Monday, December 14, 2009

Washington Social Diary

The invitation for the Blair House holiday party.
by Carol Joynt

Washington is a town that understands divas. They do well here. What are politicians, lawyers, media stars and assorted other players if not a bunch of divas? And that’s just the men. Diva behavior is not an altogether bad thing. At its best it is rooted in self-confidence, rather than insecurity, and built on some real talent. This past week in Washington was a week of good divas.

It began at the “President’s Guest House,” Blair House Mansion, for a festive cocktail party to celebrate the season and a decorating extravaganza pulled together by Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall and a handful of lifestyle magazines. The news isn’t that they did a beautiful job, it’s that they did it with only two weeks notice. Having Martha Stewart in the mix certified a bona fide diva presence, and she was confident and gracious as she mingled with other guests, posed for photos and took some of her own pictures. She was particularly proud of the gold oak leaf and acorn wreath on the front door, but the sugar replication of Blair House was impressive, too.
Carolers on the Blair House front steps.
The design effort is called “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays,” and the magazines that contributed are Martha Stewart Living, This Old House, Traditional Home, Better Homes & Gardens, Mother Earth News and Natural Home. A big assist came from the Magazine Publishers of America, with David Adler also in the mix. This was a first-time for the project, but David said it won’t be the last.

Each publication was given two or three rooms, or two rooms and a hallway, in the vast and warren-like series of connecting houses known as Blair House. Guests circulated among the sumptuous displays of pine, baubles and flights of fancy, enjoying a background of holiday music on strings, and drinks and a buffet in the contemporary salon at the back of the mansion.
The entrance hall, decorated by Barry Dixon and Michael Schmidt. Christmas tree in the Blair House family dining room.
Michael Schmidt and Barry Dixon.
A Blair House tabling setting, reading for a holiday meal.
Stockings in the Truman Room.
A tree with decorations inspired by President Harry S Truman. Martha Stewart replicated the bird and branch motif of the murals in the Lee Drawing Room.
A Martha Stewart peacock window ornament in the Lee Drawing Room. The view is the Blair House inner courtyard.
A Martha Stewart touch: a bowl of persimmons.
The music was courtesy of the military; this particular tree was courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens.
With this holiday theme, forget dinner and go straight to dessert.
Martha Stewart did another Blair House dining room (there are many) in shades of pink. A Martha Stewart cookie and candy Blair House.
Martha Stewart and her candy cane tree. Note the note: "Please do not touch the trees."
A cocktail party for the magazine publishers and editors who sponsored the Blair House decorations.
The bar at the Blair House cocktail party.
The magazine decorating teams celebrate their decorations.
Susan Magrino, left, and Martha Stewart in the principal front hall of Blair House. David Adler, who helped organize the Blair House decorating extravaganza.
A sugar Blair House by Martha Stewart.
Some of the treats at the Blair House holiday party ...
Deliciously wrapped presents.
Cotton balls as a holiday mantel by Natural Home magazine.
A natural motif of corn designed for Mother Earth News.
The formal dining room with decor by Natural Home.
Martha Stewart takes her own photo of the wreath she did for the Blair House front door.
The Martha Stewart acorn and gold wreath on the principal front door of Blair House. The acorn theme carries through to holiday adornment for the Entrance Hall chandelier.
Sharing the holiday cheer at Blair House.
After an hour or so at Blair House everyone boarded buses (well, Martha Stewart took a private car) for a slow but steady peak of rush hour ride to the State Department for a second reception with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This party was both a “thank you” to the magazines and designers as well as a holiday treat for the loved ones of government workers posted in dangerous parts of the world where their families cannot be with them.
The secure bus ride - in gridlock - from Blair House to the State Department.
The party was held in the breathtaking Diplomatic Reception Rooms, which are resplendent with historic and rare 18th century antiques and decorative arts, many of which played a role in American diplomacy, including the table where the Treaty of Paris was signed. Again, the magazines did the holiday decorating in these distinguished rooms. For the children waiters served lemonade and hot chocolate and there was a vast buffet of cookies, cakes, tarts, puddings and candies.

When Secretary Clinton took center stage it was easy to be reminded that this is a woman who is comfortable with the spotlight. She glowed on her own, but lit up even more when the children joined her for a photo op. Martha Stewart stood on the sidelines, snapping away with her camera, one diva clearly appreciating another.

