Yesterday was a day in New York so gorgeous it almost seemed as if the world was all right once again
The frieze atop Grand Central Station, crowned by a colossal group of classical statues dominated by Mercury-divine messenger and god of commerce. 8:20 PM. Photo: JH.
For some of us it was the post-Fete de Swifty day as we’d worked for almost a year on the event that was featured on yesterday’s Diary (along with several dozen more pictures from it on this Diary). I went to lunch at Swifty’s with its founder Liz Smith and two of the guests, Jim Mitchell, and Luis Estevez.

Luis Estevez, Liz Smith, and Jim Mitchell at Swifty's
Luis Estevez came from Montecito where he now lives. Once having been a New Yorker when he had a major design business on Seventh Avenue (and was in his day the youngest designer to win the Coty Award – at 23), and a longtime friend of Smith, Mitchell and myself, there was much reminiscing and much laughter.

Luis is just finishing a book, expressed in his characteristic Cuban candor about his life in fashion and its splashier celebrations from Havana to Paris to New York to Acapulco and to Hollywood to which he moved his business and his splashier lifestyle in the late 60s, early 70s. He’s tentatively titled it Passions, Fashion, Fortunes & Fun’ The Life and Style of Luis Estevez and there’s an abundance of all of that in its pages.

Much of the remembering that went on at the table yesterday was between the three old friends recalling their days together in New York in the late 1950s through the 1960s. (In those days, Liz was still writing the Cholly Knickerbocker column in the Journal-American for its “columnist” Igor Cassini) That is, New York, Paris, Hollywood.

To these young(er) ears, their words recalled a far more sparkling time in social life than anything that exists today. The memories are full of fun and laughter — people who were stylish and witty, people who were outrageous with style or behavior but nonetheless living in a community that expected (indeed demanded) the basics in courtesy. It was a time, as a friend of mine (who was not at the luncheon table) suggested, when people didn’t have an agenda (generally speaking of course).

Luis and Betty Estevez (center) on their wedding day with Maid of Honor, Baroness Elian Orossdi, and Best Man, Hubert de Givenchy. May 10, 1953.
Jim Mitchell recounted the time in the early 60s when he was the press agent for El Morocco and someone told him he could enhance his income by doing a little moonlighting. “In those days, if you had a party with a couple of celebrities in a restaurant, the place could do business,” he said. His friend told him about a restaurant in the Village called Le Bijou that had just opened and needed some publicity. So he asked Luis and his wife Betty if they’d host some kind of a party there.

One of Betty Estevez’ great friends was Vivian Leigh who was starring in Broadway at the time with Jean-Pierre Aumont in “Tovarich.” So they gave an “after-theater” party for the stars and invited their friends including Greta Garbo. One of their friends, Rock Hudson – then one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, was in town and he came too. Word got around the Village that Rock Hudson was at a party in Le Bijou and in no time a crowd of almost 2000 people gathered in the street outside, hoping to get a glance of him. Garbo never showed, not surprisingly, but her “constant companion and business adviser” George Schlee, did. Jim Mitchell did the job.

The party at Le Bijou (l. to r.): Luis Estevez, Ernie Byfield, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Vala Byfield; Betty Estevez, Vivian Leigh, and friend.
The Cuban-born, Havana-bred Luis, grandson of a sugar magnate, and the English born and bred fashion model Betty Estevez were one of the hottest young couples in New York. Married in May, 1953 at a private ceremony here in New York with Hubert de Givenchy serving as Best Man and giving the bride away, they were married again in July at the Madeleine in Paris. It was an international marriage, as the couple maintained residences in New York, Paris, and Acapulco. It was also one of the most popular mariages de convenance of the international social set. They eventually separated in the late 1960s when Luis decided to move his business to California and Betty preferred spending the majority of her time in Paris, although they never divorced until the 1980s.

