Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cold and damp in New York

One of last night Citizen Committee's honorees, the ubiquitous fashion and social chronicler photographer, Bill Cunningham keeps on keepin' on.
Cold and damp in New York. It is the beginning of Fashion Week in the City. Actually it began officially on Friday and runs through this coming Friday. For a certain segment of the population it is all encompassing, and in certain parts of the city it is the only game in town. Furthermore there are all kinds of parties everywhere related to it – in stores, in lofts, in exhibitions, in runway shows, in restaurants and in people’s apartments. Literally thousands of people descend on the city to join the local fashionistas in marking this hectic but very exciting week.

I go to very few of these shows although I do attend the Oscar de la Renta because Oscar’s indefatigable and infinitely charming sales director Boaz Mazor is a good friend. Boaz, who is a man of the world when he has a spare moment away from his business (and he rarely does) is also one of society’s darlings because he possesses the gift of friendship. He loves people and he is loyal. He is so loyal that he could fill a hall of with Oscar customers who would flock to any of his shows.

That is not necessary, however, because Oscar can fill a hall too with his beautiful clothes and his following which now extends a generation beyond him thanks to the involvement of his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen who has been an executive with the company for several years, and her husband Alex Bolen who is now CEO of the company.
The Oscar de la Renta Fall Collection runway yesterday at 583 Park.
Oscar de la Renta is the last surviving major American fashion designer from the 1960s when the American fashion industry was transformed by its designers. You could argue that Ralph Lauren belongs in that category but Lauren is his own phenomenon. De la Renta’s longevity is a tribute to his ability to maintain his signature style and at the same time change with the times. His collection therefore has a certain prestige to it, an élan provided by history and his present position in the social scheme of things. Therefore it is a major item on the week’s calendar.

Yesterday’s show was held at 583 Park, the Delano and Aldrich designed Christian Scientist Church that  has been transformed by Louis Rose into an event venue during the week. De la Renta has exclusive designer right-of-use and held his first Fashion Week show there, away from the Bryant Park tents, last Fall.

It’s an enormous and cavernous space, pristine white like New England church, clean and classic. It was packed yesterday with hundreds of editors, buyers, retailers, socialite friends of Mr. de la Renta’s and of Mr. Mazor’s, and socialite friends, the younger set, of the Bolens.

There is usually a celebrity-of-the-moment present at these shows, although I do not know who filled that role yesterday. I got there just as the show was starting and so I missed my seat for photographing the line. Standing in the back I was able to get a small video of the runway so that you can see what it was like.

The show was accompanied by live music from East Village singer Regina Spektor. Ms. Spektor is a kind of 21st century hybrid of a Janis Ian-type singer/musician. Accompanying herself  on the piano, Ms. Spektor’s songs are lugubrious and contemporary, and a witty, almost irreverent foil for the very chic and often glittery quality of the de la Renta clothes. Music affects the tempo of these shows – something rocking really moves things along, as you might imagine. Ms. Spektor’s songs were a bit pensive in quality, yet deliberately meandering, and so the pace of yesterday’s show was quieter too. Mr. de la Renta, looking every inch the international cosmopolite in his signature bespoke grey suit, stood in the doorway of the runway, on one side of the room, watching each model enter and exit. After the finale with all the models appearing, he made a brief appearance to acknowledge the standing ovation from the audience, and then disappeared again backstage.
The Emerald Society Pipes and Drum open last night's Citizens Committee for NYC Gala at the Waldorf.
Last night at the Waldorf, in the Grand Ballroom the Citizens Committee for New York City honored six “passionate champions of the city’s neighborhoods” at its annual “New Yorker for New York City” Gala.

