Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Washington Social Diary

The Georgetown home of Juliet and Sam Reid, where they hosted a party for Verdura.
By Carol Joynt

We got back our city early this week after a long weekend’s banker invasion
for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Men in bespoke suits and Hermes ties swarmed the 20007 zipcode, almost outnumbered by the Town Cars, Cadillacs and Mercedes that chauffeured them from downtown meetings to various hotels and rented Georgetown townhouses, where caterers stood ready for countless receptions and dinners.

With the annual meetings come a core group of anti-capitalist protesters. They called themselves the "October Rebellion," and numbered at most only a few hundred. They wanted to make a scene "where the elite live and spend money." All the restaurants stayed open and people milled around Georgetown as usual. However, the a dozen or so corporate chain stores, which have expanded beyond the malls to our most fashionable Georgetown boulevards - M Street and Wisconsin Avenue - boarded up as if they expected Hurricane Katrina redux.

They nailed up the boards on Friday and kept them up through the weekend, though nothing else happened and Saturday and Sunday were beautiful, warm and calm. If anything actually happened at the IMF/World Bank meetings, it did not make the front page.
Boarded up stores and idling limos, courtesy of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Back to normal for late October means so many events on any given evening that one could play Pin the Tail on the Invite, which is what I did all in one night midweek.


With the exception of when Elizabeth Taylor lived on R Street
as the wife of Sen. John Warner, the idea of jewelry in Washington is oxymoronic. Yes, there are women who have the big rocks, and there are plenty of others who have fantasies, but reality is the major pieces live their lives like the Smithsonian’s 45.5 carat Hope diamond – in a vault.

Ward Landrigan with Pie Friendly
What passes for haute Capital bling is typically a gold-plated American eagle squatting on a faux pearl. It hits all the stations of the cross of Washington style: affordable, patriotic and politically correct. Don’t knock it. One of the signature statements of successful women here is an understated personal appearance that won’t upstage their most prized accessory: a brain.

Therefore, when the invitation arrived to a party for Verdura, I did not walk but skipped to the Georgetown home of Juliet and Sam Reid. Washington may have boutiques of Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef and Arpels, but the work of Fulco di Verdura stands apart. Verdura is rich with old school glamour, social history and loads of romance. The name invokes Cole Porter, Coco Chanel, and The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, to name only a few. Just who in Washington would show up to meet Verdura’s owner, Ward Landrigan, pass their warm hands over his cool treasures, and possibly even lay claim to a few?

As it turned out, there were quite a few long-time and new Verdura fans who enjoyed the drinks, passed canapés and baubles. Among the first was Marion and Robert Rosenthal. Later arrivals were Pie Friendly, stylist Deb Johns, real estate powerhouse Nancy Taylor Bubes, and popular Washington jewelry designer Sissy Wentworth Yates, who wondered herself where in Washington a woman could show-off some of the more dynamic pieces.
The Verdura bling on the Reid's dining room table.
Juliet Reid said she was a little girl when first introduced to Verdura, when Landrigan would bring items over for her mother, Charlotte Colket Weber, to peruse. Given that the family patriarch founded the Campbell Soup Company, Verdura was in the realm of the possible. Asked if she was allowed to pick out a few for herself back then, Juliet shook her head, “no.” Clearly, as an adult, she’s kept Landrigan and Verdura in the family.

Late word was Verdura did well here. Who knows? Jewelry in Washington may be due for liberation from the vault. Hillary Clinton is known to pop in to Ann Hand’s boutique to pick up a bauble or two, and she’s often photographed wearing pearls. There’s a year to go before the finish line, but what would be the impact of a president who rules the world’s greatest superpower while wearing jewelry?
Clockwise from top left: Fans of Verdura; Judith Landrigan prepares to show of some of her husband's baubles; Washington jewelry designer Sissy Wentworth Yates admires the competition; The dining room with the jewels and guests; View of the living room.

A few blocks from the Reid’s handsome home, another revered Washington residence, Pamela Harriman’s abode until she became Ambassador to France, was filled with friends and supporters of The Washington Hospital Center, itself a revered medical facility that is the top choice for many cardiac, cancer and colon disease patients, not to mention its world class trauma unit. If you should end up a “code blue” in Washington, hope the ambulance driver heads to this hospital. (I should disclose here that I am on the board).

