Monday, June 9, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Having a good time at the Hillwood gala: Gabrielle Bekink, Rudolf Bekink, and Sophie Delattre.
by Carol Joynt

From the top I want to say something I’ve not had the privilege to say before to friends: congratulations Shell and Susan Evans for your big win at Belmont on Saturday. The popular choice, as everyone knows, was California Chrome, who with a Belmont Stakes win would have scored the elusive Triple Crown. But Shell and Susan’s Tonalist dashed that dream. Sweet.
Tonalist by a hair!
Robert "Shell" Evans with the Belmont Stakes trophy.
Shell’s passion is thoroughbred racing and it’s in his blood. His late father, Thomas Mellon Evans, and brother, Ned Evans, were in the game, too, and legendary. I met Shell and Susan through Susan’s sister, Sally Hosta, who lives in Middleburg, and who traveled north to join the family at Belmont. Again, bravo. Next year: the Triple Crown.
Susan Evans, CJ and Sally Hosta in October 2011.
In Washington, the spring social season closed out on a sweet and generous note on Saturday night, when the Opera Ball brought together the one percenters for a relatively subdued gala at the sprawling yet minimalist residence of Kenichiro and Nobuko Sasae, the Japanese ambassador and his wife.

David Rubenstein with Sachiko Kuno, co-chair of the 2014 Washington Opera Ball
It was beautiful, and the early tranquil mood settled on the guests, who grazed at a dessert buffet of pretty confections and who gazed at the calming interior pool, the decorations of flowers and origami, or each other.

In Washington life is good for the upper stratum, and they should be proud of themselves. Kennedy Center board chairman David Rubenstein announced the ball tickets they bought raised more than $1 million for the Washington National Opera.

The Carlyle Group co-founder also responded to people wondering whether Washington Opera board chair Jacqueline Mars would attend. There was a table reserved with her name on it, but no sign of her among the crowd of friends.

Rubenstein explained, “She’s a little under the weather.”


“What actually happened is she went to an ethnic food restaurant the other night – it was not Japanese, though – and maybe the food wasn’t as good as it should have been. But she’ll be fine.” He described her as “indefatigable in her support” of the WNO. Mars has been seldom seen since pleading guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge in a fatal car accident that happened in Aldie, Virginia last October.
Arriving at the Opera Ball at twilight.
The tranquil interior pool.
Serenity in a hallway at the Japanese ambassador's residence.
Rubenstein was his usual master emcee with easy off-the-cuff remarks about the 40-year-old tradition of the ball. Standing on the bandstand between sets, he asked, “How many people have never been to an Opera Ball? Some of you are wondering where the opera is and where the ball is.” There is no ball at the ball, he acknowledged. “We don’t really have any big balls, and we don’t really have a lot of opera ... but this is really designed to make sure the diplomatic community, and friends of the opera, and friends of the Kennedy Center, have a chance to gather together at the end of the season.” Done and done and done.
Ambassador Sasae presents the prize of a trip to Tokyo to Opera Ball raffle winner David Espinosa.
Rina Haruki and Azusa Veno perform in a private room at the Opera Ball.
There was some opera, though, and chamber music, as the evening included performances by four separate groups of artists. Their stage was in a separate room where patrons could slip in, sit down and enjoy the classical music behind drawn doors and then slip back into the party. There were bars set up in different spaces and as the clock struck 10:30 PM sushi and tempura were brought out for a late snack. Most of the guests earlier had dined at various embassies around town.
Nobuko Sasae. Mark and Lyn McFadden.
Grace and Morton Bender. Robert and Capricia Marshall.
Michael Kaiser, who is moving on as president of the Kennedy Center, with his husband, John Roberts.
Fan cookies created by Susan Gage Caterers.
Jim Spellman and I opted out of the embassy dinner ritual and went instead to a deservedly popular Japanese restaurant, Kaz Sushi Bistro, for a pre-ball meal at the sushi bar. When we sat down in our evening wear a couple to Jim’s left said, “we’ve never seen anyone in black-tie at a sushi bar before. Is this a new thing?” Hmmm. Yes, for one night. We ate an assortment of nigiri, including salmon with mango, blue crab with celery, red pepper and Old Bay, foie gras with plum wine gelée, and scallops; also, crispy Brussels sprouts and soft shell crab, our local delicacy at the height of its season.
Jim Spellman in black tie at Kaz Sushi bistro.
Nigiri at Kaz Sushi Bistro.
Yum. Soft shell crab at Kaz.
Throughout this column also are pictures from two other events of the last week. The annual gala of Hillwood Museum and Gardens, which launched a new exhibition curated from the vast possessions of the home’s former owner. “Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems,” runs from now until the end of the year and is a good reason to visit this museum, where they are also having a changing of the guard as Post’s granddaughter, Ellen Charles, steps down as chair of the board, the last family member to fill that role.
This was the first year the Hillwood gala was black-tie, and the guests made the most of it.
This is a young annual gala that gets better every year as it draws more of the established A-list party animals. The diplomatic patrons were the French ambassador and his wife, Francois and Sophie Delattre. Also there, Netherlands Ambassador Rudolf Bekink and Gabrielle.
Ellen Charles, celebrating her birthday, surrounded by men: grandson Geordie Iverson, son George Iverson, and French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
Ellen Charles has a laugh with friends and family at the Hillwood gala.
Ellen Charles with Kate Markert, the executive director of Hillwood Musem and Gardens.
Ann Close and George Floyd.
Dinner is served: the menu was Coquille Saint Jacques, Onglet de Beouf, and Orange Souffle.
Washington philanthropist Adrienne Arsht, who in the Post tradition has her own trove of notable gowns and jewels, and who is not shy about sharing them for photographs, responded to the evening’s theme in diamond tiara, earrings and a striking pair of Cartier cuffs. She showed them off with gusto, and why not? If you’ve got it, flaunt it, eh? It was, given the theme and the formal dress, a night for wearing the good stuff.
Adrienne Arsht with her jewels, including Cartier cuffs. Adrienne Arsht greets Sophie Delattre.
Arsht greets Amb. Delattre, with Penny Peacock in the foreground. Arsht shows her cuffs to Delattre and Peacock.
Arsht poses with Ellen Charles and Delattre.
If you've got it, flaunt it.
A look book of another sort was the style at the annual Country Barbecue on the lawn of the Italian ambassador’s residence, Villa Firenze, where more than $100,000 was raised for The Children’s Hearing and Speech Center. The patrons are the younger social set. One party photographer said he likes to be there because “these people are the next wave of who will be big and I want to know them.”

