Tuesday, April 12, 2011

San Francisco Social Diary

Anna Wintour with Gwyneth Paltrow.
by Jeanne Lawrence

Balenciaga and Spain at the de Young Museum

At the de Young Museum on March 26, I thought I’d died and gone to fashion heaven.

San Francisco de Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park, was designed by the Swiss design team Herzog and de Meuron.
Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles flew in for the “Balenciaga and Spain,” opening show at the de Young Museum.
I was at the gala and opening night preview of the museum's new show, “Balenciaga and Spain.” Way beyond spectacular, it features the works of Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) whom Coco Chanel called “the greatest” and Cecil Beaton termed “fashion’s Picasso.”

His designs incorporated the influences of his native Spain—from the clothing of matadors, flamenco dancers and the clergy to images borrowed from Goya and Velasquez to Picasso and Miró—and he is revered for the elegancy and opulence of his creations.

There was plenty of opulence and elegance on display at the gala. The carefully culled 350-person guest list included an effervescent mix of San Francisco’s young trendsetters, New York power brokers, Hollywood celebrities, European aristocracy, and of course, the stars of the fashion world.

The highest-wattage attractions were, of course, Anna Wintour—Vogue’s American editor-in-chief since l998—and Hamish Bowles, the magazine’s dapper European editor at large.

Le tout San Francisco was vying for tickets even at the whopping price of $2500 per. The gala set a fund-raising record for the Museum, and the show (which runs through July 4) is sure to be a blockbusters.

The Balenciaga exhibit opened at New York’s Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, initiated by fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who worked a stint at Balenciaga’s Madrid atelier. De la Renta asked Bowles—who curated the Metropolitan Museum’s memorable 2001 Jackie Kennedy tribute—to be the curator for this one, too.

Landing the show is another feather in the cap for Museum Director John Buchanan and Board President Diane (Dede) Wilsey, already the envy of the museum world for having snagged two Impressionist shows from the Paris Orsay last year. (The de Young is now the fourth most-visited museum in America!)
Hamish Bowles with his bespoke matador cape. Vogue’s Anna Wintour (in Balenciaga) and Dede Wilsey, FAM board president (in Oscar de la Renta).

Entering the Wilsey Court, you couldn’t possibly miss Bowles, draped in an eye-popping, authentic matador cape in shocking pink with a brilliant yellow lining. Totally at ease in the spotlight, Bowles was working the room like a diplomat. Museum sources tell me that he’s a true professional and a delight to work with.

Wintour arrived in a shimmering long Balenciaga with a graduated hemline and a white fur bolero. Her trademark bob was perfectly coiffed and she was holding her signature sunglasses, though it was well past sunset. A frenzy of paparazzi and gawkers encircled Bowles and Wintour as he escorted her through the room.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. Christine Suppes, a major patron in vintage Balenciaga.
Zach Bogue and Marissa Mayer, Lead Sponsors. Lindsay Bolton, Suzanne Levit, and Elizabeth Varnell.
Hamish Bowles and co-curator Jill D'Alessandro. Couture collector Becca Cason Thrash from Houston.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Juliet de Baubigny. Exhibition lender Sandy Shreier with standing by the dress she lent to the exhibition.
Appropriately, two days later, Wintour was on the cover of Wall Street Journal Magazine who called her the most powerful woman in fashion. When she took over the as co-chair of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute gala, she is credited with helping to raise over $75 million.

The article pointed out she’s also an impresario and her “web of influential friends and allies has turned her into a global brand.” Last fall, while I was living in Shanghai, the word was that she was in town checking out the futuristic city.

Back to cocktails. Phil Pemberton admitted with a smile that his wife—Deepa Pakianathan—cajoles him into going to a certain number of galas “—though I think I’ve gone over the limit this year.”  But not all fellows are so complaint.  I noticed at least two full tables of women sans husbands, and I hope this is not going to be a trend.
In vintage Balenciaga, Suzy Dominik and Joy Venturini Bianchi, with Museum Director John Buchanan. Kathryn Lasater and Deepa Pakianathan, in a fluorescent orange by Jill Sander.
Katie Schwab Paige in Balenciaga and Jeanne Lawrence. Hamish Bowles, Anna Wintour, and John Buchanan.
Kelly Wearstler, Hamish Bowles, and Denise Hale. FAM Board member Todd Traina and Katie Traina.
Bill and Vanessa Getty, in her one-shoulder Madame Grès. Trevor Traina and Alexis Traina.
Wearing a tux and making small talk isn’t so much fun for some of the guys, but the women enjoy the chance to have their full-out fairy princess moments—donning a fantastic gown, taking out the jewels from the safe deposit box, spending hours on the makeup and hair, then preening and strutting for photographers eager for pictures.

