Friday, November 14, 2008

A night to remember

A cobblestone street in the West Village ridden with fallen leaves. 8:30 PM. Photo: JH.
11/14. Rainy Thursday in New York. The President in town. Gridlock everywhere. I got out of my cab, on my way to Michael’s (very late) at 57th and Fifth when the sirens started (police cars). I was crossing 57th when all traffic stopped and a motorcade of NYPD cars came through spinning red and blue lights, followed by a black stretch Cadillac limousine with tinted windows that turned off 57th by Tiffany and down Fifth.

By this time I was almost a half hour late for my luncheon appointment with a man I didn’t know (which makes it worse in my head since it can easily be interpreted as an insult).

So while watching the motorcade (for which there was apparently an entire lane of Fifth Avenue kept open while everyone else sat there inert) I was haranguing to myself about how all these politicians seem to have motorcades nowadays. And all the motorcades seem to tie up traffic while they sail blithely by on their way to wherever.

This is now the American way. It didn’t used to be, of course. It certainly wasn’t President Bush’s fault because he (or any other President) has nothing to say about the travel “security” or logistics. However, it is another isolating factor in terms of the politicians’ relationship to the electorate. Mr. Obama faces this dilemma of authority and leadership also, and if he has to play the game of Here’s God Move Outta the Way, then that’ll be that for change and fresh and new.

DPC with Mr. Shafik Gabr and his wife Gigi at Michael's
Whew. Okay, I’m over it. For now. As I was crossing 55th about to enter the restaurant, a young woman with a perfect haircut got out of a black SUV and made a dash (in the rain) for the door. Following behind I extended my umbrella to cover her perfect head. At which point she said thank you. It turned out to be Anna Wintour the editor of Vogue.

Michael’s was packed. My luncheon host Mr. Shafik Gabr and his wife Gigi from Cairo, along with his public relations representative Jonathan Marder, were waiting patiently.

When I went over the business about the motorcade Mr Gabr informed me that Mr. Bush was in town. In fact he was staying at the same hotel (the Palace). In fact the Gabrs were also late because when they left their suite to go to the elevator, there was a crowd of people waiting, having been informed that NO ONE could take the elevator for about 30 minutes until the President and his party used them. See what I mean?

Mr. Gabr, however, told me that he told the Secret Service men that he had an appointment with David Patrick Columbia and he couldn’t be late. This seemed to be effective, and they let him go down immediately. When he told me the story, I thought he was kidding (first of all, the Secret Service wouldn’t know me from the man in the moon) but he insisted it was true. I now prefer to believe him.

Just as I arrived, Sir Elton John also arrived with his partner David Furnish. The two are in town for last night’s opening of Billy Elliot which Sir Elton wrote the music to. They were joining Joe Armstrong for lunch along with Gayle King, Barbara Walters, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor and Stephen Daldry (who directed the film Billy Elliot).
Gayle King, Joe Armstrong, Ben Stiller, Stephen Daldry, Sir Elton John, Barbara Walters, Christine Taylor, and David Furnish yesterday at Michael's (photo: Jimi Celeste).
The typical lunchtime pandemonium was ramped up of course by Sir Elton. The rundown: Charles Koppelman and Susan Blond, Ron Meyers, Ms. Wintour, Bonnie Timmerman, Gerry Byrne, Ira Yoffe, Boaty Boatright and Christine Lahti, Ed Rollins with Robert Zimmerman; Rollins’ previous wife Sherrie (now Mrs. David) Westin with Lisa Caputo (formerly Hillary Clinton’s White House press secretary), Judy Price, Cindi Lieve of Glamour, Richard Johnson of Page Six, Sara Nelson of Publisher’s Weekly, Chris Meigher, owner/publisher of Quest, Disney President Anne Sweeney, Dakota Jackson (furniture designer), and at the bar, taking it all in for, Diane Clehane.

