Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Grey, looking like rain

Looking northeast from a pier along the Hudson River near Charles Street. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
November 24, 2009. Grey, looking like rain. And cold, with some strong cold breezes. A shpritz (sp) but no rain to speak of.

Evolving Tiffany.
I went down to Tiffany at noontime for the annual holiday luncheon they host for their media friends. This is a brilliant stroke of public relations. I don’t know who instigated it at Tiffany but it’s a great way to win friends. A beautiful luncheon prepared by Glorious Foods (with Sean Driscoll right there to oversee), with interesting company – editors, journalists, etc. Michael Kowalski, the Chairman and CEO gives a brief speech about the state of Tiffany’s business each year.

Michael Kowalski, Chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Co.
Mr. Kowalski, as you can see from his picture, has a modest demeanor for a man at the helm of one of the most successful luxury goods operations in the world. He also delivers his annual catch-up to his guests in a manner not unlike a modest and conscientious parson from a church in Indiana (I don’t know where he’s from). The content is concise, constructive, optimistic without being delusionary, and he acknowledged his company’s (and therefore his) great success in the past without being boastful.

I wasn’t staying for the luncheon as I had a previous engagement at one. I’d gone just to hear what Mr. Kowalski was going to say because he is a barometer. And he exudes common sense, which as we know is not so common anymore. Almost everyone in the fifth floor executive dining room is in the magazine business. They know about the wolves at the door. They were listening.

I wasn’t disappointed. While praising his company’s progress, he addressed the change in the weather head on, remarking that the financial world had taken us right up to the edge of the abyss (my words not his) but he felt we’d since gained surer footing, acknowledging that everyone had been affected (meaning: even Tiffany).

However, whatever the situation, Mr. Kowalski is a glass-half-full person. He has been presiding over an enormous business success during his tenure of the past several years, with the greatest expansion in the century old company’s history. Now he was telling us that Tiffany, like everyone else, had been affected by the change in the weather.
Luncheon at Tiffany.
Michael Kowalski speaking to his guests just before luncheon was served.
However, the chief grasps the situation with that common sense I mentioned. Or maybe I’m in a Frank Capra movie. Mr. Kowalski sees Tiffany as operating in a “new normal, an evolved normal; a new paradigm.” This he sees as opportunity. Tiffany is a luxury brand. Luxury means “lasting value.” Selectively focusing on a few good things. Back to basics.

What impressed me about Mr. Kowalski was his perceiving that indeed, things are different (a new normal), and that instead of anticipating a return to something, they anticipate putting their best foot forward (“focus on a few good things,” etc.) and adapt to the “evolved.”
Speech over, I grabbed my overcoat and scarf and headed down to the Four Seasons restaurant. As regular readers know, I often lunch at Michael’s which is a hub of activity in the media world in New York. The Four Seasons, now classic modern elegance (a half century old), however, is sleek and almost hushed, like a 20th century men’s club transformed for the 21st century. The staff are in business suits and their attention matches.

The tables are set far enough apart that voices cannot be heard individually although there is a muffled timbre to the natural din. There were several familiar faces within my purview, many of whom I see in Michael’s. But at the Four Seasons, the image changes/adjusts. Any good club will do that to you.

Blair Sabo with her camera-shy uncle and host at the Four Seasons.
The latest friends.
I was meeting Blair Sabol, whom I had never met in person before, and her uncle and new-ish aunt, Herb and Jeanne Siegel whom I have met and enjoyed the company of many times before.

Some New Yorkers may remember Blair who wrote a column called “Outside Fashion” for the Village Voice back in the 70s. I used to read her not because I was interested in fashion but because her irreverence and spot-on observations made me laugh. She and I shared a mutual friend, the artist/illustrator Bob Schulenberg, but we never met. Many years later I got an email from her about something she’d read in the Diary. I was very flattered to hear from her.

She now lives in Arizona! And likes it. Once she lived at the Carlyle. Which she also liked at the time. But she prefers the Southwest. She goes to LA now if it’s people she wants to see and culture to soak up. However, she still loves to read about New York. In a place where it is quiet and serene.

I can understand that. If I hadn’t been forced economically to come to New York (for a job – that didn’t work out), I would never have left living in California. The sun and the light.

So on this first official meeting, we took pictures with Blair’s new Canon Powershot. The uncle has no interest in pictures of himself. I knew this about him although I figured being that it was with his niece, his sister’s daughter, he wouldn’t mind. And he didn’t, not totally anyway.

Last night I had dinner at Swifty’s with Heather Cohane.
Heather is such a wispy name for a woman with such a strong personality. She and I met in 1992 right after I’d come to New York for that job that never worked out. Heather still owned Quest which she had started a few years before. That night, on first meeting, she gave me an assignment. That assignment turned into a whole career.

It is seventeen years later and Heather now lives in Monte Carlo with her two dogs (both adopted) and near her (grown) children in Monte Carlo, Tuscany and Dorset, respectively. And I ponder the canyons of Manhattan looking for edit.

Heather had come over for the upcoming holiday with old friends. She moved back to Monte Carlo – where she spent her teenage years with her mother and stepfather – a few years ago in order to be closer to her children and grandchildren, and to live well and reasonably.

Heather makes friends wherever she goes, and so she always has a lot of friends, both old and new. Yesterday morning, her first day back in New York, she went for a walk to the Park where she knew she’d see her friends she used to see when she walked her dogs there every morning. She now walks her dogs every morning in Monte Carlo. A sunny place for shady people, as Mr. Maugham once wrote of it. The sun has done a lot for Heather, however.
The Castle Castagneto, once home to France's First Lady Carla Bruni, can be yours for a little (or more like a lot) more than a song. Maybe a grand opera.
Apropos of nothing but interesting if you haven’t seen it: This Italian villa -- Castle Castagneto Po -- is on the market as Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s fairy-tale castle in Italy is for sale for $28 million (£17m) or about 40 million euros.

Built in the 11th-century in the Turin hills, it was renovated by Mme. Bruni’s grandfather, Virginio Bruni Tedeschi, an Italian tire manufacturer. The First Lady of France lived there as a child, sleeping in an elaborately decorated bedroom and playing in the 173 acres of parkland. The house also features frescos and marble floors – “grandeur unrivalled in Northern Italy,” according to a local real estate broker.

Sr. Tedeschi occupied the village until his death in 1996. It was sold last year to a Saudi billionaire, prince Alwaleed bin Talal, listed in Forbes as one of the world’s wealthiest. Never having moved in, he is selling.
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