Monday, April 19, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Guests exiting the Washington Club for Washington Life magazine’s annual fete for the pretty young things of the under-40 set.
The Young and the Less Young
by Carol Joynt

Back-to-back nights, two historic buildings, two noteworthy events, two versions of grandeur, two social constituencies; one young, current and evolving while the other a little less young and struggling to hold onto its relevance at age 55.

The first was Washington Life magazine’s annual fete for the pretty young things of the under-40 set, a sparkling soiree that in its five short years is evolving into a kick off for the Spring social season. The invitation was begged for, the location kept secret as long as possible, and message boards lit up with threads about who did/did not make the cut. Also, it was not a fundraiser.

The fortunate dozens who were among the WL chosen gave the Washington party scene a shimmering appearance: a mix of White House and other political players, media hotshots, diplomats, art world darlings, heirs, heiresses and royals, business moguls, professional socialites, charity divas, and some just plain funky fun boys and girls.
Also: faces of color and different nationalities. Too much of DC’s so-called “high society” is predominately homogenous. You might think having an African American President would change that, but, as you may have noticed, Washington can move slowly, especially at the social level.

So, kudos to Washington Life for pulling together the faces of contemporary Washington.
The party was held at the handsome Washington Club, directly on Dupont Circle, built in 1900 for Chicago Tribune heiress Cissy Patterson, and briefly a temporary home for President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge. The party designer was Andre Wells, who created a scene of bountiful pleasures. Room after romantically lit room, some with sofas for snuggling or little cocktail tables for intimate chats; a huge buffet with an Asian scent, effervescent good cheer among the guests. But why wasn’t there more dancing? Washington needs less talk and more dancing.

On the way out there were big fat bags of swag stuffed with everything from jewelry to perfume to gift certificates and enough face and hair products to last from now until next spring. Also, there were stacks of little pink boxes from Georgetown Cupcake, each holding one special flavor. Guests balanced their loot as they walked the few blocks to Darlington House for the after party, which rolled till 3 a.m.
If Thursday was for the social youngsters, then Friday night’s Corcoran Ball was for their parents and grandparents. The Corcoran Gallery of Art is famous for its Beaux-Arts building near the White House, interesting exhibitions and at least a few jarring bumps along the journey. When it had almost recovered from the cultural blunder of canceling a Robert Mapplethorpe show in the 80s, it landed in a nasty mess in 2005 when the board commissioned and then shut down a Frank Gehry-designed addition. The museum’s director, David Levy, resigned in protest.

Week before last, there was another bit of bad news when the Gallery had to take the highly unusual step of abruptly closing and dismantling an exhibition because of faulty air and climate equipment. The show – “Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection” - still had a few weeks to run and would have been a feature of Friday’s ball, where typically the guests wander from gallery to gallery, enjoying the art during cocktails before dinner.
Nonetheless, the devoted were not deterred. A happy throng appeared in their long dresses and dinner jackets, even though the numbers were down, to approximately 750 from a high of 1200 before the recession. The tickets were $500 per person, but cost-cutting showed; no food was passed during the long cocktail hour, and modest wines were served during a dinner that received mixed reviews. “I don’t remember what was served but it was good,” said a veteran attendee. Another reported: “The crab first course was excellent, the entree tough, and the dessert cast up images of Jello chocolate pudding.”

One man, attending, I think, his first Corcoran Ball, was not impressed with the dance music and said overall he felt like he was “in Detroit. The bands were lousy. And fashion wise was, well, it was Washington, few women in anything worth a second look.” There was one lobbyist who would vehemently disagree. He bought his pretty blond wife an eye-popping number that he promised would get attention. It did. She did. They had a ball at the Ball.
There was unanimous agreement that thanks to the talents of party designer Jack Lucky, the lavishly decorated rooms were a visual marvel. From the point of view of most of the guests, Lucky made the event. “I don't think the place ever looked as beautiful, totally smashing. Jack deserves high praise,” said a gentleman, admiring the extravaganza. A woman with her hair pouffed as high as one of the flower arrangements cooed, “Look at the flowers! Look at them! Aren’t they beautiful? This evening is all about the flowers.”

Maybe so, because one couple, wistful for a less corporate Corcoran Ball, lamented a notable absence of real Washington star power, recognizable social faces and a spirit of off the hook fun. “I come for the flowers and the dancing after dinner. I love it,” she said, “but there aren’t many familiar faces.” Her husband, part of the political whirl, added, “With the tight ethics rules of the Obama White House it really limits who can be at fundraisers, so what you get are corporations and law firms that can afford $10,000 tables.”
It’s always something.

We have photos from both events, but unfortunately no chance to get names or spellings in the din.

The Corcoran Gallery did not respond to requests for a guest list. Washington Life provided this list from their fete: Reggie Love, Adam Frankel, James Alefantis, Septime Webre, Izette Folger, Reed Landry, Greta Brawner, William Brawner, Katherine Zaleski, Rufus Lusk, Dan Zak, Anne Gowen, Kris Van Cleave, Pamela Brown, Prince Ermias Selassie, Philippe Lanier, Mary Barth, Cedric Bobo, Paul Wharton, Vinoda Basnayake, Winston Bao Lord, John Cecchi, Ray Regan, Zeno and Stephanie Baucus, Bo Blair, Quinn Bradlee, Pary Williamson Clara Brillembourg, George Chopivsky, Count Renaud de Viel Castel, Austin Bryan, Sam Patten, James Spellman, Kevin Chaffee, Qubad Talabany, Tammy Haddad, Matt Lauer, Tara de Nicholas, Kate Damon, Tripp Donnelly, Patrick Gavin, Kiki Ryan, Nikki Schwab, Tara Palmieri, Juleanna Glover, Chris Reiter, Kate Marie Grinold, Carlos Gutierrez, Erika Gutierrez, Amy Holmes, Joe Ireland, Betsy Fischer, Andrew Breitbart, Amy Holmes, Jackie Kucinich, Jaclyn Mason, Joe McGinniss Jr., Spike Mendelsohn, Maggie Michael, Omar Popal, Ashley Taylor, Joe Robert III, Jamal Simmons, Brendan Sullivan, Jr., Will Thomas, Becca Glover, Christopher Reiter, Pary Williamson, Pepper Watkins, James Woodyard, Anna Kimsey, John Goodwin, Courtney Robinson, Tom Snedeker, Patrick Wixted, Joe-Marie McKenzie, Jessica Tavares, Josie Taylor, Ken Ammann, Nichole Marie Devolites, Katherine Kennedy, Angie Goff, Pamela Brown, Betsy Lowther, Rachel Cothran, Holly Thomas, Kristin Guiter, Kate Michael, Nicole Siobal, Kareem Kerdasa, Dave Belford, Ed Baten, Andy Baldwin, Heather Guay, Jacqueline Mason, Teddie Segal, Arman Harris, Anne Gavin, David Cohen, Keri Ann Meslar, Monica Calabi, Nicholas Cambata, Ayman and Dannia Hakki, Flavius Mihaies, Sara Nielsen, Ebong Eka, Becca Glover, Alison Starling.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.