The Autumn Equinox is on its way

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Taking in the early evening sun at Engineers' Gate in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Thursday, September 19, 2019. The 23rd is the official day of the Autumn Equinox, but yesterday was a gentle reminder that it was on its way.  Sunny and bright, but just slightly chilly even though it was in the high 60s. At the end of the sunset, around 7:30, with pink skies to the east, the streets and facades were taking on that grey-blue before the dark sets in. And the lights were on in the apartment houses along the avenue.

I had lunch yesterday at Michael’s with Brooke Hayward, her daughter Marin Hopper and Alex Hitz. Marin, who grew up in Los Angeles, has a business here at 70th and Lexington. It’s a kind of gallery/handbag and accessories emporium. Her Hayward line of handbags are very successful not only here but in Europe and especially in Japan where they sell-out. I asked her where she got the idea of going into the handbag business. She told me that she’d worked for Tod’s in their leather goods/footwear business. That was her inspiration. She took the name of her maternal grandfather Leland HAYWARD for her label since his work and reputation represented quality, talent and beauty.

Hitz had a booksigning the night before at Verdura. He told me over lunch that the book is #1 on Amazon in three categories, those being, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Entertaining. Cookbook too, as Alex has created a new market of those old Southern recipes. He’s about to go on a booksigning tour.

The Belperron Room in Verdura’s offices, getting ready for Alex’s booksigning. That’s the top of his head above the white lampshade.

The Calendar. This past Tuesday night was a full one. I started out at Verdura, getting a shot of Alex just before the guests came in for the booksigning. Verdura is somehow like Old Home week for this writer. I came upon the business early on in these New York years, back in the early ‘90s. I think I was introduced to Ward Landrigan by Joy Ingham. Her stepmother Dorothy (Hearst Paley) Hirshon was a fashionable figure here in New York in the age of Fulco Verdura and the international set.

The author holding his book: “The Art of the Host” — everything you need to know while keeping them from getting famished. Click to order.
Judith and Ward Landrigan.

Fulco had a studio atelier on Fifth Avenue where the chic women and their husbands stopped by for a chat while the man worked, or for an order. This was in the center of the land of the Best-Dressed. Quiet splendor was the objective. You can see it in Mona (Mrs. Harrison) Williams, Countess von Bismarck, in a photo taken by Jerome Zerbe of that era of style and fashion. 

I had written a piece for Quest  back then about Verdura and his life and circle and the business that Ward Landrigan has carried on and is now run by his son Nico.  The women of that day and place were the New York and international style setters. It’s a piece of social history of the city as it was growing into the Modern Age when everything was new and exciting. And useful.

A blown-up Jerome Zerbe photograph of Mona, then Mrs. Harrison, Williams.

Stopping by to get a photo of Alex and his book, I was led into the Belperron Room where the designer’s work is on display. At the center of the west wall is a large reproduction of a Matisse drawing of Dorothy (then Paley). The piece took me back to the times when I knew her — when she was already in her 80s. One of a kind. It amazes me even more now (Dorothy died two weeks before her 90th in 1998) to consider the influence she had in my life intellectually, and for the good or well-being of many others through her philanthropic (she wouldn’t have used that word for what was basically a “Purpose”) activities.

Dorothy Paley by Henri Matisse in September 1936. The bracelet Dorothy is wearing, as well as the ring, were Belperron, made for her.
A copy of the Matisse with a copy of Dorothy’s bracelets.

But there was more to it. The woman had IT. Charisma is probably the simplest description because it was “that certain something.” The Matisse portrait is not a very good likeness of the lady’s beautiful looks but it is a precise portrait of the energy that abounded in the lady. The bracelet she is wearing is a Belperron creation for her. A copy of which is on display in one of the cases.

The artist’s signature.

Meanwhile back on the avenue that little poke of memory from my visit to the 12th floor salon of Verdura took about twenty minutes before I was on my way up to the 92nd Street Y where Fern Mallis was interviewing Ralph Rucci, the American (one and only) couturier. 

Fern, who is credited with having created Fashion Week which is one of the greatest boons to the industry, has been conducting these interviews for more than a decade. So it was no surprise that the auditorium (the Buttenweiser Room) was full up, including a young man who is now a legend in Seventh Avenue history, Stan Herman – who was celebrating his 91st birthday.