The guests dress up but with a preppy tone – Nantucket reds, colorful dresses and this year a surge of the “tiny suit” trend. It’s a look to be weighed in the eyes of the beholder. I’ve spotted some successes, but more fails.
Arriving for the Country Barbecue.
An organ grinder and Bellini bar greeted guests as they arrived at Villa Firenze for the Country Barbecue.
The annual "Country Barbecue" on the lawn of Villa Firenze, the Italian ambassador's residence.
A view across the lawn to the Tudor-style residence.
The food for the Country Barbecue is from Rocklands Barbecue, a DC favorite. John Snedden, Rocklands owner.
The Country Barbecue featured several bars, including this one, ready to serve shots.
Courtney Toomey. Ben Brown and Susan Dowhower.
Ian O'Neill with David Steinberg. Jeffrey Diquette and Reg Godin.
Heather Florance, Marilyn Baker, and Allison and Kurt Newman
Autumn English and John Allen. Andrew Travers with his sister, Reg Stettinius.
Jeffrey Gullo (left) and Ben Brown (right) and friends wearing their looks.
Wearing his look: Mar. Stefano Bergonzini of the Italian Carabinieri. Photographer Ben Droz.
Pretty in pink. Barbecue committee members John and Stephanie Polis.
Thomas Anderson, president of Washington Fine Properties, with Kerry Fortune Carlsen, a member of the Children's Hearing and Speech Center board.
We didn't get their names because we were too dazzled by their matching looks. The Country Barbecue is, above all, a blazer occasion. KC Fonzi and Sarah Sadid.
Ready to join the party: the volunteers who ran the check-in desk.
After two hours of cocktails guests at the Country Barbecue moved to this tent to eat ribs and dance to the music of The Black and Blue Experience.
Which brings me to the caftan part of this story. For better or worse, I go to a lot of parties. A lot. My soirée uniform has to be as unmemorable and affordable as possible so that I get mileage out of my closet but don’t go broke fitting in among the swells.

Black, black and more black is the staple color of my after 6 PM attire. I have three long dresses, including a nice, draped silk Halston found in 2007 for $200 at a vintage shop in SoHo.

The caftan on an initial wearing out in early May, at a party with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Myra Moffett during the weekend of the White House Correspondents Association dinner.
For cocktail, another bit of vintage is a jersey LBD from the Jax boutique in Beverly Hills, bought eons ago, and a workhorse DVF, that holds up despite so many outings, and for when I’m feeling a little “So there, in your eye, social life,” a short, fun, fringy Norma Kamali bought in 2010. 

I wear color rarely, because it risks being memorable. Last year, on last call, I got a slinky green sequins gown from Calypso. It's gorgeous and thus memorable and a liability; I can wear it once a year, maybe twice. Three times if I wear it to clean house.

A vital accessory is the handbag. It has to be small, on a strap or chain, but big enough to fit the “wonder” camera, my Sony RX100.  The faves are two Chanels that I got for barely a breath at a sample sale the house hosted in New York. Thank you, Chanel.

Bottom line is that what I’m wearing goes largely unnoticed, and that’s fine. That’s the objective. I leave the statement dressing – see Adrienne Arsht above - to the other guests.

Elizabeth Locke is not known for selling dresses. She is a well known jewelry designer with a home in rural Millwood, Virginia and an enchanting “flagship” boutique nearby in Boyce. When I did a story on her a few years ago I discovered in the the back of the store a rack of beautiful caftans in shades of mauve, moss green, rose and blue. I had to have one but, staying on course, chose the version that was black. I put it in my closet and left it there until this spring, when one night I had to go out but wanted to wear practically nothing. The caftan was the ideal solution.
At the Country Barbecue: CJ in her Elizabeth Locke Italian-made caftan with Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and Laura Denise, his wife.
But guess what? It got noticed. There were compliments from men and especially women, who wanted to know where I got it. I wore it again a few weeks later, and again this week, to Villa Firenze. The same thing happened.

I reached out to Elizabeth, asking whether she still sells the caftans. “We absolutely do,” she replied. “They come in cotton and silk.” She said they are available only in the store in Boyce. “The fabric was designed by a friend in Italy and made for me by the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Co. in Bangkok.  I think they’re very C.Z. Guest in Jamaica circa 1964, not a bad look! Quantities are limited. If people really want them then I would be thrilled to sell.” She said to call (540) 837-3088 “or contact us through our website.”

That’s the point of this story and the end of it, too. And guess what? I wore a caftan to the opera ball, and it was pink, which means it now rests in the closet indefinitely.
The caftans, on display at the Elizabeth Locke boutique in Boyce, Virginia.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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