Want to put together a scintillating fundraising gala? Here’s how: (1) Open with Henry Kissinger onstage making self-deprecating wisecracks; (2) Follow that with a bombastic Bernard-Henri Levy practically canonizing Charlie Rose as he introduces him to the stage; (3) Have Mr. Rose sit and interview a cool and collected Christine Lagarde, one of the three most powerful women in the world (she’s my personal favorite), and (4) sprinkle the room with mature and mondaine beauties like Daphne Guinness, Spanish couturiere Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, highly regarded cancer researcher Dr. Olivia Flatto and the ever-reliable Mary McFadden.
That was the scenario last week in the belly of The Intrepid aircraft carrier, permanently docked off the West Side Highway, as a cadre of chic Frenchmen and cagey Americans joined forces to bring the just-completed replica of the frigate Hermione to this city on the next Fourth of July. As you know, the Hermione was the ship the Marquis de Lafayette sailed to America in 1780 when he came to assist George Washington in securing independence from King George III. A high-powered bi-national committee has spent 20 years precisely reconstructing the vessel from 1500 French oak trees and now she is ready to cross the Atlantic.
Moet Hennessy, which co-sponsored this inaugural NYC gala, had also been a founding partner of de Lafayette’s 1780 voyage. History repeats itself, in fascinating permutations.
A flourish of trumpets welcomed Secretary Kissinger to the stage. “I was given urgent instructions to keep my remarks to three minutes,” he began. “But I have rarely spoken a sentence where I could place the words in three minutes.” He lavished extravagant praise on Charles de Gaulle, the first president of France he met (he has known every one of them since), for his unswerving support for the U.S. during a crisis in the Middle East. I couldn’t make out which crisis that was; Dr. Kissinger still nourishes the thick accent he had when he arrived in this country as a child. That’s part of his great charm; he uses it as a diplomatic weapon.
Monsieur Levy, a very old friend of Charlie Rose, praised him as “an agent of resistance—to Twitter, to thinking in 140 characters. He has aided in the reinvention of the art of conversation, as once did Lord Byron and Marcel Proust.”
Then an odd thing occurred. I was sitting at a table next to the stage. Rose was next to me, standing in the dark, waiting to mount the stage, listening intently, as Levy began discussing Rose’s heart problems. “Ten years ago Charlie Rose had a serious health problem. When it was not solved in this country, he came to Paris to see cardiologists. Charlie credits France for his salvation. After he landed in Paris and was treated, he became the strong cowboy he is today.” I glanced at Rose, thinking he would be disconcerted by this personal revelation. But he nodded and seemed elated at the memory.
In a quick interview Madame Lagarde, for the past three years the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the following: “God forbid Ebola extends beyond Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. If it gets to Nigeria or the Cote d’Ivoire, it would be hardly controllable. The virus is evolving all the time.” As to the world economy, “Russia looks tired. The GDP in China is down. The global economy is best described as ‘the new mediocre’. It is growing at 3% but that is just not good enough.” She promised that if the U.S. Congress reforms its contributions to the IMF, “I will do belly dancing.” Rose kept trying to get her to comment on suggestions she run for president of France, but she kept adroitly dodging the issue. In my view, she would be excellent.
As you know, as you very well know, at formal dinners, placement can be everything. If you find yourself seated next to non-starters, ladies who are low on fuel for conversation, three courses can be an eternity. This evening I was fortunate. I was at the table of the French Consul General in New York, Bertrand Lortholary, who is young, upbeat and not self-important. He had assembled a delightful group.
On my left was Sharon Bush, the effervescent blonde who was married to Neil Bush during the years his father was vice-president and then president, and who is politically savvy. In recent years she has been omnipresent on the Manhattan and Hamptons social circuit, lately on the arm of the eco-industrialist Oscar Plotkin.
On my right was a quiet, impressive woman who turned out to be Louise Mirrer, who for ten years has been the president of the New-York Historical Society, where she has accomplished wonders. Also at our table were William Lie Zeckendorf and his vibrant wife Laura. He is the real estate developer who co-owns the Halstead and Brown Harris Stevens companies and who built the phenomenal 15 Central Park West with his brother Arthur. Zeckendorf has a modest and cheerful mien, unexpected and attractive for someone in his high-intensity profession.
With superb cuisine, flowing French wines, well-chosen and not overpowering music, and joie de vivre in the air—an attitude of defiance against the heinous problems that afflict the planet outside the doors of the Intrepid—the evening was a great success. It celebrated centuries of Franco-American camaraderie, now being manifested in this whimsical, wonderful venture.
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Oscar Will Rest Next to Francoise
Oscar de la Renta will be buried in the garden of his weekend home in Kent, Connecticut, alongside the grave of his first wife, Francoise, the dynamic French fashion editor who died in 1983 and who has a headstone in place. I am told that Connecticut law allows the interment of a casket with an embalmed body in private land, although some states forbid it and allow only the interment of ashes on private, non-cemetery property. Mr. de la Renta’s wife, the former Annette Engelhard, whom he married in 1989, is perfectly agreeable with this arrangement. She is a classy, understanding woman.
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Talented Decorators Can Get Away With Anything
Steve Kroft is putting together a “60 Minutes” piece on Peter Marino, the super-successful designer of high-end boutiques around the world who has, in recent years, taken to dressing himself day and night in black leather motorcycle fetish gear, a la Robert Mapplethorpe circa 1972. Orb likes to refer to Mr. Marino as “America’s answer to Tom of Finland”.