The talk they're talking
Spring fever. 1:50 PM. Photo: JH.

The talk they’re talking: Nina Griscom and Leonel Piraino are married. So they say. Is it true? Do I know? No. Could I ask? Yes. Did I ask? No. It is a secret, if it is, and so why would they tell? They’ve lived together for some time now anyway. Nina’s a hop, skip and a bit of a jump older than her man, but you’d never know it if you saw them together.

Nina Griscom and Leonel Piraino

Marriage is big news in this land of divorce. A year or so ago, it was Tiffany and Louis Dubin. A couple of months ago it was Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder after many many years. A couple of weeks ago it was Alex and Nathaniel Kramer after a few years. Then it was Chris and Tory Burch after a little more than a few years. Both of these were blind items (together on the NYSD a couple of months ago). Now it’s Valesca and Mathias Guerrand-Hermes. After a few years. And there are more in the pipeline according to my little birdies.

“Why?” people ask. Why not? We live in a society that eshews permanence, tradition, roots. We live in a society where if a family sits down at table together once or twice a week on a steady basis, it is something for the New York Times to write about. We live in a society where as individuals we are isolated by our technology, even, ironically, our communicative devices. Cell phones are instruments of alienation. And very popular.

NYSD covers a world where women go out without their husbands to major social events. And frequently. Interestingly it’s rarer to see a husband out without his wife.

People pass judgment on this (“she’s always out without her husband, what can she expect?”). But judgment is a moot point. It is the way of the world, different from our ancestors (and even our mothers and fathers) maybe, but the Way It Is.

One reason is probably that the husband often doesn’t want to go out. And it’s not like his wife is the only one who goes out without the husband. There isn’t a social event, charity gala or store opening in New York that you won’t find young women who are married (and with family) and out for the evening without their husbands. Who presumably are home by the TV. Or the nanny.

Younger women, especially women in their 20s or 30s, (but also women of all ages), hit the road on their own and have a good time. Many (but not all) may entertain the ideal of a companion/partner/fellow sociable. But a few years of marriage can give you a closer view of cohabitational reality, so they try to accommodate the reality while wishing on an ideal. Sounds like you, are you thinking?

Only a generation ago, women felt self-conscious going to a cocktail party or a dance alone. But those times are now a dim memory. At the recent Frick Young Fellows Gala – a very chic and dressy New York social/cultural event – there were many goodlooking, elegant young women who arrived either with other women or by themselves. Some were married and many were single. I wondered if there was any self-consciousness among them as there most definitely would have been in their mother’s day. Perhaps there is. Nevertheless, they get on with it.

The man’s role has been measurably diminished simultaneously. Even Nina Griscom knows that. She’s been married two or three (or four, Nina?) times and also had her share of lotharios. She may not be new at the fair anymore, but she’s still a babe, and most certainly is in spirit. I rarely see her out by herself. Mr. Piraino is right there. Right where she likes him.

Then there are the marriages which have long been rumored to be on the brink but prevail. Example: she is still a great beauty and has international allure. Suspicion remains rife that she has long had a romantic liaison with some sleek and elegant international aristocrat. Sympathy for the tycoon-husband is always mixed and eyes therefore are never on him.

Although, had they been (eyes ... on him) they might (but only just might) have caught a glimpse of him in deep solace with another woman quite a bit younger than himself. A woman who likes older men, especially successful older men; a woman who even married one or two.

And the solace went on and on while the tycoon’s wife was being regarded by her “friends” as reprehensible. In justification, some would say she was out at the party too much without her husband.

Meanwhile, as the wags wagged on about the wife, the husband’s affair continued unnoticed, quietly and peacefully. Until one day the lady who had given him solace took a trip to the West Coast to visit an old friend. And there, through her friend, she happened to meet a man of a certain age (no kid) who’d just lost his wife in a terrible divorce. He was broken hearted and unhappy. She could commiserate and did. And soon two hearts became one.

And sparks flew. And flew and flew. To the point where our lady decided it was time to change her life. So she returned to New York, packed up her bags, said good-bye to Old Times, leaving tears in her wake, and moved lock, stock and barrel out to California where she set up life living happily ever after with her new Old Man.

