The Focus of Social Economics

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Outside the tents in Bryant Park in 2008. Photo: JH.

Monday, September 6, 2022. A quiet long holiday weekend in the big town, with temps in the mid-70s to mid-80s and then back by last night. With rain in the forecast, there is no evidence as of this writing on Monday night at 9 p.m. The city is still very quiet although out with the dogs after dinner I saw several cars being unloaded. I thought of that moment that occurs in all our lives where “it’s over, now back to business.” Whatever that is.

The second week of this month maintains a lot of the quiet. In the past couple of years, it’s been unnaturally quiet with those health issues throbbing at our doors. But this year, this September, this Autumn, there is indeed a great desire to get back to living. This is a challenge.

Men pulling racks of clothing on busy sidewalk in Garment District, New York City / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna.

And change has already left its calling card. We are being reminded this week coming up as it is a time which for many years has been Fashion Week in New York.  We should be reminded that this highly publicized matter is not for the benefit, per se, of those who are part of it – designers, models, socialites. The garment industry in New York is almost two centuries old. It was the bread and butter employer in the 19th and early 20th century. It was in the early to mid-20th century that women moved into the business first as designers and later as The Business.

Fashion Week, as directed or inspired or managed by Fern Mallis hit its zenith in the late 1990s when the shows were staged in tents in the backyard of the New York Public Library bordering Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street.

Its influence in marketing kept the industry at its zenith well into the early 2000. But Fashion is Change. It is the nature of the creature. The Fashion that drew the crowds of that era has moved away to a noticeable degree. What looks like “more casual” is actually more “proletarian,” and I’m not referring to politics. And the tattoos.  I wonder what they will look like as we age. But more than that, I wonder why. I wonder what the sense of it is, feels like, represents. Because it ain’t goin’ away if you’re one of those people who likes a lot of change in one’s life. Ah, Fashion!

We chose this page to re-run from 2008 as it reflects those changes, and you could see them emerging in the photos of the event. The Shows that I’ve been invited to this year are all over town. They are not a priority for my curiosity although I admire the work and the enterprise of people in a very competitive business. If they were organized in a single area, I might be a little more tempted. But it is not my subject matter except for the sociology of it.

However, I look at the following photographs of familiar faces, glamour girls, as it were, and putting their best foot forward. There are some who have left, too soon also; but it is a pleasure to recall. The result of the Artist’s work. 

Friday, September 5, 2008. Much can be said, glib and clever, balderdash and media-sniping about the world inhabited and patronized by these women (and men), but the fact of the matter is, they are participants in an enormous financial machine sometimes called “society,” sometimes called “philanthropy” or “benefits” or “galas.” The blonde on the right (Tinsley Mortimer), one of the most photographed, most familiar faces of this time in the New York social world, as well as the fashion world, is an instrument — a promotional device, if you will — of the multi-billion dollar industry known as Fashion.

Truth told, she’s probably worn, been loaned (or given) enough garments to fill every day of a calendar year for the next decade. And oh-so-gladly, by her contributors, supporters, employers, business partners, whatever. She’s a model, but a people’s model, i.e., a walking commercial. To her credit (and thanks to Mother Nature’s bounty), she makes it her business to always look camera ready, and to make it look easy. That doesn’t seem like much of a job to many of us, but it’s work any way you slice it, and I don’t doubt there are days and maybe even weeks when she’d rather stay home, ignore her hair and makeup and cell and emails and just chill. Because looking like a million bucks all the time is a lotta work. It doesn’t take intellect — thankfully — but it does take resolve …

Tara, Mrs. Michael Rockefeller has other priorities. Being a member of the country’s most philanthropic family of the past century, she makes it her business to always look good and presentable. But her committed specific objectives on which she focuses intensely and daily (besides her husband and young family and friends) is conservation of the earth, the planet, the animals and the birds.

