a chignon. Bee-stung lips, usually painted a girly, mod pink, pursed into an impish half-grin that sets off mile-high cheekbones. She might wear a costume, and, if so, it will be frilly and festive and dripping with frippery. Yup, Sonja — a former model turned society siren and Bravo Housewife — knows how to keep all eyes, and cameras, on herself. Accordingly, Sonja’s physicality has merited a lot of focus during her 20-something years in the spotlight. After growing up outside Albany, Sonja enrolled at FIT and traded in her wholesome country upbringing for glamorous, gritty New York City. She sauntered onto the social scene, quickly garnering attention for her It-girl looks.
But chat with Sonja briefly, and her striking features take a backseat to a different lead act: a uniquely Sonja way of speaking. Online, her Twitter feed, rife with #Sonja tags, hints at her way with words. In person, she peppers her conversation with bon mots, metaphors, and turns of phrase — sometimes endearingly made up — and, unwittingly or not, makes sense of her theatrical lifestyle in one sentence: “I’m Robin Leach meets Martha Stewart meets Hello, Dolly! In that order.” Care to elaborate? Of course. Sonja Tremont Morgan doesn’t leave a crowd hanging.
In 2000, “80 gorgeous, successful women” and one man, Robin Leach, attended Sonja’s baby shower for her daughter, now 10. She met the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host around 1990, during her restaurant-consulting days. Sonja brought in big-name clients and dated young hotshots, but in Sonja’s book Leach knows “living well” better than anyone. Having wealth in itself doesn’t impress Sonja. “It’s not just about living large; it’s about living well. Not just having the toys, but knowing how to maintain and enjoy them with family and friends. What good are materials you can’t share?” Sonja philosophized.
“Oh, and [Wölffer Estate Vineyard founder] Christian Wölffer,” Sonja added crisply. “He was a good friend who passed away, and the perfect example of someone who would get Robin Leach’s stamp of approval.” Then, a spoken Sonjaism: “I have a taste for luxury and luxury has a taste for me. Christian Wölffer epitomized that, and Robin Leach gets that.”
Leach’s name resurfaced when Sonja talked travel. “He’s everything I love about travel — he knows the places I’ve seen and the people I know.” At 20, Sonja flew to Rome, her first time beyond the States. A week of touristy snapshots outside the Vatican? Not quite. “I had a girlfriend who married a boy from Rome. We’re talking a gorgeous girlfriend I used to model with. Her husband’s family, who was extremely glamorous, owned Ferrarelle sparkling water, basically the town of San Gemini. We went to their beach house in Ponza. I got a taste for Italy, and Italy got a taste for me. They went very well together, let me tell you — Sonja and Italy.”
Sonja’s taste endured, sparking a six-year relationship with an Italian count. Before ending their engagement, Sonja flitted between continents, learned Italian, and enrolled in the school of European style. Today, Sonja’s heart belongs in France, but not necessarily in Saint-Tropez, her Provençal home base for over 20 years. “I’m transitioning in life, so maybe a new part of France is the next step for Sonja.”
Sonja isn’t all global jaunts and French verandas; she has a strong domestic side, too. Back in New York, in a patrician townhouse on the Upper East Side, Sonja channels her inner Martha Stewart, whom she discusses with genuine fan-girl admiration. “When I started Sonja Inc. in 1992, I got a hand-written note from Martha, congratulating me,” said Sonja. Like Martha, Sonja works with what she has: She’ll scan an empty fridge and churn out an elegant meal. Or she’ll make a seasonal floral arrangement from whatever her garden grows, even if it’s just shrubbery.
Sonja swears by her trusty toaster oven, the staple of her affordable luxury brand. She plans to release a toaster oven cookbook, a collection of healthy, hassle-free dishes chosen by Sonja and her daughter, but not until her whole lifestyle line is ready to go — in one fell swoop. “I’m feeling a little like Swifty Lazar,” laughed Sonja, “and I want everything to come together at once, to be synergistic.” Soon enough, Sonja’s fuss-free fine dining will be on sale, undoubtedly for a modest sum.
Sonja often embraces her Dolly Levi personality — the master matchmaker — during her legendary theme parties. When the lights dim, and the guests roll in, she’s a firecracker of a crowd pleaser. “Whether it’s bringing money to charities, or backers to artists, investors to good deals, or setting up couples who get married, and still are, I’ve always been a connector,” Sonja explained. Though she estimates that 90 percent of her parties support a cause, she doesn’t apologize for her love of a good time. “Sometimes I’ll throw a great party because people are in town from Europe, so I’ll bring them to a restaurant that’s been good to me over the years. That’s what I like to do: to host people, leave them smiling, and coming back for more.”
At a few parties, enthusiastic guests have even greeted Sonja with a rousing chorus of “Streisaaand, Streisaaand,” mimicked Sonja, stretching the iconic surname like verbal silly putty. “I guess I’ve been wearing a lot of that hairstyle — teased up in the back. And here I thought I was doing Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I guess it’s more like Barbra Streisand.” Whoever Sonja is, she loves to put on a show; she’s the maven of make ’em laugh. Sonja added, “That’s what I think of with Hello, Dolly! When Dolly walks in the room, and when I walk in the room: always being the straw that stirs the drink.”