Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A hot sunny day, a warm take on things

Looking into the main living space of Ruben and Isabel Toledo's penthouse loft. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.
A hot sunny day in New York with the humidity moving full force by the mid-afternoon, making you wish for rain. Sure enough, by dusk, to the south, there were storm clouds coming, although we remained rainless.

I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Chris del Gatto, the CEO of Circa. Readers who know that I am on this liquid veggie cleanse for a few days, might wonder what I had? Nothing. Iced tea with some orange juice in it. That was my cheating. My lunch partner had the scallops in some kind of sauce on a bed of what looked like steamed spinach. It looked VERY good. Although I wasn’t hungry, to be honest. I also would have liked to have had that scallop dish. Michael McCarty LOVES fish (Michael McCarty loves everything edible, to be honest). And so does the chef. The fishies are big part the main menu items at this jernt, as my father used to say in his Noo Yawk Irish English.

Michael’s was cool and jumping. Dominick Dunne was lunching with Lloyd Grove. Laurie Tisch was lunching with Vartan Vartanian. Linda Wachner was at another table, and Joan Jakobson at another. And Boatie Boatwright at another. And Judy Price and Peter Price at separate tables. And Jolie Hunt of Reuters at another.

All presided over by Michael himself while the GM Mr. Millington is off with his wife and kids on vacation. Michael is just back from a month in Europe, mainly on Capri where he and his family spend two or three weeks every summer. On Thursday he returns to his Malibu digs and Santa Monica restaurant. You tend to think: does he know he’s living a dream? At least to a lot of the rest of us. I have a feeling he does.

DPC and Circa's Chris Del Gatto
I was having lunch with Chris del Gatto because we’d met when he first began to advertise on the NYSD. You’ve seen those beautiful Circa ads. All those diamonds. Between Circa and Graff laying all that sparkle on our pages.

This was our first lunch and being the reporter I fire away at the get-to-know. He was born here in New York City in what is now called the East Village, East 5th Street. I wanted to know how he got into the career, this life, for gemologists are a breed of their own. These men are impassioned an artist is impassioned; it’s in their blood.
Chris told me he had a father who always pointed out the wonders surrounding them, so what were fairly simple beginnings were also rich. His father would point out the taste of something, the shine and sparkle of something, and somewhere along the way, the kid got hooked on the latter. So much so that when he graduated from high school, instead of going to college he went for his gemologist’s certificate. By 21 he had his own diamond cutting business.

He’s one of those businessmen who look at their interests creatively. The jewelry/gems business has two sides – the buy and the sell. People buy jewelry for myriad reasons but one important reason is they buy for investment and protection. Men tend to do this. These particular men are also impassioned by their acquisitions. They are vigilant about the beauty factor because that’s the bottom line in this business. But they can be enthralled too.

Circa is in the business of “buying.” They buy jewelry from people who own it and want to sell it. They want to sell for myriad reasons but always to get the money. In Hong Kong where Circa does an enormous business in their offices, women will come in groups – four, six, seven – all bringing the jewels they want to sell. All dressed in their Chanels and carrying their Hermes bags. All having the best time (it sounded like a cocktail – or better – tea party, the way he described it), getting rid of those things that they never wear any more, that they were given and never really liked, or that they’re just tired of.

Of course there are other reasons that bring people in -- a death in the family, a divorce, a reversal of fortune. What they have to sell may range from a Cartier watch to a multi-million dollar necklace that’s been languishing in the vault for ages.

And what does Circa do with all these jewels and jewelry? They sells them – by invitation only – to a select group of collectors and retailers all over the world. Estate jewelry, antique jewelry, brilliant stones in search of a newer setting; everything having stood the test of time. The buyers selling to the buyers who sell to us. Well, not me; maybe you.

And who are the customers? All kinds of men and women. No doubt some well known names, many of whom just want to buy something new, or refine the collection. Not being a buyer myself, I wondered aloud how many buyers there are out there. "It is a $60 billion annual business in North America alone."