Among the beautifully turned out major haute couture collectors in the crowd, I noticed Christine Suppes, a major benefactor to the exhibition, Los Angelino Susan Casden, Michigan’s Sandy Schreier, and Houston’s Becca Cason Thrash.

I also spotted LA interior designer Kelly Wearstler; the sisters from Rodarte, Kate (in pants!) and Laura Mulleavy, and the cuties who founded Juicy Couture —Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy. Photographer Frederic Aranda came from London; Inmaculada de Habsburgo, President & CEO of Spanish Institute and Carolina Irving and from New York, and Lala Herrero from Madrid.
Doris Fisher with Emma and Randi Fisher. Kate Harbin Clammer and Emma Goltz in Balenciaga.
Wilkes Bashford with Lisa and Doug Goldman.
OJ and Gary Shansby. Dan Lurie and Serena Perkins.
Mimi Haas and Rodman Primack. George and Charlotte Schultz, in Oscar de la Renta.
Laura Mulleavy, John Capizzi of Neiman Marcus, and Kate Mulleavy. Catherine Goodman, president of the FAM Auxiliary, and Barbara Traisman.
Model Maggie Rizer. Andrea Schnitzer and Elizabeth Touw. Jamie Tisch.
Paula Carano, in a vintage Balenciaga identical to one in the show, with Ricky Serbin. Bernard Tyson and Denise Bradley Tyson.
Naturally, many were in Balenciaga gowns, some from the label’s current designer Nicolas Ghesquière and others in vintage pieces— as spectacular today as ever.

Among those in vintage was Google VP Marissa Mayer, a Grace Kelley-style natural beauty. (Dede Wilsey, Mayer and her husband, FAM Trustee Zack Bogue, were the event’s lead sponsors. The major sponsors were Google’s fashion website, boutiques.com, and the Museum Auxiliary.)

San Francisco native Joy Venturini Bianchi was in vintage, too. “ My mother bought Balenciaga, and I’ve been wearing it since the 60’s. I’m in my glory here!” Also wearing vintage: Kati Traina, Angelique Griepp, and Yurie Pascarella.
Angelique Griepp and Lucy Buchanan. David Spencer and Laura James Finn.
Gallerist Sabrina Buell, in Issey Miyake; Jennifer Raiser, in vintage Oscar with Ricky Serbin.
Hamish Bowles and Pamela Golbin of the Louvre’s Musee de la Mode et du Textile. Stephen Jenkins and Alexis Traina, in Dolce et Gabbana.
Stephen Jenkins, Roger Barnett, Sabrina Buell, and Yves Behar.
David Shimmon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mary Beth Shimmon. Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, founders of Juicy Couture.
Vintage collectors Cameron Silver and Ricky Serbin. Juliet de Baubigny, Roger Barnett and Sloan Barnett, in vintage Lacroix.
Collectors Suzy Kellems Dominik and Paula Carano had the most-remarked-on vintage—gowns identical to ones featured in the show.

In a contemporary black Balenciaga, Mia Wasikowska, the star of the latest version of "Jane Eyre,” was among the entertainment celebrities. The group also included Gwyneth Paltrow; Rosetta and Balthazar Getty; Orlando Bloom and his wife, model Miranda Kerr; and actress Maria Bello, wearing a vintage pink-and-black lace Balenciaga gown.
Actress Maria Bello, in vintage Balenciaga. Samantha Traina. OJ Shansby, in Rochas. Connie Nielsen.
Dede Wilsey wore de la Renta. (She’s been partial to the designer for years and their friendship surely helped get his Balenciaga show to the de Young.) The many others in de la Renta included Charlotte Schultz and Jennifer Raiser, in a vintage flamenco design. Still others kept to the theme of the evening in Spanish-inspired black lace designs.

We were hoping Lady Gaga, one of today’s leading fashion originals, might appear as she was performing in the area. The lucky Hamish did attend her show. Alas, she was a no show.
Balenciaga’s was influenced by the brilliantly-hued costumes of matadors with their suits of lights, bolero jackets, and tassels.

