Thursday, September 14, 2006

Paris Jour et Nuit, Encore

Looking down at "diner dans les Allées at the 23rd Biennale des Antiquaires au Grand Palais." Photo: JH.
9.14.06 - Paris. News came across the Atlantic that dear Governor Ann Richards died last night at her home in Austin, Texas. I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Governor Richards, or Ann as everyone called her, three or four years ago through our mutual friend Liz Smith. Ann was then living in New York part of the time in a rented apartment on Broadway and 66th Street. She was working for a public relations firm as a rainmaker and catalyst.

She was a lively, goodlooking woman in person as she was in her photographs with that beautiful head of white hair and sparkling eyes. She was very warm and friendly with everyone she met -- a natural politician and diplomat. She loved taking in theatre, be it Broadway or off-Broadway, not to mention the movies and it was always fun to go with her because she loved talking about it all during intermission and after the show.

In the meantime, it was always a great pleasure to be in her presence and to witness the enormous goodwill and affection that she generated wherever she went. It just came out of people wherever she went. All kinds of people would walk up to her on the street and say: “Oh Governor Richards, we LOVE you, when are you going to run for President?” It was the same statement followed by the same question wherever she went. Her answer was always the same: “oh why would I ever want to do that?” As if to imply it was just one big headache after another.

Personally I felt the same way all her passing acquaintances felt, and wished she did run for President.She may have acquired that point of view after leaving public office where her last campaign experience running against George W. Bush in the Texas gubernatorial race. It was devastating in the way Mr. Bush’s advisers, namely Karl Rove turned it into a major smear campaign against Ann. She told me once that she never wanted to put her family and herself through that again. Dirty she wasn’t and dirty she wouldn’t be. One night she and I went to see AR Gurney’s “Mrs. Farnsworth” with Sigourney Weaver and John Lithgow, a thinly disguised story about the college age George W. Bush that called into question the morality and character of the man. At one point during the show when it beame apparent who the subject of the play was, all eyes in the small theater were on my friend Ann. Whether she was aware of it or not (and there was little that she wasn’t aware of), she never let on, nor did she discuss the character after the show. A sore loser, she was not. A woman who picked herself up and got on with it, she was.

One night I picked her up in a taxi to take her to the theater. She had intended to be waiting for us by her building entrance but when we arrived something held her up and we had to wait a couple of minutes. The first thing she did when she got into the cab was to apologize to the driver for holding him up. “That’s all right Governor Richards,” the man (who turned out to be Dominican) said, adding, “I’d wait for you anytime. I wish you’d run for President.”

She heard that line so often that I couldn’t help wondering how she felt about the irony that the man who defeated her in the gubernatorial race in Texas was now the President. I asked her a couple of times but her answer always deflected the question in some down-home way.

The last few years of her life were prosperous. She was very in demand as a public speaker all over the country. Of course she was a pleasure to listen to, and she commanded pretty good sums for her Texas-grown wisdom and charm. She liked it too although the travel from one place to the next all by herself could be grueling, not to mention lonely. However, she saw it as her last opportunity to make some money for her sunset years, so she pushed on. Besides grueling, it wasn’t always pleasant. There was one incident at an airport in Indiana where a woman working for Homeland Security ran a metal detector over the governor’s body. The alarm went off when the detector scanned between her legs. Ann was surprised but realized it must have been the metal snaps of her lycra body suit that she was wearing. She explained this to the inspector. Nevertheless, the Homeland Security woman made the 70-year-old woman remove everything but her undergarments to prove she wasn’t carrying anything lethal. It was an incident that infuriated Ann although there was nothing that she could do but follow orders. She realized it was just some stupid woman exercising a little personal power, knowing full well whom she was “detecting.”
Yesterday afternoon in Paris an American woman named Pamela Darling who's been living over here included us in a part of a small private tour she conducts for visiting Americans (and others if they can find her) to people and places related to the decorative arts business. Yesterday it was a visit to Kraemer, the antiquaires on rue Monceau who are said to have one of the greatest collections of 18th century French furniture in the world.

The Kraemer family has been in the business for five generations. Olivier Kraemer, the great-grandson of the firm’s founder, led the tour. He explained how when Louis XIV came of age he developed ways of demonstrating his power. One of those pathways was with furniture design which, because of the Sun King, turned artisanship into art. It was during that time that the cost of furniture rivaled or even exceeded the cost of paintings.

Many of the pieces in the Kraemer collection are very rare and of museum quality, often ending up in many of the major museums in Europe and the United States such as the Metropolitan, the Getty, the Cleveland Museum as well as the great private collections.
Clockwise from top left: 3 generations of Kraemers — Philippe, Saundra, Olivier, and Laurent; La maison de Kraemer (2); Looking down rue Monceau.
It was fascinating listening to this man who grew up in the business along with his siblings and their offspring (who make up the fifth generation). Their devotion to and authority about their inventory is almost religious in quality. On a mantlepiece in the first room we visited were black and white photographs of M. Kraemer’s grandfather and great-grandfather. He told us how these men had created one of the great antiquaire houses in the world which prospered for decades until the Second World War when the Nazis invaded Paris.

