Friday, September 12, 2008

On the Seventh Anniversary

NYC from the Jersey Turnpike. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
9/12. Yesterday, on the seventh anniversary of the Twin Towers catastrophe, New York -- the New York that I follow – was busy with Fashion Week. That is not to say everyone I know is somehow involved in the Fashion world. Nor do I mean everyone social was doing something related to a Fashion Week. But Fashion is a big business and big business is at the center of this New York. Now, perhaps, more than ever.

I skipped the runways however, and accepted Peggy Siegal’s invitation to a luncheon held at the Park Avenue apartment of Danielle Ganek for Amanda Foreman, the author of “Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire” which was published several years ago. Saul Dibb, the young British director (“Bullet Boy”) has made it into a film, “The Duchess,” starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and Dominic Cooper. Mr. Cooper and Mr. Dibb were also at the luncheon.

Danielle Ganek is a novelist who published her first book “Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him,” last year. She and her husband David, a hedge fund owner, live in a sprawling apartment devoted to their collection of contemporary art.
Danielle Ganek, Elizabeth Lindemann, Marcia Mishaan, Debbie Bancroft, and Tory Burch
I accepted the invitation because it stated that Ms. Foreman was going to talk about her book which I read when it came out. Georgiana was born a Spencer, in 1757, in the same house where her great-great-great-great-niece Diana was born 200 years plus later. Her life, according to her biography mirrored her famous descendent in many ways, enough to make you wonder seriously if it were entirely genetic, (something I always wonder about characters who interest me).

The biography was riveting. The duchess was a most compelling figure, glamour and fame and wealth aside. Like Diana, it was a lot of laughing-on-the-outside-crying-on-the-inside.

The guestlist from what I could gather (easily) was mainly women, and mainly women who were late-thirties, early forty-somethings, sometimes older. There were several writers, also biographers among them: Amanda Vaill, Hannah Pakula, Susan Cheever, Annette Tapert, Marina Rust Connor. But many of these women are also members of the smarter of the Smart Set in New York. Most were married, many young(ish) mothers, wives of very successful or very wealthy (or both), men.
The director, the author, and the star Annette Tapert, Hannah Pakula, and Amanda Vaill
The buffet was largely vegetarian including vegetarian paninis (excellent), salads and other vegetarian concoctions. Very good. I sat next to Amanda Vaill whose biography of Jerome Robbins is being turned into a documentary for PBS and their American Masters series. She also wrote a compelling biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy a number of years ago that is still selling.

During the luncheon, in the Ganeks’ living room, Peggy introduced the author, the director and the star. Then Amanda Foreman told us how she came to write the book (having read a couple of the duchess’ letters while working on a dissertation and immediately getting hooked on the woman’s personality). She told us how what looked to the world like a life of having it all – married to a rich and powerful man, a titled man; being one of the most beautiful women in her country, and the darling of society, she had two things going against her: A mother who was “damaged and damaging” with her daughter, and a husband who was “damaged and damaging.” Are they ever mutually exclusive? These made all the difference, as it always is.

Ms. Foreman recounted a character so modern and so intense that I couldn’t help thinking that many of the women in the room must have been relating to the duchess in one way or another on a personal level. Wealth, privilege, looks, charm, brains never come – or at least very rarely – in one package and all the rest does not assure a woman what she might regard as her rightful place in life. Furthermore if she has children, she has another place that comes first whether she wants to think it or not.
Peggy Siegal introduces the cast: Amanda Foreman, Danielle Ganek, Saul Dibb and Dominic Cooper with Gabrielle Tana seated Susan Cheever and Dini von Mueffling
Peggy Siegal and Gabrielle Tana, the author's lifelong friend who produced "The Duchess" The foyer.
Oh, and the duchess had very serious addictions. She was bulimic. She was a druggie (opium), and a gambling addict. She had an affair that produced a child which her husband forced her to give up for adoption, along with the man who fathered the child. Pain and deprivation, suffering and abuse, serious problems of health was followed by a personal rehabiliation of self, a triumph albeit strewn with personal misery, some of which would last to the end of her short life (she was forty-eight), a woman who became whole in her world.

Someone said the film is now Number 1 in England. It was produced by Gabrielle Tana, a lifelong friend of Foreman, who introduced her at the luncheon. Ms. Foreman who has a charming (to the American ear) British accent is the daughter of an American man, Carl Foreman, born in Chicago in 1914, who became a major screenwriter (“High Noon,” “Bridge On the River Kwai”) and film producer (“Born Free”). He was blacklisted in the McCarthy era and moved to London to find work in films. Both of his children by his second marriage, Amanda and Jonathan, are accomplished writers.

These kinds of luncheons are rare in New York. Basically it was a book luncheon with a film to promote. The presence of director Saul Dibb who struck me as a mild-mannered, focused craftsman, doing what he had to do under what were business circumstances (promotion) added to the interest of course. And accompanied by Mr. Cooper, of a movie star, who the author said was causing fluttering hearts in the women at all the screenings she’d attended, just added to making it an unusual event.
Begonias on Park Avenue.
It was a beautiful afternoon when I left the Ganek apartment so I decided to walk along Park Avenue for a few blocks before grabbing a cab to go home. The pedestrian traffic slims down noticeably above 60th Street.