Those six were Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Amanda Burden, the director of the New York City Department of City Planning and chair of the City Planning Commission; Karen Cohen, the woman who had the idea and actualized it of transforming Randalls Island into a major sports park for New York (and especially for the kids in the neighborhoods), Jack “Rusty” O’Kelley III, a principal in Katezenbach Partners, a national strategic and organizational consulting firm; Bill Cunningham, the ubiquitous roving photographer who chronicles society, fashion and style for the New York Times and Karen Washington, a physical therapist who is also a community activist who works on social, economic and environmental issues affecting the Bronx and New York City. She is also a community gardener, no small matter in her contribution to the development of better neighborhoods and better quality of life for New Yorkers.

  Bill Cunningham and Osborn Elliott
The Citizens Committee was borne out of economically turbulent times in the mid-1970s when New York was on the edge of bankruptcy and financially de-coupled from the Federal Government’s largesse. The Daily News captured the essence of the crisis in a headline: “President Ford to City: Drop Dead.” The words weren't exactly accurate, and Mr. Ford did provide help, but the Federal attitude was in place.

It prompted certain individuals like Osborn Elliott, then editor-in-chief of Newsweek to take action and develop neighborhood activism. Many many wonderful programs and changes involving thousands of neighborhood volunteers all over the city and over the years have come out of this. The objective is basic and natural: help others to help themselves, making a better world for everyone.

This annual gala is a fundraiser but it’s also a kind of celebration. There’s a strong sense of something good having happened that is present in the room. Last night they also had the music of Peter Duchin and his orchestra to liven the mood, and after the awards, they had Patricia Racette and Marcello Giordani and Craig Rutenberg accompanying, all of the Metropolitan Opera performing. Miss Racette performed Kurt Weill’s “I’m A Stranger Here Myself.” Mr. Giordani sang “O Solo Mio” and together they sang a duet from “La Boheme.” Was it wonderful? How could it not be. Renee Fleming, not so incidentally, was also present to give Mr. Gelb his award.
Karen Cohen and Nicholas Scoppetta
Amanda Burden and Charlie Rose
Jack O'Kelley III and Betsy Gotbaum
Peter Gelb and Renee Fleming
Awards dinners can get a little tedious at times although the Citizens Committee has a lot of warmth and camaraderie in the room. The awardees are all either held in esteem, admired or beloved, or all three. So the introductions were fun and the acceptances were bright and optimistic, just like the neighborhoods the Citizens Committee works for. I have more to say about the individuals who were honored last night but I’m going to postpone that to tomorrow’s Diary and additional photos that I took at the dinner,.

They raised $1.3 million for the cause with 650 guests present.
Shirley Rosenthal and Holly Russell
Alexis Clarke and Amy Fine Collins
Mercedes Bass and Lee Niven
Gail and Kevin Buckley
Mrs. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Moira Moynihan
Jennifer Raab and Joanna Rose
Gillian and Sylvester Miniter
Inger Elliott
David Dinkins and Charlie Scheips
Beth DeWoody and Sandy Hill
Amanda Burden
Sue Newhouse, Hannah Pakula, and Warren Hoge
Osborn Elliott
Joe and Hilary Califano
Honoree Karen Washington
Meanwhile, rewind-rewind, back in Palm Beach: On Friday last there was a luncheon at Mar-a-lago benefiting the Boys' Club of New York (chaired by Mai Hallingby Harrison, Sara Ayres, and Alexia Hamm Ryan with Melania Trump as Honorary Chairman) and with a fashion show provided by Asprey’s.
The fashion show begins ...
Handbags and Shoes from the Asprey Collection.
Sitting pretty with Asprey goody bags hanging on.
The Aprey’s show, which was beautiful to the eye was the US debut of Asprey’s creative director, Hakan Rosenius and his new Spring Collection of women’s ready-to-wear – floral cocktail dresses and “easy palazzo pants,” all very Palm Beach. Asprey’s also provided a collection of theire jewelry, handbags and shoes. So the ladies attending were completely enthralled. They also raised more than $110, 000 for the Boys' Club.
Sandy Thompson and Frances Hayward
Hilary Block, Polly Onet, and Jackie Cowell
Maria Bockman, Talbott Maxey, and Ellen Niven Deery
Grace Meigher and Hilary Geary
Ellen Niven
Melania Trump and Hakan Rosenius
Stephanie Coleman and Mai Harrison
Caroline Dean, Mary Snow, and Alexia Hamm Ryan
Melania Trump
Muffy Miller, Mai Harrison, and Audrey Gruss
Emilia Fanjul, Emilia Fanjul Pfeifler, and Helena Martinez
Alexandra and Sheila Kotur
Kim Coleman, Mai Hallingby Harrison, and Darcy Rigas
Mia Matthews, Kim Heirston, and Marie Douglas
Robin Gaudieri and Renee Wood
Eileen Weiler Judell, Annabelle Mariaca, and Kristi Witker
Frannie Scaife and Jean Tailer
Lis Waterman and Nancy Whaley
Wilbur Ross, Bob Sterling, John McCloy, and Lee Browne
Bill McKnight, Rand Araskog, and Brad Zervas, Executive Director of The Boys' Club of New York
Bill Hamm, Donald Miller, and Tom Quick
Visiting Mar-a-Lago is always a trip for this writer. The house was built in the 1920s by Marjorie Merriweather Post Close Hutton Davies May, known far and wide as the “Post Toasties heiress” and one of the world’s richest women.