Stewart told The Washington Post she would welcome a chance to do holiday decorations for the Obama White House. “I would do anything for our country,” she said.
Guests, many of them children, gather for lemonade and sodas in the Franklin Room.
This room, among many rare 18th Century antiques, includes the desk on which the Treaty of Paris was signed by Benjamin Franklin in 1783.
The Treaty of Paris desk.
Just in case there's any doubt about how to behave in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.
A harpist greeted guests as they ascended to the top floor of the State Department and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Rare and historical American silver.
Sofas underneath the painting, "The Treaty of Paris," a gift of Cass Canfield - Jr. and Sr.
Benjamin West's "The Treaty of Paris." The artist left it unfinished on purpose because the British signers refused to pose.
The ceiling of the Franklin Room.
Carolers from the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall welcomes guests to the State Department holiday party.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pays tribute to the families whose father or mother may be serving someplace too dangerous for the family to be with them.
A full house listens to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Martha Stewart, center, snaps a pic of Mrs. Clinton as well as the holiday decorations behind her.
A full house listens to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Looking out for each other as the Secretary of State talks about the sacrifice of a parent.
Figuring out the camera.
Secretary Clinton had the attention of most, but not all of the children.
Secretary Clinton lit up when the children joined her on the stage for photographs ...
After the Secretary spoke, there was holiday music and treats for all.
The sweets buffet. Hot chocolate was the drink of choice.
Toppings for the hot chocolate.
Circling the sweets buffet.
On the outside peeking into the Secretary of State's private dining room adjacent to her office. A visit to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms is not complete without a moment before Gilbert Stuart's "George Washington."
The terrace outside the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.
The view.
Alessandra Comes to Town

The next night was an invitation to another handsome home that is smartly decorated. The hosts were Elizabeth and Jeffrey Powell, who live with their newborn son and two-year-old daughter in a quintessential Georgetown townhouse. The Powells are from Chicago (with as much time in New York as possible) and when it was time to choose a decorator for their Washington home they called Chicago designer Alessandra Branca. The cocktail party was to celebrate the publication by Abrams of Branca’s book “New Classic Interiors.” The Powells guests included a mix of their neighbors and friends and friends of Alessandra’s from the cities where she divides her time: Chicago, New York and Rome.

Branca is proud of her design work and proud of her book and in a bold gesture she is giving all proceeds from sales to the charity “One in a Million for THEARC.” That’s being a good diva.
Elizabeth and Jeffrey Powell's Georgetown townhouse, with valets at the ready. Relevant in a household with an infant and a 2-year-old.
Order in the kitchen.
Irresistible pear canapes. Wine and champagne.
Elizabeth Powell greets early arrivals.
A view of the Powell's hall, designed by Alessandra Branca.
The Powell's back room.
One of the Powells mantels, dressed for the holidays.
The book: New Classic Interiors.
The author: interior designer Alessandra Branca. The sisters: Cathy Busch and Elizabeth Powell.
The music in the upstairs den.
Elizabeth Powell, Alessandra Branca and Jeffrey Powell.
Sara Mashek. Michael Schmidt, Kay Kendall and Barry Dixon.
David Deckelbaum, Cathy Busch and Robert Higdon.
Book party in full swing.
All the books sold, with proceeds going to charity.
All profits from the sale of Alessandra Branca's book go to the "One In a Million Campaign for THEARC."
Susan Pilchard, Elizabeth Powell and Robert Higdon.
Dior for Congress

No one would dash from the Powells charming home as quickly as I did except for something irresistible. In this case, it was: a Dior fashion show for members of Congress. (And you thought Congress debated health care reform 24/7.)

The party was held in the home of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont on behalf of the Congressional French Caucus. Renaud Dutreil, chairman of LVMH for North America, arrived from New York with beaucoup Veuve Clicquot, a team of models and the Dior 2010 Cruise Collection. The Ambassador’s staff rolled out a red carpet that created a runway down the grand staircase, through the main hall and into the dining room.
Ambassador Pierre Vimont welcomes members of Congress to his home for the Dior fashion show. Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, member of the Congressional French Caucus and proud Francophile. Renaud Dutreil, chairman of LVMH in North America.
Rep. James Oberstar, Renaud Dutreil and Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
Professional runway models may be the embodiment of diva attitude. It was a kick to watch them strut as the House members – with a few exceptions – stared transfixed or aimed their phone cameras. Either the pols were trying to figure out how to afford the chic outfits on a Congressional paycheck or how to walk the runways of the House Chamber with the same magnetic command.

