Personal Style: Who's Doing Whom?
An Intimate Look at Washington's Most Elegant People and Places
Gone are the days of debutantes and dashing young men in uniform dancing till dawn to Peter Duchin and his orchestra at the Mayflower Hotel. So are the nights when rubbernecking socialites peered through forests of potted palms to get a glimpse of Jacqueline Kennedy having supper with Marlon Brando. Georgetown neighbors peeking through slits in heavy curtains to see who Joseph Alsop had chosen to brief the handsome young President over terrapin, roasted pheasant and a bottle of Château Talbot? Peggy Lee showcasing at the Blue Room of the Shoreham? Intimate cocktails on the Hotel Washington's roof? All have disappeared into the mist along the Potomac, never to be seen again. We asked a noted journalist whom he would pick as our most glamorous citizens. He stumbled, noting that Washingtonians think "too much glamour is suspect." In other words, we have put too high a value on seriousness. Gravitas trumps gravlax no matter what.
We celebrate our wonkishness and in so doing have painted the town battleship gray. We've lost the ability to listen and learn from one another over a quiet meal. The Marquess of Queensbury wouldn't be able to keep a political discussion civil in this town. If someone brings up politics, hostesses put away the good crystal. Perhaps the latest generation misunderstands the definition of glamour as well as it's potential. Certainly, the cornerstone of a truly glamorous life is personal style. Style isn't something that can be acquired; it's a way of living life with confidence, wit, humility and a love of beauty. It transcends class, race and religion. And most importantly, it doesn't require wealth. It costs a lot less than what some people spend to look -I'm sorry- drab. What people with style have in common is how they feel in their own skin – comfortable and secure. A splendid sense of self assurance and ease, not conceit, are what we notice first, way before we spot the designer clothes and art masterpieces. Couture gowns and jewelry are mere accessories to a life well lived. Two friends I've had since childhood, Sarah Tanguy and Abigail Adams Greenway, are the most uniquely stylish women I know. I never know if they are wearing jewelry that they've made, bought on QVC or inherited from their great grandmothers.
And I've stopped asking. A glamorous home is defined by how a guest feels when they are there, not just the lavishness or even beauty of the décor. I have always noted that the most comfortable and chic houses have a bit of quirkiness to them. A home is not just where you live but how you live, so if you invite someone there, they should immediately sense your presence and your spirit. Sister Parrish, the famed designer once mistaken for a nun by The Washington Post, always counseled people to have a bit of red in every room. My advice is to have something that you have actually read in every room….. Where the Glamorous People Live…. Marion and Bob Rosenthal have said "no mas" to the Watergate and have moved to Washington's best high rise achievement, 3303 Water Street. Old Guard buildings like 2101 Connecticut Avenue are great as long as the high ceilings and lobby are more important to you than a workable floor plan. Christopher Hitchens and Carol Blue have made theirs work and entertain lovingly using every room in their vast apartment on Columbia Road. Politics can be discussed here, but your political affiliation is not as important as your power of persuasion. Hillandale is home to Isabelle and Ricardo Ernst as well as Thomas Pheasant and Juan Carlos Rincones. Theo Adamstein and Olvia Demetriou have spread out in Foxhall near Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan.
Anthony Browne, decorator to Oprah and Oatsie, has found character and a bit of olde London off Dupont Circle. Georgetown, however, is where many people who "do" the news prefer to dwell. Allie Wentworth and George Stephanopoulos, Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, Elsa Walsh and Bob Woodward, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn and Jane Hitchcock and Jim Hoagland all have perfect houses for entertaining. Who Are the Most Glamorous Women in Washington? Slim Keith and Gloria Guinness were known for looking as good in capri pants as they did in Adrian and Dior. They became legends for their personal style. In Washington there are still a few legends lurking among us. A former Miss America, Yolande Fox, looks as comfortable and sexy in her big sweaters and flats walking her dog through Georgetown as she did the day she won the crown. Her fabulous home decorated by Billy Baldwin is filled with character and also the "characters" she has befriended. Politics can be discussed in this home but I suggest that it's safer to be a Democrat.
Babe Paley was known for her fabulous couture gowns but heads turn just as fast for her daughter, Alison van Metre Paley; Nini Ferguson, Jane Cafritz, Jacqueline Leland, Sheila Johnson Newman and Grega Daley. Mary Ourisman and Katherine Bradley set the bar awfully high as well, showing us that social Washington is not always about government. These women can wear anything and still be beautiful. But they should be admired not for their appearance but for how many times they appear and lend their name to causes bigger than themselves. Many glamorous women have made Washington their second home. Frequent visits from Constance Bennett, Lena Horne and Elizabeth Taylor made this city a little spicier. Today, it is the diplomatic corps that wreaks of chic. Rima Al-Sabah is well loved because she has great intelligence, humility and enthusiasm underlying a great sense of personal style. Other Embassy Row icons such as Pamela Aparicio and Jellie van Eenennaam make difficult and arduous duties seem pleasant and effortless.
A dedicated group of Washingtonians from abroad has added a new flare to what can be very stately affairs. Mariella Trager, Rosalind Steiner and Corinne Bensahel all show that supporting important causes can be fun and refreshing. When I see Corinne breeze into a party with a fabulously relaxed costume and fabulously large jewelry, I am reminded of Lee Radziwill and Diane von Furstenburg. How can you not have fun?
Who's Doing Whom?
Big things are happening to two of the biggest estates in the Washington area. Not since the 1940's have the twin sisters, Marwood in Potomac and Merriwood in McLean, had simultaneous renovations. Both formerly inhabited by various Kennedys and their relations, the enormous homes both became too much to keep up until recently. They are still the grandes dames of the Potomac. Their architecture can be copied but never the views. Steve Case's Merriwood is getting its glam back from Barry Dixon, and Chris Rogers has hired Mary Drysdale to completely re-create Marwood, inside and out. Although Merriwood has always been kept in good shape, Marwood is lucky to still exist. Long neglected and badly redecorated; it will be nice to see the old girl shine again.
In hunt country, lots of people are standing by the mail slot, hoping to be invited to anything Sheila Johnson Newman might host at Salamander Farm. Johnson Newman is known for her fine taste and her partnership with Thomas Pheasant will surely be something to see. In Georgetown, the Hollerith House, the fabulously large 29th Street mansion with the columns once owned by the designing duo of Brown-Davis and then sold to Marie Louise Burkart, has been sold to Jill and J. Rock Tonkel. They have hired David Herchik of JDS Designs to re-do everything, including a new addition. The house was once owned by two sisters, IBM heiresses, who started the Garden Club of Georgetown. Rare specimen trees are found throughout the property and it seems like the perfect place to have a garden party. David Jones is the architect, so it will be absolutely perfect. Betsy Stires of Frog Hill Designs is working on four projects, all based on the kitchen being the central focus of family life. I am guessing these are pretty nice kitchens.
Architect Travis Price has gotten the job to create a warm and inviting space for Odegaard Carpets move to Cady's Alley. ML2K is also moving in this summer, so the place is jumping. Finally, lots of news to report on Jose Solis Betancourt, who is in constant travel mode between Washington and Puerto Rico, New Jersey, New York and Florida. We are going to make him sit down and tell us what he's up to. Look for details next month.