The Haves and the Have Nots

Featured image
Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, and Anne Hathaway at the premiere of “Valentino, the Last Emperor” at the Museum of Modern Art. March 17, 2009. Photo: DPC.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022. A beautiful, sunny day in New York yesterday, with temps reaching up to the high 60s. The weather forecast have it up there for the rest of the week on to the first day of Spring next Monday.

City life. Late yesterday morning, JH was walking past Butterfield Market on Madison Avenue when he noticed a man yelling at some of the employees of the shop as they were escorting him out. The man was obviously very upset, and in turn upset the immediate crowd in and around the shop. The timing of his removal was such when JH just happened by and literally bumped into the man. Recognizing that he had potentially walked right into an explosive situation, he asked the man very innocently and with concern as to what the problem was.

The serene scene just a few blocks north.

The man — whose name was Willie — explained that he had entered the store to let one of its customers know that a traffic cop was about to issue him a parking ticket. But as it happened, the employees who in fairness have had to deal with a number of recent shoplifting episodes swiftly removed him from the premises. So while Willie was trying to do a good deed he was punished for his physical appearance. Willie, judging by his appearance, looked like a homeless person.

JH, having witnessed the scene, stopped and talked to him for a few minutes. Their discussion turned to what New York was like just a few years back on the avenue, i.e. how people behaved toward one another. Willie shared that he was very familiar with Madison Avenue having known many of the shops over the years, most of which are no longer extant. He simply stated that “There was once a respect of another human being, and a simple acknowledgment of each other’s presence,” adding, “people were just nicer to each other.”

JH, who was in complete agreement with Willie’s sentiment about the behavior in general of people, apologized for the mishap and asked him if he could use a little help. So with a gift of $20, the man was extremely grateful. But according to JH it wasn’t the money that so much mattered to Willie — although it did help in that moment — it was simply the act of JH listening to him that impressed Willie.

Before they exchanged their goodbyes, Willie shared a few more details about his life. It turns out that Willie lives on 28th Street at the Prince George, built in 1904 as one of New York City’s premier hotels of the time. After many years of decline and neglect, the Prince George was rehabilitated and reopened in 1999 to provide 416 units of affordable housing for low-income and formerly homeless adults and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

In 2004, Breaking Ground, the non-profit organization that owns the building, restored the 19th century Beaux-Arts ballroom at the Prince George to the full splendor of its Renaissance-inspired design, which features ornamented columns and elaborate pilaster work. Proceeds from event rentals by private parties and community organizations alike support Breaking Ground’s mission. Have an event on the calendar? Why not consider having it at the Prince George? That would be one way of paying it forward to Willie and his neighbors, no?

Click to visit for more info.

The Prince George ballroom, today.

JH’s experience with Willie is perhaps not unique but certainly not common in New York these days. After more than two years, the city is now back from the isolating pandemic of Covid. But it has been mainly abandoned by a lot of its better fed citizens. They either isolated themselves from the clamoring crowds (there weren’t any anyway) or simply left town for sunnier climes.

Those who had the means separated themselves for self-protection from the virus in quieter and/or safe living environments. Many of those who stayed behind had no alternatives and very often no jobs increasing their own vulnerability.

Yes, there have always been unemployed or “homeless” people, and their numbers have been increasing over the past three or four decades but they were  still basically easy to avoid for most New Yorkers.

But now the anxiety of these times has brought out the very violent side of this coin. Indeed, a lot of it looks like madness or insanity. We read about it everyday – terrible murderous violence often involving shootings and stabbings, to beatings of total strangers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has got to the point where many of us are suspicious of practically anybody we don’t know.

It’s a peculiar situation for long time New Yorkers who have always been aware (mainly through the media) of violence and the problems of the poor and homeless. But now the problems seem to be found in all classes and ages. Our new mayor — who has had a long and distinguished career in the police department — was voted in by many in hopes that he will change the situation and return us to some semblance of a safe environment.

In the meantime, while the city has finally opened up and people are congregating together more and more, a natural hesitance remains openly in the background, along with workable and tolerable solutions for all of us — especially those with the least social protection and financial means. We often tend to think of those with the “least” as really havnig no relation to the rest of us. The evidence runs to the contrary.

