It was the perfect timing. My banker, my astrologer, and the media all predicted an “end-of-the-world” type disturbance from January 11th-13th. Ranging from ATM’s failing, to earthquakes, all the way up to WWIII.
It had that Y2K feeling, not to mention the winter full moon and three big planets all in Capricorn – which apparently never happened like this before. Maybe it was Iran, maybe it was #megxit (which some people just think was a fake “cover scandal” to divert the world from the hardcore Royal embarrassment of Andrew).
Who knows? But I decided I had to “Get outta Dodge” (Scottsdale, actually) and go someplace not too far (4-hour drive or less) like good old Palm Springs (which seems impervious to fire and quakes of late). I figured if I have to die, I want it to be in high style with some good stores and even a Poodle Parade. Why not self-destruct in superficiality!
My “do or die” partners in crime include three dear friends: Frank Newbold, an esteemed Sotheby’s and luxe Hamptons real estate agent, renowned publisher Judith Regan, and popular style writer and Palm Springs resident and aficionado Stephen Drucker.
Drucker was our guide and concierge for a three-day “stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off” desert escape. He has lived in the Palm Springs area for three years and is now a proud homeowner in the “pink” popular Marrakesh private residential community in Palm Desert. Drucker and Regan became the esteemed photographers on this portentous journey. Who better?
Here’s the deal. Everyone talks about Palm Springs, but that city is just a geographic piece of the giant Coachella Valley, which is exploding daily. And each city is actually very different. You have Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage for the 1950’s history. There is Cathedral City for the lesbian community; Palm Desert for its more high-end ’60’s style; La Quinta – the “Beverly Hills” for real desert residents; Coachella for music festivals; and lastly Indio for its rundown trailer parks.
Nowhere is it just about golf anymore. The entire region has become the mecca for the vintage modern style. But Palm Springs is the “capital” with its now famous modern week, film festival, BNP Paribas tennis open, Dinah Shore women’s golf tournament, Classic Car Show, and last but not least the LGBT International Bear Convergence for bears and their admirers.
From January to May, Palm Springs and its surrounding area is seriously booked. Even my 25-year-old carwash attendant proudly announced to me recently that he is going to Modern Week – “I hear it is the place to be with all that style, food, and those Instagram bachelorettes. I want to know what ring-a-ding-ding (Sinatra slang) means.”
Thank God I did modern week three years ago! Now that the world and the Wall Street Journal have discovered it with a cover story on “Palm Springs Boozy Brunches” and high-end Vegas-y poolside cabana action.
A lot of credit has to go to the gay history of this region as a design friend explained it to me; “Originally, a lot of the California gay men came here in the 1990s to die when AIDS was a mortal epidemic. The houses were cheap, and the desert was healing. They not only ended up surviving but thriving and they brought a booming culture with them. Art galleries, restaurants, vintage clothing, interior design stores, and festivals. Now preservation is going full blast and they opened up this lifestyle to everyone — straight and gay, old and young. It is an inclusive city.”
Palm Springs has been compared to South Beach with the gay communities buying up a lot of the older declining properties and restoring them. But in Florida, many of the gay communities have moved on leaving the Cuban and South American communities to pick up the slack. In Palm Springs — the gays are here to stay — and creating a serious architectural preservation, presence and initiative. They are making a historical comeback statement. This is not a “flip and move on” community.
So, while Palm Springs has become South Beach, Palm Desert has become Bal Harbor. Though still Modern Art centric, it has that Rodeo Drive quality with its El Paseo strip of luxe stores and galleries like Saks, Louis Vuitton, Sephora, Banana Republic etc.
I checked into the Hotel Paseo, a new boutique Marriott hotel, which has been “creating a splash with its primary colored modern California cool aesthetic.” Actually, all it has going for it is the sparkling red Cadillac in the lobby and a funny small pool setting featuring a giant rainbow unicorn and a 1950’s Airstream.
The hotel was made for the selfie generation. Forget the hotel’s mediocre food and service. Style trumps all comfort. I couldn’t get the TV to change from the Marriott Hotel promotional loop of exotic locations — featuring semi-nude girls picking up semi-nude men, holding yoga mats, and sinking into steamy hot tubs. I forgot that travel now is all about “experience” and “soulful journey.” Clearly the Marriott message in the end is all about “getting laid.”