I don’t know what it was like at the other tables (although the Armstrong/Sir Elton gaggle, just around the corner from us, were having a lot of laughs) but at my table it was very interesting.

Mr. Gabr is a businessman from Cairo. Someone had previously described him as the richest man in Egypt. True or not, if you Google the man, you will learn that he is a very prominent Egyptian businessman who has been very influential in promoting and developing Egypt’s place on the world economic map. He is also great company and enjoys conversation and laughter.

Mr. Gabr is also a major collector of Orientalist Art. If you don’t know the term, you have definitely seen the pictures anyway because they are iconic representations of a school of painting (of the Near and Middle East) that was very popular at the end of the 19th and the beginning fo the 20th century. Old William H. Vanderbilt when he built his great mansions on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street had an enormous private gallery with a number of Orientalist paintings hanging. Same with Mrs. Astor’s private art gallery. It was much in vogue with the American tycoons of that age. It was mainly painted by American and British painters also.

Today Orientalist art has had an enormous revival of interest among collectors especially in the Middle East – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. Mr. Gabr’s collection is one of the largest, if not the largest in the world.

As it is with most great collectors, Shafik Gabr’s interest in the art began when he was a late teenager. He bought his first painting in his 20s and slowly it developed, as it always does with great collectors, into a kind of obsession.

The Gabrs who come to the US fairly often were here to do advance publicity on the publication of the book of his collection with an introduction by his curator Dina Nasser-Khadivi. For this reporter it was fresh and new meeting Egyptians who were, as well, very worldly and (far more) sophisticated (than I).

Mr. Gabr’s English sounds as if he grew up in America. They have a thirteen-year-old daughter who often comes to New York with them. She loves it here. New Yorkers always like hearing that. Because I have an ongoing interest in matters political and economic, and the Gabrs share that interest, we were not at loss for conversation.
Rose Tarlow
Last night in Manhattan. Rain rain rain (light at times), I headed first down to the D&D Building where Holly Hunt was hosting a party for Rose Tarlow, the Los Angeles-based international interior designer.

Ms. Tarlow has an almost mythic reputation on the West Coast. Among her portfolio was the refurbished and re-arranged interior and exterior of David Geffen’s house on Angelo Drive in Beverly Hills which had originally belonged to studio mogul Jack Warner. Considered one of the best houses in Southern California with imported British paneling and top quality English antiques, Geffen bought it in 1990 from the Warner estate for the then astounding sum of $47 million. Tarlow’s commission to do the house was considered a great coup at the time.
The crowd at Rose Tarlow's
Although she is not a minimalist per se, her choices are well edited and classic. And modern. Or what I call modern. Her house in Los Angeles is what some regard as legendary chic, kind of Babe Paley perfect.

The party was held in the room at Holly Hunt which features Rose Tarlow furniture design. For as many people as I know in the interior design business, when I go to a party in the D&D, which is the design industry’s version of the rialto, I realize it’s a society onto itself and I know hardly anyone. They always look like they’re having a very good time though.
Lucy Suarez and Kenza Pam Taylor Ricky Speer and Cindy Rinfret
Dakota Jackson, Holly Hunt, and Richard Meier Eli and Edythe Broad with Richard Meier
From Holly Hunt and Rose Tarlow I walked three blocks over to Park and 58th Street where the Chinese Porcelain Company was hosting an exhibition for Scott McBee, an artist whose paintings are all of oceanliners.

I asked Mr. McBee how he got interested in oceanliners and he told me how I got interested in oceanliners – as a kid. He grew up in Sacramento, California and his parents had once crossed the Atlantic on the France, and their talking about it piqued an interest that is now a career.