Mrs. Post who was also the mother of actress Dina Merrill (born Nedenia Hutton), was a very famous social character in America throughout most of the 20th century. She was very rich, very independent in spirit, much married, and lived in grand style wherever she went (in New York she had a 54-room triplex at 1007 Fifth). She had the enormous, famous “Sea Cloud,” the largest privately owned sailing yacht in the world, which she used to get herself to Russia when her Davies husband became the American ambassador to the Soviet Union. She otherwise traveled by private railroad car (sending her Rolls ahead to pick her up wherever she might stop). In the wintertime, her presence in Palm Beach was only quietly evident because life there was barely publicized.

Mar-a-Lago was an unabashed pleasure palace, designed by a famous American designer of his day, Joseph Urban, known for his sets, his theatre designs and his theatre interiors. Mar-a-lago was most definitely Mrs. Post’s stage. It looks like a magnificent set for a grand opera. The house is 110,000 square feet with 115 rooms (58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms) and sits on a strip between the Atlantic and Lake Worth.
Touring the grounds of The Mar-a-Lago Club.
Its chatelaine entertained with multitudes of guests. One of her favorite evenings was square dancing. Guests dressed for it and the swells all sidled up and kicked and skipped to my lou. An invitation to her table with her rare Sevres designs and solid gold plates was coveted, and much enjoyed. Everything ran on schedule, like the trains that brought her there. When dinner was served, all guests were present to be seated. Those who were not and came late found that their place had been removed. For good.

When Mrs. Post died in 1973 at age 86, the Mar-a-Lago estate was offered to the Federal Government as a Presidential vacation retreat. Richard Nixon who was President at the time and quite fond of Florida weather, having several houses in Key Biscayne, toured the place and considered it, but eventually the offer was turned down. For years it was regarded as a white elephant but in 1986, the enterprising Donald Trump bought the place from the Post Familiy Trust for $10 million, completely restored the house and turned it into the Mar-a-Lago Club where it’s members for an annual dues can live in a very similar luxury down among the sheltering palms as did the Post Toasties heiress.
A quick look inside and out of Mar-a-Lago.
Our brief visit to Ellen and Ian Graham’s this past Friday resulted in JH’s photographic look-see.
A view of the living room looking towards the dining room, kitchen, and staircase.
From the living room, up the stairs.
A favorite photo of Ian in Venice, taken by Ellen.
Leading up to Ellen and Ian's master bedroom and guest bedroom. A portrait of Ellen's mother overlooks the staircase.
Family photos in the living room.
Above: Ellen and Ian's study; Ellen's reflection in her favorite mirror in the living room.

Right: A view of the front of the house from the second floor. Palm trees ravaged by the hurricane are in the midst of regrowth.
Ellen in her bedroom; Ellen and Ian bid us farewell.

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