The members of Congress enjoying the Dior fashion show included Jim Oberstar and John Boozman, co-chairs of the Congressional French Caucus; also Doris Matsui, Mark Souder, Dan Burton, John Dingell, Bart Gordon, Luis Gutierrez, Jane Harman, Sheila Jackson-Lee, John Larson, Jeff Miller, Tom Petri, Nick Rahall, Silvestre Reyes, Edward Royce, John Shimkus and Vic Snyder. Other guests included Sheila Johnson, Todd Weiss, Sara Lasure, Toni-Marie Calabrese, Jason Pitcock, Mary Pat Lawrence, Christine Varney, Laura Larson, Kate Posey, Penny Thompson, John Tanner, Cindy Murphy, Greta Joynes, Craig Roberts, Viriginia Muller and Arlene Lewis.
Thanks to LVMH, the flow of Veuve Clicquot was nonstop. To accompany the champagne, an assortment of canapes.
The music
Dior through the ages.
The fashion show: Dior's 2010 Cruise Collection ...
Watching the show...
Where beauty stands out.
Cameras ready for the next model.
After the fashion show, guests mingle in the Ambassador's entry hall.
The Genuine Article

Designer Christian Siriano is the first person to call himself a “diva.” He’ll tell you he’s been a diva for as long as he can remember, dating back to his middle and high school years in Annapolis, Md. That diva attitude has brought him success because he considers it integrated with his deep self-confidence. The Project Runway winner was in Washington on behalf of the Saks Jandel boutique, and the store’s owner, Peter Marks, asked if I would interview Siriano before an audience of students at the Georgetown Day School high school.
CJ and Christian Siriano.
It was a treat. We sat on stools and talked while models paraded in his latest couture designs. The students applauded with their voices and their hands. Siriano made some good points: he credits the accepting atmosphere of his performing arts high school with bolstering his creative inspiration and confidence.

“Everyone at my school was a diva,” he said. “I didn’t stand out there.” He thinks the street uniform of denim is here to stay, but has resisted doing a line of jeans. He likes to work with fantasy, big and bold, and cites clients like Lady Gaga. “But my clothing is for everyone of every style and age,” he said. He looks forward to designing the wardrobe for Uma Thurman for the film, “Eloise In Paris.” And, yes, “of course,” he would like to design for First Lady Michelle Obama. “She has great shoulders,” he said.
Siriano's "Amalfi Coast" theme.
Siriano's "Amalfi Coast" theme as an evening gown in shades of umber, gold, brown and burgundy. A Siriano "fantasy" ready for the right occasion.
Siriano provided a behind the scenes glimpse into Project Runway. For example, that it is a 7-week pressure cooker, but the pressure is “good preparation” for the real world of fashion. That he had to wait several months after winning before he could tell anyone, creating a grueling frustration. That Tim Gunn was a good mentor, but no more than what viewers saw on the air. “You are really on your own,” he said.

There was time for questions from the students, too, and when the interview was over they swarmed him for autographs and photos. He obliged like a good diva should, patiently and with good cheer.
Siriano, swarmed by the students after the interview and fashion show.
POP UP ENDNOTE: Could the Pop Up trend be a near term boost for retailers as they try to survive the recession? These guerilla boutiques are appearing more often and across the spectrum from luxury brands like Gucci to the budget-minded. This past weekend, for three days only, Target brought a pop up store to a parking lot in the heart of Georgetown. It was one of only three in the country – the others were in San Francisco and New York. The concept is simple: an al fresco “store” where a selection of 50 items are displayed behind glass cases. Shoppers file through, mark their selections on a clipboard, and pick them up wrapped at check out ... basically like shopping at McDonald's.
Wedged into the small parking lot of a Georgetown bank, the three-day Target To Go.
The clipboard used for shopping.
The display cases with the merchandise.
Some of the 50 items for sale at Target To Go.
The menu - just like McDonald's.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: