Friday, May 24, 2013

Charleston Social Diary

Azaleas along White Point Garden, Charleston, SC.
Spring in Charleston: Part I
by Ned Brown

"You want to know why Atlantic City will never be as successful as Las Vegas?" My old friend, John Russo, a former New Jersey State Senator opined to me on the golf course. Russo continued, "Because the tourists going to Vegas at least have to buy a plane ticket and a hotel. A free bus ride from Paramus gets you to AC."

So what does this have to do with Charleston, South Carolina? On one hand the Charleston tourism public relations machine likes to paint us a quaint, historical, elegant European-like small city that transports you blissfully back in time.
Pedro's giant sombrero greets those entering South Carolina.
The truth is that they want the hordes traveling Interstate 95 to take a short detour on their way north or south. In fact, there is a Charleston Visitors Center on I-95 just as you cross into the state from North Carolina. So, right after you've played putt-putt under Pedro's giant sombrero at South of the Border, come take a Charleston buggy tour, get an ice cream cone and buy a t-shirt that says "I Learnt History in Charleston" (just kidding on that one).
One of the many tour buses blocking traffic and belching exhaust along the waterfront.
Quaint Charleston is a forgone illusion. The streets during the weekends from March to November are clogged with traffic, with at least two dozen tourists standing on nearly every corner.

Layer on top of this 2,000 people arriving downtown every weekend to take a $250 per person 5-day Carnival cruise (if it doesn't breakdown mid-sea), and you get the idea. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for anything as chichi as Palm Beach, but do we want the Paramus Mall?
Carnival Cruise ship docked in downtown Charleston. Inset: How many Charlestonians feel about the takeover by Carnival Cruise Lines.
The Charleston city leaders believe the "The more the merrier." To those with homes downtown, it often means "More is less": less privacy, less elegance and less of what we moved to Charleston for in the first place.

The inhabitants south of Broad Street have become like those period actors at Colonial Williamsburg surrounded by thousands of day-trippers peering into their windows and gardens. Charleston was recently featured in the April issues of Town & Country, Architectural Digest and Elle Décor. I wish we would see more of their readers as visitors and fewer from Guns & Ammo.
A typical group of tourists on a carriage tour
Enough of the bad, now for the good ...

Recently, we had several events of note, that the average tourist never hears about: A weekend visit by the French Heritage Society, the annual Gibbes Museum Women's Council "Art of Design" garden luncheon, and the Charleston Antiques Show (sponsored by the Historic Charleston Foundation). I also have a few comments about Charleston Fashion Week.

A great way to celebrate the coming of spring to Charleston is the annual Gibbes Museum luncheon hosted by its Women's Council that celebrates design in all its forms. Last year, Carolyne Roehm regaled the crowd with her tips on flower and home design.
Checking in for the Gibbes Luncheon. Two attendees wearing black and white geometric patterns.
This year, the lunch, and the design of the same went into an all new direction. The guest speaker was Cathy Horyn, Fashion Critic for the New York Times.

The luncheon itself was designed by Washington, DC and Charleston event planner, Christina Baxter of CiBi Events, who played-off the black and white cubist theme of the crossword puzzle, which also is the hot spring color combination this year. Even the tables were custom-made black or white squares to simulate the puzzle.
Clockwise from above: Black and white cubist-themed tables set to simulate the Times crossword puzzle; Centerpiece of colored papers and flowers; Mousseline of smoked trout.
Cathy Horyn delivering remarks with fashion slides.
Horyn did not disappoint the 300-plus ladies (and a few gentlemen) who attended this fun, stylish event. She provided an insightful commentary on the world of fashion, who is up and coming, and who is fading. Horyn said that the biggest challenge for even young talented designers is building a sustainable business over the long haul.

She is chagrined when a celebrity like Jessica Simpson (with few design skills) can launch a clothing line, and immediately do $300 million in sales, while true talent struggles. Horyn is also not above poking fun at herself. She told a story of her good friend and fashion mentor, the late Bill Blass, when she asked Blass, "Bill, I'm thinking of doing something different with my hair, what do you suggest?" Blass wryly responded, "My dear, have you thought of using a comb?"
Joanne Harth (Women's Council Pres.), Cathy Horyn, and Beth Price.
Pat Altschul with Johnny Maybank.
Tater Beak, Annie von Rosenberg, Barbara Kratovil, Anne Barnes, Lane Becken, Sally Smith, Juliana Falk, and Harriet Smartt.
Ayoka Lucas, John Pope, Pat Altschul, Ann Long Merck, Tommy Bennett, Lee Van Alan Manigault, and Cathy Horyn.
Matt McKeown and Emily David of Event DRS.
The Gibbes luncheon was kicked-off the night before when Patricia Altschul hosted a sponsors party at her magnificently restored Isaac Jenkins Mikell House; Mikell was a prominent 19th century cotton planter. Pat enlarged the kitchen area and added a comfortable, sunny and informal dining area where her posse of hounds are free to roam.

The formal part of the house was designed by Mario Buatta, with Pat's excellent taste apparent, and it is a real Charleston showcase that a rare few have the opportunity to see. DPC has been invited as a house-guest numerous times, but apparently gets longitudinal displacement going below 34th street.
The Jenkins Mikell House. Guests on the Jenkins Mikell veranda.
Angela Mack (Exec. Dir. Gibbes Museum) and Patricia Altschul.
Christina Baxter with Joyce Hudson (Gibbes Lunch Chair).
Up next on the events list was a group visiting from the French Heritage Society. Now these are the type of tourists we love. Celebrating all things French, Greg Joye (Executive Director of the FHS), CeCe Black (Events Chair of the FHS), Elizabeth Stribling (Chair of the FHS), Fernanda Kellogg and two dozen of their fellow Francophile pals took in the Huguenot influence on Charleston.

The FHS weekend began with a cocktail reception at the elegant downtown south of Broad Street home of Lou Hammond (not to forget her faithful dachshund, Presto IV), which is filled with an excellent array of various French period antiques.
George Read discussing the framing and demonstrating the signed provenance of a French chair.
George Read, former Sotheby's auctioneer, and now a Charleston based dealer/appraiser took the FHS group through a history of French antiquities while they munched on mini-crabcakes, pimento sandwiches (crusts trimmed, of course) and sipped champagne. When the group got to Hammond's dining room, Reed gave a brief lecture on the history of dining. My favorite part is the era when the French adopted napkins from the British, the Brits were so incensed that society abandoned napkins, and began using the tablecloths to cover their laps, and wipe their faces after each course!
Annette Friedland, Jaqueline George, Paula and Drew Drury, CeCe Black, and Sheri Wechsler.
Randall Robinson, Drew Drury, Fernanda Kellogg, and Kirk Henckels.
David Sadroff, Barbara Wolf, Harriet Ross, and Michael and Jacqueline George.
French Heritage Society NY Chapter atop Charlie and Sally Duell's Edmonston-Alston House. Left to Right: Dayle Duchossois, David Orthwein, David Sadroff, Cetie Ames, Barbara Wolf, Jolyon Grant, Joan Grant, Elizabeth F. Stribling, Guy Robinson, Michael George, Jeanne Lawrence, Sheri Wechsler, Charles Duell, CeCe Black, Jacqueline George, and Sallie Duell.
The 10th annual Antique Show benefiting the Historic Charleston Foundation is one of those jewels that keeps getting better each year. HCF's mission is the preservation of Charleston's architecture, history and culture.

Many of the board members and staff are from families that have lived in Charleston since the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and they care deeply about preserving what makes the Holy City (named as such because of the multitude of places of worship) so special.