The party at Le Bijou con't (above): Vivian Leigh and George Schlee. Below: Arlene Dahl and Rock Hudson.
Conversation at the table yesterday eventually turned to the current social scene in New York, a not unfamiliar kind of reverie of “what’s become of it” – a world completely foreign to the eyes of someone like Luis Estevez who has been away from it for more than two decades (this was his first visit in almost twenty years; Betty Estevez now lives in Provence). In those New York days recalled yesterday with affection, it was a world presided over by a variety of people including the great hostess Elsie Woodward whose parties were large and eclectic and included the longtime old social chestnuts, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as well as some of the old Social Register names, some of the new tycoons, along with stars of stage and screen, playboys and showgirls, and the beauties such as Mrs. Francis Carpenter, the DuPont heiress who preferred the masculine spelling of her name and was famous for her glamour, her chic, and her wild romances that she found, as they would say, “on both sides of the aisle.”

Someone at the table pointed out that the so-called self-styled “top top” today in New York are now only a handful of people who were then unknown (or not even living in New York) and who now live in such a restricted (by their own choice) atmosphere of social exclusivity that they’re in a prison of their own making and something from which an outsider may just die of the boredom they’ve created. Agendas coming home to roost perhaps.

Meanwhile, after lunch, outside Swifty’s in the bright sunshine, the avenue and East 73rd Street were overcrowded with massive white tractor-trailer vans and tents and marquees and lights for the filming of “The Devil Wears Prada,” the immortalization and a kind of summing up for some of what it’s all come to in the land of boldfaced names among the rich, the chic and the shameless in Little Ole New York.

Monday night’s 2nd annual Fete de Swifty pulled in more than $650,000 for the Mayor Fund for after school programs in the parks of the city for the kids. This party drew a significantly larger crowd than its first year including more than two hundred “juniors” thanks to the new Associates Committee led by Harrison LeFrak, Emilia Fanjul, Victoria Rotenstreich, and Jake Bright.

After the party broke, many jammed into Swifty’s restaurant halfway down the block. Kenny Lane was entertaining at a table with Kirat Young, Yanna Avis, Sam Green, and Mary McFadden. Wendy Vanderbilt and Dr. Frank Petito were with Nick Simunek and Terry Allen Kramer, Chris and Grace Meigher, and Helena and Roman Martinez. Also: Barbara Goldsmith dining with Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd; Ambassador and Mrs. Howard Leech, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Benton, Harold and Nancy Baker and friends; Lorna and Larry Graev, Anne Slater with Luis Estevez.
Silvia Miller, Jay B. Flesher, and Nina Kaminska

James Sherwin and David Granville
Enjoying the Swifty's buffet

Elisa Wagner, Jean Pierre Borge, and Fran Nelson

Nick Simunek and Terry Allen Kramer

The hat lady and the madhatters

You can leave your hat on

Eleanora and Michael Kennedy with Liz Smith

Frances Scaife, Betsy Bartlett, and Tom McCarter
Ann Rapp and Tom Fallon

Joan Helpern

Lynda Shield and Duane Bousfield
Fete in a shoe

Countess Dagmar de Brantes

Audrey Smaltz and Gail Marquis
Princess Ines Torlonia and Father Pete Jacobs

Edward Barsamian with his mom

Deborah Norville and Carl Wellner
Dominick Dunne

Barbara Cates and Jeremy Wren

Marjorie Reed Gordon and Ellery Gordon
Jackie Rogers

The Hardwick brothers, Dr. and Meistro

Bill and Stephanie Joseph
Victoria Ashley and Denise DeLuca

Debbie Bancroft, Alfred Taubman, and Tiffany Dubin

Cece Cord and R. Couri Hay
Michael Gross and Mallory Kean

Mickey Ateyeh, Giovanni LoFaro, and Dr. Alice

Dominique Richard
Bill Rondina and Giovanni LoFaro

Joel Getz and Ellen Liman

Jesse Araskog and Kathy Thomas
Mildred Brinn and Patrick Gallagher

Lee Auchincloss and her fiance Jamie Niven

Lady Liberty
Ron Ferri

Parken Saunders

Carol Belladora and Chappy Morris
Anne Slater and Bobby Liberman

Ellen Niven

Sabrina and Carl Forsythe
Virginia Mailman and Bruce Addison

Betsy Perry

Hilary Califano and Cynthia Boardman
Joe Califano and Ann Siegel

Nancy Baker

Daisy Soros and Liz Smith
Peter Rogers and Liz Smith

The last of the juniors

September 28, 2005, Volume V, Number 166
Photographs by DPC/


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