of the most fascinating members of the great passing
parade in New York is the Baroness W. Langer von Langerdorff, who
is easily spotted in any crowd, gilded or no because of her tall
and tumbling flaming tresses, her satin and/or taffeta evening
dresses, and above all, her famous milkmaid complexion — and
above above all, her ensembles of astonishing jewels. Which are
always in ample supply, generous weight, high lustre, and, in short,
unbelievable on sighting.
The baroness is one of those individuals of indeterminate youth and age, to put
it politely, whose legend, long having departed reality, provides a rich lore
that may be more enticing than the facts (although maybe not). Her presence reflects
a New York that is almost entirely a memory, where women were placed on pedestals
(albeit, if temporarily) as birds of paradise, living paeans to glamour and luxurious
living, to be adored, and above all, worshipped.
Like most people, I do not know the facts about the baroness, and also prefer
the legend. Even people who do know her, it should be added, often don’t
know much about her and prefer the legend also. It may be that her great jewel
collection, for example, was acquired through her own purchase — because
she is known to be a veddy veddy shrewd businesswoman — and a
very clever negotiator, although the far more intriguing and romantic notion
is that they are gifts from over-awed and smitten admirers, not to mention some
constant and arduous husbands.
The baroness is the widow of the man who created White Shoulders perfume
and sold millions and millions and millions of bottles of the alluring fragrance
for years and years and years. When he died, he left his widow very rich. Or,
Legend: It is said that before her marriage
to the baron, the baroness was the object of adoration
and affection of some of the richest, most powerful (as
well as famous) men in the world (including, among others Averell
Harriman) who beat a path to her gilded doors
again and again to bask in the light of her rare, rich,
and subtle charms. In other words, a courtesan of the
highest order, commanding the highest tokens of the highest
(and may sometimes low-down) esteem.
She has been a prominent figure in the highest circles of New York and Europe
for years, although the first time I saw her was in “21” several
years ago. She was with a very distinguished looking man and another couple.
They looked like a circle of friends with the baroness at the unmistakable center.
At first, not knowing, I thought she was an opera diva, for she was so immaculately
and sumptuously turned out, picture perfect, that she looked like she could have
just come down from a production by Franco Zefferelli on the
stage of the Met and come straight to dinner at “21.”
She has a sweet face and a very unassuming manner, and the speaking voice when
you hear it is far from operatic to the ears, rather small and sweet. Her couture
and jewelry, however, are anything but unassuming and have all the command of
a Wagner aria. She tends to wear bold colors: reds, oranges, and greens with
gold threads prominently woven through, all that match her fantastic earrings
and necklaces that adorn her belle pointrine.
At a dinner hosted by Piaget at Le Bernardin a few years ago, Lillian
Ross writing in the New Yorker quoted the baroness as saying: “’I
never wear a watch at night. I don't want to know what time it is at night.’ Then,” Ross
continued, “the Baroness raised a hand that supported a ring with a diamond
the size of a prune.” That particular evening, Ross reported, the baroness
was wearing “huge sapphire-and-diamond earrings and a giant sapphire-and-diamond
It is also said that the baroness has fur coats dyed to match her emeralds, rubies,
diamonds, and sapphires. On hearing I couldn’t imagine what that meant
until one dull and grey rainy winter afternoon I spotted her in the Duane Reade
on East 59th Street just around the corner from the Pierre Hotel where she is
said to have not one but two apartments. She was wearing a big green fur coat.
Green like the colors of begoorra, me pal.
Her handsome companion who is always by her side night times, is always impeccably
dressed, (as are her friends). His attentiveness toward her, also reflects a
style and manner that is now only a memory (or completely unknown) for most.
Legend: The baroness was living at the
Pierre a number of years ago when there was a huge jewel
heist and the hotel's safety deposit boxes were looted.
Many lost a fortune in jewels. Never to be seen again.
Except for the baroness, who, it is said, was one of
the few, if not the only one, who got everything back.
She has resided at the Pierre for many years now, and spends weekends at her
estate on the North Shore of Long Island where when she entertains at dinner,
the men wear black tie and the women of course wear long dresses and jewels.
In the summertime, she leaves these shores for Monte Carlo in July and August. “A
sunny place for shady people,” to quote Somerset Maugham.
And then there is the bright and colorful and beaming baroness von Langerdorff.
Aston, Muffie Potter
DeWoody, Beth Rudin
Duchin, Peter and Brooke
THE FULL LIST