Thursday, February 19, 2009

Closing out the show

Runway finale of Oscar de la Renta's 2009 Fall Collection yesterday afternoon at 583 Park Avenue.
February 19, 2009. A grey day, yesterday in New York, with that glum, steady but not heavy rain that arrived about noon and stayed through the night. Warmer.

No place like home. News comes from across the Atlantic that Mikhail Prokhorov, aged 41 (or 48 depending on who’s reporting), the Russian billionaire who paid 500 million, either dollars, euros or pounds, (again depending on who’s reporting) last summer for La Leopolda, the Lily Safra-owned villa on the French Riviera in Villefranche.

Mikhail Prokhorov
Leopold II, King of the Belgians
Now Mr. Prokhorov has decided that that was too much, 500 million schlomolos. I cudda told him that and I’d never even seen pictures of the place. I mean for Disneyland maybe but this was only a villa, for god sakes; fabulous of course, on ten acres requiring 50 gardeners to keep paradise beaming, and god knows how many in house staff. Whatever.

La Leopolda was built in 1902 by Leopold II, King of the Belgians, who made his dough off the backs of the poor inhabitants of the Belgian Congo which he personally owned at the time.

It was said that La Leopolda was built for a mistress, which is entirely credible because mistresses had that kinda clout in those days. Leopold died seven years later.

After that it was owned by the Canadian tycoon Izaak Walton Killam amd his wife Dorothy. When he died in 1955, Mr. Killam was considered the richest man in Canada. Before he died, however, he sold the property to Gianni Agnelli, in 1952, for $100,000. Which would be like $2 million in today’s currency, give or take a few bucks, depending on the latest arithmetic.

The villa was later acquired by Edmond and Lily Safra who also, as we know, had an apartment not all that far away in Monte Carlo where Mr. Safra met his fate by smoke inhalation in his bathroom.

Last August or so, the Russian Mr. Prokhorov, who is in the metals business, offered the widow Safra the 500 whatever for the place, and gave her a 39 million pound deposit. Which was then the equivalent of about $60 million. Now Mr. P, who is reported to have had some serious financial setbacks in the last several months and may be down a billion or two, doesn’t want the house at all. AND he wants his deposit back. In fact he can’t see that it was worth that in the first place. Talk about hindsight. Makes you wonder how the guy was smart enough to make all those billions in the first place. Uh-huh.

Mrs. Safra has said she’s not giving him his money back. Deposits usually stay with the seller, n’est-ce pas. even in France? Mrs. Safra is now one of the greatest living philanthropists in the world today but she definitely is not a pushover.

Ironically, or maybe not, it was said that one of the reasons Edmond Safra wanted that apartment in Monte Carlo was because it could be more secure from “those Russians.” Uh-huh.
La Leopolda at Villefranche sur Mer, France, the former home of King Leopold, Gianni Agnelli and Edmond Safra.
Other houses, other themes. A favorite blog of mine is something called oldlongisland.com. Old Long Island is dedicated to the preservation of Long Island’s “Gold Coast” estates and other things old. Yesterday they ran a vintage black and white photo of a house in Glen Cove called “The Wings.” About it they wrote:

'The Wings' was built c. 1875 for Charles Anderson Dana on West Island in Glen Cove. The house had Olmsted landscaping, making it the earliest Olmsted commission on the North Shore. Dana passed away in 1897 and the estate was sold to William Lamon Harkness who incorporated part of the house into a new house for himself.  In 1929 the property was sold to Junius Spencer Morgan, son of J.P. Morgan Jr., who remodeled the house into a guest house for what would become his estate 'Salutation'.  

It so happens that I know a man named Charlie Dana who used to live around these parts, as did his father (who is the late husband of Norma Dana who has often graced these pages). So I emailed him and asked if he were a relative of this Mr. Dana who built the “The Wings” on an island in Glen Cove in 1875.

Charlie wrote back that the man who built the house was his great-uncle after whom his father and he were named.
The Wings was built c. 1875 for Charles Anderson Dana on West Island in Glen Cove.
Mr. Dana was in the newspaper business in New York. He worked with Horace Greeley (“Go West Young Man”), the owner of the New York Tribune (which later merged with the Herald). Mr. Dana became the owner and editor of the New York Sun (which later merged with Pulitzer’s World and the Telegram). He was also one of the original supporters of the utopian community experiment, Brook Farm.

Mr. Dana also had a rich political life. He was assistant Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln and was with Lincoln as he lay dying. Mr. Dana was also a big supporter of the now legendary Cuban liberator, Jose Marti.

According to the grand nephew Charlie Dana, Marti had the New York Sun as his bully pulpit. Marti also used, at great-uncle Mr. Dana’s urging, “the Glen Cove property to do ballistic tests for cannon balls off mounds (which are still there) that shot over Long Island Sound.” It was all part of an effort that the future liberator was making to invade Cuba, if need be, to eject the Spanish. This was while McKinley was President, before Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War.

