Friday, October 1, 2010

The demise of the Queen Bee

A drowned bee. 9:30 AM. Photo: JH.
October 1, 2010. Torrential rain in the very early morning yesterday followed by a day of anticipated more storms. Humid, otherwise, despite constant forecasts of another, no moisture let alone precipitation.

Entitled to arrogance. This week’s issue of New York magazine is entitled: “Who Runs New York?” Answer: read the magazine. And then you tell me. I was directed to a photo/graph of the Most Photographed party-goers. I recognized all but two or three because I’ve taken their photographs innumerable times. But found myself turning the page before looking them all over. More on that later.

Then I turned to the article on a hedge fund manager/owner/big deal named David Tepper. One of the paragraphs starts out:

Tepper has a pair of brass testicles, Cartoonishly huge and grotesquely veiny, they are affixed to a plaque inscribed with the words “The Most Valuable Set of All Time.”

Whatta guy! From another part of the piece:

Tepper has “certainly got a touch of arrogance, but he’s really entitled to it ...

Comes with the brass testicles, no doubt.

Annette de la Renta and Brooke Astor (Bill Cunningham/The New York Times).
Let ‘Em Eat Cake, the revival. Then I turned to a piece “Looking for the Next Mrs. Astor.” This is a variation on a magazine edit idea that’s on its way to becoming as old as Mrs. Astor at the time of her tabloidized demise. Any such search should be preceded by another: “Looking for the Next Mr. Astor.”

New York’s nominee is Lauren Santo Domingo, nee Davis, a long tall drink of water from Greenwich who married one Andres Santo Domingo, one of the heirs of Julio Mario Santo Domingo who practically owns Colombia and is reputedly worth almost as many billions as David Tepper made last year.

The comparison between Davis Santo Domingo and Brooke Astor is based, in the article, on their activity in charity events, their rich husbands and their contributing editorships at a Conde Nast publication.

However, Mrs. Astor came into her own only after her nettlesome, very rich and no longer young husband kicked the bucket and left her millions to give away to charity as well as millions to give to herself. She was in her mid-fifties at the time. Her world required something more than a gaggle of friendships like those Santo Domingo reportedly has with up-and-coming dress designers who give her “access to clothes months before they hit the shelves (sic) often just off the runway.”

The main difference between Brooke Astor and any Considered Successor today is that Mrs. Astor played a public role like a good actress, and she played it well. The role required dignity, integrity, charity, intellect, propriety, manners and charm. She was eminently prepared from a lifetime of experience and she fulfilled them all authentically. She was a woman who knew exactly what she was doing under the circumstances. Like any good regal personage, she made others feel good about being in the presence of those qualities. Whatever her weaknesses, they were played out in her wake which, in a final stroke of good luck, left her a victim like the rest of us.

Lauren Santo Domingo.
The money helped Brooke Astor -- did wonders of course -- but essentially, the personality elevated her to media heights rarely achieved in any age by a woman of independent means. Of course Brooke Astor was born into another age quite different from that of a young woman like Lauren Santo Domingo. The requisites for Social Queendom today are apparently Long Legs, Very Short Skirts, Very High Heels, a large, expensive handbag, and an iPhone. And maybe her own reality TV show. Although it didn’t work for the natural choice: Tinsley Mortimer.

Which brings me back to the aforementioned list of the 30 most photographed people on today’s social scene, according to a list compiled from the photo archive of Patrick McMullan. Patrick and his small army of photographers for hire cover 70% of the photographable social activities in New York. He’s been doing it for decades now and is by dint of time, Ole Reliable.

Looking at the Chart which has Fern Mallis as the most photographed of all, indicates that the list was compiled during Fashion Week and since Ms. Mallis is the head of it all she was everywhere because she had to be. A number of other individuals on the list were also ubiquitous on the Fashion Week scene, hence their presence. Then there are the charity girls whose relationship to the society photographer is best described in Alexandra Lebenthal’s novel The Recessionistas.

Ms. Lebenthal, who writes for the NYSD, in real life, besides being in business, also identifies herself as one of those whose presence in front of the camera is often no accident. She identifies it as a game, not unrelated to chess in some ways. The latest queen of that contingent, as identified by Patrick McMullan, is a woman named Jean Shafiroff, a longtime New Yorker, fifty-ish, long married to a Wall Street banker, mother of grown children who one day must have decided to pursue another interest, and that being a social career.

Her name has emerged (right after Mallis, Anna Wintour and Rachel Zoe) with her tiny physical presence -- she’s about 5’4” -- at many of the charity and cultural big ticket events in the past five (or maybe three) years. Interestingly, Mrs. Shafiroff has entered the social fray when most women her age are deliberately removing themselves from it.
Jean Shafiroff at a luncheon at Le Cirque for the NY Women’s Foundation.
There is a theory making the rounds these days that society in New York is no longer what was because of the Women’s Movement. This Diary has proposed several times that all the changes in our society over the past half century are the result of ALL the Liberation movements, beginning with Civil Rights and moving right along into feminism and gay liberation. That and digital technology, lest we forget whence it came. Society of the eras of the Mesdames Astor was defined, however, by none of the above, but by groups where the Mesdames reigned over a select few (or many). You, you, and not you.

At the beginning of the 21st century, there is a society in New York but much of it is motivated not by the desire to “belong” as it was in the days of the Mrs. Astors, but by the desire to be seen and noticed, which is best achieved by the photograph. The motivation is often couched in terms of being a volunteer for a good cause -- and it is true that many women (and men) are motivated to volunteer for a good cause – but mainly it’s for the attention, not unlike the attention you get when you look in the mirror.

Which could even lead you to conclude that the answer to New York magazine’s question: “Who Runs New York?” might be: the bathroom mirror.
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