Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Loeb, Millicent, Oscar, and Stritch

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week pavilion at Lincoln Center. 10:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011. Yesterday was sunny and warm (even humid) in New York. The traffic was heavy, as if to say New York has returned.

I went down to Michael’s to lunch with John Loeb, former Ambassador to Denmark, a long-time collector of Danish art also; a businessman, and a philanthropist with an historical subtext. I’ve known John for a few years now. I got a glimpse of the man when he gave a 75th birthday party for himself at Blenheim Palace a few years ago. John loves history. And because he is a lifelong New Yorker, from a prominent family, with a natural eye for the details and personalities of his environment, we always have much to share and the lunch conversation covers a lot of territory. New York, Europe, Hollywood, Jackie and Lee Bouvier whom he knew “socially” as a teenager, Presidents, statesmen, and a time and a way of life that has gone, as obsolete as the Bourbon monarchy and only relevant for its lessons, much of which is archived in its style.
The red carpet leading to the steps of the entrance to Blenheim for John Loeb's 75th birthday party.
After lunch, I went home, as quickly as you can travel fifty blocks north and east in heavy traffic everywhere. I took a quick snooze, walked the dogs and changed to head out for the New York night.

The Last of the Irrepressibles. I started out last night at the Verdura salon at 745 Fifth Avenue where Ward and Judith Landrigan, Kimberly and Nico Landrigan (son of W & J), and fashion stylist Amanda Ross were hosting a book party for Cherie Burns who has just published a biography of Millicent Rogers: Searching for Beauty: the Life of Millicent Rogers (St. Martin’s Press).
Author Cherie Burns holding a copy of Searching For Beauty, The Life of Millicent Rogers. Click to order. Cherie Burns and one of her hosts, Ward Landrigan of Verdura.
It’s a name unfamiliar to almost anybody except the fashion historians and diehard fashion mavens and people over 60 (maybe). She was famous for her fashion style and tabloidally for her status as an American heiress. For those who hadn’t heard of her, they will have the profound pleasure of discovery.

The money came from grandpa and Standard Oil. What followed was lives of poor little rich girls, lavish lifestyles, scintillating relationships (centered around sex and art, or art and sex), corridors of power, cathedrals of high finance; all in one person. Society with a capital “S” was her native milieu and Style with a capital “S” was her mojo. It was the most welcoming place for her passions, and the passions ran deep.

Hers was a generation drawn to the moderns, including the artists. Their women had emerged, getting a first peek at the light. I haven’t read Burns’ book yet but I’m sure I’ll be drawn to that light. She lived in a world inconceivable at this point. Not even the very richest today can match it -- for their make believe back then could actually be captured in snatches, and be real at the same time -- especially if you had imagination, beauty, money and the innocence to ignore mediocrity.
Cherie Burns and her son Alex Duncan and daughter Jessie Duncan. Maria Cooper Janis, wearing her Verdura with Nico Landrigan.
No doubt Millicent Rogers passed through the portals Verdura many times, as did many of her celebrated contemporaries. Celebrating the publication of her biography last night’s guests weren’t s just stealing glances at the display cases glittering with Fulco’s creations.

There was a big crowd to celebrate Millicent Rogers’ biography, including Kelly Rutherford, Annette Tapert Allen, Louise Grunwald, Geoffrey Bradfield, Milly de Cabrol, Tatiana Sorokko, Michele Oka Doner, Ann Dexter Jones, Peggy Siegal, Valerie Paley, Mimi Salzman along with Ann Caruso, Harriett Mays Powell, Lily Koppel and Tom Folson.

From Verdura, I walked the sixteen blocks down Fifth Avenue to 11 West 42nd Street where Oscar de la Renta was showing his Spring and Resort Collection. They’d asked everyone to get there a bit earlier to avoid the crush and allow the show to run on time (which many if not most shows never do). It was humid at 7, Fifth Avenue was very crowded and the traffic was crawling, bumper to bumper.

Oscar de la Renta has been showing his collection for the past few years at 583 Park. That was one of the first important designer moves from the Bryant Park tents, which are no longer. Last night the fashionables and the fashion retailers and their buyers, got a glimpse of what will be the new Oscar showroom (now in the state of construction), a major move away from Seventh Avenue proper. And a return to the old tradition of a runway (in this case a long one) in a showroom. Just like the old days.

Ellin Saltzman was there for NYSD and she is the expert in telling you what it looked like. To me, it looked like classic Oscar: rich, luxurious, soft and glamorous, slightly exotic and a touch of the other-worldly. Last night, the unfinished premises was without A/C and so there were large standing fans blowing the cooler air from outside through the room. It added to the drama of the runway, rustling and billowing the silks and taffetas and blowing the long hair of the models as if moving through a strong breeze.

Oscar’s clothes are very expensive and they speak luxury, most articulately. I took a lot of pictures but today we are running just the finale with the line of models, followed by and a brief appearance of the man himself: Oscar, the last of the irrepressibles.
In fashion, that is. It must be the full moon because I left Oscar’s show and hurried up to the Carlyle to see more. Elaine Stritch opened her stint at the Café Carlyle (Tuesday – Saturday thru October 8). Talk about irrepressible. Oscar’s still a kid compared to Stritch. But then Stritch is still a kid too. Her program, her act is, for me, a never miss. The performance is the work of a Masterpiece. If you’re an actor, or were an actor, or wished you could have been an actor, or want to be an actor: hurry. This is it.

Ms. Stritch is gonna be 87 on her next birthday (February 2 – which she shares with her friend Liz Smith – who was there last night). What we were all observing, and enjoying and laughing at and along with, is an archive of American musical theatre performance. “Steal it!” she shouted at the end of the performance, as if to let you in on the secret of acquiring such musical comedy grandeur.

Stritch is a singer and an actress. And because of her longevity, she had the great advantage of learning her craft at the feet of the Masters that came before her,down through the ages of live performing, and on the glorified stages of the 20th century. That sounds like a lot, I know, and it is. But it’s so.

She’s funny, of course, and her character is seamless, running through the songs as if they belong to her. The evening is called “Singin’ Sondheim … Again. Why Not?” She gets the audience going because she’s always in the process of letting them in on something they might like to know about themselves, about life, and about Stritch.

I was sitting next to Polly Bergen who was blown away by her peer’s show. At the next table, I saw Liz taking notes quietly and unobstrusively in the shadows on her table. I don’t know what she was noticing, but she and Stritch go way back and occasionally celebrate their birthdays together. Liz has seen just about everything Elaine Stritch ever did here, in London, and on the screens. She is still in awe of her friend’s talent, but anything now has to stir amazing memories of times passed.

The show runs more than an hour. It’s an “At Home With” except your eyes and ears never divert from the hostess with the blonde coif, the signature white silk overblouse and black tights standing by the grand piano with her music director and accompanist Rob Bowman and the quartet of musicians who share her energy for the material.

The program was entirely Sondheim. Stritch does Sondheim; her Sondheim.

The Café Carlyle is a relatively small room, kind of a rare jewel with its Vertes pastel murals. In it, you’re always close to the source, and along with an intimate crowd. It is the very last of the great New York hotel nightclubs. It was graced last night with a show of the very same distinction.

You can tell I liked it, no?
Producer/director Hal Prince greeing his longtime friend and star at the end of her performance last night at the Cafe Carlyle.

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