It’s an occasional denizen or member of a domestic staff; a chauffeur leaning against his limousine waiting for his charge, a dogwalker with four or six on leashes, a schoolgirl on her way home.

It’s a beautiful avenue and it feels like a special kind of neighborhood in New York. Almost all encased in domiciles with a variety beyond imagination and million stories (in the Naked City).
A schoolgirl crosses Park and 67th. 2:30 PM.
We missed this, this past week but it’s really important. There was a kick-off cocktail reception over at Le Cirque for the upcoming fifth annual Fete de Swifty which will be held September 18th in the big tent on the same block (East 73rd between Lex and Third) where it’s been held since its inception. Over at Le Cirque, Sirio Maccioni with sons Marco and Mauro hosted, along with the Associate Chairs Jake Bright, Rory Hermelee, Elizabeth Meigher, Alison Minton, Elisabeth and Matt Mitchell and Liz Walker.

The Fete was founded by Liz Smith with the help of a founding committee she rounded up (including this writer who has probably done less to help the cause than anyone else) to raise money to help the citizens of the city. Since its inception it has been benefiting The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City’s Family Justice Initiative administered by the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence. The priority is to raise funds for projects and organizations that help children and families in need. Nicole Kidman, Calvin Klein, Mariska Hargitay are Honorary Chairs.

At last year's Fete de Swifty
The annual party has become one of the most popular and festive social affairs on the Upper East Side, drawing people from all over the city including politicians and celebrities and lots of business people, neighbors and friends. It’s basically a great big cocktail buffet party with music, clowns and balloons, lotsa bars and buffet tables, a huge crowd of people who can just people watch to their hearts’ desire (ghoshing away, quaffing cocktails, etc.). For NYSD it’s a great photo op. Everyone’s in the mood to have a good time, and that is exactly what happens. At some point the Mayor joins the party, gives a little speech to talk about the progress of the Mayor’s Fund, and then meet and greet.

Madame Tussaud’s is sending over some surprise figures, Approximately 850 guests, including the city’s crème de la crème, will enjoy hors d'oeuvres and buffet tables with such delights as Roasted Leg of Lamb, Cocktail Sandwiches and Wheels of Parmesan and Stilton by Swifty’s (The restaurant); a Raw Bar by Glorious Food; a Popcorn Cart by the Mayor’s Office; a Good Humor Ice Cream Cart; and San Pellegrino and Full Bars mixes. There are still tickets available.

Tickets come in packages and individually. They can be purchased online by clicking here.

A Sponsor ($50,000) gets 20 tickets and printed recognition. A Benefactor ($25,000) gets 12 tickets and printed reognition. A Patron ($15,000), 10 tickets and printed recognition, and a Supporter ($5000) includes 10 tickets and printed recognition.
Individual ticets are Donor ($1000), Friend ($500), Ticket ($350) and Associates (ages 35 and under) which are Sold Out.

You see what I mean? I think they’re $150. If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d give it a try. They might have more ticket depending on how the crowd moves. It’s a really great party, lots of fun and a nice way to spend the evening or before dinner, and a wonderful cause to support.
Melissa Jones and Roger Webster
Joe and Alexandra Anza
Marcy Macdonald and Rod O'Connell
John Harchuck and Jake Bright
Sylvester Miniter and Alexis Clark
Peter Rogers and Shirley Lord Rosenthal
Mark Langrish, Diana Quasha, Lisa Anastos, and Daniel Schwartz
Caitlin Hughes and Robert Tatum
Cece Cord and Sirio Maccioni
Elizabeth Walker and Rory Hermerlee
Mauro Maccioni and friends
Chris and Grace Meigher
Jamee Gregory
Michael Mione and Kathleen Giordano
Alexandra Lebenthal, George Stephanopoulos, and Nick Drakos
Liz Smith and Matthew David
Stephanie Ohler and Julie Smith
Alison Minton
Lauren Watkins and Lee Fryd
Stephen Attoe, Gillian Miniter, and Robert Caravaggi
Steven Stolman and Somers Farkas
Roger Webster and Sharon Bush
Jason Grant and Jonathan Farkas
Marilyn Van der Valk and Jeremy Tick
So ends a busy week for New Yorkers. You can really feel the town having picked up again with people having returned from summer, which includes our Fashion Week correspondent Jamee Gregory who’s probably ready for another sojourn to Southampton after the endless rounds of shows and parties and dinners and shows and more parties. Her final report is on Vera Wang and her collection. Vera is, in my book, classic class as contemporary. Simple and dramatic and beautiful. If you ask me.