Each spring, the Foundation organizes an exquisite antiques show, far smaller than New York's, but no less elegant. Prominent dealers from all over the country make the antiques show a spring season "must do" event, combining business with pleasure, and now reconnecting with old friends.
Entrance to the Charleston Antiques Show.
A sliver of the fair and its visitors.
For those of you who have visited Charleston, know the second most prevalent business establishments, after restaurants, are antique shops. I had the pleasure of bumping into my long-lost pal, Anne Sutherland Fuchs, former President & Publisher of Vogue, and then a Hearst magazine exec, who was making her first foray to Charleston. I subsequently had coffee with Anne in Lou Hammond's kitchen, where she told me she was having the best time, and just adored the city.
Lou Hammond, Stephen Gates, and Anne Sutherland Fuchs.
Peggy Rash (Collectors Circle Chair), Kitty Robinson (Pres. & CEO HCF), and Jill Almeida (Antiques Show Chair).
Dick and Vereen Coen with John Pope.
Cindy Lenhardt with Peggy and Jack Crowe.
Which brings me finally to the 7th annual Charleston Fashion Week. I hate to admit it, but I am from the Alice Roosevelt Longworth (TR's daughter) school, who famously said, "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody (or anything), come sit next to me."

Actually, I do have some nice things to say about the fashion show: its a fun four days of partying, and the media staff handling the obstreperous press (like moi), are absolutely first-rate and very professional. I also got to view the show most nights with my pal, television and film producer, Whitney Sudler-Smith, who is about to film a new Bravo show on southern gentlemen; and one night with the beautiful M.K. Quinlan, Style Editor for the award-winning Garden & Gun magazine.
Style Editor, M.K. Quinlan. Linda Lucas with grand-niece, Ashanti, taking in the show.
As an aside, one night after the fashion show, men's designer and southern etiquette guru, Cooper Ray, held his own show and party at the old Charleston Library, and previewed his latest collection. Now that was a lively crowd and great fun.

First off, my thoughts are: Paris, Milan and New York have "Fashion Week"; Charleston has a regional fashion show, which is also sponsored by a local car dealer — not a forward fashion statement. This was my third year attending the show. Its mission is to showcase emerging designers. The concept has real potential; unfortunately, the execution seems stuck. I am reminded of the observation Cathy Horyn made at the Gibbes lunch that what young designers need most is a sustainable business.
Cooper Ray's Men's Fashion Show at the old Charleston Library.
Karen Klopp with designer Cooper Ray.
When I spoke with Anne Fuchs about fashion shows in general, she commented that shows are only successful when there is a "business pull-through for the designers"; this coming a very successful fashion magazine publisher and savvy businessperson. I mentioned this issue to the show's owners, and commented that I followed up with some of the designers months after the show is over, and they are still struggling for business. I also suggested that there be bigger prize money for the winners, and more spread-out between all finalists. I really do hope the fashion show grows and improves, as we have seen over the years with Spoleto and recently with the Wine & Food Festival.

Abby Lorick and Cynthia Rowley in surf pose
One group I have to commend is Belk's Department store, which is like a regional Macy's based in Charlotte, NC. Yes, yes, I know; we normally don't associate NYSD's readers with Macy's. However, I had the opportunity to speak with Kathy Bufano, Belk's President of Merchandising & Marketing (and a former Macy's exec), and she said to me, "We view Charleston as an emerging, young, hip fashion center, and we want to be here early." She's correct about young and hip; the College of Charleston has become one of the hottest schools (for attendance) in the country.

To their credit, Belk's put in a "pop-up" store for March-April on King Street (the major shopping area) featuring many of the new designers at the show along with a new collection designed by Cynthia Rowley.

And speaking of Ms. Rowley, here is another person who has absolutely fallen in love with Charleston. First off, I learned that she and her assistant, Abbi Lorick, are avid surfers, and nearby Folly Beach is a big surf mecca.

Cynthia designed a must-have line of women's surf wetsuits for Roxy that are sexy, fun and functional. Cynthia was taking-off the next day for a family safari in Africa, but we discussed a follow-up trip (with her family) back to Charleston in the near future for private plantation touring and surfing.

Next up, Part II: a spring luncheon at Dick Jenrette's spectacular Milford Plantation.

Gibbes photos courtesy of Julia Lynn Photography.
Antiques Show photos courtesy of Carrie Naas Photography.