It was hard to tear myself away from the fabulous people-watching and get to the exhibition-viewing, especially since it required climbing the Mt. Everest of a staircase in today’s fashionable towering heels, carrying a purse in one hand and hiking up a gown in the other.

But we were rewarded for our efforts. Entering the exhibit, many gasped in awe. The collection is sublime and, as always, the de Young got the lighting and design of the show just right.

To illustrate the various Spanish influences on Balenciaga’s work, the show is divided into six sections: Spanish Art, Royal Court, Religious Life, Dance, The Bullfight, and Regional Dress.
His creations often incorporated details from portraits by Velasquez and Goya, such as the elaborate embroidery and the lace trimming their subjects work.
You see a reflection of the clothing worn by the Spanish clergy—its capes and hoods, and especially the purity of its lines—in Balenciaga's work.
You wanted to linger before each of the mannequins, some in Balenciaga’s sleek, linear, beautifully tailored dresses in neutrals and black-and-white, others in the cocktail dresses (many in black) that were among his signature pieces, and still others in his spectacular gowns, often with high collars and brilliant hues like red and shocking pink.

Comprising 120 items, the show, co-curated with FAM’s Jill D’Alessandro, is twice the size of the one in New York. It includes pieces from the Balenciaga House archives and Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris and from the Victoria and Albert in London, and the Metropolitan in New York, and the Phoenix Art Museum.
In creating contemporary ball gowns, Balenciaga harkened back to the grandly attired figures wearing opulent fabrics in Velazquez’s court portraits.
Balenciaga worked with the somber black of ecclesiastical robes for both day and evening wear, all of it noteworthy for its detail.
The show also allowed FAMSF to showcase its own first-rate collections of textiles and couture donated by such best-dressed natives as the late Dodie Rosekrans, Elise Haas, and Eleanor de Guigne, whose dress is on the cover of the catalogue. Her son, Charles de Guigne, flew in from Pebble Beach for the occasion.

There are also pieces from private collectors, including 19 from Bowles’ collection of 2,000 items of fashionabilia. (We’re waiting for Bowles to curate an exhibit of his own pieces.)

In the past, it’s also lured huge crowds not only with the Yves St. Laurent exhibit, but also with shows featuring fashion icons as Christian Dior, San Francisco native Nan Kempner, and London’s cutting-edge Vivienne Westwood.
Balenciaga reinterpreted the form-fitting, beautifully embroidered jackets worn by the matadors as boleros for his haute couture women clients.
Alexis Traina, wearing a black mantilla, browsed the exhibit with songwriter/singer Vanessa Carlton, exclaiming, “Balenciaga’s a genius!”  

Alan Malouf remarked on the detailing to Isha Abdullah, whose family owns Ungaro “He was a grand master, ” she agreed.

San Francisco designer Karen Caldwell says she’s “obsessed” with Balenciaga and Christian Dior, with whom she shares a January 21 birthday. “We Aquarians love to make things.”
Detail of cocktail dress of fuchsia silk shantung and black lace with black silk satin ribbons, (1966). FAM Eleanor Christensen de Guigne collection. Balenciaga’s evening ensemble; dress of black silk crepe and "chou" wrap of black silk gazar, (1967).
I was surprised there was nothing from Jackie Kennedy’s wardrobe. She loved and wore Balenciaga, to the dismay of her husband, then-President John Kennedy. He thought her lavish tastes would offend the American public.

We spent almost the entire cocktail hour oohing and aahing in the gallery. Too soon, waiters –rounded us up for dinner. “We’ve never shown a exhibition of this caliber,” said Trevor Traina, a son of Dede Wilsey.
The feeling of dining in an Valencia orange grove was seductive and intimate.

A clear tent was set up in the Museum’s garden that designer Stanlee Gatti turned into a Spanish orange grove, with oranges dangling from bare tree branches. He used undulating purple banquettes instead of conventional round tables (fabulous to look at and fabulous for creating intimacy, though not quite so fabulous when you’re trying to slither out to powder your nose!) But, I loved it!

Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom.
McCall Caterers served a locally-sourced menu (“local” is hot these days): Dungeness Crab Louis and avocado salad, Vandenberg Ranch beef, Swanson Estate wine, and a trio of Spanish desserts. The warm cinnamon-dusted Buñuelos (a type of doughnut) was so delicious I tried to steal another from a neighbor’s plate. 

The speculation was finally ended as to who would be at Anna Wintour’s table. To her right was Los Angeles LACMA Museum Director Michael Goyan and to her left California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s former mayor. His wife, actress Jennifer Siebel Newsom, revealed the month before that she’s expecting, but she looked glamorous as always in Balenciaga.

