Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Peter Rogers

Remember these? “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good ...” (Vidal Sassoon)

“Demanded by and created for perfectionists” (Baccarat)

“Danskins are not just for dancing.”

“Me and my Scaasi.”

Or, how about ...

“What becomes a legend most?”

He thought of them. He made them up.
Along with dozens of other phrases that are now carved in the annals of 20th century American advertising. He has a way with words and with it has made more than a good living and a major reputation in New York life. Which is good because ... he also has a way with words. And a sense of how they should look. (Think about it.) He’s a friend of mine and I call him The Mouth From the South. Because he has a way with words, and they come pouring out of him; and as easily off the tip of his tongue as they do the tip of his pen. He says what he thinks about whatever he’s thinking and to whomever he’s thinking it.

Born and bred in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as a kid he had an after-school job doing window display in the local department store whose owner recognized “the talent” and told him to get himself up to New York ASAP. Which he did. This was quite some time ago (the mid-50s).

His first roommate claimed to be Tennessee Williams’ nephew, something which Peter, never gullible, found far-fetched and funny, until one night he was invited over to visit uncle, who took the boys around and gave the kid from Hattiesburg his first taste of the glamorous New York life. He never looked back and glamour was thereafter often his signature, both professionally and socially.

In 1974 after more than a decade of creating ad campaigns for others, he started his own agency, Peter Rogers Associates which brought him the New York fame and fortune and the pleasure of the company of a wide variety of friends. The Blackgama campaign (inarguably one of the most memorable in advertising history) also brought him a devoted coterie of divas, two of whom – Joan Crawford and Claudette Colbert – became close friends of his till the end of their lives.

Ten years ago, he cashed in his chips, dissolved his business
and took up portrait painting in his penthouse high above Park Avenue. Too soon, in my opinion, to retire.

Several years ago, while visiting his late friend Bill Blass up in New Preston, Connecticut in Litchfield County, he fell in love with that part of the world. After decades of owning a seaside cottage on Fire Island, he decided to make a switch. He bought a mountaintop with views of the countryside for miles in all directions, and designed a Palladian-inspired villa which is nearing completion as of this writing. Blass, when seeing the majestic plot quipped something like “when you finally move up here, no one will ever see you again.”

Prescient in sentiment, perhaps, although not so much in reality. Peter is one of those men who loves the convivial company. He’s both generous and magnanimous with those to whom he’s devoted. New York took the boy out of Hattiesburg but not Hattiesburg out of the boy. As quick to laugh as he is to speak his mind, among his talents (and his bag of magic tricks) is the gift of friendship. All these years later he still maintains friendships from childhood and family ties and, like a staunch New Yorker, the nitty-gritty, as well as glittery ones, while still forging new relationships.

Since a-building his “dream house,” he’s scaled down
his New York life, trading his large penthouse for a smaller one near Beekman Place. Litchfield’s allure, aside from the obvious pastoral advantages, are all those New York friends, old and new, besides the ones he’s luring in that direction.