Inspired by Mother Nature

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A marriage proposal on Sixth Avenue. And "Yes!" ... the ring was from Tiffany & Co. Photo: JH.

Monday, March 22, 2021.  Spring is here. That’s all I know about it right now. Yesterday was a bright sunny day in New York, with the temps reaching up to the mid-60s, as if Mother Nature wanted to remind us of beautiful days ahead.

More and more people were out, out for walks, families, small children, dog walking, exercising; and filling all the restaurants I passed with people taking long lunches with friends and family. Many mention the vaccine — having got it, or getting it. It mainly represents relief to most if for no other reason that it implies we’ll be getting back to business and New York will return to life. Freedom.

Many of us have been under lockdown and/or isolated for a year.  It may be over but there remains the so-called rules about our social habits. Distancing, masks, etc. have become habits to many. The fear that led to it remains with many. Not necessarily the facts, but definitely the “fear.” How this will affect our return to the freedoms we have taken for granted for many generations remains to be seen. What I am certain of is that most all of us millions and millions of people really want to live around each other, as is our natural habitat: independence.

Changes. Elsa Peretti, the jewelry designer, died this past Friday in Sant Marti Vell, a village outside of Barcelona. Elsa was one of those “very special persons,” a woman who possessed the blessings of Respect and Self-respect. Here at the NYSD we have the additional privilege of a remembrance of her by Jill Krementz who had spent a few days photographing her at home, at play, and at work.

Jill’s piece is a real UP. I did not know Elsa, although I met her a couple of times. She had a naturally soigne manner, like her creations. Jill reminds you of this wonderful, creative, and nice person. Other than the pleasure of having been in her presence a couple of times, I knew little about her personal life except that she had been a model and longtime friend of Halston in his heyday. And: there was a moment when she was so furious with her friend that while a guest in his house she took off the chinchilla greatcoat that he had given her; and in front him, to show him how much that kind of generosity mattered, she threw it in the burning fireplace. 

Elsa Peretti greets an old friend at Tiffany’s in 2009, photographed by Jill Krementz.

As I was writing this Diary, JH found and sent me one that I wrote 12 years ago about meeting her: 

I had been down to Tiffany where they were holding a big Elsa Peretti retrospective celebrating her 35th anniversary with Tiffany.

I’m a big fan not because of her jewelry design but because I had dinner with her one night about thirteen years before at the apartment of Tom Scherrer, the interior designer. 

I think Beth DeWoody had taken me to this party. D.D. Ryan was there and Bill and Nancy North Dugan, and David Croland, and Elsa. She had one of those big, dramatic Italian personalities — full of emotion, and irony, and wit, and more emotion. And it was beautiful to behold. I’m exaggerating but it feels like that in retrospect, so great was the impression she made. 

I was thinking of that long-ago dinner when I was looking through the display cases of her pieces at the Tiffany reception. Her jewelry is the refinement of that personality. I can’t say much more about what she was like because it was a very brief encounter. There was some politics discussed. Dinner table politics. Opinions.

I never saw her again after that night in 1996. She was already living mainly in Italy. She had a fantastic tiny old villa that she purchased and restored. I saw a maquette of it somewhere. It reminded me of when I was a kid, where I would have liked to live. It’s the sensibility of Elsa Peretti that is the main attraction for me. Irresistible.

The fifth floor executive reception rooms at Tiffany during the Elsa Peretti party in 2009.

So on this night in 2009, I had gone down to Tiffany just to see her again because I knew I would feel good seeing her. And when I did see her, I didn’t recognize her at first. I think she was using a cane and she’d changed quite a bit. This is not so surprising when you get to a certain age and you look around and see youth ebbing all over the place. You are then reminded that you’re in the same flow, joe.

At the reception, she was enjoying the vibes coming her way, surrounded by well-wishers, fans, colleagues, photographers. I re-introduced myself. I couldn’t remember Tom Scherrer’s name for the moment. I told her about the dinner. She didn’t seem to remember. But it didn’t matter; she was that warm and gracious woman. A giant, also. A presence. The artist.

The place was packed. Two big rooms. Along one wall were a couple of tables of Peretti memorabilia and photos. 

Bill Dugan and Nancy North, both of whom worked with Elsa when she was a model for Halston.

Nancy North who with Bill Dugan worked with Halston back in the heyday, had known Elsa when Elsa was a Halston model. Nancy raved about what a beauty she was. She recalled the first time Elsa came out on the runway in her first fashion show, she was wearing a large brimmed hat and as she entered the runway, she bowed her head and kept it bowed, which struck Nancy as so chic. 

Later when she commended Elsa on her chic, Elsa said it wasn’t that. It was that she was “terrified” walking out on the runway and so she looked down at the path. Halston, Nancy recalled, always said Elsa wasn’t like any of the other girls (models).

It was a great evening, a most unusual commercial party. Of course it was at Tiffany where everything is done well and properly. And the displays were museum-like. And there was a big crowd, and they were sticking around enjoying the camaraderie. There were also the hors d’oeuvres and the very good champagne. But aside from that, there was a vibe in the air. As if everyone was happy that Elsa was back and that she was in the room. A return of the artist, the taste, the vision. It was reassuring.

And so it was, with Elsa.

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