Monday, March 6, 2017

The Price of Illusion

This kind of cold. Photo: JH.
Monday, March 6, 2017. Cold in New York. Down to the teens late Saturday night, early Sunday morning with temps climbing up to the mid-30s by midday, and back down into the low 20s last night. No one’s out on the street in my neighborhood unless it’s to walk the dog. All this comes as a disappointment to many New Yorkers who were just getting used to the high 60s (70 this past Wednesday) we’ve been having.
It started to turn cold after our 70-degree Wednesday and by Friday afternoon as the sun was setting, I took this first photo about 4:45. What struck me about this view, which I've photographed many times, was how it was merely a small slice of New York today. Yet in it you can see the changes and the attitudes of the last few years. The building on the right, not yet completed, is a luxury condominium designed by Robert A.M. Stern. Behind the glass apartment tower (East 72nd and the River) you can see the crane of another luxury high rise as well as the new wing of the Hospital for Special Surgery. Plus there is the result on another part of the wily weather with its powerful winds wreaking their own brand of havoc. The second photograph is the same view at 5:50. In another week, this will be the (light) view at 6:50. Looking at it with the city lights beginning to come up, I am always reminded of the excitement of New York night life, no matter how small or how ordinary: we're all in the Big Town where so much is happening all at once, all over town.
I missed the party; I’ll cry if I want to .... to borrow from the late Leslie Gore. The party which I'm referring to was last week when Barbara Tober and Michele Cohen of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) hosted “an evening in honor of” Joan Juliet Buck. If you don’t know who Joan Juliet Buck is, not to worry – I met a very young woman last week who didn’t know who Jackie Onassis is/was. The world.

I don’t know Ms. Buck although I’ve met her a couple of times. She’s a very attractive woman who not surprisingly was once editor of Paris Vogue and is no longer, and has written to tell about it in her memoir “The Price of Illusion.” It could have been titled “The Price of Media Illusion” but that of course is another story yet to be acknowledged.
Joan Juliet Buck signing her memoir, “The Price of Illusion.”
I knew the name Joan Juliet Buck long before I met her. It’s a beautiful name, in my opinion, and like many of us, I’d already conjured up an image of what she actually looked like without ever have seen her photograph.

Joan Juliet Buck has a presence and a look that does not disappoint the imagination. Small (to this tall galoot) and slender, she is very pretty, straightforward and accompanied by a diffidence that may be shyness or may be calculated. Whatever it is, it is appealing. I don’t recall what she was wearing when we met. I only recall that she had a kind of offhand chic that reflects a fresh intelligence.
Joan Juliet Buck in 2007. Photo by Lord Snowdon.
I haven’t read the book (I don’t have a copy) but I did read the excerpt in New York Magazine. She’s a very good writer, her prose is easy to read: cool, and like any good fashion editor would want, it is accessorized with visual details that give you a full picture.

For example, writing about sitting next to Yves Saint Laurent at a dinner given in her honor, she recounts ...

Yves had become bloated and vast. He was 58; his face hadn’t aged, but his hair had turned to wood and rose from his forehead in hard ridges. Sitting on my left, looking like a carved Austrian bottle stopper, he gave out intermittent, uncertain giggles and smiled sweetly.

Get the picture? The chapter excerpted in New York provides a sharp, cool, yet almost diffident quality to her reporting so that you get the picture throughout. An American who was a child in California, a young girl in London, and had written for more than one fashion magazine, Buck was at the “top of her game” in fashion for several years editor of Paris Vogue.

After that she was fired. Boom; just like that. Over. Why? A business decision. Reaction, response varies with the customer.

The professional future of Vogue editors is not without legend. The “fashion editor” can be a brilliant position until it is not. When it ends, it can be brutal. Diana Vreeland, for example, had that eccentric yet unusually charming personality that spelled charisma just on the sight of her. She was warm by nature and had the talent to amuse which her presentation of fashion reflected. When you met her she looked at you. She looked you over. Not with an attitude or suspicion or prevailing disinterest, but instead with eye-sparkling interest. Who is this person, she seemed to be asking herself, while appearing to admire the finished product whatever it was.
The legendary circumstances of Mrs. Vreeland’s “termination” came when one day in 1971, she arrived at her office and discovered that her desk had been removed from her office. Whatever the shock felt like, I do not know but she escaped to Paris where she spent four months recovering from her velvet grind. Not long after she began her job at the Costume Institute at the Met, turning that department into the Must-See exhibition galleries that the Institute its status as well lending her now valuable charisma to the department.
Diana Vreeland with editorial director of Condé Nast, Alexander Liberman.
Mrs. Vreeland was replaced by Grace Mirabella, who had been her assistant (title: Associate Editor) in the 1960s. Ms. Mirabella’s reign lasted 17 years until one day in 1988 her husband called her to tell her that Liz Smith had just reported to a nationwide audience on WNBC-TV’s Live at Five that she was “out” as editor and also out of Conde Nast (where she had been working for the previous thirty-six years). She was replaced by Anna Wintour.

