Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One more day till the New Year 2009

The Empire State Building sporting four tones for the holidays. 10:15 PM. Photo: JH.
Special to the New York Social Diary:

A New Year’s Eve in Aspen to remember, moments away from disaster. Hoping to ring in the New Year on a brighter note than the annus horribilis they just left behind, celebrants heading for a night of party-going got to the center of town to find it SHUT DOWN with police evacuating certain areas after finding explosives behind the Gap and at two local banks. About 2:30 in the afternoon, police learned that the local Wells Fargo and Vectra Banks had received packages with threatening notes on them.

Sixteen blocks of the downtown were evacuated and parts were cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape sending some condo owners packing to stay elsewhere. The “bomber” evidently had gone around town with a black sled full of explosives camouflaged as wrapped Christmas presents. A bomb squad was called in from Grand Junction and were working through the night to make sure they had all the explosives that had been planted. Many got to the ultra-popular Jimmy’s restaurant only to find it all locked up sending New Yorkers Jay and Tracy Snyder, Patricia Duff, Nicole Miller, Richard and Marcia Mishaan et al back to their various hotels to dine on club sandwiches, and missing Tory Burch’s star-studded New Year’s Eve Party. Authorities are searching for 71-year-old James Blanning of Denver whom police had seen on surveillance footage. The sled laden with packages or carrying the "explosives" was found in a downtown alley. With the exception of the Fourth of July, New Year's Eve is the busiest holiday night in Aspen. The bomb scare squelched that and at least eight downtown restaurants were closed because of it.
Aspen Valley at night.
12/31. One more day till the New Year 2009. The weatherman is forecasting zero degree temperatures and snowstorms just to the north of us.

Good News Dept. Harry Benson, the New York-based, Glasgow-born photojournalist who first came to America with the Beatles on their debut trip has been named CBE (Commander of The British Empire) on the Queen’s Honors List announced this morning in London. Harry first learned that he was being considered when he got a call on his cell phone during a photoshoot “in the middle of a field with a bunch of male models” a couple of months ago. He was asked if he would accept. Although he has lived in this country for decades now, he remains a loyal subject of the Queen (although he may now have an American citizenship).
Harry Benson, 2008.
Harry is one of the most prolific photojournalists of our time. He has photographed the most famous people in the world of the last almost fifty years. He has photographed every President since John Kennedy. Many of his images are so famous that they can be identified by description (i.e., The Beatles jumping on their hotel room bed at the Plaza on their first tour here).

He will receive his Honor from the Queen sometime in the beginning of the New Year at Buckingham Palace. He joins a distinguished list of Honorees over the years including Richard Attenborough, Alan Bates, John Betjeman, Michael Caine, Roger Daltrey, Frederick Forsyth, Tina Brown, Barry and Robin Gibb, Joan Sutherland, Tom Stoppard, Alec Guinness, Glenda Jackson, Elton John, Nancy Mitford, Dudley Moore, Trevor Nunn, J. R. R. Tolkien, Harold Pinter, V.S. Pritchett, Vanessa Redgrave, Arthur Koestler, Paul Kennedy and Angela Lansbury, to name but a few.

Harry and his wife Gigi are currently at their Palm Beach residence.

Yesterday I watched an episode of a new reality show on MTV called “The City.” If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because you’re not under sixteen. Okay, 21. Oh all right, 32. And if you’re over 32, well then ... so are a lotta people. Because I’m not much of a television watcher, I say thank god for the internet because that’s where I watched the first (and right now only) episodes of the new “reality” show. I also watched an episode of its mother-show, “The Hills.”

Olivia Palermo and Johannes Huebl, Dec, 2008.
My motivation was to see Olivia Palermo who has been saying for quite some time that she wanted to be a movie star. Not actress, but movie star. Sounds naïve, or rather did sound naïve, but then she’s young and so it’s allowed. After having seen her on “The City,” however, I’ll say this: Olivia looks like a movie star off-screen, and now having seen her on-screen, she’s the biggest glamour-puss on the screen these days.