Charlie Dana’s email epistle added about Marti – “the only Cuban that everybody seemed to like, even today." The Havana airport is named after him, exiles in Florida love him and so do both Castros. (Eds’ note: Marti was also the grandfather of the film actor Cesar Romero.)

Charlie Dana also wrote, about The Wings: “On the island in Glen Cove, Dana brought stuffed in his suitcases and planted over 300 species of trees. The trees there are still unbelievable. The house got "grander" under Harkness and Morgan, but then burned back to more its original configuration. There was a story about 20 years ago in a Long Island newspaper citing C A Dana as Glen Cove's "most famous resident". The story line was that everybody thought it was the Morgans, but the author made the case for Dana!”

Oscar de la Renta taking his bow yesterday at 583 Park Avenue
Yesterday at one p.m. at 583 Park Avenue, Oscar de la Renta presented his 2009 fall collection. 583 which is the Delano and Aldrich designed Christian Scientist Church at 63rd Street is a beautiful venue thanks to its architects and still retains that New England church interior sanctity that brightens up even the grayest New Yorkers. As a fashion venue, which is exclusively Oscar’s (the contracts were made that way) it has had a search-and-find development, namely: how to work the runway in a smaller space.

Part of the solution was to eliminate a good number from the guestlist. Oscar’s shows in the Tents, in the main tent must have held over a thousand for he was SRO, baby. Fashion shows in New York have become a social staple over the past two decades that adapted to the new social world which is larger and more diverse than the old. The Oscar de la Renta shows drew the “new crowd” because Oscar is the remaining fashion star of the era, and because he also drew a large group of New York stellars and society-somethings. Not to mention the stars and the editors and the models and the 20-somethings who were rich or not far from it.

583 Park Avenue probably holds less than half the number that fit in the Tents. As a fashion venue for the last Master of American design, the closest the Americans have to a Balenciaga or a Balmain, the venue is fresh and clean, crisp and classic, but small for a big draw like Oscar.

Ironically, the Tents are now about to become a thing of the fashion past. That said; one man’s opinion, Oscar de la Renta’s collections are always a cut-above, an eyeful with that extra something that says “This is the life.”
The models were all long and very slender, with their acquired life-less facial expression and their struts. There’s less of that pony-like clip-clop in their gait these days, it seems. I wondered if the “style” is changing. I remember seeing the great Pat Cleveland do a runway turn a few years ago. Her presentation was planets way from today’s. Exuberant; joyous.

Oscar’s collection is, to this eye, always beautiful. The women look smart and stylish and self-confident. And rich. Let’s not forget the rich part. And, in order to wear the real Oscar, it helps to be rich. Oscar provides the aspiration.

My photos had the misfortune of having a photographer seated with a very limited view of the runway (entrance). In the past, readers will recall, I was seated where I could get the item coming and going. A public relations person evidently decided this wasn’t necessary for his product. Having once been a retailer of sorts, and now having a keen eye for promotion, I would disagree. Never mind, he probably has an MBA; I don’t.

At first I was perplexed as to how I’d get what I wanted. I finally concluded that I couldn’t -- so I would want what I could get. And in fact, it turned out rather well. With its limitations in terms of really showing the product, but interesting and also what it’s really like to be there.
Outside 583 Park Avenue Stephanie Krieger
The Obamas' decorator, Michael Smith Andre Leon Talley Moises de la Renta and Eugenia Gonzalez
Ellin Saltzman and Helen O'Hagan Paul LeClerc and Dr. Judith Ginsburg
Marjorie Gubelmann Lisa Creiberg and Boaz Mazor Jo Hallingby
Last night was the Preview opening of The Art Show at the Armory on Park Avenue and 67th Street, benefiting Henry Street Settlement. This is the 21st annual. The place was packed and it was fun because the art is wonderful to see. I’d advise if you want to leave the world behind for a few hours, get yourself over there and take it all in. It’s just great see, a joy, an “up” on these grey so-so midwinter days.
The scene at The Art Show at the Armory on Park Avenue and 67th Street, benefiting Henry Street Settlement.
Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York
I’d planned to just stop by, get a few pictures and get out. I was there for almost two hours and could have stayed longer if I hadn’t other obligations. There’s so much pleasure under the great roof. Give your mind a stretch and have a good time. I took a slew of pictures of different stalls. We’ll run some more tomorrow.
Somers Farkas, Alexandra Lebenthal, and Melissa Morris Peter Vaughn and Hiram Williams John Schumacher and Barbara Cirkva
George Farias Suzanne Julig Angela Westwater  
Thelma Golden and Lea Green Wilbur and Hilary Ross with Peter Pennoyer Wendy Lehman
Norma and Laura Smith with Lisa Silverman John Berggruen, Beth Rudin DeWoody, and Craig Starr

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