I want to ask “who?” Who sells? And why? And how much? I don’t ask. There’s no point. You don’t get answers to those kinds of questions, and frankly it’s none of your business. In fact you don’t even get to see the other clients who come into the Circa offices to sell. It’s not unlike going to see your plastic surgeon. No doubt there have been sales where the proceeds went to somebody’s plastic surgeon.

And how is Circa doing in these undulating financial times? Well, they’ve got offices in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, San Francisco, Washington, and Hong Kong, and they will be adding four more before next year’s out. How are you doing?

He’s a young guy – thirty-eight. Three years ago he took up polo. Actually no one with that kind of personality “takes up” anything. They’re usually following their nose.

Maybe that’s what best describes their creativity. How did a kid who grew up in the East Village end up buying some of the most expensive jewelry and gems in the world and acquiring a string of polo ponies. It sounds like one of those 30s screwball comedies. Calling Cary Grant. (Well, you get the picture.)

However, it’s another case of having loved horses from the time he was a kid, to actualizing that love in adult life. He plays every weekend in Southampton and in Palm Beach in the winter, and Argentina, and he loves it.

I love these stories. I think we need more of them.
I often ask people starting out in life, people away from school, home, etc. what they dreamed of as a kid growing up. “If you could do anything you want when you grow up, what would that be?” Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?

At first it surprised me that there are many who don’t have an immediate answer, who are unclear, who haven’t been able to employ that part of their imagination. Then there are those, like Chris del Gatto, who just seem to see it in front of themselves and go for it as if there were no other path anyway.

At about six, I went around the corner to Beth DeWoody’s for a cocktail reception. She’d told me in passing it was for someone and knowing her, it had to be for something having to do with the art world.

I arrived just as a young guy with ebbing, shortcropped, grey hair, and in a blue suit standing between the entry gallery and the living room, started to talk. He was talking about New Orleans. He was talking about New Orleans as a cultural center, also as a city struggling to revive and renew itself. I could tell by the breadth of off-the-cuff speech that he was a politician. I soon found out he was: Mitch Landrieu, the Lieutenant Governor of Louisana. From that famous Louisana political family. There’s something about Louisiana and its political families. You can almost imagine you’re looking at part of a saga in the making. A movie in the end.
Dan Cameron, Jeanine Antoni, Jacqueline Humphreys, Beth DeWoody, and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu of Louisiana
Mitch Landrieu was making a plea for supporting the World Cultural Economic Forum – a Louisiana Cultural Economy Initiative (WCEF).

It so happens that his pa, Moon Landrieu, was a good friend of Beth’s pa, Lew Rudin. Their offspring met right after Katrina when a group of arts&culture minded New Yorkers made a trip to see what could be done. One of the things that came out of the trip was Prospect New Orleans, the largest biennial of international contemporary art ever organized in the United States. This was the brainchild of New York’s interntional contemporary art curator Dan Cameron – who also spoke at Beth’s last night. Beth is also co-chair of this first time biennial along with a New Orleans native transplanted to these hills – Donna Rosen.
Guests in the DeWoody living room overlooking the East River.
The biennial will run eleven weeks, from November 1st through January 18, 2009. Last night’s reception started the drumbeats. The biennial was conceived in the traditional of the great international ones – the Venice, the Sao Paolo, and will cover many parts of the city with its galleries and exhibitions.

They project 100,000 visitors, half of which will be tourists, generating $20 million in local economic activity. This defines the objective of Lt. Governor Landrieu’s WCEF. To learn more visit: www.prospectneworleans.org
More guests and one Evan Penny listening and watching.
Down on Broadway and 28th, at the penthouse atelier of Isabel Toledo and Ruben Toledo, Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar, and Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT were hosting cocktails for Isabel Toledo on behalf of the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT.