Vreeland with Grace Mirabella and Marisa Berenson; Photograph by James Karales
Margaret Case at the Fashion Forum, 1941.
Ms. Mirabella got her revenge by starting her own fashion magazine (Mirabella) with the backing of Rupert Murdoch — an offer he made to her the day after she was fired from Conde Nast. She also in 1995 wrote (with Judith Warner) a memoir titled “In And Out Of Vogue.”

In the book she described her successor Ms. Wintour as “cold,” “suspicious,” “autocratic,” “a vision of skinniness in black sunglasses and Chanel suits, playing the movie version of a fashion editor a la ‘Lady in the Dark.’” Mr. Newhouse was remembered for his “dull gaze” and “glumly decorated office.” For Alexander Liberman, the editorial director of Conde Nast, she described a man “behind whose honey-soaked delivery was an iron will, a tin ear for dissension and an ego the size of the Newhouse fortune.”

Ms. Wintour, as we know, has remained in her editorial position for almost thirty years, the longest-running editor after Edna Woolman Chase who was editor for forty-eight years from 1914 to 1952 by Mr. Conde Nast himself.

Of all the stories of the history of Conde Nast’s harsh firings, there is none as cruel as that of Margaret Case. Miss Case started with Vogue as society editor under Edna Woolman Chase in 1926 and remained with the magazine for forty-five years until the last week of August 1971 when one day she arrived at her office to find company maintenance men removing her desk. Five days later, on a Wednesday morning, Miss Case, dressed perfectly for another day at the office jumped from a bedroom window in her 16th floor apartment at 550 Park Avenue (where coincidentally, Diana Vreeland lived).

The New York Times the following day reported the suicide and that her colleagues at Vogue said she left the office on Friday “in preparation for flying Sunday morning to the Spanish island of Majorca on vacation. She was to retire at the end of the year.”

A neighbor on the second floor of 550 Park heard the thud in the building’s courtyard and woke her husband to tell him that someone had thrown their laundry out the window. Her husband, replying that “people at 550 don’t throw their laundry out the window,” went to check.
Headline from The New York Times, August 26, 1971
Unlike Maggie Case (as she was known to friends), Joan Juliet Buck had the youth and strength to survive her Vogue adventure. Her book party last Wednesday night at the Museum of Arts and Design was a huge success, selling out of books on hand, and drawing one of the best cross-sections of New York media, literary and social life.

Barbara Tober, a founder and now chairman emeritus of MAD was editor of Conde Nast’s Brides magazine for more than three decades. She and Joan together made a toast to their shared history as alumnae of Conde Nast – which they described as both a “finishing school” and “hell.”
Joan Juliet Buck and Barbara Tober at the Museum of Arts and Design for an evening in honor of Joan Juliet Buck.
Among the guests at the party included Candace Bergen, William Ivey Long, Iris Love, Fern Mallis, Maria Cristina Anzola and John Heimann, Dale Haddon, Bob Balaban, Sheila Nevins, Cece Cord, Shelly Fremont, Ann Dexter Jones, Patricia Bosworth, Ben Brantley, Tina Brown and Sir Harold Evans, Stephen Schiff, Candace Bushnell, Bob Morris and Ira Silverberg, Nancy Newhouse, Elizabeth Peabody, Kathy and Billy William Rayner, Thaddaeus Ropac, Salman Rushdie, Jeanette Watson Sanger, Charlie Scheips, Alexandra Schlesinger, Andrew Solomon, Donald Sultan, Caroline Weber, Susan Cheever, Zita Davidsson, James Reginato, Todd Eberle, Morgan Entrekin, Samantha Boardman, Gerry Fabrikant, Christy Ferer, Edgar Batista, Lori and Tom Florio, Michele Gerber Klein, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Sandy Brant, Susan Gutfreund, Marie Brenner, Cathy Hardwick, Freddie Leiba, Jane Marcasiano, Steven Rattner and Maureen White, Christopher Mason, Terry McDonell, Angela Missoni and Bruno Ragazzi, Isaac Mizrahi.

Our friend Jesse Kornbluth, also an alumn of Conde Nast, was at the party and has reviewed the book on his Head Butler web site.
John Heimann, Charlie Scheips, Joan Juliet Buck, Madeline Hale, and Bob Balaban.
Barbara Tober, Lauren Day Roberts, John Guare, Lucia Hwong Gordon, and Skylar Guare.
Freddy Leiba, Wendy Goodman, and Isaac Mizrahi.
Candace Bushnell and Barbara Tober. Dale Haddon.
Eleanora Kennedy, Marshall Rose, and Candice Bergen.
Mary Huack and Ann Dexter Jones.
Christopher Mason, Susan Gutfreund, and April Gow.
Marshall Rose and Michele Cohen.
Elizabeth Peabody. Maria Christina Angola.
Lee Austin and Salman Rushdie.
William Ivey Long, Edgar Batista, and Peter Borland.
Cece Cord and John Heimann.

Photographs by Annie Watt (Buck book party)

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