Immediately I felt like a hotel failure. Sex was not my desert goal. I actually came to Palm Desert for the Standard Poodle Club of the Desert’s winter “Poodle Parade.” It was held mainly on Saturday morning. About 40 dogs show up in front of Saks with a convertible Rolls Royce and a Bentley, Prosecco, and treats for the dogs. Catherine Congleton has been in charge of the club for 14 years. “It’s a fun social group, we all feel the Standard Poodle is kind of the canine mascot of Palm Springs since a lot of the movie star residents in the ’50s had them (Frank Sinatra did).”
Indeed the 40 dogs and owners were all high-stepping and walked the Paseo for 5 blocks to the soundtrack of Sinatra, Keely Smith and Eydie Gormé. I really believe the Standard Poodle Parade will become the Desert’s Rose Bowl parade in five years (their website is www.spoodles.org). Many of the dogs were rescue (oh yes, “consignment poodles”) and now Congleton is actively creating a Desert Standard Poodle Rescue division which the parade will fund.
After the parade we hit the famous deli Sherman’s with its own modernistic signage and the most delicious Matzah Ball soup with the biggest Matzah Ball I have ever seen! Another visual moment.
Stephen then took us on a house tour of famous sites and homes in renovation all over the valley. Real estate is booming, but who knows how long the modern interest will last. Remember Art Deco in Florida? Big when Versace was there and now no one cares; and auction houses can’t give the stuff away.
And speaking of giveaways … the whole valley is known for its superb design and vintage resale shops. They are everywhere and are the most popular of all retail. We only had time to hit the biggest. The Estate Sale Co. which majors in three giant buildings of EVERYTHING; original Judy Garland Carnegie Hall poster, giant silk sofa and chair combos, mirrored floor lamps, vintage jewelry and of course, furs.
Now fur coats are being snapped up for throws and pillows, but I always wanted a “What Becomes a Legend Most” type swing mink coat (with cuffs) and found it for $400! I tried it on (heavy as hell), did two turns in it and one Bette Davis falling-off-the-shoulder dip before giving it back to the salesman.
A woman was watching my performance, and when I gave it back, she instantly came up and bought it in seconds. Furs are out, but actually a beautiful fur coat is still “like a melody” from a time we will never see again. I was kind of mournful of the sale loss, but honestly, I live in 115 degrees nine months out of the year, and I hate fur pillows and throws. I have the pictures of me in it to remember the moment.
That night we had dinner at Lord Fletcher’s, a steakhouse known for their prime rib and sanddabs. It was a wood paneled iconic setting with kitschy portraits of famous people (Eisenhower and Churchill) and of course Frank Sinatra. The prime rib and Yorkshire pudding was another eating visual. This was beyond “old school” dining and packed with older people (though we are now “the geezers”) who looked like “stunt doubles.” These kinds of Palm Springs eateries might be closing as more younger, edgier establishments move in. This is what is happening to the “ring” concept of ring-a-ding in the desert.
On our last day we visited the ”poodle trees” at Marrakesh Country Club and then we went to Desert Memorial gravesite to pay our respects to Frank Sinatra and Sonny Bono. Frank now has an entire aisle of deceased family members. His grave has Jack Daniels bottles on it – everybody had flowers. There is Frank, wife Barbara, a sister, and pal Jilly. Down the road was Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono. That was the full moon day and we figured if the end was here, we wanted to celebrate it with “The Beat Goes On.”
One evening we viewed the Film Festival showing of “Capote Tapes” – a documentary on Truman Capote which was too long and nothing new but engaging! The final night of the Festival, we saw another documentary on designer Pierre Cardin which came with high positive buzz. But the movie was endless. The audio was badly mixed, and the interviews seemed empty. In the end, the movie made you feel like you actually knew less and learned nothing about this living 98-year-old legend.
I now feel like fashion documentaries have finally “jumped the shark.” We all decided that maybe this bomb of a movie was our “end of the world” experience we were meant to endure that weekend. On that level – I’ll take it!! The best thing about that screening was it was shown in the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum. It was a glorious setting of orange tweed seats and burnt orange walls. Orange is one of the Palm Springs pop colors, but more importantly it was Frank Sinatra’s favorite hue!
Rumor has it that “Lost Horizon” was filmed around the Coachella Valley’s San Jacinto mountain range — which has all sorts of Indian healing lore attached to it. It was also the location of Frank Sinatra’s Mom Dolly and Dean Martin’s son Dino’s plane crash deaths.
While in the lobby getting ready for my return to Scottsdale the final morning, I came across a homeless woman packing up from her overnight stay in the handicap stall. Yet another visual moment…
Shangri-La was over and harsh reality returns.