When you see her all dressed up and ready to go, you’re looking at duty, responsibility and a deeply sincere desire to make our world more compatible to the planet that sustains us. I have no doubt that she likes to look good and to look fashionable but she’s also a girl who likes the simple, unfettered life. However, what she’s selling is, very simply, Education for Survival. Our survival. She is a leader …

The masked lady, Eva Lorenzotti, always chic, often social, is in the business too, although more hands on and executive than Mrs. Mortimer — the business of selling fashion, be it clothing, accessories or interior design; i.e. taste. Her focus is just as intense, and if you were to engage her in a conversation about the state of the world, you’d hear some informed and weighed opinions (whether or not you’d agree) …

And here is the American ideal (Renee Zellweger), the beautiful movie star, who is somewhat shy on meeting but deeply curious and easily engaged in conversations that consider truth and values and the state of the nation.

Her escort in this case (Andre Leon Talley), the Vogue editor, is an American icon of his own creation, a small-town boy who came to the big town and developed a charismatic image of the modern day dandy who will, no doubt, go down in the annals of fashion books along with Mr. Astaire, Mr. AJ Drexel Biddle Jr., Mr. Cary Grant, the Duke of Windsor, and maybe even Beau Brummel himself. Oh yes, oh yes …

Husbands and Escorts. The two husbands (Dr. Sherrell Aston and Robert De Niro) in the picture — both tops in their field, and famous for it — are not seen as frequently as their fashionable wives who are very prominent on the social and gala benefit scene.

A magazine writer asked me recently whom girls like these (Muffie Potter Aston and Grace Hightower De Niro) went with when going out without their husbands. Answer in this case: usually no one.

The world is such now that women — these women — are independent enough to go it alone (with car and driver to deliver and fetch them). It’s simpler, less complicated and they can get out and get home when the going is good …

The boys on the right outside some ballroom taking a cigarette break providing proof that the uniform can’t go wrong in delivering style, fashion and chic in a cinch.

A little dog’ll do ya … a lotta good anytime, day or night. I don’t know the lady in red below but here’s proof how that man’s best friend can be the most alluring accessory to even the sexiest girl in town …

The man in white, on her left (Billy Rayner), is a bigtime dog person and so naturally fashionable that it probably never occurred to him that his garb and the dawg’s were matching black-and-white-and-blue …

The statuesque brunette to the right is merely demonstrating how far we’ve come (and gone) since the Clans of Scotland claimed their plaids for personal identity …

And the little one to her right demonstrates there are some very basic ways to witty and bright.

The Fashion That is New York. The lady in white (Mary McFadden, with Cartier exec Frederic de Narp), epitomizes fashion and society in New York of the past half century. Her muses run down through the ages and civilizations. A child of society with a capital “S,” she created a self-image and a classic fashion statement that reflects her curiosity about culture and history and her sense of independence and womanhood. Her upbringing was traditional to her class – New York, Southampton, Europe, boarding schools, fashion magazine assignments, marriage, motherhood.

Her choices which followed could be interpreted as “to hell with it all,” having been married since some say 12 times (sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, and maybe so but …), having been a party-girl par excellence, a world-traveler steeped in the history of civilization from which she has plumbed a design for living philosophy that bridges no compromises. Indefatigable — rising before dawn to play tennis two or three times a week, to practice hotbox yoga the other two or three times a week — always working, always creating, preserving the imagination of a bright child and matching it with the sophistication of a woman of the world, she can party too, like nobody’s business and as frequently as she feels inclined. She is unique in her field, in her roots, in her entire self-expression, with a brilliance unlike almost any of her peers. How a schoolgirl from Manhattan creates a legend …

Two women well-versed in the art of being fashionable, (Diana Feldman and Topsy Taylor), as contrasting as the red and the black. Women who were children of affluence and society, who still spend summers in childhood family retreats — Lake Placid and Newport, respectively; devoted and adoring mothers, grandmothers; marriages, divorces (remarriage for one, the hell with it for the other), with a strong sense of what works for them fashion-wise (Diana has a couple of PhD’s in shopping both high-end and why-not), long engaged in business pursuits (Topsy is a licensed helicopter pilot with her own fleet of choppers in Manhattan), their bonds are friendships (several mutual), their philanthropies (to which they have been devoted for years), and their ability to get along even under duress – Diana with some laughter and Topsy with an arch of the brow …

The trio in black: Carolyne Roehm, (the late) Pat Buckley and Katherine Bryan. The lady in the middle was highly regarded, highly respected and a mentor by nature. The ladies on either side were once very good students, and deeply appreciative of all that could be learned from just being in the presence of the resolute and witty Mrs. B.