There were architectural renderings of famous boats of yore like the Normandie, the Aquitania, the Rotterdam, the United States, all of which conjure up fantastic images in this reporter’s imagination. There were a number of people attending who were old enough to have enjoyed the luxury of ocean travel in its 20th century heyday.
The SS Normandie from Ocean Liners: The Golden Age by Scott Houston McBee. Built in France, launched in 1932, she was seized by US authorities in New York are renamed USS Lafayette during WWII. Converted into a troopship, she caught fire, capsized and sank at the NY Passenger Ship Terminal, and scrapped in 1946.
Maurice Sonnenberg, for example, pointed out the rendering of the SS United States and told me he had sailed on it, reminding that the ship still holds the world record for the fastest Atlantic crossing ever. This was accomplished on her maiden voyage in July 7, 1952 – in 3 days, ten hours and forty minutes.

She was bigger than the Titanic -- 990 feet of steel, with 2000 passengers, and 1000 in crew. She moved across at a speed comparable to that of a Jet Ski, cutting through the North Atlantic at 37 miles per hour. If pressed, she could accelerate to 44 miles per hour. Some said she also could maneuver like a Chris-Craft. But with 3,000 people aboard.

She could travel 10,000 miles without stopping for fuel, water or supplies. The galleys could turn out 9,000 meals a day. She could desalinate salt water to meet the daily needs of 14,000 people and produce electricity to meet the needs of 10,000 people. Fully air-conditioned, equipped with microwaves in the galleys, all the modern conveniences of the time, she never had an interruption of service due to a mechanical breakdown.
The SS United States.
When I was speaking with the ship’s portraitist last night I asked what happened to the SS United States. She carried passengers back and forth until 1969. Today she’s “rotting at dock in Philadelphia.” A sad ending for a great lady.

McBee told me another favorite was the Aquitania. A Cunard line ship originally intended to be competition with the White Star Line’s Titanic until her fate was met in 1912, the Aquitania was launched in 1914.

After an illustrious career as both a luxury liner and a troop ship (in both World War I and World War II), steaming 3 million miles in 450 voyages, carrying 1.2 million passengers over 36 years in service – the longest service express liner of the 20th century she was retired and scrapped in Scotland in 1950.
Sandra Nunnerley Kara Hobbs and Leigh Rae Smith Muffy Miller and Grace Meigher
Stephanie Stokes Edith Dicconson Roberta Sanderman
Henry Scott McBee standing before his rendering of the SS Conte Savoia Dr. Annette Rickel
Joe Astienza and Randy Bourscheidt Lou Miano and Barbara Brookes Jamee and Peter Gregory with Pierre Durand
Moving on up the avenue and over to East 63rd Street and Madison Avenue for the opening night reception of Graff Jewelers new Peter Marino-designed New York flagship store. Graff which is now legend for diamonds running in the seven and eight figures, does everything top of the line and state of the art.

The place was back-to-back, belly-to-belly (with flutes of champagne floating through the rarified air). Laurence Graff’s the firm’s founder and chairman was greeting Jon Tisch and his wife Lizzie at the door (protected by an elaborate tent erected — and heated) on the sidewalk for the occasion.
Bond entertaining the guests.
The crowd inside the main salon of the new New York flagship of Graff.
Also in attendance was Anne-Marie (Mrs.) Graff and their son Francois Graff. Waiting to congratulate the tycoon of precious gems was the tycoon of precious casinos, Steve Wynn who is about to open his beyond-the-beyond hotel casino in Las Vegas (where Graff has a very important store).

The champagne was flowing. Standing on pedestals on opposite walls were live models turned out in Graff jewels. There were people from all over the world and it could have been London, Monte Carlo, Geneva, Moscow, Kuwait or Dubai (to name only a few), but it was New York, on a rainy Thursday night in mid-November and everyone was very glad to be there.
Jon Tisch and Laurence Graff Jon and Lizzie Tisch with Steve Wynn Sonya Tremont Morgan
Graff models
Francois Graff and Anne Marie Graff Henri Barguirdjian and Patsy Callaghan Carmen and Juliette Daley
A dazzling display of Graff Jewelry

Photographs by DPC/
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