If you haven’t seen the show, it’s a grandchild of “Sex and the City” and first cousin of “Gossip Girls” but without the p’s around to muck things up. The girls and boys on “The City” are now old enough to go unchaperoned (as if it mattered) and they are deep into “relationships” which is about “cute guys” and whether or not they can be “trusted.” And then whether or not the girls’ friends can be trusted around the “cute guys.”

Olivia, in this second episode, looks like she cannot be trusted to maybe not steal some girl’s guy. The guy, in this particular scene/instance is a rocker who has a tussle with another guy who’s interested in the same girl (not Olivia). So far Olivia is just a gorgeous rich girl with a fabulous penthouse apartment in Tribeca (someone told me it’s really her apartment — is that so?) and the ability to bitch-slap with just a slight averted gaze.

Being a “reality” show everyone goes by their “real” name, as if it’s their “real” life And maybe it is, considering what real life amounts to these days. Scenes begin with captions “real” naming the characters, as well as the restaurants or apartment addresses they meet in. One of them has Olivia and a girl named Whitney going to Bergdorf’s and getting their shoes signed by Manolo Blahnik himself. I was surprised to see we’d run that party a few months ago and even had a shot of Olivia and Whitney. Just like real life; you see what I mean?

The story line is sketchy. It’s kinda like a soap opera looking for a plot but don’t let that worry you. It’s much better looking than a soap opera. In fact New York is much better looking than it is in “real” life to the point that I was wondering if they shot it all in LA with special effects. Of course LA looks better on this show too (or “The Hills” – sorry). No smog. Is that Photoshop?

Olivia Palermo and Whitney Port at the The Manolo Blue Shoe arrival party in September 2008.
There are lots of aerial shots of Manhattan which successfully eliminates any of the grittiness that you only know about if you leave a window in your apartment open for a few hours or walk down one of the streets or hit the subway. There are lots of restaurant shots and then there is Diane Von Furstenberg, one of our most glamorous and esteemed advertisers. Diane Von Furstenberg, the brand is one of the stars of the show. Is this a commercial? Does it matter? Watching it, I could only think Diane Von Furstenberg’s stock went way up overnight. Or at least it should have. This is without a doubt the greatest advertising coup in the history of media. I know, there have been other shows pitching merchandising and marketing but this one sets the bar.

Funny thing is, while I was watching one episode (maybe it was “The Hills”) I realized that the woman playing the Marketing exec at DVF, a woman named Alixe, IS the market exec at DVF whom I had lunch with a couple of months ago. Way to go Alixe!

Meanwhile back at the show. It’s a sociologist’s dream, coming on the heels of the Bernie Madoff Swindle, the stock market crash, the Fed’s trillion dollar bailout, the commodities market crash, the bankrupting of nations and all the other delicious little items that will be occupying our lives for the next umpty-ump years. What better alternative to today’s nitty-gritty? Life should always be an aerial shot, no?
It’s about as close to our “reality” as is Humpty-Dumpty being put back together again.

However, it’s a brilliant palliative,
not unlike those Ernst Lubtisch and Preston Sturges screwball comedies or the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies of the 1930s where everyone was beautiful and they all lived in heavenly deorator-land. There was even a moment when I was reminded of the original “The Women” with Crawford, Russell, Shearer et al. Yes, I know, there’s not what we’d call “wit” in the repartee, but where have you heard any of that lately anyway? It does have, however, the bitch potential of those old girls vying for some man or other. And there are endless bolts of froth, silken, cashmere, chiffon in use, along with those mile-high stilettos keeping everyone from getting their actual feet on the ground. This is good. And for us olden ones, it’s funny. Not I Love Lucy funny but then, as I’ve been saying: nowadays, what is?

And it’s got Olivia, looking like an honest to god movie star. The site for the show also has “comments” from viewers. Not surprisingly, they offer thoughts on the girls’ boyfriends and their behavior and everything else, as if it is all ‘”real.” Makes you wonder what people are really thinking? Or not. This is not new. I have a friend, Tina Sloan, who’s had a recurring role (Lillian Raines) on “Guilding Light” for longer than most of these new girls have been on the planet. And wherever Tina goes in the world – really anywhere: any state, Europe, India, wherever – she runs into people who recognize her and immediately give her advice on how to handle her situation on the show, as if it weren’t a script. So reality is never that far away, even when it is.