If you don’t recognize the blonde below with the guy in the blue velvet jacket and the sportscap, she’s famous because of her face. Give up? You forgot? Jocelyn Wildenstein of the now divorced Wildensteins. The tabloids had a ball with that image during the days of divorce.

What they missed was the mind behind that noggin. Nobody’s fool, she aced a situation where a lotta women would have been the victim because … she was smart, forward thinking and had the rare ability to keep her own counsel. Fashion is wisdom too, and the lady’s well equipped …

These two familiar faces (one very very famous of course — Michele Herbert and Ivana Trump) almost look like they could be sisters. Almost but not quite. However. On the dance floor (and in those dresses) they can boogey like the best of them, and party world-class. Fun and fashion might say it all except motherhood is and was a serious business that now a few of their younger peers could take some serious tips from. The life and loves of Ivana could fill a volume of tabloids but the bottom line is the family which has now grown up so the world can see. Serious, focused, ambitious, like their mother (and father). The twosome in the picture also share an eye for glamour and at all times, in all places, it’s best-foot-forward …

The beautiful young woman (Olivia Palermo, shown here with social impresario Mark Gilbertson) to their right also practices that same fashion philosophy. What you see here is what you always get — beautifully turned out, camera ready but even when there’s never a camera in sight or thought. Ironically this is not always appreciated by her contemporaries and peers. Time will err on the side of fashion; it always does.

The Princess and her consort. In the world of fashion, in the business of fashion, the consort may be a husband, a boyfriend, a best friend, but always a resplendent accessory. The lady on the staircase needs no introduction, nor does her husband to NYSD readers. Talk about best-foot-forward; no accident, no stumbling there …

In the middle, a real princess, Princess Michael of Greece (also a real heiress), the artist/sculptress Marina Karella with Jean Gabriel Mitterand and the Israeli beauty Judy (Mrs. Alfred) Taubman who has lived (and raised her American family) most of her adult life in this country (with frequent forays abroad as a member of international society) …

And the trio to the right, the beautiful French mother-daughter, statuesque, aristocratic Ondine de Rothschild (daughter) and Ariane Dandois, (mother) the longtime Parisian international antiquaire (shown here with an American friend, banker Gary Parr). Mlle. de Rothschild, born and reared in France, the only child of the long extra-marital relationship between her mother and the late Baron Elie de Rothschild, received her college education in this country at Princeton. Whether the American feminist sense of independence was fuse, I don’t know, but she is a thoroughly modern woman who made the groundbreaking move of claiming her patrimony and going public with it. No small matter in tradition-bound France, her inspiration may have been her highly independent and successful mother and the genetic pre-disposition of her bold and forthright paternity.

Fashion and the Art of the New. The little lady in red making an early public statement. How much you wanna bet the world hasn’t seen the last of what is now only toddler chic? And the man (Steven Stolman), longtime designer and retailer, now heavily involved in philanthropic service in assisting others in building their lives, demonstrating the art of clean, crisp, casual punctuated by a touch of the luxe …

And the ladies in black, also demonstrating the same philosophy on a separate if slightly more creative page …

And a charter member of the World’s Best Dressed List (now overseen by the editors of Vanity Fair) Amy Fine Collins with her daughter Flora already demonstrating her fashion heritage.

