Back in the ’80s when the oversized pages of W were practically my bible. I could never have imagined that one day in the far-flung future I’d actually be a guest at Susan Gutfreund’s legendary 12,000 square foot, 22-room Fifth Avenue duplex apartment.
Those were the days when she and husband John (CEO of Salomon Brothers Investment Bank fame) were “Masters of the Universe.” In fact, the Gutfreunds were rumored to be the real-life inspiration behind the Bavardages in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities.”
If you were comatose through the early ’90s or (Lord have mercy) not born yet, I refer you to Google to get a sense of the shenanigans going on in that era of excess and ostentation. There’s been plenty written on its Hell-like denouement as well. Including the film “Liar’s Poker” which portrays a Gutfreund-like character unfavorably. Following John’s 2016 death, the Rosario Candela-designed pad was put on the market for the unholy sum of $120M. However, the asking price has recently been lowered to $59M. You should have a Swiss bank account and a hankering for excellent park views.
Anyway, I digress. The reason I was there (along with about 120 or so others) was for the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation’s Sixth Annual “Collaborating for a Cure Ladies Luncheon.” The afternoon featured a fashion presentation showcasing fashion icon Dennis Basso and was emceed by Don Lemon of CNN Tonight.
I had attended the 4th Annual SWCRF luncheon at Andrea Stark’s beautiful duplex and roof deck. The fashion show was courtesy of Carolina Herrera. I somehow missed last year’s 5th Annual luncheon which had also been hosted here chez Gutfreund. Weirdly, I remember wearing a sundress and hat to the previous event – today’s inclement rainy, chilly weather required a coat!
This year’s event chairs included Lauren Lawrence, Pamela Morgan, and Marion N. Waxman (Samuel’s wife) with Co-Chair Erica Linden-Fineberg. The organizing committee for the event (many of whom were present) included Karen Amster-Young, Chris Arlotta, Sharon Bush, Maria Elena Christiansen, Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin, Lucia Hwong Gordon. In addition Michelle Greenberg, Susan Gutfreund, Nurit Kahane Haase, Michelle Marie Heinemann, Yaz Hernandez, Patricia Kluge, Jeanne Lawrence, Vanessa Noel, Patty Raynes, Nicole Salmasi and Barbara Tober. Samuel Waxman was definitely outnumbered. In this gender-equal society, I keep waiting for next year’s event to be billed as “People who Lunch for a Cure.”
A little bit about the Foundation. SWCRF is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing and curing cancer by funding cutting-edge research. Since its inception in 1976, they have awarded approximately $100 million to support the work of more than 200 researchers across the globe.
So what was it like being in this fabled location? Too much opulence of a bygone era! So many expensively dressed women and too little food! (more on that later). The 50-ft plus-long park facing living room with two (count ’em) fireplaces strained to hold everyone at this sold-out event. At one point it became so claustrophobic and hot that I actually pitied the Basso fur-clad models.
Dennis Basso was there, partaking in the appetizers and posing for photographs. Don “Le-Mon” as Tucker Carlson of Fox News calls him. Tucker arrived with his fiancé Tim Malone in tow. The longtime couple became engaged last month when Malone proposed via live props. The couple’s two dogs were kitted out with dog tags asking if “daddy” would marry “papa.” No “fake news” here.
Many of the “usual suspects” were in da house. They include Katlean DeMonchy, Randi Schatz, Adele Nino, Ruth Miller, Lauren Day Roberts, Jean Shafiroff, Michelle and Herbert, Dr. Penny Grant and Lucia Hwong Gordon both wore Dennis Basso and Maria Fishel. Barbara Regna was the coolest girl in the room sporting the coveted-sold-out-everywhere Chanel Runway Spring Summer 2019 camp shirt.(Look 6) from the last collection that Karl Lagerfeld ever designed.
Karl also had a hand in the selection of the downstairs dining room’s window curtains – they were crafted from fabric gifted by him. The Winter Palace sitting room adjoining the blue and white dining room was designed by Givenchy-approved French interior designer Henri Samuel — chirping caged parrot included.
Two women who didn’t know each other arrived in the same stunning floral, fur-trimmed Basso cape and immediately posed for photos together. Models wearing Basso Fall 2019 fashions stood like elegant statues along the grand staircase – later coming to life to swan around the living room in gowns and outerwear during the low-key fashion show.
“You know, I can’t wear fur anymore,” said a politically correct Jean Shafiroff as she eyed the models wistfully. Another thing it wasn’t possible to do was to have lunch. City Chefs Catering was thanked for donating the food which consisted of nothing more than a modest charcuterie, bread, and cheese platter placed without much fanfare in the center of the dining room – a far cry from the fancy spread of chicken, salmon and various salads that I remembered two years ago. One woman asked a waiter, “Is this the lunch?”—my sentiments exactly as it looked like an appetizer spread.
Before the fashion show, both Dennis Basso and Don Lemon spoke of how it was an honor to be associated with the Foundation and the work it does in finding a cure to a disease that touches all of our lives. After the fashion show concluded, Marion Waxman gave some short remarks thanking everyone for coming. She also reminded us to take a goodie bag which (among other things) contained a book from leading plastic surgeon Andrew Jacono entitled “The Park Avenue Face.” “Not that any of you need this but just in case you ever think about it,” she deadpanned. One final look around the room of Bergdorf blondes with frozen countenances suggested that perhaps there were already too many “Park Avenue faces?”