Meanwhile I went back and looked up some of our Olivia Palermo archive and came up with this item from March 2007 when Olivia was just another one of those pretty “socialites” around town. Not just another pretty face anymore though ...

From NYSD March 2007

The Business of Being Olivia. Olivia Palermo is a very pretty young woman who grew up in Greenwich and New York.  She attends classes at the New School, has worked part time for Quest magazine, in which she’s appeared in fashion layouts, and recently was photographed in a fashion layout for the revived Radar magazine.

Olivia, fairly new on the scene, skyrocketed to prominence thanks to the phalanx of digital photographers present at every event. She has become a card carrying member of that group now called the New Socialites. 

What does that mean, New Socialites? Many members of the media call and ask: who are the New Socialites? “Socialite” that word has recently had a revival thanks to a couple of web sites which write about these girls you see in the party pictures over and over: Tinsley, Zani, Fabiola, Marisa, Arden, etc. There are a truckload (a Cadillac Escalade of course) of them. They go to all the parties where they are photographed non-stop.

Joanna Molloy of the Daily News’ Rush & Molloy called me yesterday morning asking what it takes to be one of the New Socialites ... My answer: a good pair of running shoes, preferably stilettos. To get yourself smack in front of the nearest digital. Whence all fashion freebies flow.

That’s it?” Molloy asked.

“Well maybe razor-sharp elbows to eliminate the competition on your way to your place in front of the camera lens.”

I was kidding of course. Sort of. Because the publicity these girls are garnering, while not unique, is directly the result of their proximity to those digitals, and really nothing else. Oh, looks. That’s a big help, although ... not always necessary. And the clothes, which now often come from the racks of some designer interested in promoting his schmatte. Here and there a family name adds luster, but often the family name isn’t so lustrous or only made up. So yes, it’s the publicity.

The comparison to the “old” socialites, or the socialites of other decades (or even ten minutes ago) is inadequate. The “new” girls are far more temporary (have less “playing time”). They’re the Warholian 15 minuters.

Recently they’ve become the fodder for a few internet sites that purport to cover the social scene in Manhattan. These web sites, claim the social arbiter’s authority, and deal almost exclusively in the 20-somethings who go out every night (and are photographed). A good place to start. NYSD does some of it. 

The process has turned several of these girls into minor celebrities among their contemporaries.

Olivia Palermo is one of the newer ones on the New Socialite block. It’s easy to see why: she’s a very pretty girl, and  sweet -- that being her charm when you meet her. And if there’s an intellect, she’s left it back at the New School (where she’s majoring in History). What she is, besides being a beauty, is nice.

Envy makes the heart grow darker. Recently one of these “social” web sites chided Olivia for spending too much time at parties and not enough time in the classroom. Dear dear. Oh dear oh dear. Tsk-tsk.

This is the nature of a lot of present day internet “journalism”: snark, to intrude its set of rules onto someone else, or pass judgment on everything from shoes to nail polish and assigning a moral equivalent to it. Except for Patrick McDonald who gets a free pass. It’s a trip to Bounty-less, witless items and mean.

Yesterday one of the web sites published an email said to have been written by Olivia, allegedly sent out to dozens of girls she knows. In it she laments that she’s been feeling ignored or unaccepted by them, and beseeching them all to ... please, please, please ... like her. “She” made a perfect fool of herself. It was an embarrassing epistle that of a teenage girl who’s not making it. But signed “Olivia.”

The “email” was read by thousands and commented on by scores, if not hundreds. They blasphemed Olivia Palermo’s vanity, sanity and inanity. You might have done the same had you read it. However, late yesterday afternoon Olivia Palermo let it be known that she had nothing to do with that email, had never written it or even thought to. It didn’t sound like her, that’s for sure. She also said that if she were sending an email, she would have texted it off her cell using the 400 names she keeps on her cellphone directory.

So someone engaged in a little character-assassination, to amuse the congenital bearers of ill-will.  It turned out to be just another aspect of the journalism of snark. The reader response to the “Olivia’s” email on one particular web site was enthusiastically condemning of the girl who DIDN’T write what she was said to have written. The socialite’s new life.

(ed.note: that particular web site went out of business shortly after engaging in that libel.)