When Samuel Parrish commissioned Grosvenor Atterbury to design a museum, could either man have envisioned its longevity? Almost 140 years and several incarnations later, art still hangs on its walls. It’s now the Southampton Arts Center, thanks, in part, to Kara Ross and Elyn Kronemeyer. They celebrated its tenth year, welcoming all to a Whimsy in the Garden party.
Friends, lovers, art, architecture. What endures? What is lost? Who can predict? We are like ships on a rocky sea. Sometimes we steer. Sometimes we are tossed.
These were my musings the day after the party returning to the SAC to hear Fern Mallis, Stan Herman and Jeffrey Banks talk about their own storied paths.
Being neighbors on Big Fresh Pond has solidified their friendship. But, could they have dreamed: when Fern met Stan as a young Mademoiselle editor that 20 years later they would create fashion week together? When Stan was a critic and Jeffrey a student at Parsons, 40 years later, they would be inseparable? That they would journey from the offices of the CFDA to the tents of Bryant Park to the shores of Big Fresh Pond?
“We go through a long life,” Stan, now 94, told me. “You find one or two people who stop you in time, latch onto your life and you latch onto hers. That’s what happened with Fern. And ’til the day I’m no longer here, she’s going to be with me, holding hands on this lake that we all love so much. I feel privileged to know her. She’s done a wonderful job in the fashion world. But, she couldn’t have done it without me!”
And he couldn’t have done it without her. Fern already had a lifetime of achievement before Jeffrey brought her to Stan, who was part of the search committee for an executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
She came in just under the wire, easily beat the competition and got the job on her birthday. “It was all about timing,” she says. Stan liked her so much, he agreed to become president of the CFDA. There, he greenlighted her gravitas. First, she elevated the office, and then — by creating Fashion Week at Bryant Park — the New York fashion industry. When it was bought by IMG, Fern created fashion weeks all over the world.
Later, Fern brought her mojo — intimate interviews with fashion greats — to the 92Y. It’s still going strong. There are two coffee book compilations called Fashion Lives, and one more in the works. The series returns in the fall.
“She has a mind like a computer,” said Jeffrey. “She can take a problem and come up with ten good solutions.”
After Stan helped bring her into the CFDA, he brought Fern to Big Fresh Pond, to his guest house. She transformed that too: decorating every inch. Six years later, Stan found a lakehouse for her to buy. And rented his cottage to Ivan Bart — who as president of IMG bought the fashion week brand. Jeffrey became Stan’s “eternal houseguest.”
Here overlooking the lake, Fern writes her books, and Stan sells on QVC. And works on an autobiography with Jeffrey, titled Uncross Your Legs. “It’s what the photographers scream at the people in the fashion shows’ front row, to get a clear picture of the models coming down the runway,” he told me. “At the end of the book, you’ll see whether I uncross my legs or not!”
Fashionable notables who came out for their old friends included: Arthur and Grethe Elgort, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Sal Cesarani, Ty Yorio, Peter and Roe Coleman, Mae Mougin, Nancy Stone and jewelry designer Kara Ross.
And Elyn Kronemeyer. She, too, never expected to end up where she did: in Southampton. “I was living in Brazil, managing an art gallery and working as a journalist,” she told me, “when I came to New York to curate an exhibition of historic photographs at the Center for Inter-American relations, I had never planned to move back to the States. But, that summer in Southampton the collection owner’s wife introduced me to my husband, Jeff.”
So, here she was on the steps of the old Parrish museum, chairing Whimsy in the Garden. Inclusion is a motto of the SAC. And the benefit had brought Southampton’s outgoing Mayor Jesse Warren and Mayor-elect William B. Manger Jr. together.
Here in one of the many community buildings built and donated by Samuel Parrish — himself a Southampton mayor — Bill Manger talked about his plans. “Unite the village, move it forward, bring back civility and stability,” build a sewer system for the central business district and take Southampton up to the “higher vibrant level of Sag Harbor and East Hampton,” he told me.
“The Southampton Arts Center is a fantastic asset here in the cultural district that we’ve created all along Jobs Lane. It includes the Peter Marino Art Foundation, the cultural center and that wonderful building that Simone Levinson revitalized that housed Christie’s during the pandemic.”