The Toledos are one of those rare contemporary New York couples: hip, cool, chic and gracious and at the center of the local zeitgeist. They are always beautifully turned out, well-dressed, and charming with it.

So it was not a surprise that there was a line around the block waiting to get into the building’s elevator which held only six at a time, and didn’t exactly provide a rocket ride to the eleventh floor.

But for the Toledos and for FIT and Glenda Bailey and Valerie Steele, they were there. The Couture Council, a fairly new group is transforming FIT’s role in the city’s culture, and they know how to get out the vote.
A sneak peek of some of the dresses from Holy Toledo! Isabel Toledo and the Art of Fashion, which opens June 19, 2009 through September 26, 2009.
Arrivals were greeted (and later bid farewell) by Ruben at the elevator door. The penthouse had three floors open to the guests with views of the Empire State, a few blocks away, and the old New York Life building to the east. And it was a beautiful summer night in New York, thanks in part to the Oronoco Rum (mojitos!) which were donated by Diageo.

Almost two hundred guests joined Couture Council founders Liz Peek, Yaz Hernandez, and Sarah Wolfe and FIT President Dr. Joyce F. Brown and designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Patrick Robinson, Peter Som, Adi, Ange, and Gabi Three Asfour; Yigal Azrouël; Jeffrey Banks; Maria Cornejo; Christian Cota; Stephen Dweck; Eric Javits; Gemma Kahng; Victor Costa; Phillip Lim; Michael Vollbracht; Arnold Scaasi; and Jonathan Adler. (These were the expected; not sure who was there or had come and gone.) Also, Matthew Modine, Kelly Bensimon, Simon Doonan, Carmen, Fern Mallis, Eric Villency, Iris and Carl Apfel, Alexandra Lebenthal, Bobby Zarem, Mario Buatta, Allison and Jay Aston, Woody Johnson, and Hilary Knight.
Loooking down fomr the rooftop towards the Broadway and the Toledo skylight.
Ms. Bailey and Dr. Brown, toasted the Toledos from the wrought iron balcony overlooking the loft. The Couture Council announced that Isabel was the recipient of the 2008 Award for Artistry of Fashion, which will be presented to her at a benefit luncheon to be held at the Rainbow Room on Wednesday, September 3. (Get your tickets now) with André Leon Tally, American editor-at-large for Vogue, present the award, and Simon Doonan, creative director for Barneys New York, emceeing.

The award will precede a major retrospective of Isabel’s work at The Museum at FIT, entitled Holy Toledo! Isabel Toledo and the Art of Fashion, which will open June 19, 2009 and run through September 26, 2009. Illustrations by Ruben will also be featured, as will films of Isabel's fashion shows and other visuals that explore her creative process. A catalogue, written by co-curators Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears and published by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition.

Departing the Toledo reception also required a bit of a wait (six to the elevator, sorry). But that was okay because it was a great crowd, a great place and also you could always take the stairs, eleven flights though there were.
Isabel Toledo
A look inside Isabel's studio
Michael Vollbracht and Michele Gerber Klein
Patrick MacDonald
Glenda Bailey and Dr. Joyce Brown
Carmen Dell Orifice and Ruben Toledo
Michael Gross
Teri Agins and Dr. Lisa Airan
Christian Cota
Cynthia Frank and friend
Whitney and Sarah Wolfe
Marjorie Gubelmann, Christian Leone, and Nicole Fritton
Steve Torres, Carla Dunham, and David Zyla
The Baroness
David Victor Rose and Gabi Three Asfour
Eric Javits and Gillian Miniter
The view from inside
The view from the terrace
Liz Peek with her daughter
Liz and Jeff Peek, Dr. Joyce Brown, and Valerie Steele
Maria Cornejo, Dorlin Cortes, Yaz Hernandez, and Marysia Woroniecka
Fred Anderson and Douglas Hannant
Looking east from the Toledo penthouse towards the New York Life Building. 8:25 PM.

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