Fashion and Heritage. The tests of time and for all time, then and now. The threesome pictured here above on the terrace overlooking the park of one of the great ancient houses of France — Chateau de Courances — are Mlle. de Ganay, Mme. de Ganay and the great American Francophile Catharine Hamilton. The two women are related by birth and by marriage. The chateau which was built in the first half of the 17th century has been in the de Ganay family since the last quarter of the 19th century. It was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, and then afterwards by British Field Marshal Montgomery until the early 1950s when the family returned and revived the house and property. The focus of all three of these women is on the maintenance of heritage, history and the grand architecture of France (Mrs. Hamilton was the co-founder with her husband David Hamilton of The American Friends of Versailles which has been active in the restoration of the gardens of Sun King’s palace). The shimmering leitmotif of their dresses, consciously or unconsciously — probably the former — reflects their mutual interest in the architectural grandeur of their history …

Amanda Setton and Dreama Walker, American actresses from the hit TV show “Gossip Girl” as they appeared at a party for the show at Henri Bendel, consciously or not — probably the former — reflecting the natural attraction to the heritage of the luxe of royalty …

And three of the contemporary social/fashion queens (one empress; guess…) of New York (as well as Los Angeles in one case), Somers Farkas, Kathy Hilton and Debbie Bancroft; the plaids, the ruffles and the palettes.

The Chic of Basic Black. The presence of certainty and self-confidence. Above, left to right: Marina Rust Connor; Samantha Boardman, Celerie Kemble; Susan Gutfreund and Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos.

Social New York has not had a bigger star, a more celebrated personality attend a benefit gala than Oprah Winfrey since Princess Diana attended the Met Costume Institute gala just months before she died ten years ago. There are big draws — like President or Senator Clinton, or Tom Cruise — but Ms. Winfrey has a presence that reminds one of royalty — not the real royalty but the way you imagine royalty — where people just want to be near her, within proximity to her.

You can see in this picture Barbara Walters off to the left, having already had a word with her. The silverhaired woman to the right of Walters is Marion Wiesel, wife of Elie who is holding Oprah’s hand but stopping to say hello to Inga Rennert. To the right of Wiesel, behind is columnist Lally Weymouth of the Washington Post. It was a Sunday evening — a night when very few social New Yorkers feel like going to a black tie gala — and Oprah was being feted by the Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Off-camera, in person, she is something beyond the relaxed television hostess interviewer, and more the Star, the Distinguished and Powerful Public Persona; make no mistake.

The lady in blue satin, probably one of the most famous women in the world, is also possibly less interested in publicity than any other individual on this or any other page. Yet, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg is shrewdly aware of her position in the public consciousness and not unaware of its value to her or anything she lends her name to (right Senator Obama?). However, she’s definitely not enthusiastic or even particularly accommodating about the photographer’s camera — if she can help it — as her mother and father (or her brother) appeared to be.

Street-side she doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in how she looks (to the local pedestrian) although when she does make a rare public appearance you see a lady dressed conservatively but well for the occasion, and a very warm and pretty Kennedy countenance that makes the difference. Although she often looks like she’d rather have stayed home. It could be said that very few really know Mrs. Kennedy Schlossberg but then this is New York and the limits of privacy do not extend beyond the fact that people are just people and people will talk. Maybe not understand or perceive; but talk. The Kennedy-Schlossberg marriage is always of curiosity but probably because the lady avoids the limelight to the point where there’s nothing else to speculate about her.

The Platts.

The couple on the right, on the other hand, Mr. and Mrs. Campion Platt, love the limelight (and there’s probably nothing else to speculate about them either) and they make an effort and are Out There.

The lady in the middle below, Carole McFadden, widow of George McFadden who died tragically this past year in a plane crash in Louisiana, does not have the reputation for loving publicity or the limelight. Although she is a social figure of some controversy. People like to talk about Mrs. McFadden and what she thinks and what she’s doing because she avails herself with strong opinions and a very strong presence.

Carole is pictured her with her two children by a previous marriage (she has younger McFadden children also). The death of her husband occurred at a very delicate moment in her millionaire husband’s business affairs and there is bad blood, undelivered legal agreements and rumored-to-be pending lawsuits with Mr. McFadden’s daughter by his first wife, Topsy Taylor.

