Monday, September 27, 2010

Receptions, warm and cold

Looking northeast across 60th Street from high above Fifth Avenue. 9:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, September 27, 2010. Sometimes very warm but mild weekend in New York. Some rain coming our way? Looks it.

It’s late Sunday night, and I’ve just
had the chance to look through some of the last few days of the New York Times. I looked for -- because someone at dinner told me about it -- a piece published last Tuesday on the opening of a new boutique on Madison Avenue called Reed Krakoff. Which is also the name of the man who created it.

In the article, Mr. Krakoff got reamed, as they say, by the Times’ reporter Cintra Wilson. Wilson seriously questioned why the man even opened his shop considering the current state of things financially. It almost sounded like Mr. Krakoff was committing a crime against society (with a small “s”).
The new Reed Krakoff store on Madison Avenue (image via The New York Times).
Stores like Krakoff’s – a major, large Madison Avenue boutique costing millions just to put together – are planned years in advance. This business was probably conceived several years ago and put into play at least three or four, or probably more years ago.

Remember 2005 or 2006? Remember how worried you were about your financial future, not? Remember hearing about Mr. Madoff? No, because at that time Bernie Madoff was such a cool guy to the cognescenti that he was a secret. Like a good dressmaker.

Four years “rich” was here to stay for everyone. This is the way we were thinking. Not all of us, but the consensus. It is also the way a lot of people are still thinking.

Reed and Delphine Krakoff.
Reed Krakoff is a young guy – probably in his forties. He’s been a kind of wunderkind in the luxury retail business in New York. He took a practically comatose old luxury brand in Coach and revived it, and turned it into a player in the international “luxury” market.

This stuff might sound dull but it’s part of New York day-to-day lore. Everybody knew who Reed Krakoff was after that. And what they saw when they saw him was: success. You can’t get better looking than that in New York, no matter your gym, plastic surgeon or genes.

He married and thus acquired a creative partner a few years ago, started a family and built himself an imposing new limestone mansion on East 70th Street just down the street from where Bunny Mellon lived. (The house the Krakoffs had purchased caught fire one night during renovation and burned to the ground.)

In other words that success at Coach turned not only the company into a player but also Reed Krakoff into a player. This is the New York dynamic personified.

Alas poor Reed. So he opens this store. His own. The dream. Where he’s now even selling his own designs. And where it’s beautiful and stylish, and au courant interior design-wise, and everything. And once it’s all done, spitpolished, ready to go, doors open, along comes the Times. Which takes one look and presents the question: “Who are these people?”


My question: Will Reed Krakoff continue to advertise with the New York Times? If you were Reed Krakoff would you want to? I wouldn’t. But I’d do it anyway and I’ll bet he does too. His customers will see his ads.

I walk up Madison Avenue usually two or three times a week on my way home from an appointment or lunch. I’m talking high fifties to usually lower eighties (when I head east to home). It’s a very pleasant New York walk. You see all kinds of interesting, good looking, weird looking, angry looking, anxious looking, gorgeous, astounding, fascinating and obnoxious people on those blocks. In other words you see the Naked City. In the luxury sector, which is what Madison Avenue is. And it’s wonderful; it’s the movie. To the world.

Madison Avenue by day and night.
I noticed the Krakoff store going up. It did occur to me, because this is the way I think, (and because I was once a retailer, albeit briefly) that this was not a favorable time to be starting out a new and enormous enterprise, all things considered. However, this very successful and very creative New York businessman, Reed Krakoff, was at the time and age in his life when he needed to realize his dream. This is how dreams happen – someone makes the leap. Into the unknown, which is New York is quite a leap.

Reed Krakoff had everything on his side, except for one thing: the economy. The lady at the Times called it a “rather nervy” move on his part. I think it was a rather ballsy, and ballsy necessary to succeed in his business. Anytime.

I could have told Reed Krakoff four or five years ago that making any commitment might be dicey considering what we were headed for. He wouldn’t have believed me, this writer, if for no other reason than I am not a professional expert, and businessmen consult experts. It’s that or their mothers. (Probably a better idea).

When I started writing the New York Social Diary
about fifteen years ago, the subject at hand was where people were going out (to charity galas) and what life was like for them in their leisure (Palm Beach, Southampton, etc.). In other words, affairs, divorces, scandals, tiffs, riffs and cliffs. Fifteen years ago there was also the wake of the Nouvelle Society of the 80s, and before that the Kennedy years, and the New York Society years that came before that. In other words, the people were about their lives.

In the past ten years, many of these same people or people who are identified with them as “the elite,” the “socialites,” the “society people,” “the rich,” became lives about business. Money. Scandals, of course; affairs, of course, divorce, of course. But business, money, everything. The most popular venue for a cocktail party get together in New York today is in a store. Often a store on Madison Avenue, incidentally. That’s the way it is. A store promoting its good to sell. This is simply evolution.
The new Ralph Lauren store on the corner of 72nd Street and Madison Avenue.
So, Mr. Krakoff. It’s a beautiful store, which comes as no surprise because the man is, in his way, an artist, and committed. Madison Avenue is the street for such people. Right up the avenue is His Imperial Highness of American luxury retail: Ralph. Talk about “luxury,” forget the clothes; it’s the idea that has a price tag (and not for everybody). Wait till the Times gets a load of what he’s done across the street from his flagship. He’s did everything but import the entire Avenue Montaigne to that gilted corner. (The Times might ask: “what was he thinking? Marie Antoinette?”)

I’m neutral but all this. I can’t afford very expensive things, much if at all. I like looking at them (although I’m not even a window shopper). For example, I’d love to have a bespoke suit that felt like a million bucks. But I don’t have the million bucks, and aside from the thought, it’s not a priority to me. If I could afford them, I still wouldn’t be a shopper. But that only means one thing to a retailer I’m not the customer.