We’ve avoided addressing these conflicts and circumstances mainly because New York has always been one of the most generously exciting places in the world either to live and work in or to visit. That is the New York of legend, and it’s true. Discussing the situation with JH yesterday we decided to brighten things up with the NYSD memory of this city and those times.

Today we’re running a reception, dinner and screening of a documentary on the life of Valentino the fashion designer. We published this particular event thirteen years ago to the day — a tribute to what’s possible:

New York, New York, it’s a helluva town
The Bronx is up
And the Bowery’s down
And the people ride in a hole in the ground.
New York, New York, a helluva town.

Enjoy the memory as well and never forget what’s possible in the Big Town …

March 17, 2009. At six o’clock I went down to the Museum of Modern Art, invited by Peggy Siegal to the premiere of “Valentino, the Last Emperor,” a documentary film by Matt Tyrnauer on the life and times of the great Roman couturier and his partner. The evening was hosted by Quintessentially and Gilt Groupe.

The invitation read: Marisa Berenson, Tory Burch, Helena Christensen, Claire Danes, Aerin Lauder, Princess  Firyal of Jordan, Annette de la Renta, Rachel Feinstein, Cornelia Guest, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stephanie Seymour,   Georgina Chapman, Lynn Wyatt, Pamela Fiori, Carolina Herrera, Karolina Kurkova, Doutzen Kroes, Diane Von Furstenberg, Natalia Vodianova, Daphne Guinness, Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti and Matt Tyrnauer invite you. Who could resist?

East 53rd Street, from the moment the cab got off the FDR Drive and onto First Avenue, was a traffic jam all the way over to Fifth Avenue. This was unusual. I’d come down the same road earlier in the day on my way to lunch and it was clear sailing all the way. So it was puzzling (and exasperating as traffic can always be in New York), until I got to MoMA where the block was jammed with limousines and the doors of the museum were surrounded by scores of photographers and hundreds of curious onlookers.

It was a fashionable crowd with lots of boldface names. A few rows ahead of us were Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti standing in the aisle next to their seats surrounded by Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Claire Danes. Nearby taking their seats were Reinaldo and Carolina Herrera, Carolyne Roehm and Simon Pinninger, Anne Bass and Julian Lethbridge, Louise Grunwald, Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, Martha Stewart, Tinsley and Topper Mortimer, Dennis Basso and Michael Cominotto, Timothy Fok, Daphne Guinness, Carlos Souza (who for a long time was head of world PR for Valentino), Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Susan and John Gutfreund, Amanda Burden (whose son Carter Burden was the executive producer of the film), Susan Burden and Bill Goldman, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, Dixon Boardman, Pepe Fanjul, Charlie Rose, Zac Posen, George Wayne, Vicky Ward, James Reginato, Blythe Danner, Meredith Melling Burke, Jacob Bernstein, Amy Fine Collins and her daughter Flora; Hiram Williams, Nancy Novogrod, Celerie Kemble and Boykin Curry, Roger Waters, Rachel Roy, Scott Currie, Eli Tahari, Agness Deyness, Lauren Davis Santo Domingo, Adam Lippes, Harvey Weinstein, Madonna, Charles and Clo Cohen, Cornelia Guest and hundreds more just like ‘em (?).


Already shown around the world in film festivals to wide acclaim, VALENTINO THE LAST EMPEROR follows the designer and his business partner Giammetti at the top of one of the world’s most glamorous and competitive games: the fashion business.

Valentino in a photograph is almost sculpted in appearance, perfectly turned out, perfectly tanned and very imperious and Roman in countenance. On meeting, however, the man is warm and charming with an informal and bemused personality. His partner Giancarlo looks more like a movie star in the style of Marcello Mastroianni, also always beautifully turned out in the way Italian men seem to be by nature.

Valentino amongst friends and admirers arriving at the Oak Room at the Plaza after the premiere of the film at MoMA.

Before the lights went down, Raj Roy of the MoMA film department introduced Matt Tyrnauer, the filmmaker. Mr. Tyrnauer is familiar to a lot of readers as regular contributor to Vanity Fair. He thanked his film’s stars for their willingness to cooperate. He mentioned that in first seeing the finished product the partners were taken aback by how very personal it was, but he praised them for their willingness to cooperate in every way to complete the film.