Jamee says:

Thursday dawns with a cool cloudy sky and a touch of fall in the air. By the time ten o’clock rolls around the sun is out, warming things up in time for Vera Wang’s show. Crowds throng the steps of Bryant Park’s fashion tent. Smartly dressed girls hand out copies of The Daily, WWD, and the Wall Street Journal’s new magazine. Inside fashionistas line up to gain entrance to Vera’s eagerly awaited show, always a refined and theatrical event with great music. Ushered past the line, I am greeted by girls in bubble gum Barbie-doll pink sheaths holding trays neatly lined with mini-Evian bottles at the top of the steps. Grabbing one, I head for my seat.

The tent is filling fast, the paparazzi lights are blinding and warm. Blonde Elizabeth Banks, star of Sea Biscuit, is commanding their attention. Her only competition, in the celebrity corner, is Venus Williams, clad in a stunning black Vera Wang ensemble that accentuates her height. She makes Joanne de Guardiola and me, two tall girls, feel like midgets as we look up at all 6”2” of her. (Friendly and warm, with a great smile, she shook our hands afterwards as we trooped backstage to congratulate Vera.)

Vera’s talented Public Relations guru Fernanda Niven, looking very pretty and business-like at the same, time deals gently with seat crashers, trying to help everyone find their place. Vera’s handsome husband, Arthur Becker, exudes confidence as friends approach and offer hugs. A bevy of young socials, including Marina Rust, Renee Rockefeller, Jennifer Creel, Gigi Mortimer, Tinsley Mortimer, and Heather Mnuchin, pretty in pink, all compare fashion notes. Fashion industry types like Gilbert Harrison and Gene Pressman chat. I see Nina Griscom and Robert Burke. Peggy Siegal and Pam Gross discuss the shows along with Dayssi de Kanavos in a pretty ruffled white top.

Everyone exchanges stories of battle fatigue. It’s not easy getting yourself into gear from early A.M until late at night, chatting, smiling, keeping your hair combed. Everyone talks about the marvelous party Bergdorf Goodman gave last night in honor of The New York Times legendary photographer, Bill Cunningham, a pivotal figure not only during Fashion Week, but all year long.
Jamee Gregory Heather Mnuchin Eleanor Ylvisaker and Tinsley Mortimer
Elizabeth Banks Anna Wintour Amy Astley
Jennifer Creel Venus Williams and Andre Leon Talley
We are asked to take our seats and to clear the runway. The group obliges, tucking their feet under their seats so as not to disturb the cameras’ view. I study rows of shoes, especially on the editors, many of them going for the gladiator look with laces, straps, fringes and cutout leather covering their insteps and often rising past their ankles. I see metallic leather, studs, sequins, patent polka dots. Wish I had my camera to record the eccentric styles. Those avoiding the Roman look opt for platforms in every material, from white patent leather to purple suede. My Roger Vivier buckle pumps with a low throat look terminally Upper East Side. Can’t wait to see what Vera puts on her models’ feet. The lights grow dim and the parade begins.

The first outfit appears, a chocolate merino long sleeve cardigan over a stone silk organza inverted pleat dress with coral mosaic neckline over vermillion silk organza slip skirt, decorated with a topaz crystal motorcycle chain belt. Shades of black, blush and gray with accents of orange, marigold, violet and celadon are featured. Wispy textured fabrics, decorated with panels of mosaic cut sequins and colorful abstract beaded patterns cover clean sculptural shapes and narrow body conscious silhouettes.
Slips, basketball t’s, over-skirts and cover-ups appear. Decorative ornamentation of floral and geometric color-blocked prints provides a counterpoint to the simple shapes. A black and electric blue hand-painted duchess dress with a gold crystal leaf bib over a black horsehair petticoat floats past, embedded with fabulous orange hand cut glass beads. Black ombre lurex leggings march along, looking hip and modern under a forest multi-pleat stretch tunic.

According to the program, the collection for spring 2009 celebrates “the vibrancy and naïveté of Niki de Saint Phalle, a woman and artist of extraordinary imagination, individuality and spirit.” When I think of the artist’s colorful, playful forms full of movement and joyful humor, the inspiration is evident.
I love the great accessories, the crystal motorcycle chains of many colors, the long strings of enormous cameos and crystal pearls. The beaded jeweled bibs, the sweeping yet delicate tunics, an embroidered horsehair jacket, a black and white halter tunic with geometric squares, a long bi-color blush gown, a charcoal and orange silk organza layered sleeveless long dress, a blue opal crystal motorcycle chain necklace, an olive and yellow floral abstract top with a panel of mosaic cut sequins worn over black stretch cotton leggings, a blue and yellow abstract floral coat, a silver ombre lurex jacket over bi-color grey and celadon tank with an abstract beaded waist over black silk pants, a black and electric blue hand-painted duchess shift dress over a lavender silk organza slip. I was fascinated by the “elfin” cuffed flats that Vera showed as well as the high “Nurse Ratched” sling-back platforms.

These clothes are lovely and artistic, romantic and fanciful. Watching them glide down the runway was like watching paintings come to life. I think Vera really captured the joie de vivre of Niki de Saint Phalle’s work. These exuberant clothes are very special, conjuring up an enchanted fairy tale.

Photographs by DPC/; ANN WATT (Fete).
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