Also new to the post: Christina Mossaides Strassfield, appointed executive director of SAC last November. Kronemeyer chaired, supported by a committee including: Nancy Kane, Sylvia Hemingway, Monique Savarese, Tish Rehill, Roberta Amon, Ellie Manko Libby, Nicole Salmasi, Kara Ross, J Whitney Stevens, Paula Viscogliosi, Aima Raza, Heather Borstein, Fairley Pilaro, Jennifer Arcure. Flowers were provided by Tish Rehill of Gardeneering, Topiare & Eastland Farms; music by the Steve Salerno Trio; cocktails from Canoe Place Inn and hors d’oeuvres from Robbins Wolfe Eventeurs.
There’s nothing I like better than hanging out with Christopher Robbins eating his hors d’oeuvres. Vietnamese summer rolls in a rice pastry puff with fresh, mint and plum sauce, fish tacos, goat cheese and leek tart, grilled vegetables with mozzarella and my favorite: corn biscotti with smoked chicken and rosemary aioli. “I invented this for Bob Iger’s Tuscan themed wedding to Willow Bay,” he told me.
I had just worked off extra helpings of Robbins’ morsels when it was time for Nelson Aspen’s big birthday bash. He sang himself into his sixties with a cabaret performance and rooftop party at the Green Room in Manhattan. Coincidentally, Broadway and soap star Ilene Kristen, who joined him for a few numbers, had been slated for a two person performance at SAC, now delayed. If Stan/Fern/Jeffrey’s friendship is the product of three captains of their own fate, Nelson and I consider ourselves more tossed-by-fate folk.
Nelson, like most, took an entry job to get into show business. But, that job at Search for Tomorrow didn’t get him where he thought it would. As he learned from the star (Mary Stuart) how to memorize lines, write and perform, he saw himself aging as a daytime drama patriarch. Instead, he ended up featured on England and Australia’s top morning TV shows — for thirty years — as their American entertainment reporter.
How did he get there? Eating too much junk food behind the scenes on Another World. One day, he looked in the mirror and took a deep dive into aerobics. He ended up such a popular instructor that he was recruited to teach Princess Diana. Or so he thought. Arriving in London, he discovered he would be teaching step to the Princess’ trainer. Still, that landed him an appearance on Britain’s This Morning to demonstrate her new workout. They liked him so much, they put a ring on it.
Ten on-air years later, Australian TV recruited him for their new Sunrise morning show. Today, he has four shelter & entertaining books under his belt, is working on his first novel (“about my crazy life in the ’80s”), and hosts a podcast about the Titanic. (He did a “deep dive” into that subject as well.)
And me. How did I end up swaying to the theme song of Another World with soap star bestie Marcia McCabe? I cried when my boss in the NBC Press Department assigned me the soaps. After all, I was a downtown girl. I lived in Soho when you couldn’t get a Sunday Times there. I hung with artists in Fanelli’s (which is cool again I hear!). I had sashayed into CBGBs to see the Ramones, working for the label. As the assistant to Michael Lang, who created Woodstock, I had “partied” with John Belushi and gone to SNL after parties.
But, ya can’t fight City Hall. So, after work, I took cassettes of Another World — and a bottle of wine — into my boss’s office to figure out who was sleeping with whom. I got addicted. And I got a career. Just not the career I expected.
Sure, later, I got to work with The Apollo, Letterman, and SNL. But, I learned soaps were often also the first step for actors’ careers. Kyra Sedgwick, Jane Krakowski, Morgan Freeman, Joe (Rowan Pope on Scandal) Morton, Olympia Dukakis, and Anne Heche (presciently played her own evil twin) were all on my “soap stars.” Bryan Cranston was on Loving, with my friend Pam Stanley.
Jennifer Aniston’s father, John Aniston, was on Search and so she always gave great interviews to Nelson. “She had auditioned for the role that 15-year-old Jane Krakowski got,” he remembered. “So, I always teased her, ‘What would have happened if you had gotten that role, ended up on 30 Rock and she had gotten yours and ended up on Friends!?”
I had ended up wherever the sea took me, I told Nelson. “No matter,” he replied. “Wherever it washed us up, we built a hut found some bananas and made that island our own. And darling, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not for you. Not for me!”
After all, as Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”
Photographs by Patrick McMullan/PMC.