That’s not a problem for Reed Krakoff: he knows his customer. His only problem now is getting them to step inside and have a look. They’re out there. And he’s strikes a note with people. You never know. I was in the retail business in the 1970s when the Recession was going on and interest rates hit 21%. The business was successful enough that I could live comfortably, employ people, and eventually sell it and move to California to begin this profession of mine. Reed Krakoff, I have the feeling, will not be selling anything but goods he’s moving in his shops (he’s got one in Tokyo too). We wish him luck. From all of us.
Cipriani and the entrance to the Sherry-Netherland from the corner of 59th and Fifth at 8:30 on Thursday night after the Quest 400 party.
The weekend and beyond. More photos from the Quest 400 party at Doubles. I always intend to take a lot of pictures at any party where I have the opportunity, but this party was not as easy because 1. It was a big crowd which 2. Stayed long because they were having such a good time meeting, talking, seeing, catching up, and 3. I was having such a good time doing the same that regrettably I missed a lot of people I would have liked to photograph.

Walter Winchell Walter Winchell. The little things you learn at a cocktail party. Melinda Blinken was telling me apropos my Diary about Walter Winchell, that her middle name is Winchell because Walter Winchell was her father’s cousin. Melinda’s father was Howard Koch, a film producer and head of Paramount Pictures in the 1960s when it was owned by Charlie Bluhdorn of Gulf & Western. Howard Koch was very popular fellow in his industry.

Small world department. Coincidentally, this conversation/cocktail party was in Doubles, the private club in the Sherry-Netherland whose director, Wendy Carduner, grew up on Central Park South across the hall from Walter Winchell.
Dr. Sherrell Aston and Muffie Potter Aston with Si Anthony. Sabrina Forsythe and Brad Hvolbeck.
Patty Raynes. Hillie Mahoney, Sam Michaels, and Laura McCloy.
Dennis Basso, Barbie Bancroft, and Michael Cominotto. Eleanora and Michael Kennedy.
Shirley Lord Rosenthal. Michel Witmer and Melissa Berkelhammer.
Marc de Bary and Mary McFadden. Marc Rosen and Arlene Dahl.
Jane and Joe Pontarelli. Gail Hilson and Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman.
Joan and Jay McLaughlin. Mary Hilliard, Ann Rapp, and Amy Hoadley.
Mary Hilliard and Landon Hilliard. Jack Gunther.
Kater and Alex Donner. Alex Donner and Doug Dechert.
Mai Harrison with Donald and Muffy Miller. Barbara and Kevin McLaughlin.
Eleanora Kennedy and Peggy Siegal. Doug Dechert and Elizabeth Brown.
Ed, Judy and Dori Cooperman. Bill Brock and Patricia Burnham.
Same night, another part of town. There was another book party for Alexandra Lebenthal and her novel The Recessionistas, this time at the Four Seasons restaurant, hosted by Felicia Taylor, Alex Trower and Diana Taylor, followed by a dinner at the East Side Social Club.

If you haven’t read it: this is an authentic chronicle of a group of people and a way of life in New York leading up to the “crash” in the markets two years ago. The other day I asked Alexandra how she thought those characters were doing now (imagining of course). She said she was going to let me know. She’s doing a Guest Diary for us on tomorrow’s, so perhaps we shall soon see.
Susan Donaldson, Bruce Pask, Claudia Lebenthal, and Alexandra Lebenthal.
Debbie Bancroft, Sylvester Miniter, and Gilian Miniter.
Meanwhile, Saturday night in Los Angeles was a benefit gala hosted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to support LACMA’s special exhibitions and programming to celebrate the “unmasking” of the musum’s newest building. And a spectacular one. The building is the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion named in honor of the couple for their generous leadership gift. How much that is, I don’t know, but you can be assure it was a very pretty penny.

The Resnicks are in business: Fiji Water, Pom Juice, Franklin Mint, for starters. This was a big event bringing out tout Hollywood, the art collectors, the producers, tycoons. As they can do out there, it was a spectacular benefit as well. We’ll have a much bigger, better look tomorrow.
Stewart and Lynda Resnick. Katherine Ross and Michael Govan.
Coming up Wednesday night. Don’t forget! The 7th Annual Fete de Swifty from 6 to 9 in on East 73rd Street between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue. This is block party luxury (goes with the neighborhood) under a tent extending for almost the entire block.

For tickets to the Fete de Swifty, click here.
Proceeds support the City’s Family Justice Center Iniative and New York City Housing Authority’s Early Childhood Programs. Mayor Bloomberg and Liz Smith will kick off the evening.

This is actually Liz’ brainchild, born out of her desire to give something to the city. Mayor Bloomberg opened the first Family Justice Center in Brooklyn in ’05 and a second three years later in Queens and now a third, last April in the Bronx. The millions the Fete has raised has gone into funding this project and positively affecting the lives of thousands of families here in New York.

The party itself is like a great cocktail party – lotsa great food, entertainments, hundreds of friends, familiar faces, unfamiliar faces and an atmosphere of camaraderie which after you’ve been there, you’ll even feel better about the evening.

Honorary Chairs are Mary J. Blige, Tim Gunn, Mariska Hargitay, Nicole Kidman, John Starts, Steve Stoute, and Malik Yoba.

There’s a charity auction now online through October 6th at Good stuff, take a look. If you want to buy tickets to the Fete de Swifty, please visit or call 212-788-7794. And go. You’ll have fun. And if you don’t know anybody there, you’ll have even more fun just watching ‘em.
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