Geoffrey Bradfield and his beloved William Featherby, sent this shy, but compelling invite to a handful of pals, expecting 16 or so to accept. 38 did, and so they flocked.
The venue had to be moved from the aristocratic dining room at Palazzo Alvisi to a grand Baroque palace, more placecards written, and Guinea fowls readied.
Geoffrey has recently retired from a legendary 50-year career as one of the world’s most esteemed decorators, so he finally had a few moments to spare. Not that that ever prevented him from organizing his other famed events, always featuring his signature costumed, sometimes painted, male attendants/live sculptures — the ultimate Insta moments even before Insta. This however was his magnum opus.
Geoffrey is achingly elegant, a perfectionist, connoisseur of beauty, and a bit of an aesthetic snob. But he always strikes a balance between modesty and grandeur, bridging the distance between the past and present, yet always living for the moment.
Of course, only Venice would do. He and William tucked into the Palazzo Alivisi, their grand headquarters that would also welcome us for many Bellinis, flowing champagne and delectables from its talented chefs. The 16th century palazzo, on the Grand Canal, overlooking San Giorgio Maggiore, was once home to American socialite Katherine Bronson, who hosted literary salons for Henry James and Robert Browning, among others. The walls are covered in silks, chandeliers twinkle above with speckled terrazzo floors below, and antiques surround.
We gathered there before the dinner, the women all resplendent in ballgowns; the men in black tie and masks as requested. Some, like Di Mondo, in his glamorous, trained feathered cape over black tie, combined all. Chantal Meyers cleverly rented an authentic Venetian costume there, and Tara and Michael Rockefeller would’ve won the best mask award (if there had been one) in their Hervè Pierre creations.
After champagne and foie gras, in our heels and opera pumps, we all delicately descended into waiting boats (only wooden, of course) and sailed off to the Baroque wonder, San Rocco. There, we sipped a bit more champagne, then ascended the stairs to the grand hall — Sala Capitolare.
Soft, atmospheric candlelit, and handsome footmen in 18th-century Venetian livery, complete with white silk stockings and buckled shoes, welcomed us. Once seated, the heart stopping light show began illuminating the Tintorettos that surrounded us on the ceilings and walls. Once we resumed breathing we began the birthday feast.
The classic Venetian meal included: cheese pie with mushrooms and candied pumpkin, Venetian crepe bundle with smoked ricotta, Guinea fowl, frozen eggnog mousse with Venetian baicoli and yes … the birthday cake — one of I think five that weekend. Rosa Salva catered — the best apparently in Venice, which I believe. Darling Geoffrey, if not already loved enough, gave a brief toast … a gift to all.
There is something about the moments after the ‘BIG’ event. The heart (and waist) is swollen, the head a little lighter, and all relax. It was such that I removed my painful shoes for the walk back to our water taxi. To Venice’s credit, I arrived at the Gritti Palace, tootsies unscathed. With nightcaps in the Gritti’s glam bar, we once again toasted Geoffrey, a Prince of a pal.
The entire stay was studded with magic: the daily predicted rain, was replaced by steady sun, Yue-Sai Kan and Allan Pollock sent a tear producing opera singer to Geoffrey’s palazzo, the NYT reported floating violin, complete with violins playing Vivaldi, sailed by, and the brightest Harvest moon hung overhead. Geoffrey’s strong faith clearly presided.
Lest you think we were sated only by the most elegant fete of the year … no, no. There was a three-hour, four-course, lovely lunch at Harry’s Dolce hosted by Yue-Sai and Allan, followed by dinner at Harry’s Bar, a languorous lunch at the Aman hosted by Aida Dallal, and a welcome dinner at Gran Caffe Quad where Geoffrey toasted, “Let the revels begin.”
They did, indeed, and we wish they never ended.