Hermann Goering, Hitler’s number two man and head of the Luftwaffe, was a rapacious “collector” of art and antiques and his soldiers were equally rapacious in carrying out his desires: they looted the Kraemer family’s business of all of the inventory, shipping everything their boss wanted back to Germany and selling the rest to French collaborators.

Olivier Kraemer reflected in telling the story that at least, unlike so many others, his family survived the Nazi invasion. When the war was over they began again. It took them 20 years to get back on track. His grandfather began their rebuilding by using the little funds available by buying Boulle which was completely out of favor in the 1950s and therefore affordable. Thirty years later Boulle was back in fashion with the great collectors and museums and the house of Kraemer had some of the best in the world. We were shown pieces that had been commissioned for Louis XV, for his mistress Madame de Pompadour, for Marie Antoinette, for the chateau at Versailles, for the sisters of Louis XV, with everything in perfect condition. “You can sit on every seat,” he told us as we toured the rooms, referring to the 200- and 300-year-old chairs and sofas.

The Kraemers will never tell you whom they buy from or whom they sell to although their furniture, as I said, can be found in the finest collections in the world.They even often buy things that they’ve sold to a previous generation of collectors. He showed us one piece which had come back to their collection four times over the past century.
The private apartment of Olivier Kraemer.
The private apartment of Laurent and Nicole Kraemer.
A collection 18th century gambling purses each with its personal embroidered coat of arms.
Last night at the Grand Palais in Paris was the Soiree de Gala of the 23rd Biennale des Antiquaires benefiting the Fondation Hopitaux de Paris- Hopitaux de France, and a brilliant evening it was. There were 111 dealers purveying 7,000 objects valued at more than $1.3 billion, from 18th centur furniture to Van Cleef & Arpel jewels. This was a preview of the Biennale which opens to the public tomorrow and runs through the 24th of September.

The evening began with a 7 o’clock viewing of the dealers’ installations of art, objets and furniture followed by a cocktail hour of champagne and hors d’oeuvres and then a seated dinner for several hundred. The Parisian women set the style of dress mainly in long dresses. Among those seated at the main (long) table with Mme. Chirac seated at the center were Karl Lagerfeld, Henry and Marie-Josee Kravis, Veronica Hearst, Vicountess Jacqueline de Ribes, Helene and Michel David-Weill, Bernard Arnault, and John Galliano. John Galliano wore the most outstanding outfit, a far cry (about two centuries) from the conventional black tie. I’d never seen Mr. Galliano in person before. There is more than a bit of the devilish and the irony on his face. He is completely costumed and even coiffed in a fashion that reminds one of the 18th and 19th centuries of men’s dress as if modified for the Space Age. M. Lagerfeld was wearing the standard black tie although, as you can see by the picture, does not look like anyone else in black tie. There were a lot of New Yorkers among the crowd including Susan Gutfreund, Dan and Estrelita Brodsky, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, Robert Couturier, Judy Taubman, Kasper, Scott Snyder, Tony Ingrao, Scott Snyder, Renee and Bob Belfer and their daugher Elizabeth Belfer; Virginia Coleman, Debbie and Leon Black, Geoffrey Bradfield, Charlotte Moss, Marjorie Reed Gordon, Adriana Mnuchin, Anne Bass, Doug Cramer, Lee Radziwill, Hugh Bush, Alexis Gregory. Also in the crowd, Princess Laure de Beauvau-Craon, Kirat Young with the Marquis de Dampiere (who actually lives in Boca Raton), Florence Grinda, Helene Ludinghausen.
Jean Paul Beaujard with Estrelita and Dan Brodsky
Susan Gutfreund with Jenie and Andrey Dellos
Renee, Bob, and Elizabeth Belfer
Craig Wright (center) and friends
Susan Gutfreund and Natasha Fraser
Laure de Beauvau Craon and friend
Marquis de Dampiere and Kirat Young
Hilary and Wilbur Ross
Nicole Levi and Elvire Colonna d'Eistra
Kasper and Rosalie Brinton
Harriet Weintraub
Lyn Nesbit
Scott Snyder
Patrick Gerschel and Veronica Hearst
Pilar and Juan Pablo Molyneux
Viscountess Jacqueline de Ribes (Thierry Breton in the background)
L. to r.: Sabine de la Rochefoucauld and Robert Couturier; Dinner at the Grand Palais.
Clockwise from above: Looking up in the Grand Palais; Staying cool; Farah Diva and Linda Wachner (center & right) and friend,
Jean Bond Rafferty and Geoffrey Bradfield
Preparing dinner
Above, left: Dinner in the Grand Palais. Top, right: Brooke Mason. Above, right: The dessert.
Marie-Josee Kravis, Veronica Hearst, and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild
Helene Ludinghausen, Judy Taubman, and Florence Grinda
Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, and Veronica Hearst
Madame Theodor Angelopoulos and Judy Taubman
Ondine de Rothschild
R. Couri Hay and Janna Bullock
John Galliano from the back
Apres diner.
Lee Radziwell and Doug Cramer
Marjorie Reed Gordon and Adriana Mnuchin
Exiting the Grand Palais (above); Walking past a statue of Charles de Gaulle (above, right); Looking out towards the Petit Palais (right); Strolling down the Champs back towards our hotel (below).