Mario made a few notes before he gave his acceptance speech

Last night in New York. At the Union Club on 69th and Park, The Royal Oak Foundation held its Timeless Design Award and Gala Benefit honoring Mario Buatta. The Royal Oak is a non-profit which is a membership affiliate of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It raises funds for the preservation of historic properties and for the conservation of areas of natural beauty. It also sponsors educational programs in the US on such topics as British architecture, design, gardens, history, and fine and decorative arts. Drue Heinz is Honorary Chairman of the Board of Directors.

So it follows that Mario would be a likely candidate for a design honor. He is not only a very successful interior decorator with a great name and a creative signature that even brought him a title (the Prince of Chintz). He is a unique personality in the New York social scene. Off-duty (and maybe even on), he’s a stand-up comic. And it’s a talent that has gathered sharpness of wit and agility of performance as time has passed. Last night was a perfect example. He’s a fan of the practical sight joke (what looks like a live cockroach in your salad), bad wig disguises and the one last crack.

Mario knew I wouldn’t be staying for dinner, so during cocktails he asked me to stay for his acceptance speech. When everyone was seated for dinner, John Oddy, the Royal Oak’s Executive Director, introduced the honoree.

I knew immediately what was coming. Mario is always very well turned out. He has the sartorial (American version) turn of a prosperous Italian banker. He wears horn rimmed glasses often and speaks with professor’s command. The acceptance speech was at first delivered in an immigrant’s plaintive broken Italian. Continuing along, he discussed his family tree and showed pictures of his ancestors – different breeds of dogs dressed up in royal costumes. He said his great-uncle Guido was in the painting, The Last Supper. And that his uncle Guido worked with Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel. Except Uncle Guido was afraid of heights, so they gave him the baseboard to paint.  That, presumably, is where Mario gets his talent.

Anyway, it cracked me up. And there was a lot more of it. To the point where I think I was drawing unfavorable attention to myself. People were turning my way (I was standing by the entrance) and looking at me like, “who is that guy?” Oh well, worse things could be asked. It’s an absurd kind of humor that Mario has, as bright and splashy as his famous chintz, and a humor for the ironic and the absurd. It’s crackpot chic, a butcher’s precision wit, dressed and trussed, seasoned just-a-little-too-much perfectly, delivered by a very sophisticated, clever man who should really take his act on the road. And it cracks me up everytime. I don’t know why Steve Wynn hasn’t given him his own lounge act. Maybe right outside the Art Gallery at the Bellagio. The crowd could take in Mario and then the Masterpieces. Perfect synergy. Mario, the Royal Oak. Mario at the Bellagio.
The floor of the entrance gallery of the Union Cub
Anne Johnson, George Sweeney, and Friederike Biggs

Ann Thornton, Ann Pyne, and Joy Ingham

Pat Altschul and Allison Blinken
Celerie Kemble and Patrick Gallagher

Pat Altschul and William Ivey Long

The entrance gallery to the Union Club
Jonathan Ingham, Hilary Geary, Joy Ingham, and Wilbur Ross
L. to r.: Cathy Hardwick; Bunny Williams and Armene Milliken; Marilyn White.

After the “acceptance speech,” I departed, heading north to Gracie Square where Beth DeWoody was holding a dinner reception after a panel discussion at the Whitney. There were about sixty guests in her her farflung art gallery of an apartment overlooking the East River, the Triboro Bridge and Roosevelt Islands. And they were seeing for the first time the completion of a re-decorating and refurbishing of the apartment where she brought up her son and daughter and where she has lived for the past almost twenty years.

During those years, her interests and passions as an art collector have solidified and taken on defintion. I wrote a bit about this when we were in Palm Beach in early February and stayed at her newly completed house down there. The apartment at Gracie Square is following the form of her Florida residence and carried out with the design assistance of Randall Beale and Carl Lana: a compleat collector’s environment.

Her collections, her houses, her style, her capacity for a wide array of friendship, her indefatigable interest in talent are articulated in these spaces, to the point that some people have taken to describing her as the post-modern Peggy Guggenheim. I told her that I’d heard her described thus. She said, in protest: “but I never had a sex life like Peggy Guggenheim!”

My photographic talents are no match for JH’s but he couldn’t be at the DeWoody dinner and so it was up to me. Or down to me, giving the reader only the vaguest idea of what it was like, what parts of it looked like. Pardon my lens.

Randall Beale, Beth DeWoody, and Carl Lana
Carlton DeWoody

Maureen Nash and Robert Stilin

From the Beth DeWoody Collection
Paul Beirne and Barbara Goldsmith
The media room

April 6, 2006, Volume VI, Number 58
Photographs by DPC/


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