The late George McFadden was not one to leave his house in good order, especially when it came to loyalties, fiduciary and paternal responsibilities. His last wife and first daughter will bear that brunt. There are two sides to every story except this one is an old tale: where there’s a Will there’s a War.

The couple on the right, Denise and Larry Wohl, have been very popular on the New York social scene for a long time. They’ve been together for many years and have a grown family. However, unlike the appearances in this picture, the marriage is either kaput or badly in need of refurbishment.

The two women flanking Dr. Sherrell Aston (one of the world’s greatest and most sought after plastic surgeons) are possibly the two most familiar faces (and names) on the benefit gala circuit. Active, enthusiastic, highly sociable, energetic and ubiquitous, Debbie Bancroft and Muffie Potter Aston (if there’s party going you know they’re moving the energy along and they get results).

Ellie Cullman, pictured below on the left, is one of the most popular interior designers in New York. On her right is her husband Edgar, a scion of one of the greatest philanthropic families in the history of the city. If industry is the key to satisfaction and the good life, then that explains those happy faces. The man in the black tie also certainly demonstrates industry and philanthropy in a legendary way, George Soros.

Next to them are two different aspects of youthful ambition in New York. The girl in the long denium skirt and lacy blouse is Ralph Lauren’s daughter Dylan who demonstrates her father’s retail and marketing talents with a successful candy business with the same stylish Lauren imprimatur. The siblings of Ralph and Ricky Lauren all represent the family name with grace, style, and industry, a remarkable achievement all around. If there is an “It” girl for New York society in the early “aughts,” it is Mrs. Mortimer, much in demand, camera ready, an icon of sorts of an age, a time, and an era. If you had her business datebook you’d probably faint just from looking at what’s on her daily schedule. The limelight is a rigorous business requiring stealth, drive and a healthy dose of enthusiasm no matter what.

The man smiling in this picture, Jonathan Tisch, author, executive (chairman of Loew’s Hotels, Treasurer of the New York Giants) has obviously found the key to joy and happiness in his life, with his new wife, Lizzie Rudnick, also a very industrious lady (that’s New York for you). I’ve rarely seen a guy, any guy, look so pleased to have anyone at his side, the way Mr. Tisch looks when his wife is with him. You’d think one of his best selling books, The Power of We; Succeeding Through Partnerships was inspired by her (although they got together after it was published).

The lady with the mike is a natural of holding forth, entertaining and introducing the social troops, the mistress of ballyhoo for the Hollywood studios, the globetrotting, jet-setting, yacht-cruising Peggy Siegal, shown here celebrating a Big Birthday at a dinner she threw for herself at the Plaza Athenee in New York and reading from her list of the city’s greatest doctors and experts in the business of keeping the girl looking like a girl and not a matron. And then back to Mrs. Bancroft, outside the theatre in Southampton with Tiffany Dubin, before they go into attend one of Ms. Siegal’s social/celebrity screenings.

The very chic looking lady in the blue strapless standing next to the blonde confection is Marina Rust Connor, Vogue-ish writer, novelist, heiress (Marshall Field) and possessor of authority in her world of New York, society and bright young things. Chic, seemingly diffident, quietly charismatic; coolheaded but not without temperament, apparently not inclined to publicity (beyond a working writer’s needs), and definitely NOT a purveyor of chic-lit, Mrs. Connor is neither flashy nor peripatetic but is said to be a font of The Inside Scoop, as perceived with a novelist’s sensibility, when it comes to more than a few of her social peers and contemporaries.

The blonde to the right, Nina Griscom (with husband Leo Piraino), has at times been one of the most talked about women in New York, known for her worldly ways, her husky laugh, her sparkling charm and devil-may-care attitude about what other people think.

The partnership she has forged with her husband (number three or four) is the envy of many a woman on this page and off, a woman who knows what she’s doing and why, a talent acquired with time, experience and a willingness to learn.

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