He thanked a number of people including his colleague Aimee Bell and his editor Graydon Carter. He gave us some background of the process in making the film, explaining how beginning in 2007, the cameras followed the two around at the time that they were marking the final two years of a 50-year career (the business, which had been sold in part to financial interest was being bought by a larger conglomerate).

The film began in Paris with a view overlooking the Place Vendome where Valentino was preparing for his Paris show. From that moment on, the audience was captivated by the personality of the man, his business partner, their moment to moment relationships with their associates, employees, models, seamstresses, friends and clients as everyone moved through their lives and business.

Valentino and Carolyne Roehm.

Valentino has five pugs, an important clue about the man who loves his friends, his surroundings and his day-to-day. They go everywhere with him. And the camera follows: to atelier, the runways, the slopes of Gstaad (Valentino is an excellent skier), the plane, the yacht, the office, to the Via Veneto where the two men met at a curbside table of the Café de Paris and back to work; always the work. The Valentino-Giammetti life is full of entourage, working, creating, debating, agreeing, disagreeing, planning, contemplating, reminiscing (briefly but succinctly). There are a couple of moments when the couturier loses his patience (but never his cool) with the omnipresent camera eavesdropping on his conversations (about business – everything is about business with the two men).

The viewer sees just how the men work, separately and together. It is a remarkable partnership, a partnership of love ultimately because of the brilliantly cooperative give-and-take between them. Giammetti speaks of Valentino as the Center, the Star, the Last Word. He explains that the man keeps his own counsel, rarely confiding his doubts and concerns but instead maintaining at almost all times an air of certainty and confidence. Publicly Valentino speaks of living for beauty, for creating beauty, for making women look beautiful. Publicly Giammetti is constantly orchestrating, organizing, operating to present the finished product.

The camera follows them to Rome, to his villa, on the yacht in Venice (where the film was shown at the Venice Film Festival), to the chateau outside Paris, to the extravaganza of a fashion show in Paris, to the 45th Anniversary (of their business and partnership) in Rome culminating with a brilliantly planned and staged party just outside the Colisseum at night featuring models seemingly floating above.

Giancarlo Giammetti, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, and Anne Hathaway.

The audience is mesmerized. Valentino is the star. Giancarlo is the producer, the diplomat, the executive in charge, always thinking ahead to make the perfect presentation. Cathy Horyn, the fashion reporter for the New York Times, in an on-camera interview points out that Valentino is now the last of the great couturiers because he learned his craft back in the 1950s from those who learned from the couturiers of the 1920s. After Valentino, she said, that’s the last of it.

After the screening (the film runs about 100 minutes), the guests moved over to the Plaza and the Oak Room where there was a seated dinner for several hundred celebrating these two men and their brilliant career and life built and shared together. There wasn’t a soul in the audience who wasn’t affected by their success, not only in business, but in life; a love story, not in the romantic sense so much as in the sense of truth and reality. An inspiration.

Gayle King.
Jamee Gregory, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, DPC, and Valentino.
L. to r.: Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia and Vicky Ward; Exec. Producer Carter Burden 3rd and his mother, Amanda Burden.
Carter Burden, Susan Burden, and Gayle King.
Pepe Fanjul and Peggy Siegal.
L. to r.: Charles and Clo Cohen; George Wayne.
Roger Waters.
L. to r.: Lynn Wyatt and Holly Doran; Lynn Wyatt and Jamee Gregory.
Andre Balazs and Daphne Guinness.
L. to r.: Agnes Deynes; Matt Tyrnauer being congratulated with Susan Burden in front.
Byrdie Bell (right).
L. to r.: Marjorie Gubelmann; Martha Stewart.
Lauren Santo Domingo and Erin Featherstone.
Dennis Basso with Amy Fine Collins and Flora Collins.
Adam Lippes and Meredith Melling Burke.
Nadine Johnson with Francesco and Alba Clemente.
Alba Clemente and Carlos Souza.
Teri Agins, Dennis Basso, and Amy Fine Collins.
Anne Hathaway, Bruce Hoeksema, and Blythe Danner.
L. to r.: Aaron and Leanne Simpson; Raj Roy.
Yaz and Valentin Hernandez, Suzi Cordish, and Valerie Steele.
Timothy Fok and Susan Gutfreund.
L. to r.: Olivia Chantecaille; Nancy Novogrod.
Jake Bernstein getting the story.
Richard and Sessa Johnson.

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