Some of San Francisco’s most prominent were seated at Dede’s table—Emmy and Dolph Andrews (a board member), Charlotte and George Shultz, and Chal de Guigne.

Museum Director John Buchanan introduced Bowles—“He has talent in spades”—and Bowles remarked on how beautifully everyone was dressed, in the spirit of Balenciaga. “He would be proud.”

After thanking Wintour, Bowles joked, “I promise to be on the 12th floor [at the Vogue office] at the crack of dawn on Monday.”
An after dinner performance by Archangel Flamenco from Seville, Spain.

Flamenco singer Arcángel and dancer Rosario Toledo provided the after-dinner entertainment. Recommended to Bowles as the best in Spain, they flew in from Seville, and their soulful singing and energetic footwork evoked memories from my many trips to Spain.

I was among those who stayed until well past one for the after-party in the mural room, set up as a lounge for the evening, where finally the guests had a chance to have quiet conversations after all the pre-dinner frenzy.
The afterparty.
As we left, we were handed goody bags, courtesy of Neiman-Marcus and containing—of course— Balenciaga perfume.

I spotted Gwyneth Paltrow, barefoot and carrying her shoes, on the way out. Those fashionable stiletto heels are tough on us women! 

“What time does the garage close?” someone asked the security guard. “At 2 a.m. – but not until after Mrs. Wilsey leaves,” came the answer.
Major patron Christine Suppes and her friends were some of the last to depart.

I learned a lot about the themes of the special exhibition and what influenced Cristóbal Balenciaga in a sold-out symposium the day after the gala, with a stellar list of speakers. But not to fret it you missed it. Thanks to newfangled technology, you can watch an online version for just $10 (http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/calendar/balenciaga-and-spain-symposium).

The San Francisco de Young Museum with its iconic tower.
Hamish Bowles; Miren Arzalluz, curator of the Balenciaga Foundation; FIT profession Lourdes Font; and Pamela Golbin, chief curator of the Louvre Musée de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre all spoke.

We learned that Balenciaga was introduced to the world of fashion and the upper-class lifestyle by his mother, a seamstress to the aristocracy. As a young man, he opened his own shop and made business trips to Paris, where he was inspired by the designs of Chanel and particularly Madeleine Vionnet, and to which he moved during the Spanish Civil War.

We saw how the paintings of Velázquez, especially “Las Meninas” and its depiction of jewel-like embroidery influenced Balenciaga inspired his work. So did Goya’s portraits of women in black lace and mantillas.

In his designs, you see the influences of the ruffled hemlines, polka-dotted and figure-enhancing clothing of the flamenco dancers; the sculptural purity of clerical clothing, with its capes and hoods; and the flamboyant clothing of the bullfighters with their suits of lights, bolero jackets, and tassels.

His couture clients include the Spanish royal family and such notables as the Duchess of Windsor, Pauline de Rothschild, Countess Mona Bismarck and Gloria Guinness.

Visiting the show afterwards, I watched a fascinating video of models parading the fashions in Balenciaga’s atelier. In the video the ladies all wore dresses, and the models wore hats and gloves (and were smoking, too). In the crowd around me, all the women were in pants.

Though times have changed, Balenciaga remains timeless.
Before the symposium, we enjoyed lunch in the garden on a perfect spring day.
Guest speakers Miren Arzalluz, FAMSF curator Jill D’Alessandro, Lourdes Font, and Pamela Golbin.
Bowles’ slide show was a revelation, juxtaposing images of Balenciaga’s designs and iconic Spanish elements to show his inspiration.
Hamish Bowles, signing of his Balenciaga catalogue afterwards.
Bowles viewed the portfolio of a young boy who asked for his opinion on his designs.

The de Young will surely have another smashing success with the upcoming exhibit of more than a100 masterpieces by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso from the permanent collection of Paris Musée National Picasso. The show will run from June 11 – October 9, 2001. Spain seems to be forefront these days.
The Picasso Show, which will open in June 11 through October 9, will feature 100 works from the Musée National Picasso.
Photographs by de Young Museum, Drew Altizer, Andrew Fox, Joe McDonald, Thomas Maye Kenny Komer, Balenciaga Archives, Paris, Arnold Newman/Getty
Jean-Gilles Berizzi/Réunion des Musée Nationaux/Art Resource, New York © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso/(ARS)

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.