Ralph Rucci and Fern Mallis at Fashion Icons at 92nd Street Y.
Ralph and Fern tête-à-tête.
Ralph taking a selfie with the crowd behind.

Ralph was a kid from South Philadelphia who had imagination that progressed from childhood and took him into the world of style, artistry. His rise was well-earned and always assisted by his curiosity. But the world of fashion not surprisingly has much in common with the world of theatre and film.  It is not without its dramas. The personality dominates the talent. Ralph Rucci not only possesses all of that but he can talk his ambitions, his successes and his disappointments with an artist’s authority.

Teri Agins, Fern Mallis, Paul Hands, and Lisa Silhanek.
Fern Mallis, Ralph Rucci, and Joan Kaner.
Fern Mallis, Coco Mitchell, and Ralph Rucci, and friends.
Robert Verdi and Fern Mallis.
Stan Herman, Fern Mallis, Marylou Luther, Ralph Rucci, and Freddie Leiba.
Marylou Luther, Ralph Rucci, and Sandi Bass.
Fern Mallis, Jennifer Felts, Ralph Rucci, and Shawn Mack.
Charlotte Neuville bringing out a birthday cake for Stan Herman (his 91st!)
The boys congratulating each other.

The interview which began at 7:30 was over a little before 9. I hadn’t eaten but had run into Debbie Bancroft at Verdura who told me she was dining later at Sette Mezzo with Patricia Duff.  So leaving the Y, I hightailed it down to the restaurant to join them and Patricia’s guest, Mayor Joe Pacino, former Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. 

Sette was full up. When I arrived about 9:30 it was jammed. It’s a neighborhood restaurant that draws the neighbors but also the celebrities. I reported recently seeing Pacino and DiCaprio there with the very attractive mother-daughter pair Lucia Sola and Camila Morrone (the boys sure ain’t looking “attractive” when it comes to costume or sartorial). This Tuesday night among the clientele were Nancy and Henry Kissinger. They were at a table just across from us so I hadn’t noticed them when I arrived. Although their departure was well noted.

This past Monday night I was a guest of Enid Nemy at the American Theatre Wing’s 2019 Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street. The American Theatre Wing was founded in 1917 under the name Stage Women’s War Relief. Its founders were female playwrights, directors, and actresses.  They worked on what was essentially War Relief helping people, including giving benefit performances to raise money.

The table setting at the American Theatre Wing evening.

More than a century later, the American Theatre Wing is best known for its Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in the Theatre (or Tonys).  However, the “helping” part of its original charter is the main work of “The Wing.” Monday night they honored The Legacy and Family of Jonathan Larson.

Jonathan Larson, as most who know theatre know, wrote a musical show called Rent which was groundbreaking. Its success was overwhelming, and the aspiring artist, the young Mr. Larson who worked as a waiter to pay the rent (and create Rent), was a star overnight. However, his life was cut short at age 35. His grieving family, surprised at the financial bonanza of their son’s estate, decided to use it to do the kind of thing Jonathan would have wanted to do with his reward: help others. They created a foundation in his name called the Jonathan Larson Grants.

L. to r.: David Henry Wong, Chairman of the Board of the American Theatre Wing; Julie Larson, sister of Jonathan Larson.

In the last 22 years, the “Grants” have said “YES” to more than 135 artists and invested over $730,000 in the future voices of the theatre. Those artists have gone on to garner 41 Tony nominations, 6 Tony Awards, 10 Obie Awards, 6 Grammys, 4 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, and 2 Academy Awards! Today the Jonathan Larson Grants are part of the American Theatre Wing’s work in supporting and promoting.

This year’s program at the black tie dinner focused “the brave new musical theatre writing that moves the needle forward. With new works as well as Larson’s work, the cast gave us an evening of that brave new musical theatre. Surrounding us with talent from many sources.  A great evening and attended by the world of theatre in New York.

Two shots to accommodate the long line of Monday’s talent affected by Jonathan Larson Grants and the American Theatre Wing. Joy all around, onstage and off.

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