Though now home to Dr. Thomas P. Nigra and his wife, Jean, (he’s head of dermatology for the Hospital Center) it’s still called the “Harriman House,” and the Nigras are generous in opening it up for causes that have their affection.

An important footnote is the house was loaned to Jacqueline Kennedy as her first stop after moving out of the White House two weeks after the assassination, before she bought her own place a few doors down N Street.

The provenance alone is a big draw, but it also happens to be one of Georgetown’s best houses, with a large and sweeping boxwood garden and beautiful pool. The Nigras bought it with most of Pam Harriman’s furniture “as is” and have not made big changes.

It looks much like it looked when she lived there, and entertained with her late husband, railroad heir, statesman and former NY governor, Averell, and before President Bill Clinton gave her the diplomatic post. She died from a stroke in February 1997 while swimming laps in the pool at the Paris Ritz.
The long-time Georgetown home of Averell and Pamela Harriman, now owned by Dr. Thomas Nigra and wife, Jean.
“When we bought it I asked if we could keep the pool furniture,” Jean Nigra said, “and we were told, ‘Oh, you get that plus a party tent and a Quonset hut to cover the pool and what’s in the house, as well.’” She laughed, “You see, we got all the toys.”

As guests often do in this house, they wandered with interest between the cheerful red den, yellow drawing room, trellised porch and the dining room adorned with an elaborate 18th century mural. The warm October weather made the pool look appealing, too. Among the crowd were John and Suki Sargent, Giuseppi and Mercedes Cecchi, Genevieve Murphy, Tim and Arlene Snyder, WHC president James F. Caldas and wife Karen; board president Richard Weiss and vice president Marc Duber and wife Nancy; Lisa Wyatt, Kristen Kofmehl, as well as Medstar CEO John P. McDaniel, COO Ken Samet, and Jerry and Deena Kaplan.
Tim Snyder, Karen Caldas, John Sargent, and Washington Hospital Center president, James F. Caldas
Anne Weiland and Dr. Thomas Nigra
Clockwise from top left: The drawing room, with Harriman objets intact; One of the many bookcases that line the den; The trellised sun porch; Pamela Harriman's red den, pretty much as she left it; Once upon a time over this mantle hung Van Gogh's "White Roses," now with the National Gallery of Art, a gift from Pamela Harriman in memory of W. Averell Harriman.

Many, many years ago, in the dark ages of the late 70s, there was a subterranean private club on M Street called Pisces. For Washington it was quite exotic. Lots of rich and internationally famous people partied there, the Dom Perignon flowed, and live sharks swam in tanks overlooking the bar and dance floor. It was not unusual to see Halston, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger descend the grand staircase or to spot Teddy Kennedy enjoying late night dancing with at least a couple of young women. 

L2 owners - developer Anthony Lanier and wife, Isabel.
Alas, the club did not make it into the 90s and – apart from the Georgetown Club, which is attractive but skews older and lobbyist - there’s been nothing to replace Pisces in the hearts and habits of members-only late night Washington.

Maybe that will change with the arrival of L2,
which opened its doors for the first time to a lucky 200 people who got a sneak peak on the opening night of C’est Chic, the French Film Festival, which runs here for the next two weeks.

The club is owned by the charming Austrian developer Anthony Lanier and his Portuguese wife, Isabel. Over the past decade, Anthony poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Washington commercial properties. Why not add a club?  It’s adjacent to his restaurant, Leopold’s, which is the focal point of Cady’s Alley, a design shop Mecca he created in what was, literally, a decrepit Georgetown back alley.

Time will tell if he can pull together a viable membership, but it will be difficult for the heat-seeking and well-off to resist the modern, cavernous and chic space, which gets its design statement from the reclaimed stone and brick walls of what was once a 19th century warehouse. There’s a long and sleek bar, a dance floor with the requisite state-of-the-art deejay booth, and art in the form of projected films and digital images that light up the plain stone walls. As for when he’ll officially open for his new elite membership, Anthony said, “the invitations have gone out, and so we’ll see.”
Opening night scenes from L2. Below: At night it's electric blue, but during the day the door to L2 is merely a milky backdrop to the bustling Leopold's cafe.

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